Lisa Catara is definitely one tenacious human being. If you follow her on Twitter you will know that the enthusiastic and guru-talking actress likes to motivate her tweeps with daily statements of joy and inspiration. The Cleveland-born performer also loves trying out new skills, and figuring out how things work. This curiosity has led Lisa to a multi-faceted career that includes acting, modeling, choreography and stunt work. Lisa has also appeared in numerous commercials, TV and film, including Till Death, Charlie Valentine and Days of Our Lives. NCISLA Magazine caught up with the busy Catara right before the holidays and we had a chance to find out more about her career and the time spent working on the set of NCIS Los Angeles.
Can you tell us about your background and what path you took to get into the entertainment industry?
I came out here (Los Angeles) to meet people in this industry and I fell into acting…. which I think it’s funny to fall into something that is just so hard to get into. When I was a little kid I knew what I wanted to do and I set my sights on music which was my first love. Cleveland is an incredibly cultural city so I had so much in front of me. I had opera, I had the symphony, I had the best of the world, and I was always inspired by that. I started out singing and when I got out of high school, I went to the Eastman School of Music to study opera because what I wanted to do was to end up on Broadway and do musical theatre. I got to New York and retrained and got a chance to do understudy work at first which gave me my first big break.
But then unfortunately 9-11 happened and so many of us found ourselves without jobs and having to change our careers which is what happen to me. So a year and half later I found myself in California. My life had stopped after 9-11 because I was so personally affected by that and I had to find something else to do. I met an agent who said there was a lot going on out here, but I was sooo New York. But I also didn’t have anything (in New York) so it was easy to make the decision to come out here because there was nothing holding me back. So I drove across country and I thought I would figure it out somehow. My first jobs out here were modeling and choreography and background extra jobs like pretending to be a stripper, or a burlesque dancer. I finally got an agent and I started landing TV roles.
You seem determined to make it in this industry…what traits do you need to survive in Hollywood?
Durability. I think the key to surviving out here is durability. For every yes you get, you have to take 200 no’s. It’s difficult.
For people who have communication skills, like dancing, acting…we just say there is no other career. We just have to be an actor or a performer. You will find so many people out here that if they do one thing well… they do many things well and obviously the more skills you have, you are more likely to book something. One day they need a 5 foot 6 girl that can do back flips in a pool and you have to be able to say ‘I can do all those things’!
You are a beautiful and talented woman….so it’s easy to see how you would get into acting and modeling but how did you get into stunt work?
I fell into it! I got lucky and it was purely by accident because it wasn’t something I was pursuing at the time. I always was an actor who did a lot of physical action. Three years ago I had a lot of roles where I had to use a lot of physicality at the time and I started meeting stunt people…and I realized I was getting more roles where I was having to do stunts, fighting, and boxing. All of a sudden I started getting called on to do some body doubling and I wound up getting a job as Jennifer Lopez’ body double for the Fiat commercial. I had already worked with her and they had put out an SOS that they needed someone who looked like her and could move like her and be able to drive a car. They said I was going to have to prove myself and I said ‘no problem’! They didn’t really know that I loved and grew up around cars and was adept at driving them especially on the New Jersey Turnpike! So they literally threw me in and I had so much fun. I was working with such tremendous stunt people and if you saw the commercial, there was so much going on. So I got into it by accident.
Did you have any training to prepare you for this aspect of the business?
No matter how much you prepare or how much you train, or how much you wrap your brain around the mental preparation of what it takes to do a stunt, a lot of it comes down to being in the moment. But you always have to train, you have to practice the fight choreography and you have to practice every single day to get your skills just so. But you do get that learning curve when you are on the job because no matter how prepared you are mentally things happen. It takes a certain person. You have to be ready for everything and be willing to change and adapt.
You got to be durable. It seems like it’s easy to grab (work) a little bit here or there and everybody would like to be a stunt person. They have an idea it’s this glamorous job and they get to be tough. All that aside, it’s very serious. Every year we lose somebody, somebody gets hurt and we don’t have them anymore. It’s very dangerous. It’s not hard to get in per say…but it’s hard to get in and establish a career. It takes a long time for people to be able to build up a trust with you, especially in car work or commercials. It’s highly competitive and you have to establish trust with the people you work with.
What part of the business do you enjoy the most?
I have always been passionately in love with storytelling and it’s been a great joy. It’s the days I’ve been on set and everybody is in the emotion of the scene and they are all present and you are with a team of people who are creating this wonderful experience from something on paper. Those are the moments that are so rewarding and the ones I seek out. When you really connect with people on a human and spiritual level…those are the moments I try and find.
Tell us about your time spent on the set of NCIS Los Angeles?
I have worked on a few different episodes of NCIS LA doing choreography….Lockup and Breach. The directors were Jan Eliasberg and Perry Lang. At the time my friend was the first assistant director and I would get the call that they needed a choreographer. And I would ask what they needed and she would say “I don’t know yet, but we know you can handle it.” So I would go on set and the first thing I would see is the stripper pole….ok, that’s not choreography but they would have a guest actor in a role who would be playing a stripper and they would want her to feel a bit more comfortable dancing and I would be called to help facilitate that.
Can you tell us about working with the cast and crew of the show?
One day they called me in there as a choreographer and then asked if I would do something else. I wound up in a red outfit with more makeup and hair that I ever had and it was so much fun! They were doing a surveillance scene and there was this little camera on Chris O’Donnell’s lapel and I had to do a fake lap dance while he’s looking past me and watching the action that was going on with the actress they were watching.
I love that cast and crew. They are such tremendous people. The show is great. The writing is great but it’s so human. Sometimes you work on a set where everybody is yelling and there is so much tension. But even though there is a lot of pressure, it’s just such a magical show. They managed to get the right cast and crew together at the right time with the right scripts. It’s such a pleasure to work with all of them. Daniela is so open and warm and genuine. LL is so intelligent, he is such a smart cookie and so educated in a lot of ways. He’s a great family man. Chris is just fun, he has the right personality and doesn’t have that Hollywood edge that you hear about sometimes…the diva factor. There’s a way to balance the career and family life and they all do that very well.
Will we see you back on the show anytime soon?
I have a burning desire to land a guest star or co-star role on that show because it’s such a show I want to be a part of because I feel it as an actor. It’s a complete community and they work so well together. There is no tension and the work is great, the writing is great, the directing is great. It can all be done and it can be fun. I got a taste of that on that set and I have not forgotten it. There are so many stories there. Everyone’s got a story! It’s so great.
What’s up next for you?
I just finished a national comedy short that’s called Police Guys Movie to air in January 2013. Now it’s back to auditions, staying ready and hopefully getting back to seeing my parents in the near future!
We hope we get to see Lisa again on the set of NCIS Los Angeles very soon. You can follow Lisa on Twitter: @lisa_catara or on her website: www.lisacatara.com.