Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Interview with MTV Awkward Actress, Mahaley Manning: Happiness comes from within

Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Mahaley Manning has worked in Film and Television for almost a decade. Her credits include Screen Gems’ Easy A, NBC’s Our Show, Nickelodeon’s Big Time Rush, ABC Family’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager and MTV’s Awkward. She can be seen in the upcoming CBS FIlms’ movie The D.U.F.F., coming to theaters in 2015. Mahaley recently co-founded MaHolland Productions, which specializes in producing and developing socially relevant content. Mahaley is also an honors graduate of UCLA. In her spare time, she is a mother to Coco, a beautiful boxer, and volunteers as a youth mentor with Red Eye Inc.


Please tell us about yourself and what you do?

My first career was as an actor. My first big role was in Easy A. As the years have gone by, I’ve realized I wanted to pursue some additional career goals, and my best friend, Holland Roden, and I started our own production company. We have a few very exciting projects in development, and strive to create socially relevant content. Pursuing multiple career paths has been very challenging and also very rewarding. I would say my ultimate goal is to find where I’m the happiest, and where my talents are the most utilized. 

Can you tell us a bit about any upcoming projects or events that you are working on?

You can catch me in the upcoming CBS Films movie, THE DUFF, in 2015. When I’m not auditioning or acting, my time is spent on developing and producing projects – which I hope you will one day get to see! 

Do you find the pressures of working in your industry significant with regard to feeling the need to have a “perfect” body?  If so, how do you navigate through that terrain?  How do you “not” judge yourself when others (critics, audience members, producers, etc.) “judge” you based on outward measures?

I think anyone in this business would be lying if they said that they didn’t, at some point, feel the pressure to look a certain way. It’s impossible. When you audition for dozens of jobs, without any tangible results, you eventually start to wonder if it has something to do with you. There’s also the internet, which is everyone’s worst enemy. The first, and last, time I googled myself, I found nothing but horrible comments about my appearance. A person’s appearance is the easiest way to bring someone down. And it truly does not matter what you look like. So, I focus on the things I know, with certainty, I am. I am a devoted daughter, friend, volunteer, aunt, sister, and girlfriend. I am kind, giving, intelligent and driven. I take pride in being able to say those things, and my appearance will never take those attributes away. I find a lot of “safety” in knowing that, and I think that’s the biggest thing that helps me navigate through the woes of societal pressure and scrutiny.

To follow up with that question, how do you deal with bullying or people talking negative about you? Can you give any examples of bullying in your personal life and how you handled it?

Bullying is something, I think, everyone faces in their lifetime. As a child and young adult, I was consistently teased for getting straight A’s, being a “nerd,” and being very thin. I was called osteoporosis for years, and, after 9/11, I was called a terrorist numerous times. My dad is from Afghanistan, and my last name is Hessam (not that dissimilar from Hussein) – the jokes were endless. At the time, I couldn’t see past the teasing I experienced. I thought it would never end, despite what my parents said, and that somehow this would carry out through the rest of my life. I often stayed home from school and pretended to be sick just to avoid the kids at my school. I didn’t handle it well at all, because I wasn’t old enough to understand the bigger picture. The truth is, it doesn’t last. And one day you will see the positive side of it all. To this day, I am more conscious of other peoples’ feelings, and careful with my words when I am speaking. I try to treat everyone with respect and kindness – I never want to make someone feel the way I have felt at various moments in my life.

What made you want to get involved with Mental Fitness, Inc.?

Mental Fitness, Inc. is shedding light on a topic that most people rarely discuss, at least in my experience. As a child and young adult, you go through so many emotions and confusing moments, and many times it is written off or played down. A community where kids and teens can go to, that helps them build self-confidence, and share their stories is essential to growing up in today’s world. There are outlets that bring people down (i.e. the internet), and it’s about time the world was filled with positive influences for today’s youth.

Who were the role models in your life?

My mother and my father were, without a doubt, the most positive influences in my life. I had a wonderful childhood, and continue to have a wonderful adulthood because of them. They are my best friends. My older brother was also a wonderful role model. He taught me how to have fun, mostly because he spent his entire childhood teasing me and playing jokes on me. I’m still planning my revenge.


Outside of my family, my current role models exist in those around me. I’m not a person with a ton of “people”, but the ones I have are of exceptional quality. My best friends and my boyfriend teach me something new every day – they are irreplaceable.

What do you define as beautiful?

To me, beauty is what’s on the inside. That is so cliché, I know. But hear me out. A person’s appearance only goes so far. And yes, there are people who are undeniably attractive. But that only carries you so far. A person who is truly beautiful is someone who is kind, giving, selfless, intelligent, and unique. And, when you have that kind of beauty, it only gets better with age.

What is happiness?

At some point in my 20s, I learned that happiness comes from within. It cannot be dependent on your friends, your significant other, or your career. And, at one point, my happiness was dependent on all of those things. Then, all of those either shifted or were taken away. I lost a best friend, I didn’t work for a year, and I had just come out of an erratic relationship. I was at the lowest point in my life. It took a significant amount of work, but I learned to find happiness within myself. It never comes easily, but I know if I were ever at that point again, I would be much more capable of handling it.


Would you be willing to take the Real Deal pledge?  Thoughts about that?

Absolutely – I think it’s such a great idea, and a strong reminder for how to treat yourself and those around you. 

How do you manage your stress levels in daily life?  Do you use music / art / dance, etc. as a coping tool?  Are there other things that you do to live mindfully?

I handle stress primarily through exercise, cooking, being outdoors, my dog, going to the beach and being with my loved ones. One of my best friends also had me download the “mindfulness meditation” app. There hasn’t been a bad day yet that any one of these things couldn’t fix (although I’ve yet to make it past a 3-minute meditation, sorry G!).

How do you find a work-life balance — as a woman, relationships, a professional — what are keys to balance?

Balance is something I work on every day. I am, at heart, “type A,” high-strung, and slightly neurotic. I truly work every day to calm myself down, and not let the ups and downs get the best of me. I used to spend all my time 5-10 years in the future, and I missed most of my early to mid-20s. I wasn’t capable of having fun or enjoying anything. Though I still have moments, I try to make the most of every day, and enjoy my life even though not everything is where I want it to be – that’s life, right?. I have faith that it will all be where it’s supposed to be, and I intend to be present for the remainder of my years. Happiness, fulfillment and balance are all choices – for some, it’s an easier choice than others, but it’s possible for anyone.


Mahaley’s Twitter Account

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