Please introduce yourself. What do you do? Why? What do you want people to know about you?
Hi! I’m Joanna Younes, and I’m an actress based in Los Angeles, CA, although I’m originally from Lebanon. I’ve been acting since I was six years old, starting out in musical theater in Kuwait. I’ve been cast in leading roles in some of the most popular shows, such as playing Nala in The Lion King, Mrs Lyons in Blood Brothers, and Tallulah in Bugsy Malone.
I also did some commercial work, and when I turned 17, I signed with my modeling agency a year before I left home. I’ve had some incredible experiences with them, booking work with some of the largest brands in the Middle East, such as Nalbes Boutique Store, Eden Spa & Salon, and Hype Gym, to name a few.
I never thought I’d dabble into modeling work as an actress, but it turned out to be a lot more fulfilling than I thought it would be! When I turned 18, I knew it was time to embark on a journey that would lead me to more growth and independence as a person, and more career opportunities as an actress.
I enrolled in college, and spent the next four years of college committed to honing my craft.
My first semester was a lot more eventful than I imagined – I was cast as the lead in a short horror film that would eventually screen at Campus Movie Fest, the world’s largest student film festival. With around 80 films submitted that semester, our film was among the top 30 that screened at the festival, and I was awarded the Best Actress Award!
That was a total career highlight, and still is.
I felt so overwhelmed with joy and excitement, especially since I was in the middle of adjusting to the culture and change. It was so validating, and was confirmation to me that I was on the right path, and that I made the right choice in making my move here. Shortly after, I started to get cast in more student/short films.
As I started to garner more film experience, I knew it was time to start looking for representation. Right before my senior year of college, I signed with my amazing manager, Brent Paxton, at Kreativ Media Partners. It’s been such a pleasant experience with them ever since, and I’ve been growing and learning as I go. My most recent work can be seen in Bullet Catch Film’s feature “Night Hunter” where I play the lead role of “Sylvia Steel”. Playing Sylvia was rewarding in so many ways – we filmed for about a year, and I got to dive deep into her complex character.
It was even more rewarding when we learned that we sold out on all three nights of the film’s premiere, screening at a local movie theater in San Diego. It was such a great way to end Night Hunter, and it felt so bittersweet seeing the cast and crew together one last time.
It was also bittersweet for me as the premieres were going on while I was taking my finals for my final semester in college. I was wrapping up multiple experiences at once, but I was so grateful to be able to celebrate all my personal wins at once!
Moreover, while I had been in college and doing some acting work, I also got into content creation and collaborated with brands on some of their biggest campaigns! Once again, these were some of the moments where I could’ve never imagined happening, and for my career to expand and grow beyond acting.
I’m forever grateful for all the brands I’ve collaborated with, some I’ve been huge fans of for years! Some of those include CeraVe, Glow Recipe, Batiste, Grubhub, to name a few.
I would say my favorite collab so far though has got to be with Lulu’s. It was such a treat to partner with them for their Caps Off Graduation Campaign right around the time I was graduating college.
Not only did I wear their beautiful gown and heels virtually for their content, but I got to wear them when I was celebrating my graduation in real life. That experience also was a career highlight for me, as it aligned so well with college journey coming to an end. Ever since then, I’ve been living in Los Angeles, going on auditions, and attending some amazing premieres and private screenings.
It’s been such an incredible journey so far, and I’m eager to see what’s aligned for me moving forward. I think the biggest thing I’d want people to know about me is that I’m a huge believer in the sky being the limit.
As a person and an actress that has had to overcome certain obstacles, purely related to me being foreign and feeling like an outsider, I believe that those obstacles are there to show others that it’s possible to be whoever we want to be.
I believe we are all dealt with “cons” in life, we all have a story to tell, but what allows us to truly shine is who we become despite those circumstances. The future is in our hands, and I hope my story could inspire someone, even if it is in the smallest way. We are all capable of and deserving of good things in life.
What qualities make you different and unique from everyone else in the industry?
I think a certain quality of mine that differentiates me from others would be my faith in knowing that things will work out. Of course most people in this industry persevere and are very committed to their careers – I believe that’s a given if you’re trying to pursue such an unpredictable path in life. However, I believe that because I know things work out for me, and I mean genuinely KNOW, that is the reason why things fall into place for me, in much larger ways than I had envisioned.
Knowing and being in complete belief that things work out, rather than “hoping” they do, instills the confidence and drive in me.
Every time I’ve had a particular goal or dream, I’ve just told myself that it will happen, even if I may not know the “secret formula” or all the logistical steps I would need to take to get there.
And then they do! I know so many people believe in manifestation, and I surely do. An example would be when I was around 9 or 10 years old, and I just knew deep down that I wanted to live in California.
I wanted to be an actress and I just knew that it was written in the stars. Honestly, I’m sure some of it was me being a naïve child, and being a little delusional. But I truly believe that when you have big goals or dreams, and there’s nothing else in the world that you would rather do, you begin to take action that forces you to live up to those dreams and you start to achieve those big goals.
Fast forward to when I turned 16, that was when I truly wanted to pursue acting professionally. I also had a slight interest in modeling.
My friends and family thought I was pretty crazy for having such goals, and a lot of Middle Eastern parents aren’t necessarily as supportive when it comes to creative career paths. The very next year, when I turned 17, I signed with my modeling agent, started to book modeling gigs, and was offered an opportunity to audition in front of important people within the industry all the way in Los Angeles.
It was perfect timing because I was going to graduate high school soon after, and I had to start making important decisions regarding my future. Once those opportunities rolled in, out of nowhere it seemed, my goals were slowly coming to life.
My parents flew to Los Angeles with me for a week, and I got several callbacks from my auditions. Due to that experience alone, my parents felt that it was the right choice for me to make my move to the US. It may seem like a small accomplishment to others, but to me, it felt like I had unknowingly manifested my major goal in life.
The opportunity that arose out of nowhere was the sole reason my parents felt more at ease with me making such a drastic move, in order to pursue such an unconventional career path.
I genuinely believe I unknowingly manifested that goal of mine ever since I was little. No matter how many people told me it was a crazy dream to have, deep down I still believed that it was my destiny. I had no plan B and no desire to pursue any other endeavor anywhere else.
It might have been a crazy dream for a random young girl living in the Middle East, but with my belief in things always working out for me, things did work out for me in the least predictable way. I believe that we should be intentional with the thoughts we feed our minds and the energy we give out.
We all have a destiny that will mark our path in this world, we all have that innate feeling, we just have to be accepting of it wholeheartedly and things really will begin happening for us, not to us. I’ve had other experiences where my goals have come to life just because I knew they would, but perhaps those are stories for another time!
Describe THAT moment when you realized you’re doing what you were born to do.
I think a moment when I realized I was doing what I was born to do was when I signed with my management. Not only were they, and still are, such an incredible team to have, but the auditions came rolling in, day after day and week after week! I was amazed at the rooms I was getting called in to, and the projects I was being seen for. I didn’t necessarily think through how quick this industry moves, but I had to record self-tapes anywhere from once a week to several times a week.
I’ve been truly blessed with the opportunities I’ve had so far. Once I started going out for auditions and being considered for large projects, I knew I was doing what I was born to do because it felt natural. It felt like a sigh of relief, like “yes, finally, I’m doing the thing I’ve been wanting to do for so long”.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to go through and how did you grow through it?
A huge challenge I’ve gone through, and still go through to this day, is my battle with my mental health. 2019 marks as one of the most challenging years for me, and arguably the worst in terms of my mental health. I’ve struggled with my mental health in high school, but never on the level that I had during college.
I’ve had certain unfortunate events happen in my personal life, and 2019 was the year I felt completely defeated. It was interesting because I wasn’t necessarily processing the events that happened, but out of nowhere, my brain began to freak out for that entire year.
I was still a sophomore in college, and I was struggled to leave my room every single day. It was an internal battle to go to class every day – there was a semester where I only took 4 classes, and I failed two out of the 4.
I also lost my job, and I was losing friends left and right. I struggled leaving my dorm room to grab food, and would eat about once a day. I had terrible anxiety and suffered from panic attacks multiple times a day. I felt like I was at rock bottom and the future didn’t look so bright.
I barely did any acting that year either, it felt like I was running out of fuel, and I was losing all the good things in my life over something I struggled to control and overcome. I honestly had no idea how I was going to get through it at the time, and if I’m being completely candid, I wasn’t too sure if I even cared what happened to me.
I just wanted to be out of my misery, and I hated that my anxiety disorder controlled my every move and thought.
However, I grew through the experience through therapy. It took a little bit for me to feel comfortable enough to go, but once I did, I immediately felt such a weight lifted off of me.
I felt so heard and seen, and quickly realized I had been internalizing so many things that were going on, which was causing me so much anxiety. I kept thinking everything was my fault, and never gave myself grace.
Once I released all the things I was internalizing, and didn’t give myself a deadline on when I’m meant to start feeling “normal” again, was when I actually started feeling “normal” again. 2019 was such a vulnerable year for me, but I grew in ways I never could have had I not faced the things I was struggling with.
Of course my anxiety disorder is still there, but I’ve learned how to manage my anxiety, and ever since, it has never controlled me to the same degree it did in 2019. That’s all I could ever ask for!
Who are the TOP 3 people you’d want to meet that could elevate your career or business? Why these specific individuals?
I think 3 people that I would absolutely love to meet are Salma Hayek, Lupita Nyong’o, and Natalie Portman. I respect and admire these women so much, primarily because of their diverse backgrounds, and how they’ve built such groundbreaking careers for themselves.
They inspire me so much, both as actresses and as people. They hold onto their cultures and backgrounds in such honorable ways. My goal in life is to serve and give back to the Arab community, and these three women do so within their respective communities with such elegance and pride.
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