Indie darling: Santa Barbara native Najarra Townsend takes a short break before a busy year to come


“My roots are showing,” says actress Najarra Townsend in a self-conscious moment at the beginning of our interview. She’s talking about her hair—dark brunette, almost black, waiting to be transformed again for another role—but she could be talking about being back in the town of her birth, Santa Barbara. Here to see family, she’s taking an end of year break that has been filled with film premieres, auditions, and shoot days. Her most recent film, “Tru Loved,” screened this November at OUTrageous: The Santa Barbara Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Film Festival, and then down the road at the Ojai Film Festival. She plays the title character, Tru, who moves from a progressive Californian town to a more repressed suburb and sets about shaking things up in terms of gay and lesbian awareness. And 2009 is starting to shape up as a busy year, with three more lead roles (“Betty I Am,” “The Dawning” and “Cupid’s Arrow”) and parts in “We Are the Mods” and “The Telling.”

“This year (2008) has been the slowest year,” says Townsend as we chat downtown on an intermittently cold and sunny day. There were projects, she says, but they are all either being wrapped up or edited…and some she hasn’t heard from. But her upcoming film “Marin Blue”—-again, she plays the title character,–plays the Berlin Film Festival in February.

Her path to Hollywood starts with seeing “Peter Pan” at the Civic Light Opera back when she was three. (By coincidence, she’s back in town with another “Peter Pan” playing at the Lobero). That got her interested enough to join Showstoppers, one of Santa Barbara’s main musical theater training programs for kids. From ages 3 to 9, she says, she appeared in over 30 productions. By seven she had landed her first commercial (“and my last one, apparently” she laughs) and by the time she was 10, she had landed her first feature. While in Santa Barbara, she attended Roosevelt Elementary, but at 12 she moved to Los Angeles with her mother to be closer to the business of Hollywood.

Somewhere along the way, Townsend dyed her hair black. “I was playing a Goth girl in a play called ‘Cut,’” she says. “Then I went with red hair. But I like it black now.”

=The hair was blonde when she grabbed a supporting role in Miranda July’s “Me You and Everyone We Know,” playing Rebecca. “They had me try on various outfits, but Miranda saw me and asked me to try on my boyfriend’s clothes. So the character became a major tomboy.” The film was a cult hit, and though shot in 2004, feels like eons ago to Townsend, who just turned 19 in December.

Despite being well beyond the age to get a license, Townsend admits she still doesn’t drive. “I just luck out,” she says about getting around Los Angeles from her Studio City home. “My mom or my boyfriend will drive me. I know I need to take that first step, but…aaargh!”

Her other blind spot, she says, is comedy. “I’m so not funny,” she admits. “I have a good sense of humor and I like to laugh, but I can’t make people laugh. I don’t know what it is.” On “Tru Loved” that was not problem, as she acted off of such funny performers as Jane Lynch and Bruce Vilanch. However, she says, “I’m good at being emotional. I can cry…I am able to connect things and feel what the characters are feeling.”

Right now, however, Najarra is simply playing Najarra, the hardworking and quite shy actor, who is taking a break and seeing family during the holiday season, off to give them all a quick update on her career. “I wonder if ‘Peter Pan’ still has tickets?” she wonders, and then she’s gone.

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