So the gorgeous and fierce actress, Sundra Oakley, who is currently on Legends and also known for Survivor and a long list of other shows including Sex and the City, As the World Turns, CSI: Miami and Strong Medicine, Lost and CSI, will definitely lift your spirits and improve your stick-at-it attitude.
Next time I go to have that glass of wine when I’m trying to drop weight, I will replay her words "may my character not spoil my destiny." "May my character not spoil my destiny." "May my character not spoil my destiny."
It is my honor to welcome Sundra Oakley. May her words also have as profound an impact on your life, as they have had on mine.
Gabrielle Reilly: What do you think the “x” factor is in you that has made you so successful (you don’t have to be humble with this answer, the goal is to help people excel?)
Sundra Oakley: Thank you so very much and thank you for having me, Gabrielle!
Well I will say this, I have always been relentless, many times naively so and I am almost positive annoyingly so to others at times! I truly do not know why or how, but I have just never accepted defeat, never accepted that a goal that I wanted could not be mine - even as a little girl.
I have always had this 'things will work out' attitude -- even when I have been in my worst slumps and experienced what felt like the darkest days. I will half way joke and say I chalk a lot of that up to being a Capricorn--the durable mountain goat that makes it up that rugged, rocky mountain side no matter what.
One of my mottos is "Never let anyone or anything dull your shine", and I guess, I have just refused to not shine. This is not in an arrogant way, but in a self-care, self-loving way. As much as we may cheer for our favorite sports teams, we should be lovingly support and cheer ourselves on.
Gabrielle Reilly: What a fantastic attitude, I LOVE it! What philosophies or lessons have helped you the most?
Sundra Oakley: "May my character not spoil my destiny", "Patience is the father of good character", "What is fi yu cyan be un fi yu (that's a Jamaican saying that means what is for you will always be yours)”. And lastly, do not be a jerk to people, it is so unattractive and will always come back to bite you in the behind!
Gabrielle Reilly: "May my character not spoil my destiny," gosh I LOVE that too and have never clarified life like that. Thank-you! How do you organize your time?
Sundra Oakley: How about I get back to you when I actually figure that out! LOL. Hey, I am a mom, a working mom, a wife, a student, a teacher, and an author. I am constantly trying to figure out how to keep both all the balls up in the air and my sanity. Some days I am better at it than others, and I have learned to accept that it is okay if the balancing act is not going so well at times. That is life, eh? Sometimes I simply just have to drop everything and take care of whatever issue is most pressing at the time. Learning to say "no" was one of the best tools I ever acquired to help me organize my time.
Gabrielle Reilly: What motivates you to excel?
Sundra Oakley: Ooooh, Gabrielle, you have some good questions! I would say, the desire to honor my ancestors upon whose shoulders I stand and to uphold the dreams that many of them never even thought could be possible and the desire to honor my destiny because each and every one of us are a vital, unique creation of this magnificent Universe. We are ALL here for a reason.
Gabrielle Reilly: Does being famous make you happy? What makes you happy?
Sundra Oakley: Being fulfilled makes me happy. Seeing my children thrive makes me happy. Having a healthy partnership with my husband makes me happy. Living a life that I love makes me happy. Fame can absolutely have its perks, but please, for the love of God, do not let it be the 'thing' that makes you happy because I can guarantee it will not.
Gabrielle Reilly: That’s a great perspective! Do you ever question your own ability and if so, how do you gather your confidence to do what you need to do?
Sundra Oakley: Only every day! LOL. A wise woman taught me about how we reframe things in life can make such a difference in our perspective. Whenever I fall into that place of doubt, mind you it is a lot less than it was when I was younger and first started out, I grab myself by the shoulders and say, "Sundra, stop it right now! You are letting fear take up space in your head that it has not paid rent for. You have done the work, you know what you are doing. Get up, smile, and fake it if you have to but get on out there!"
Gabrielle Reilly: I’m going to have to try that. J Everybody is rejected sometimes in life. How do you process rejection?
Sundra Oakley: Oh man, it has run the gamut over the years. Sometimes you just need a good cry to let it all out. Mostly I try to do things that make my soul happy. It could be a nice hard work out or having a glass of wine with a friend. Being outside in nature helps me a lot too. And often, I go back to being your best cheerleader....what would you tell someone whom you love if they were going through the same thing? I will do what a coach would do to a player who has just left the field/court, I will give myself a proverbial pat on the back with a little pep talk saying, "Next time, girl, it's all good."
Gabrielle Reilly: What does your diet and exercise look like?
Sundra Oakley: For the most part, I do eat a very healthy and clean diet. For the most part. I am a woman who loves cake--watch your piece of red velvet cake if I am around because if you turn your head, it is guaranteed to be gone! LOL.
I have done all the diets out there and realized that I will not do any craziness again. So I focus on organic clean foods (we eat a lot of greens in our house), lots of protein (I do not eat red meat or pork just because I have not for over 20 years and have quite frankly lost the taste for it), and add in the cheat foods in moderation. Life is short after all!
I fully believe when your brain is at ease and does not feel like it is in punishment mode when it comes to food that having the indulgences will not be as detrimental as we tend to think they will be. And water is my best friend. I am constantly telling my boys that they need to eat more of what grows on a tree or came from the ground because at the end of the day, we are all made up of the same stuff. They do (because we do not give them much of a choice in our house) but pretty much think mommy is a little loca en la cabeza! LOL.
For exercise, I have studied Kung Fu for about ten years now and it is a huge part of my physical and mental fitness regimen. Having been a dancer since I was 4 and having worked professionally as a dancer, movement is an absolute must. Being sedentary would feel like torture! I had emergency back surgery 4 years ago and being forced to NOT exercise for those weeks following the surgery were harder on me mentally than physically. I also incorporate lots of plyometric training and barre classes each week. Mixing it up works best for me.
Gabrielle Reilly: We are trying to help parents by exploring the end result of how kids are raised. How did your parents raise you? Were they supportive or hard on you? Strict, or not strict? What did they do well? What would you change? Do you feel well-adjusted from your childhood?
Sundra Oakley: I am a first generation American born to Jamaican parents. My upbringing was distinctly Jamaican--a mixture of strong British propriety and an equally influential dose of island conviviality. There were rules (you make up your bed before leaving the house, first thing you do on a Saturday are your chores before anything else, you address adults in a respectful manner) but there was also plenty of music, jokes, and laughter.
I would say compared to my American friends, my parents were certainly strict but not unreasonably so (even though there were times that I felt that way!). In fact, I am so very thankful for the rules and expectations that were placed upon me because they have served me well as I have gone out in the world and most definitely as I have become a parent myself.
They were both supportive and hard on me which I think is actually a very healthy balance. Yes there were times I felt they were too hard, but as I have become an adult and my understanding has developed, I realize that they could only parent from their own experiences, and everything they did was because of how much they loved me.
Sure, there are things that I would have changed and have thus made conscious decisions to do differently with my children, but that hardy Jamaican foundation has allowed me to be that durable mountain goat in pursuit of what it is I want in this life.
I think the idea of being well-adjusted from our childhoods are relative and incredibly subjective. But I would say I have adjusted very well!
Gabrielle Reilly: What do you like to do for fun and relaxation?
Sundra Oakley: A two hour massage is my idea of nirvana! To have someone bring ease to your muscles is such a gift. I also love going to a movie theatre where you can order drinks and food to your seat; those are so much fun! And a great Tahitian dance class will always get my juices flowing.
Gabrielle Reilly: Do you ever get depressed or go through cycles of binging or some other destructive behavior and, if so, how do you snap out of it?
Sundra Oakley: I have absolutely had bouts of severe depression. Luckily, I have never indulged in any destructive behaviors, thank God. I attribute that to the fact that as I stated earlier, I have always had this feeling, this knowing that I was here on this planet for something bigger, to contribute something.
Because of that, even in my roughest times, I have managed to always tell myself to hold on tight because whatever low I was in would only be temporary.
Gabrielle Reilly: Congratulations on the 2nd season of Legends! After working on a crime drama do you view the world differently, with more suspicion?
Sundra Oakley: It is definitely a thrill to have entered season 2! To answer your question, to be honest, it did not take working on a crime drama to view the world with a little more suspicion. LOL. When you have been on this planet long enough, you start to realize that many times things and people are not always what they seem. That being said, you also do not want to go through life being suspicious all the time. Doing that to me feels like a recipe for an unhealthy mental state.
Gabrielle Reilly: What has been your favorite project to work on so far and why?
Sundra Oakley: Two immediately come to mind. First, Legends because not only was I working with and around such amazing talent such as Morris Chesnut (I play his wife) and Sean Bean (he is ridiculously masterful at his craft), but I was able to manifest a long time goal of filming overseas. I am a travel junkie--no joke I sleep with my passport on my bedside table!--and we shot in London and Prague, two of my favorite cities in the world; so I was in sheer bliss!
The second project that comes to mind is the show Touch that I did a couple of years back. I played a Jamaican transgender woman who was in a successful reggae group with her brother when she was living as a man but had to leave Jamaica in order to truthfully and safely live her life. It is rare that I ever get to play someone from my actual culture but then at the same time to represent someone in the transgender community was especially moving for me.
Gabrielle Reilly: Oh yes, Prague is a gorgeous city and I can relate, I’m a travel junkie too! What are you working on at the moment?
Sundra Oakley: After I wrapped Legends, I shot an independent film called Magnum Opus that will be released soon. Also being a martial artist for many years, it has become a bit of an obsession of mine to bring that part of my life to the screen such as what we have seen with actors like Jean-Claude Van Damme, Wesley Snipes, Michael Jai White, and of course Bruce Lee.
Unfortunately the female representation is rare to none and the female of color representation is even rarer than that. So I have taken the "If the mountain will not go to Mohammed, Mohammed must go to the mountain" approach and recently did a bit of an experiment of me in action (you can see it at https://youtu.be/kO7jxhQWGwA).
Also, I love languages (I speak French and Spanish and have been studying Russian) and accents; so one definite dream role would be being able to combine those elements into a character.
Gabrielle Reilly: Oh, my daughter is self-taught in Russian. She watches Russian children’s shows on YouTube to immerse herself. Actually, being a travel junkie too, I’ve taken my kids all over the world with me. One tip I have for parents is have your children figure out how to ask for ice-cream in the local language and pay themselves. It’s like giving a dog a bone, every time they speak a language they get a treat. My daughter has a great passion and gift for languages as a result.
I’m so glad we interviewed you, your attitude has made me want to be relentless but enjoy the simple everyday things along the way too. Thanks for sharing the many unique ideas that make you such a force!