Photography by: Sam Hanson
By: Zeke Hanson
Marikah Cunningham has always known what she wanted to do. Not just in the back of her mind but to the point where she created a business plan, and pitched it to her parents. “I did yeah,” Marikah said. “I started really young. I think the first play I did was the Wizard of Oz and I played Dorothy in 5th grade. I got bit by the bug. Also my older sister was into musical theater and dancing and I looked up to her and wanted to be just like her. So I got really into it and performed all throughout high school. Musical theater, drama club...I was a theatre geek.”
Hawaii is a dream location for most people on the mainland. Marikah growing up in Maui and dreaming of show business, she knew LA was where she needed to go. “I always knew I wanted to live in LA. This is just where I wanted to be. I always dreamed of living here,” said Marikah. “It’s closer than New York from Hawaii so that was a little less daunting. UCLA had always been my dream school. When I was in High School I got all straight A’s, and as you can tell I’m super planned and prepared and that’s just how I am. I got into UCLA right out of High School but my parents wanted me to go to the University of Hawaii and close to home. So I created a little business plan for them. I found a family that I was going to nanny for out here (LA) and said I’d got to Santa Monica community college for two years and establish residency and then I can transfer to UCLA. With all the research I’d done they really couldn’t argue with me after that.”
“I studied psychology and sociology which coincides with theater and acting because it’s the study of the human brain and how we think and why we do the things we do. I really wanted to get a degree and have that college life experience so I’m really glad I did that. After my college studies is when I pursued acting.”
It isn’t very often that you get to see an “Introducing” credit in the opening titles anymore. That’s because, more often than not, people have been working independently and at length to get started. That’s what Marikah did. “I did a couple short films. A movie called Now Boarding was my first feature and it was an indie. I dabbled in a bunch of different roles. I tried to do whatever I could when I was first getting started,” she said.
There are more people trying to build a career in entertainment right now than ever before. There is opportunity but there is also bottleneck. Marikah has learned to make the most of her opportunities. “I just finished doing a guest star on a YouTube miniseries called Keys, directed by Jonah Finegold, he’s this really great up and coming director,” said Marikah. “That was really fun.” Keys is available now and the link is in our video section. She continues, “I’ve been shooting a lot of commercials recently. The last three months I’ve done one for Marvel comics for Occulus Rift Virtual Reality Video Games. That aired at Comic Con. Then I did a commercial for Biore Body Wash. And I just shot a commercial for Bibigo the food chain. I shot a feature length film last year called Agent which is a sci-fi thriller. We’re actually in pre-production for the sequel to that which is going to be shooting early next year. Other than that just auditioning and hustling.” In addition to the hustle, if you’re around children, you’ve probably heard more of Marikah’s work than you’ve seen because she’s done a lot of voice over work. “I’m the voice of Barbie and Polly Pocket. I love voice over work, it’s so much fun. You can show up in your sweat pants and you don’t have to go through hair and makeup. Just show up and do my thing.”
Cunningham is grateful for the opportunities she’s had but would like to take a crack at the lighter side of acting. “I love drama,” Marikah explains, “but it is pretty exhausting and taxing on your body and the emotions that you put yourself through to get places. I love it. I admire people who do drama but I think it’d be fun to get a little more into comedy, just because it’s a little bit more light hearted and a little less intense.” She doesn’t want to cut out drama entirely though, and getting to do a period piece would be a dream come true. “Oh, I would love to do that!” Cunningham goes on, “that would be a huge dream. Anything where you get to wear a giant dress and be back in simpler times and read books and play pianos. I’m all about that. Sign me up for that!”
Even for someone who’s always known what they wanted to do, keeping up with the hustle means stopping to appreciate the art of others. “I love music. Any kind of art inspires me,” said Cunningham. “Painting, dance, spending time in nature. Definitely music. Watching any sort of art form keeps me inspired, keeps me going. I continue to have that drive because I see people doing their thing and it inspires me to continue doing mine. I try to live a very active, healthy lifestyle. I exercise a lot. I try to get outdoors as much as I can. Spend time with friends and family. I try to do things outside of myself that keeps me from sitting there twiddling my thumbs waiting for the phone to ring. Then when I am on set it’s all the more fun because I’m able to be present and be focused on what I’m doing. I can’t remember who said this but somebody once said, ‘you have to have the skin of a rhinoceros but the heart of a rose to be an actor.’ Because you have to have very thick skin and you have to be okay with rejection and you have to be okay with the inconsistency of everything but you also still have to be an empathetic, sweet, pure, wonderful person in order to be able to access all those emotions to be able to portray different people’s lives. So I try my best to keep a balanced life. As much as you can as an actor.”
When Cunningham isn’t on a project she works with children, “I love working with kids. That brings me a lot of joy,” said Marikah. “I actually used to do this summer program called ‘Camp Marikah’. I was a nanny for these little pre-teen girls and we would have so much fun, each day would be a different activity. We’d have a water balloon fight one day or camping in the backyard one day and we’d make s’mores or beach day, or baking day and we’d make all these different treats and we’d have a bake sale outside. I love working with kids. I’m going to start volunteering at the Children’s Hospital in LA. So doing, volunteer work and charity work I think is good to keep your mind and yourself occupied and everything off of yourself. Especially as an actor. It’s kind of a selfish. It’s a very self-centered occupation in a lot of ways so as much as you can take the attention off of yourself and put it on other people, that makes me happy.”
For Cunningham keeping everything straight comes with the territory. Have a plan. Execute the plan. In the meantime yoga, family and church keep her grounded. “That’s how to stay grounded. And knowing that everyone is just trying to be their own person. Everyone’s just living their life, everyone’s just living their dream and you have to remember that. You have a choice every single day to be happy. I truly believe it’s a choice. Sometimes a more difficult choice but it’s always there.”
Bleeds: You’re stuck on an island and can only take 3 things.
Marikah: Oh gosh. 3 things…can one of them be a person?
Bleeds: yes but they’re stuck on the island with you.
Marikah: Oh no.
Bleeds: And they can’t carry anything extra with them.
Marikah: How long?
Marikah: (gasp) You’re just there. Palm trees, but no way to charge devices….I’m going to take out any electronic stuff. Because if I can’t be saved anyway, it’s not like I’m going to call for help. I would bring some sort of book, or notebook to write with. Maybe a Bible. Duct Tape, that stuff is very handy, it can work wonders. I would probably bring my sister. She’s probably the only person I could handle being around for the rest of my life.
Bleeds: Is she still doing music.
Marikah: No, she’s actually a professor now. She as two little girls and lives up in in San Francisco.
Bleeds: That’s a good Desert Island. Some people freak out over that question.
Marikah: I was stressed out. Notebook, Bible, Duct Tape. Duct Tape is awesome, don’t ever underestimate the power of duct tape.
Don’t ever, ever, do that.
Marikah Cunningham is a pog appreciating, Oregon Trail exploring, care taking, actress. She’s a woman with a plan, and we could use more like her.
Things to know:
You say her name like Mariah…except it’s Marikah.
She isn’t currently on twitter. So don’t look for her there.
Her Instagram is @marikahcunningham