HER OWN VOICE
A Spotlite on Actress and Model VANESSA BRANCH
By Meaghan Coffey
We heard her as one of Captain Jack Sparrow’s stilted and slap-happy former lovers asking “Who is she?” Then, as an interpreter speaking fluent Mandarin on behalf of Entourage‘s beloved Vincent Chase. She’s the reason you automatically read the word “fabulous” in a spritely, British-accented voice. We’ve heard Vanessa Branch through many roles and in many languages, but only now–on VH1′s Model Employee–can we hear her own voice. I checked in with Branch to find out her favorite roles and how it feels to be playing herself for the first time.
MEAGHAN COFFEY: You’re a citizen of both the U.S. and the U.K., and you have lived in France and worked in China—where do you call home now?
VANESSA BRANCH: I live in Los Angeles although I am rarely there. I don’t think I will ever be the type of person to live in one place. I need so many different environments and experiences to keep me stimulated. Because I moved so much growing up I think I was engrained with a sort of wanderlust. I did just move from Westwood in Los Angeles to Hermosa Beach and I am in love. It’s such a beautiful and outdoorsy place, I feel like I could stay here forever.
MC: In the same calendar year, you graduated from Middlebury College and became Miss Vermont with a dramatic monologue as your talent. Did that help solidify your dreams of acting and modeling?
VB: I always knew that I wanted to be an actress and was heading in that direction. Strangely enough it was earlier that year that I made up my mind to be an actress while I was in China, it was nothing to do with Miss America. Miss Vermont was a last minute dare to enter and I ended up winning. Go figure. As for acting, I studied Mandarin as one of my majors and wanted to study abroad in China but my other major was Theatre. The theatre department offered me the lead in a Sam Shepard play called Fool for Love and I adored the part. They said if I didn’t stay they weren’t doing the play at all because no one else could do it. I was so flattered. But I also knew I didn’t want to be a starving artist and face the possibility of struggling for life. So I turned it down and headed to China. Although China is a communist country still, it is very different from what it was then. All of my Chinese friends at the time were told what they would study and do for their professions. Especially women. And I realized in my six months there how tragic it was if I had the freedom to actually pursue a dream and didn’t do it out of fear. So after that, I chose acting, and never turned back. I always say now sometimes you find your destiny on the path you chose to avoid it.
MC: You have guest starred in Entourage, Bones, Criminal Minds, CSI: Miami, Gilmore Girls, and Lost—all of which boast a serious following. What was it like joining the set of such ‘well-oiled machines’?
VB: It’s always great to go onto shows that have such a large following and fan base. Some of which I watched and had known the characters well. It’s always fun. But my favorite was one of the first big jobs I ever had on a soap. My sister and I grew up watching General Hospital and then I was cast as a regular on the spin off, Port Charles, and some of the characters from GH had crossed over to this show. To act alongside people you have literally watched for 20 years, and grown up with, is so cool! They don’t seem real. I called my sis as soon as I booked the job and said “I’m Lucy Quartermaines nemesis.” You’d think I had just said I met God.
MC: I have to ask about your experience with the Pirates of the Caribbean series—in which you slapped Johnny Depp and earned one of the biggest laughs of the film. How fun was that?
VB: Everyone always wants to know about Johnny and rightfully so. He’s one of the sexiest, coolest, sweetest smartest most humble guys you’ll ever meet. And yes, I still have a crush on him.
MC: Your ‘fabulous!’ commercials have earned millions of views on Youtube and coined the dirty mouth phrases like ‘knock off the pumpernickel’ and ‘pickle you, kumquat’. How was the experience of working on one of the more memorable recent advertising campaigns? What are your thoughts now, looking back, years on?
VB: It was one of my favorite experiences to date, playing that character. We shot over forty spots and all over the world–Prague, South Africa, London, Stockholm. And to have the opportunity to create and portray a character that becomes so well embedded in the American consciousness is so rare. I actually miss her sometimes. You get to know a role like a friend.
MC: You’re currently a judge on the new show Model Employee. Tell me a bit about the new show on VH1, and how you got involved.
VB: I was initially never interested in doing reality TV, even though Top Model and The Voice are two of my favorite shows. When the producers asked to meet with me, I turned it down. But after some persuading, I did and realized I loved the concept. It asks already working models to vie for the opportunity to be a spokesperson for Mandalay Bay resorts. So it asks them to have a voice–an intelligent, articulate, sincere voice. And I loved combining a fun crazy show with a good message, with an empowering message for women; that it isn’t all about beauty, but intelligence and soul and class. It was also the first time that I was able to use my own voice; I am normally portraying someone else. With this I was able to really show the world me and my own views.
MC: What’s the craziest thing that’s happened so far on the show?
VB: Every day there was something new and funny. From watching the girls swim with sharks and walk pet goldfish to great concerts at the Mandalay Bay beach. We shot for five weeks in Vegas so there were many, many fun times and nights!
MC: What’s next for you?
VB: I have a film premiering this week in China called Kung Fu Man so I will be heading there to do some press and take some meetings about further projects and outside of acting I am working on a foreign language teaching program for young kids. It helps me to expand my realm of giving back.
Vanessa Branch is a model and actress.
Written by Meaghan Coffey
Photography by Andreas Branch for PatrickMcMullan.com
Design by Marie Havens
Vanessa Branch, Megan Bowman Gray celebrates JNBY Spring 2012, Chateau Marmont, Hollywood, CA, October 18, 2011, Photography by Andreas Branch for PatrickMcMullan.com