Courtesy of Victoria Vertuga
In the Hollywood land of hyphenates, Victoria Vertuga rocks pretty much all of them. And now the actress, writer, producer and model with an obvious passion for creating is using all her skills for her latest project, a darkly comedic web series called DisGraced.
In a recent one-on-one interview, Victoria explained that her love of performing started at a very young age. "I've been a performer all of my life," she explained. "Growing up my dad's family would put on these crazy elaborate family talent shows where we would sing, dance, do whatever. There was usually a play where my grandmother would cast all my cousins in various roles. I performed in high school, both acting and dancing, and continued to do so in college."
The California native attended the University of Southern California to hone her skills. "I actually have a B.S. in Music Industry from USC but have a theatre minor. USC has some really fantastic entertainment centered programs that are looked upon very well in the industry. I wanted to see if I could satisfy enough of my creative itch working on the business side of entertainment. It was really important that I did that because it solidified the fact that I really couldn't be happy with an office job and needed to be the one creating to be fulfilled. So after a few years working on the business side, I quit to pursue acting (and modeling and writing) full time."
During her time at USC, Victoria fell into modeling. "In college a photographer who was taking my headshots asked if I wanted to model for a pin up project he was working on," she recounted. "I've always LOVED pin up, especially Gil Elvgren and George Hurrell, so I said hell yes! It kind of just happened from there. I'm short, so there aren't as many opportunities open to me because of that, but I've been extremely lucky to work a ton and have a ton of awesome gigs despite my height. I've been in Maxim and FHM, I've been in TONS of pin up publications, books, and art exhibits, I've done lots of work for swimwear and lingerie brands, and lots of beauty editorials. In addition to the commercial print stuff."
Soon after graduating from USC, Victoria booked a lot of commercial and print work. But not all of the work was glamorous, as she noted, "My friends were always finding my print ads in random magazines. My first national commercial, which I was so excited for, ended up being completely embarrassing and hilarious. It was for a dating company that was being called OBC. They hired about six actors to do a series of these commercials that were all kind of cheesy funny sitcom scenarios with a laugh track and the whole nine. We're halfway through day one of filming and one of the actors asks if OBC stands for something. Come to find out it stood for Online Booty Call. So yeah, that was my first national commercial."
But as much as Victoria enjoys modeling and acting, she also had ambitions behind the camera. "I've actually been a writer my whole life. Growing up I had tons of poems and short stories published. I was the person that everyone would send their essays to in high school and college to spruce them up. So I've always had that love of writing and deep appreciation for the power of storytelling."
So, wanting to seize control of her own career and the roles she wanted to play, Victoria ventured into screenwriting. She conceded, "There's only so many times you can audition for 'Hot Girl #4' and 'Ditzy Blonde' and find it fulfilling and fun. As an actor, there is so much about it that is completely out of your control."
She continued, "You can control your performance but you can't control whether or not you're what they're looking for, if you're too tall, too short, too young, too old, too skinny, too fat, whatever. If you book the role you have no control over the environment of the set. You have no control over whether or not you're cut out of the project, how the finished project is cut together, whether it's good or bad. There's a lot that you're at the mercy of. So I found stepping into a role a a creator/writer/producer to be really empowering. It's fantastic to be the one controlling those aspects, setting the tone on my set, treating people how I would want to be treated. That's honestly my favorite part of producing."
In 2018, Victoria co-wrote and starred in the series Tithes. She described the show as "a dark comedy about a girl named Riley who finds herself and her family in financial trouble and gets the idea to start a scammy church to make a quick buck. She's a girl who wants to see herself as being 'good' and always doing the right thing, but has to stretch her view on right and wrong in order to justify the actions that she takes. She's someone who really, really needs a win and so finds herself taking extreme measures to get that win. It's really a show about desperate people doing desperate things to get what they think they deserve. It explores the ideas of right and wrong, good and bad, and the lies we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better."
Courtesy of Victoria Vertuga
Along with her partner Eric Williford, Victoria wrote the entire first season of the show. "We just really fell in love with the characters and the story and wanted to go through the process of writing a show bible, breaking down how the entire series would end, what the character arcs would be, all that stuff," Victoria admitted. "Writing the whole first season gave us such a strong idea of who each of these people were and what the themes of the story were so it made writing the show bible so much easier. It was also a really fun experience because the longer you're with the characters the more crystal clear their voices become so when you're writing you hear their voices so clearly in your head. We really enjoyed that process."
She described her partnership with Williford saying, "I feel so amazingly blessed to have found Eric. We have a really fantastic partnership. We support each other, encourage each other, but also call each other on our shit. I feel like we're both able to have honest discussions about what is working or isn't working and hear each other out. We try not to be precious with our words and sensitive about it all so that we can create the best projects possible. Writing can be such a lonely, isolating thing so having a partner is really wonderful because it gives you someone to share the journey with and bounce ideas off of. It's been really fantastic that way."
Courtesy of Victoria Vertuga
Now the two have teamed us on DisGraced. Victoria shared the inspiration for the web series which is currently available on YouTube and Amazon Prime. "It's about an actress who had what she thought was her big break as the lead in the third installment of a big action franchise. The movie flopped and now it's five years later and she's back into the mix struggling to make it. We loved the idea of her having had a taste of success and then lost it. We were inspired by so many actors who get blamed for a project bombing and become persona non grata, even though, as I mentioned earlier, so little of it has to do with the actor."
The story also comes from a very personal place for Victoria. "The experiences are based on my real experiences as an actress," she acknowledged. "They're often cringy and hard to watch, but very, very, very honest and raw and real. I think any working woman can identify with Grace (our lead) and the experiences she goes through. It's about the subtle but insidious sexism that is so pervasive in Hollywood, and the transactional nature of relationships in the industry with people only worrying about what you can do for them."
As if acting, writing and producing in the web series weren't enough, Victoria also directed two episodes. "I say I'm a serial lover of slashes," Victoria confessed. "Actress/Model/Writer/Producer/Director. Bring on the slashes! Directing was kind of a natural progression. Tons of actors venture into directing. Since DisGraced had multiple episodes it allowed me the opportunity to step into that role for a few as well. It was really fun! It is definitely a lot of hats to wear when you're the writer, producer, actor, and director. The more things you're doing the more you have to really protect yourself as an actor so that you make sure you have the time you need to do the work to protect your performance. But I loved directing and will definitely be doing more of it."
Judging from the slate of projects that Victoria and her partner have in development, it seems like she'll have a lot of opportunities to direct. "Eric and I are currently working on feature length horror film. We're polishing up the script right now and then will be trying to get some people attached. We were originally hoping to start filming later this year, but the pandemic has obviously changed things. So we'll see what happens but just keep trudging ahead. We're always working on scripts. Neither of us can sit still for too long so there are always many things going on for us."
To learn more about DisGraced and all of Victoria's projects visit her website.
And watch DisGraced on YouTube now.