Recently, I had the wonderful experience of interviewing an industry insider about their experiences with casting calls and auditions for television commercials and tv shows. I found Dominique Toney online through her blog post “Is my hair holding me back?”. Dominique and I talked about so many different things related to natural hair in the media, and it was really great to have such an open and honest conversation with a complete stranger. Here’s a little bit about Dominque:
Dominique Toney is a Southern California raised actor, singer, and songwriter. At the age of 17, she was the recipient of NBC Universal’s Diversity Initiative, in which she was mentored by Primetime Emmy award-winning casting directors Barbara Stordahl and Angela Terry. One of her favorite roles to date has been acting alongside “Lost” villain Michael Emerson in the Red Bull Theatre Company reading of A Woman Killed With Kindness. Her many projects include writing and performing with her sketch comedy group Political Subversities, blogging for the popular actors website Backstage, and completing her debut album. She is a proud alum of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Tiffany: When and why did you decide to go natural?
Dominique: I went natural in high school after my mother discovered straw sets. She came home one day and I was like, “that’s pretty cool!” I was also dancing in high school, taking 3 dance classes a week. It was difficult having straight hair! The straw set was my first introduction to natural hair.
Tiffany: Describe your hair regimen. Do-it-yourself or let someone else do it for you?
Dominique: I’m a do-it-myself kind of gal. I do my hair about once every week and a half to two weeks. I do a co-wash. I rarely use shampoo. I usually use something like Herbal Essences “Hello Hydration.” It has this really nice coconut flavor and then I’ll deep condition my hair. Right now, I’m using Miss Jessie’s Deep Conditioner, but I’m a big fan of Aubrey’s Organics. I’ve got a stationary dryer, so I usually put my conditioned hair under the dryer for half an hour. After I rinse it out I’ll put in coconut oil or argan oil. Then I get to curling it with the rod curlers and I will sleep in the curlers. They’re hard, but it’s better for me to sleep in them than dry them with heat. I leave the twists in for a day or two. The first few days the curls are pretty tight. Towards the 3rd of 4th day, it starts loosening up and I’ll use my fingers to loosen it, too.
Tiffany: What, if any, are the advantages to being natural in the industry? Have you ever experienced any challenges? Rude comments? Negative experiences?
Dominque: I do think there are advantages. I would say that very infrequently, but occasionally, with my natural hair, I can pull off bi-racial, or a mixed character. I’m not dark enough to look African, but sometimes it works in my favor. I guess I’m able to extend my range with natural hair. And also I think it excites casting directors to be able to have options of what my hair could look like. It’s exciting for them. A disadvantage is that they can dictate how my hair can look. I don’t think that they would ask Caucasian, Latina, or Asian actresses to modify their hair because they can’t change it in the way that African Americans can. I don’t know about other actors, but it’s too expensive for me to get my hair straightened. Without advance notice, it can be challenging.
I would say that I’ve had some comments that have hurt my feelings and I know that people didn’t mean to. I’ve been told from agents and casting directors that my natural hair in my headshots looks like a wig, that it’s not commercial enough, that it’s too ethnic. Conversely, I’ve been told that I look beautiful with it, it’s unique, and I look very youthful. It’s really confusing and frustrating! I think I’m getting to the point where I’m going to stop caring what people think. If I listened to everyone, I’d be bald. laughs
Tiffany: Recently, there has been an increase in the number of models and actresses with natural hair who appear in commercials and advertisements. What do you think accounts for this increase?
Dominque: I actually really didn’t know. That’ s a question I ask myself. The movie Think Like a Manreally shed some light into African American hair for me. All of the actors had glossy, straight hair! If I’m correct, I would say that straight hair for African American women dominates the film industry. And then you look on commercials and a few tv shows, and African American actors have natural hair. I don’t really know. I would think that it would be the same for commercials and film.
Tiffany: I also asked Dominique about casting calls, and whether or not they specify that they want an actor/actress with natural hair.
Dominique: They don’t specify on the casting call… for instance, with LA Casting or Actor’s Access. I shot a commercial last week, and I showed up with my natural hair. I was really afraid because I hadn’t emailed them to ask if they wanted my hair straight. I showed up, and these dear old Midwestern people were thrilled with my hair. Why do I give everybody else so much power over my hair? As an African American woman, I have given other people power over my hair for a long time now. I wish the mentality was different.
Tiffany: What is your advice for aspiring models and actresses who want to wear their natural hair to auditions and casting calls?
Dominique: Wear it proudly, because I think that if you bring any sort of doubt into the audition room, you’re already going to be on the wrong footing. Your hair is one thing that you do have control of. If you walk in confident, you’re going to be that much appealing and comfortable in your audition. And it takes time to get there. When every one’s telling you you’re beautiful, you have to believe it eventually.
Tiffany: What upcoming projects do you have?
Dominique: I just shot a CashNet USA commercial. I have a show at the House of Blues on Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles on October 25. I’ll be rocking my natural hair for sure! I just found out I will be recording a song for The James Brown Project at the Apollo Theatre, which is being produced by legendary choreographer Otis Sallid and will be premiering in October 2013. I’m currently in production for the music video to my first single (natural hair, I wouldn’t have it any other way.) And then my debut album is being wrapped up right now as speak!
You can find Dominique on the web:
More photos of Dominique:
My very first headshot at the age of 18. Fresh off just having auditioned for an ABC Family Pilot and being one of the last 2 actresses considered for the role.”