+ She's Proof You Can Cater to All Your Talents, even at the same time.
Kijsa Gifford has mastered the art of being able to cater to all her talents, never allowing anyone to box her in. From the outside looking in, Gifford’s life has been a whirlwind of dedication and success and she’s just getting started. Her work ethic and enthusiasm have made her extremely successful in the gym, behind the camera and on her journey of entrepreneurship, as has her positive mindset.
Photographer: Jeannie Albers
Words: Angel Neal
Kijsa Gifford is actor, entrepreneur, and multi-award-winning athlete. Currently residing in Los Angeles, Kijsa spends much of her busy schedule traveling between the entertainment hubs of Los Angeles, Atlanta, and New York City. Highlighting her versatility and commitment to her craft, Kijsa recently wrapped filming a feature film for the Lifetime Channel. She will also make her mark in the upcoming short film “The Coffee Shop” and is slated for numerous lead roles in feature films set for production in 2024, including "Myra’s Last Hope" and "The Time is Now." With her early years marked by rigorous training in gymnastics, volleyball, lacrosse, and collegiate pole vaulting, the budding actress is well-prepared for an array of action roles as well as her other genres of interest, which include drama, comedy, and rom-coms. With a unique family connection to iconic actress Marilyn Monroe, Kijsa aptly named her production company Norma Jean Entertainment, poising herself to undertake her own future film projects. For more information on Kijsa, please visit: kijsagifford.com.
Though Kijsa’s acting journey began at age 4, it took a backseat to her athletic endeavors for much of her childhood. Now ready to fully take on the pursuit, Kijsa is embracing her passion for acting. She’s recently wrapped an episode of “Space Transports, is in pre-production for “Solace in the Little Things,” appeared in the upcoming short “The Coffee Shop,” and is slated for a number lead roles in feature films set for production in 2024. Kijsa now balances her busy schedule between Tampa, Florida and the bustling industry centers of Los Angeles, Atlanta, and New York Meet Kijsa. This is her story.
Your earlier years consist of rigorous training in gymnastics. What prompted your interest to get into acting and the film industry, well action performance to be exact?
I actually started acting when I was 4 years old. I auditioned for TV commercials and did plays and pageants. I had to step away for a while because of my intense training as a gymnast since it didn’t leave any room for acting in my schedule. So, once an opportunity opened up for me to begin acting again, I took it.
Being a natural athlete has prepared you to naturally overcome and work hard and face obstacles that may come your way in the entertainment industry. What has been your motivation to keep going?
My reason for being an actor may be different than others because my ability to express myself artistically as a child was only through my sport. I love acting regardless of the outcome. I love the artistic expression of becoming another character or person and being privileged to tell their story. So, for me the joy is within the art itself and not the outcome. I try to stay focused on delivering the best performance that I can. If that leads to something, that’s great. If not, then I move on. No big deal.
How has it been juggling school at USF and pursuing your entertainment endeavors?
It is a struggle for sure. I am only taking one virtual class next semester so that I can focus on training and acting. I am going to take classes year-round so that I can free up time and space in my life to focus on acting.
More women are becoming comfortable with being behind the scenes when it comes to producing, writing, directing and just taking over the entertainment film industry. Your latest venture—your production company Norma Jean Entertainment—is named after your distant cousin Marilyn Monroe. What is the primary focus? What inspired you to create it?
Besides acting, I am a really good writer. I was getting asked to look at scripts and give feedback or give my input on them. I noticed an area that could use some help—female characters. I noticed that many times the character could use more emotional depth and development. Often I saw that she was written to be entitled, a bully, shallow, over-sexualized, as well as other negative traits instead of positive traits. Then I started looking at a lot of the roles out there for girls like me. Many of the roles required nudity, among other things. It made me wonder: if I was a young girl growing up and saw women that looked like me on TV, and they were almost always being used as sexual objects or painted in a not-so-positive light, how would that affect my psychological development and mental image of myself? So, I started Norma Jean Entertainment to help launch some projects that will develop scripts and productions that are good stories about women with solid character development. Don’t get me wrong, if nudity is done in good taste and it makes sense for a role to add to the character, then by all means it has a place in the film. But I wanted to see more positive role models for young girls growing up. Marilyn Monroe also struggled with roles that typecast her for many years. She dreamed of being taken seriously as an actress, and she was a fantastic actress. So, Norma Jean Entertainment will produce films that Marilyn would have enjoyed and wanted to be a part of—films with class and sophistication.
What kind of roles would you like to see more of in film and ones you’d like to play and why?
I would like to see more roles about female empowerment. I recently read an Instagram post by Blake Lively that relays my sentiments and reasons perfectly, which said, “When I grew up, women were always pit against one another. It took me until adulthood to see that the instinct for women to lift each other up to their highest potential is the norm not the exception. Most of my best friends are women who would’ve been packaged to me as threats or competition. It’s our job to show the younger generations the power in aligning rather than dividing.” That paragraph sums up why I started Norma Jean Entertainment and why I felt inspired to write scripts that show the world our true nature. I experienced this and still experience this in sports. It’s time to create that change.
As a popular athlete and rising actress, you are followed by so many people. How do you balance the pressure of always doing the right thing, and encouraging your followers to follow their dreams?
Well, I am certainly not standing here under the illusion that I am some great model or am perfect. I struggled for many, many years with self-love, friends, depression, anxiety and have had my fair share of nuclear meltdowns. What I think maybe makes me more palatable is my sincerity and honesty when I say to someone, “I see you, I hear you, I was you,” because I was. There is no secret sauce. Life is a struggle. It is finding the things that make you happy and taking small steps each day towards something better. Over time, you look back and realize how far you have come on the journey. I think most people can relate to that.
The athleisure fashion style is big right now. Has fashion played a role in your career yet? Do you get dressed up for fun? Are you into fashion?
I have always been a huge fan of athleisure. Mostly because that type of clothing flatters my figure the best as an athlete. It is also great that I can leave a workout in the same clothes and wear them out to meet a friend for coffee or do errands without having to change right away. With the sheer number of hours I spend training, every second counts, so that has been a life saver for me. I am hugely into fashion. I love so many designers and love glamourous and high fashion too. One of my bucket list items is to be able to go to a real fashion show.
When you're multi-talented sometimes you'll have people telling you, you need to stick to one thing. Has there been a cheerleader or a role model who has influenced you to pursue all your dreams? Someone who inspires you to keep going.
My mom and sister are my rocks. They support me whenever I come up with one of my wild ideas or dreams. And they are there to help me pursue it. I couldn’t have done any of it without their support. I was told years ago by coaches, teammates, and other parents that I was crazy to walk away from gymnastics because of how good I was at it. It was my mother who said, “You are an athlete Kijsa. You can become good at any sport you choose. Do what makes you happy.” I am glad that I had her support to leave and pursue so many other sports. I know of quite a few girls that are still in sports that they don’t love because they did not have the same support system to leave. So, I feel lucky and blessed to have had that support.
What invaluable lesson you learned that you can share with the next entrepreneur that would impact their business decision making?
Start small and take your time. Build your business as you see fit and go with your gut. The most important thing is to stay true to yourself and your vision and always walk with integrity.
What can we expect next from you? Now that the actors' strike is lifted and exciting projects underway?
I have a lot of projects in the works that I cannot talk about just yet. But what I can say is that I just wrapped on a feature film for the Lifetime channel that will be out in February 2024. I also was just in season 2 of two different TV series that will be on streaming platforms. I am in talks now for three feature films and a TV series. My short film projects that are out now or are coming in early 2024 include, “The Coffee Shop,” “Myra’s Last Hope,” and “The Time is Now.” I really liked “The Time is Now,” where I was able to play a drug addict and show a completely different type of character. In “Myra’s Last Hope,” I play Starla, a young runaway girl who is separated from her parents and gets stuck in a dystopian town. In “The Coffee Shop,” I play Jace, a barista, in a unique story that follows various people who frequent a coffee shop and their stories.
Where can we follow you?
FB: Kijsa Gifford