Leather clad with a black widow’s red hourglass adorning her stomach, Alyssa Diaz balances on the ropes of a wrestling ring with a stony expression. She crouches like a predator, all before before slamming down on her opponent with full force. This is Alyssa’s role playing the tough-as-nails, Luchadores wrestler “Teresa” in the Emmy award-winning series “Ray Donovan.” On and offscreen, Alyssa embodies the spirit of a fighter. She has 11 years worth of kickboxing and martial arts training under her belt and since she was a child, she has fought her way as an actress through the film industry. Now Diaz is taking on a new battle as she fights to empower disenfranchised women.
Alyssa Diaz and her business partner Cristen Coppen founded a mentorship program called “I Am Now Me,” which is catered to young women in foster care. The program’s aim is to give women a voice through storytelling. Alyssa should know firsthand the power of storytelling, because she’s made a career through it. Along with her role in “Ray Donovan,” Alyssa also stars in the CBS series “Zoo” and has also had roles in “Army Wives,” “Vampire Diaries,” and “Lucifer.” She’s making a documentary featuring the young women in her “I Am Now Me” program and she’s also writing a fantastical screenplay based on her own native roots. Alyssa not only uses storytelling to help other women discover their strength, she also uses it to discover her own.
First of all you’re a wonderful writer – and you dive into a fantastical world to explore ancestral roots. Why do you think fantasy was the best vehicle for that?
I’ve always been drawn to sci-fi and mythology in general, and cultures that use masks, or dancing, or poetry to express the human condition. I feel that our fairytales and sci-fi help us explain something bigger than what we are, and they help tell the story of the collective. It’s like our modern folklore. I feel like carrying that on is really important especially for women in storytelling, because I feel that’s how lessons are learned and it can help us navigate society. The mythology of those types of stories call upon the sacredness of what it means to be female.
I feel like you’ve gone from being cast as the damsel in distress to some really strong, offbeat characters. Has this mirrored a transformation in yourself at all?
Absolutely, I think it’s an inner strength that I’ve come to embrace as I mature into womanhood. I’ve learned to really own my voice and presence and to take up space, rather than shrinking. I’m very passionate about encouraging people to do the same.
Tell me about “I Am Now Me.”
We work with a group home in South Central with “at risk” teenage girls ages 12 to 17. And we’re really big on empowering young women to own their voices and who they are. We bring in speakers to speak to the girls once a month and do activities with them. I go in teach them filmmaking and acting. I’m working on a documentary with this group as well to empower them to express themselves and open up their voices.
What are some future goals you’d like to accomplish?
I would like to have a production company that caters to empowering women from diverse socio-economic backgrounds. And also just being happy. I used to be in the mindset of “once I get this thing, I’ll be happy.” Then I’d get those things, I still wasn’t happy. It’s about just choosing to be grateful everyday. I have legs to walk on, eyes to see. I believe in going out and sharing your gifts with someone. We all have something to offer. Because what’s the point of having money and fame, if you can’t help somebody out with it. Make a difference, even if you can do it for just one person.
TEXT ZEE CHANG
PHOTOGRAPHY ANDRÉ PAUL PINCES
STYLIST PHILIPPE UTER
HAIR TANYA ABRIOL
MAKEUP KRISTINA BROWN
CLOTHING BLACK JACKET BY ANICY MANUGUIAN