Please introduce yourself. What do you do? Why? What do you want people to know about you?
Hello, pleasure to meet you, my name is Aaliyah Raghnal. According to Myers Briggs I’m an ENFP and according to the stars I’m a Leo. I was born in Saint Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich NYC before they shut it down to build luxury condos over so much history. Yeah, I sound like one of those New Yorkers. While I was born in the city, I was raised in New Jersey so you guessed it, I can’t pump my own gas and have debates with other New Jersyians regarding the existence or lack of existence of central Jersey (it’s real).
I’m an actor. I gave up acting for a year and was miserable. I found my way back and knew this is what I needed to do, that I needed to create. Sometimes, when things are slow I do that thing where I pretend to quit because so many success stories are like “I gave up and got the audition of a lifetime” so I’m like “Okay here goes… I’m leaving. I really am.. I promise…” and then nothing happens so I pick myself back up and open up my self tape backdrop.
I honestly think it’s the moments when I’m most in the flow of wanting to create and telling myself, “I’m doing this,” that things come my way. Not like putting immense attention and pressure on being an actor but telling myself, okay I’m already doing it and it’s part of my life, also did I do the laundry today?” I’m an actor because I feel I’ve got something to say. I think that’s why anyone creates, isn’t it? I think part of the reason why I’m an actor too is that I just love being near other creatives. I think following where other creatives are has led me through so many wonderful projects and experiences.
What qualities make you different and unique from everyone else in the industry?
I can’t do this to be liked by others. I know it’s easy to do things in order to be liked andI used to really want to be liked. As a person and for my work. But I’ve grown to a place where I can look at a script or see an idea and I don’t do what I think is right or what others want to see, I do what I feel is there and listen to that inner voice saying hmmm I wonder what’s going on? Of course we have to be collaborative.
That is part of what we do, but I hope I can do things that make others think “Oh I never saw it like that before until now.” Besides the work! I’ve been told before that I have a bit of a space cadet vibe going on or that I’m an old soul or ethereal energy. I guess that makes me different. Or maybe it’s that I still have some of my baby teeth that haven’t fallen out yet. You choose and decide!
Describe THAT moment when you realized you’re doing what you were born to do.
I did the Stella Adler Teen program and I remember when I first was interviewed to see if I could even attend, I felt a deep sense of home and belonging. But the moment I knew, THAT moment, was when I performed this piece called The Goatman; written by a very talented actor and playwright Pete McElligott. I fell in love with the world and the character. I could be bold and confident and I remember I felt so shy after performing because we had to go back into the black box for a talkback. It felt so private performing and now I’d have to discuss what I just did out there.
The character, like how I felt at the time, was an outcast and didn’t really fit in. I remember going back out into the black box space and sitting down and some kids my age at the time, watching the show in the audience, started chanting “Goatman, goatman.”
It meant a lot, maybe it was a bit of an ego thing but I remember thinking “wow this resonates with other people” my character wasn’t necessarily a likable person but they still saw something in her that made them feel, something that stuck with them to chant after and ask questions and feel excited. That’s the moment where it all clicked for me. We do this work to be shared and if someone is changed in some way, shape, or form, then I did my job and that means the world to me.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to go through and how did you grow through it?
I used to be incredibly incredibly shy, which isn’t super helpful since I knew I wanted to be an actor since age 6. I would talk with a whisper and physically shake whenever I had to present something to the class. The paradox to all of this is that I loved performing even then. I would check out these magazines from my local library kids’ section that were one act plays and would act them out by myself. I would make short movies with family friends using a handheld camera and the mac laptop camera monitor.
I remember being in class and reading 12 Angry Men and thinking, “okay this is my chance to go all out and perform” and the teacher noted to the class how little quiet me could come to life for this character. Embarrassing at the time, yes but I knew then that showing up despite the fear for what I love is important. I also remember writing all the time, anything to get my voice out there when it felt trapped by my anxiety and fear.
I grew out of it due to a few things. Reappraisal, so instead of saying “I’m so nervous to make a fool of myself” I’d say “ I’m so excited to make a fool out of myself” and that helped but it was still difficult. I think my training at NYU Tisch Experimental Theatre Wing was the factor that really allowed me to be comfortable with myself.
The training allowed me to not be ashamed of what I have to offer and to embrace all the parts of me; even the idiosyncrasies. I also am not ashamed of my shy era. It allowed me to really notice people, to feel deep compassion towards others, and to later on embrace my inner misfit.
Who are the TOP 3 people you’d want to meet that could elevate your career or business? Why these specific individuals?
Oooooo! Top 3 people I’d want to meet that could elevate my career! That’s tricky because I’m so interested in New Works. There are so many people in my life that I admire and would love to work with and have worked with and want to work with again. I also think of the people I haven’t met who are just forming ideas. The idea of that really excites me creatively.
There are also so many people that make a film or show. I love writers, crew, teamsters and everyone who comes together to make a project. We are all striving towards this creation and I am only part of the larger story. So picking just 3 feels like a lot of pressure BUT of course I’m going to answer the question because I have a letterboxd account and dreams:
Savanah Leaf: I really want to meet and work with Savanah Leaf. She had Earth Mama premier at New Directors/New Films, and at the time I’m writing this, A24 dropped the trailer about 2 weeks ago. Her work is so incredibly visually stunning and I’m such an admirer of her.
Greta Gerwig: I feel like we’d just get along. I’m not sure if it’s me lofty projecting on her but I really believe that we’d work well together and have fun working together as well. Simple as that! (and of course I am a fan.)
Pedro Almodovar: Women on the Verge is a movie that changed me. I love Almodovar’s films and how he creates dynamic women and the artistry he creates in his work. Everytime I watch his films I find something new and I understand that this is a cliche statement but it’s true. He seems to care so much for his ensemble and I feel joining the group would definitely elevate my career to new levels, if not just to work with him and say I was able to.
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