Najarra, Najarra!
Talented, Hard-Working and Attractive, Actress Najarra Townsend Makes Waves On The Independent Film Circuit

Jill of All Trades, Master of All: Najarra Townsend is just 18, but has already appeared in more than 30 feature films and is a singer-songwriter, theater performer, dancer and model, all of which she has done in some way, shape or form since she was three years old.  (Photos courtesy of: SBPR)

By Omar P.L. Moore/The Popcorn Reel
November 16, 2008

She'll turn 19 on December 5, but Najarra Townsend has already accomplished more in her fledgling life than many of us will in 19, 38 or 57 years.

Is that a depressing thought?

No.  But Miss Townsend works hard to avoid both complacency and the pitfalls that befall childhood stars.  And she is succeeding.  Najarra Townsend has been working in show business -- singing, dancing, acting, modeling -- since the age of three, and keeps a mature head on her shoulders.  She is an attractive presence, possessing a confidence, self-awareness and sex appeal that is powerful for a woman so young.  Her new website serenades each visitor with the soulful sounds of Hot Chocolate with their 1970's song "You Sexy Thing", including the lyrics, "Where did you come from, baby?  How did you know I needed you?"

Intelligent, with a keen sense of herself, Najarra Townsend is controlling her own image while flaunting a persona of openness and an inviting way that is as disarming as it is seductive.  Nonetheless, the private Miss Townsend is cheerful, friendly and not living with her head in the clouds, even though her resume gives her every right to.  She's starred in more than 35 films, including several shorts, in a 10-year-period, and there's lots more to come.  She has a song called "All A Lie" on her MySpace page, which she sang and wrote.  One or two of her songs have appeared on the soundtrack to at least two of the films she has starred in.  Miss Townsend has also done a lot of stage work (see the partial resume below), not to mention modeling and dancing, making her a renaissance lady.

If you've seen Najarra Townsend in the independent film "Me And You And Everyone We Know", you would have instantly recognized an impressive performance.  And right now in several cities in the U.S. (with additional venues to come this month) you can see her in "Tru Loved" as Tru Spivey-Johnson, a 16-year-old who has moved with her interracial lesbian mothers to Southern California from San Francisco, where both her fathers live.  Tru has a romance with a young black football quarterback (played by Matthew Thompson) who has identity issues of his own, and the film, directed by Stewart Wade, constantly makes one think while entertaining.  In "Tru Loved" Miss Townsend makes an impression, carrying an intelligence and older-than-she-looks attitude to her character.  "I shot ("Tru Loved") last year . . . it was an amazing experience.  I got the script and fell madly in love with it, which you're not supposed to do, because of like, the whole rejection thing.  You don't get (psyched) for something before you have it.  But I really did.  But looking at it, I was overwhelmed.  I was so excited."

During interviews some big-name actors have fumbled and disguised their inability to answer with sarcasm when they are asked what they learned from playing a character, but it wasn't even necessary to ask young Miss Townsend, who answered unprompted.  "I learned a lot from playing Tru, actually.  Being sixteen and knowing who you are and what you stand up for and you're standing up for it.  And, you know, she has her own opinions and she's not scared.  She wants to speak up and let people know.  And that was like a great thing to learn and be able to play because I was 17 when I played her.  It was just like, 'oh!'.  I was learning so much.  I felt like a stronger person just for playing this character.  So that was really, it was really exhilarating and exciting."

As for the real-life young lady who plays Tru, the name Najarra was given to the Santa Barbara, California native by her mother, whom she is very close to.  "She said I looked like a Najarra, so she named me Najarra," said the actress by telephone in a conversation with The Popcorn Reel late last week.  "It seems to be very popular in Brazil," she added, though she was unsure of the meaning of her name but expressed a desire to investigate its meaning and origins.   

The origins of Najarra Townsend's career were planted very early, with an abiding love of the theater, a medium for which she remains passionate.  While she expresses a preference for working on the big screen in films, you can hear the excitement in her voice as she speaks about musical theater.  She first heard the music of Al Jolson from her mother's record collection and fell in love almost immediately.  "I wasn't really into pop music until I was ten or eleven.  Before that I was into more oldies -- that's what I love, that's what I was very passionate about.  I think I saw (the movie) "The Al Jolson Story" . . . and totally became obsessed with that music.  There was just something I just connected to when I was little, and I still do.  It's still a big, big part of me.  I think it's good to have a wide variety of music and then movies . . . it's good.  It keeps you diverse, really.  I like it.  I'm always open to new things."

She has achieved a balance of work and relaxation with friends and her boyfriend with whom the relationship she says is "working out quite well."  Miss Townsend spoke about childhood celebrities under the Hollywood glare, analyzing the possible reasons for why some of them might face adversity in later in life.  "I'm not sure -- I think one of the biggest problems with young stars is that they get into, like, when you're 17, 18 and you have . . . a celebrity status you can get into nightclubs and you can drink and people don't really stop you because you're a celebrity and they want you at their club, you know?"

Miss Townsend is conscientious, maintaining a discipline that has marked her film performances, and a steadiness that extends to her personal life.  "I've never been really into (the nightlife).  Nightclubs aren't my scene.  I just, I'm very like -- kind of a homebody.  I love to work.  That's the fun I have.  And I have my friends, my boyfriend.  I have my home life and it just seems like that's always been what I'm into . . . even though I'm a night person because I came from theater so I like always stay up until three, four in the morning and then get up.  But I like being at home.  I like watching movies and reading books.  I'm very kind of odd.  I don't know." 

Odd or not, Miss Townsend has no desire to change her routine.  "The nightclub thing and all of that just isn't really something I want to get involved in," said the 18-year-old.  "Once you get involved with it you kind of get stuck in it."

Najarra Townsend as Tru Spivey-Johnson in the film "Tru Loved", which is making its way around select U.S. cities now.  (Screen shot by Omar P.L. Moore/ via Regent Releasing)

And the independent film circuit is where Miss Townsend will be planted for the foreseeable future.  "I love indies.  I love independent film.  It's something I'm really passionate about.  So I feel like no matter what, I'm going to want to stay in that for the rest of my life, even if I'm branching out to bigger things, I still want to be able to go back and do indies and work in that network because I've learned so much from every independent film I do.  Not only am I in the cast but I'm getting close to the crew and I'm get to learn how all behind-the-scenes stuff works.  And I don't think that's true of blockbuster films because they don't really have the time and it's not as low-budget."

She laughs.

Other actresses on the independent film circuit in the U.S., such as Parker Posey, Rosario Dawson, Chloe Sevigny, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jennifer Connolly and Patricia Clarkson go back and forth between indie and Hollywood, and all have fared well. 

"I would love to do both, really,"  Miss Townsend adds.

Not surprisingly the actress-songwriter-singer-dancer-model receives considerable attention from the opposite sex, and messages of adoration and kind compliments are left on her My Space page by her admirers.  Of this the admired thespian remarks: "Of course it's nice.  Every girl likes to be complimented.  I don't know.  I mean, it always leaves you feeling good, because you know, I'm an 18 year old.  Of course you have -- I still have insecurities of course, and I'm still like very, 'ah I need to like work out, or, hmm, I don't look so good today.'"

The answer about insecurities surprises the questioner. 

"Oh yeah -- of course!  I mean, who doesn't?  I feel like everyone has to have some insecurities about themselves, you know?  Especially at 18.  I mean, gosh.  So much is going on with you as a person.  You're changing so much.  But it's really nice.  It's reassuring.  It's nice to hear what people respond to, because I change my hair color a lot.  I change my style a lot.  I'm always trying new things on.  So whatever gets more responses -- it's fun to experiment . . . with hair colors, with styles just in general."

A little later though, the voice of what sounds like a very settled, not so restless spirit emerges when asked if there was anything about her that she wishes the public who sees her could know.  "I'm pretty -- I want to say -- down to earth.  Acting, modeling, singing -- all those things I'm so comfortable with.  So I can be myself, I can change.  I feel very comfortable with all that."  Miss Townsend allows herself to reflect for a beat before adding an interesting revelation about herself.  "It's funny -- I'm an actress, you know, I act for a living and then if I have to talk in front of people or do interviews like this -- I get all flustered, and I'm like, 'oh my God, I can't do it!'  It's not scripted, and it like worries me that I'm going to be a blubbering mess.  I like having a persona out there -- that I'm all put together -- because I'm kind of just like, 'whoo, whatever . . . I just, I don't know how to explain it!  Aaah!" 

Momentary panic has set in, but it seems this is more an indication of Najarra Townsend working hard at articulating her feelings clearly than it is about any kind of fleeting meltdown, or as the multi-talented teenager puts it -- "blubbering mess". 

She then underlines the fundamentals of her reality.

"I'm just -- I'm eighteen."

She laughs again.

"I mean, as much as I feel like I'm mature for my age -- I've been through a lot, I've done a lot, I've worked a lot -- I'm still, still eighteen.  I like what's out there (in the public) about me, and I hope it will always be good, you know?  That's all I'm worried about."

The ever-busy Miss Townsend has no reason to worry -- she has multiple films coming up.  "I did seven or eight feature films last year . . . all of them are in post-production, and hopefully hitting the festival circuit soon.  I just finished a independent film called "Cupid's Arrow", which I'm excited to see.  It's a very cute love story but it's very smart.  It deals with love and pheromones and kind of like the scientific part of it.  What makes a person fall in love, like why.  It's very, it's a really cute script.  I also just wrapped a horror movie, "The Telling", with Holly Madison from "The Girls Next Door" . . . that was actually great fun.  I'm only in the beginning and the very end, but it was a very fun new experience.  I've done a few horror movies, but nothing like this."

Miss Townsend said she was also doing short films for friends.  Aside from that, she said she was "kind of taking it easy right now."  She noted that one of her films, "Marin Blue", was selected to appear at next year's Berlin Film Festival in February.  Understandably ecstatic, she said she hoped to go to Berlin to represent the film.

Ever self-observant, Miss Townsend said the following after a few moments of contemplation about why she seems no natural and confident on the big screen as an actress: "I probably come across -- I think I come across like that because I'm so comfortable in that environment and I feel very, yes, comfortable, and strong, like in acting behind the camera.  I feel so . . . good."

At 18, Najarra Townsend has set some very reasonable goals.  "I hope to learn more and become wiser, hopefully.  I don't know.  I hope to stay grounded."

Is there a piece of advice that she's received from anyone, advice that she has adopted?

"That's a good question and I've never gotten this question before . . . not really one piece of advice, more just like the support I get from my Mom and the agent, my manager -- people who have always been there for me.  I'm surrounded by very good people . . . people who really believe in me.  It helps so much to have people that are always believing in you.  I would just say that, always, if you're passionate about something, then you know, do it.  Go for it with all you have.  Don't give up.  Whatever you do, don't give up.  There's always going to be, you know, heartbreak, rejection and hard times and that's part of life.  And just keep going, you know?  There's always a better day."

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Audio Popcorn: Najarra Townsend, audio excerpts from The Popcorn Reel conversation with the multi-talented actress

Popcorn Epilogue: And She Also Sings, Dances and Acts When She's Not Modeling

Najarra Townsend's official website:

Najarra Townsend's partial resume of musicals and plays: "Cut", "Much Ado About Nothing", "As You Like It", "Gypsy", "Scrooge", "Charlotte's Web", "Danny and The Golden Millennium Seeds"

Copyright The Popcorn Reel.  2008.  All Rights Reserved.
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