Born into a world of strife, Gianna Simone found herself being passed from family to family in Boston’s inner-city foster care system at age 14. Taken out of her home by the Department of Social Services, she wound up at a girls’ home in Chelsea, Massachusetts, where she was rotated with six other girls. “Everyone would want babies, but not a 14-year-old teenager,” says Simone.
“Girls would come and go, some would run away, or find other placements. It was a really fearful, dark, and turbulent time in my life.”
She endured through abuse, fear and feelings of hopelessness—something the actress, who, in a strange life twist stars in Mother’s Day alongside Julia Roberts and Kate Hudson, says no one should go through, let alone children. “On most nights, I would sleep with my phone and knife nearby,” she reveals.
Today, the 26-year-old is living her fairytale life, attending Cannes and ending up on best-dressed lists around the world. Here, the actress talks to HarpersBAZAAR.com about her turbulent life, her burgeoning star power, and the new TV series she co-produced and stars in; playing a vegan and rebellious hippie. “I wanted to make being vegan cool, because it is,” she laughs.
Harper’s BAZAAR: Is it true that do your own hair and make-up for red carpet events?
Gianna Simone: I am super picky about what touches my body, and I have become aware of the animal cruelty involved in the beauty industry with animal testing. Because of this, I have discovered clean, natural, and cruelty-free products that work for my sensitive skin and protective heart. Knowing the amount of how many toxic chemicals are in mainstream makeup and hair products is unappealing to me and raises a lot of concern. I also enjoy doing my own hair and makeup and know that it’ll come out the way I want. It’s a creative art form to me in a way. I’ve been doing it for years now, and have learned so much. For my hair, I sometimes get help on the more intricate hair styles and explain to the hair stylist that I like to use my own products. In some cases, it has influenced several beauty professionals to use the cleaner products as well.
HB: What was your first experience at Cannes like? Was it what you expected?
GS: There are very few things in life I find that are as magical in person as you imagine them to be. Cannes was one of those experiences that held up to that magical essence. It’s the epitome of class and elegance for the entertainment industry.
HB: You star alongside Julia Roberts, Jennifer Aniston and Kate Hudson in Mother’s Day. Were you nervous?
GS: It’s always very exciting to collaborate and work with people who are masters at what they do. When I decide to learn new things, I always choose to learn from the best, so I can become one of them. It is the same with acting. When you are around other talented people, it can only bring you up. Not only was the cast amazing, but also our director Garry Marshall, is one of the kindest and the most caring directors I’ve worked with. Before my first day of work on set, I dropped by just to say hello and get acquainted with everyone. I saw Garry, gave him a big hug, and chatted a little bit about things. He said to me, “If anyone upsets you, you come tell me.” I responded, “Thank you Garry, if anyone upsets you, you come tell me!”
HB: Tell us about Hitting the Breaks, a 10-episode sitcom which you co-produced as well as star in.
GS: It’s about a former race car driver moving his family from Atlanta to a small town in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, where he inherits The Serenity Inn, a struggling bed and breakfast. Out of their element and insecure about their future, the family’s life is further complicated by an assortment of local eccentrics, ranging from a rebel, vegan restaurant owner, to a store that sells everything you can think of, to the wacky sheriff. It’s a town that exists in an illogical world, governed by rules that continue to baffle them. I play Sky Liberty, the vegan, rebellious hippie. I wanted to make being vegan cool, because it is. With heart disease being the number one killer in America, and a plant-based diet being able to wipe that out entirely, America needs this positive message conveyed to it in a cool, fun loving way. We have quite a few guest star appearances that are hysterical as well! I’m really excited for its release.
HB: How did you first get into acting? Did you grow up wanting to be an actress?
GS: I originally had a burning desire to pursue modeling. When I was about five or six years old, my babysitter told me, “You’re so pretty; you should think about becoming a model when you grow up”, which planted the seed that kept growing. At 16, I got my modeling portfolio done and began displaying it around to various agencies. I was rejected many times and was told to pursue acting instead. Naturally, this made me push harder and fight for it more, meanwhile, not wanting to do acting. After becoming successful in modeling, I fell in love with acting, ironically. I realized this when friends and coworkers would tell me I as I took on character roles, and projected something from inside me when I was in front of the camera. At the age of 21, I moved from Boston to Los Angeles, and took every opportunity that came along my way, trusting that God had a great plan for my life, giving me the willpower to move forward in a positive direction that gave me a feeling of purpose, joy and artistic freedom to fully express myself.
Looking back, I believe life experiences are what an actor needs to relate to the character roles they take on, and to say the least, I’ve had many experiences leading up to this moment. Not only have my experiences become a tremendous asset in my acting, but also they helped me discover who I am and who I want to be.
HB: You’ve achieved a great deal since being placed in foster care at age 14. How did you overcome overcome the hardships you faced?
GS: I would work out at a local gym, to get my anger out and to become physically and mentally tougher. While going to the gym, I became friends with the owner, Kathy DeMarco, who took me under her wing and decided to go about the process of adopting me. She was with me for the transition into foster care, and would attend court every few months in trying to obtain custody. She passed away just before the court was about to grant her custody. She was my guardian angel, and I am thankful for the love she showed me, because it transformed me, and eventually came to change my heart. She was both a maternal and paternal figure in my life. She taught me the love of God. She would take me to church with her and I learned how God saw us, which changed how I saw myself. I share my story, not to gain pity, but to share hope, and how anyone, with love and care, can transform another person’s life for the better. I have had several angels in my life who have helped me in many ways throughout the tough journey, including my birth father, and my friend Bill Heavener, who both guided me and supported me in a similar way to how Kathy did. My father was dealing with his own struggles [when I was taken by Department of Social Services] and wasn’t able to take me away from the abuse. He also wasn’t aware of what was going on. I want to inspire others with the fact that I went through some pretty painful times and came out of it. One day I may elaborate more publicly but for now I hope this is enough for people to feel inspired. Being placed into foster care as well as the experiences that followed played a large part of my young adult life. Despite how difficult and hopeless it was at times, my experiences have shaped me for the better in many ways. It ultimately taught me empathy and invaluable lessons only learned through adversity.
HB: And you now run the Gianna Simone Foundation for foster cared children, tell us about that.
GS: My past experiences in life inspired me to assist others and in order to make a difference in the community, I decided to offer my experience, resources, and time to start a foundation based on the change and improvement in certain areas I wanted to see. One area I wanted to see change in was improving foster youth’s lives, especially while in the state’s custody. Because I was in foster care growing up, I know from firsthand experience the pain and fear that comes with going through the process. It took one person to show me love and compassion, and it changed my life for the better. That is what I hope to do for the youth I encounter through our foundation’s work, eventually hoping to see foster care become a thing of the past. A friend of mine, who also has a big heart for foster youth said to me, “If every church in America takes in just one child, foster care wouldn’t have to exist” An average church consists of approximately 200 people. That’s 200 people, or opportunities, to care for just one child. It can be done. We also provide assistance and relief services for victims of sex-trafficking, which in America stems mainly from the foster care system. In addition, we also provide scholarships to survivors of the Rwandan genocide who wish to pursue a college education.