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Restless no more

Carlsbad High grad finds
her place on soap opera

By Linda McIntosh |

Carlsbad High graduate Emily O’Brien plays Jana (below) on the CBS soap opera “The Young and the Restless.”
Courtesy of JPI Studios

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Flora and Michael O’Brien didn’t used to watch soap operas, but now they record almost every episode of “The Young and the Restless.”

Their daughter, Emily, plays the part of Jana Hawkes on the CBS daytime drama.

The Carlsbad couple is still getting used to their 21-year-old daughter being in Hollywood and on television, but they know it’s something she has always had her sights on.

“Acting is the only thing she wanted to do,” said Michael, an electronics engineer.

She was in plays at Carlsbad High School, where she graduated in 2003, and at MiraCosta College, where she completed a theater major in 2005.

Emily started with a spot on the soap opera in April and since has become a regular.

She’s been in scenes with stars such as Michael Madsen, Tony Todd and George Hamilton.

She was featured in an interview on “CBS Soaps” in November.

Only a year earlier, Emily starred in MiraCosta College’s 2005 production of “Gypsy” and had her eye on attending UCLA.

Things took a different turn and instead of heading to the university, she decided to give Hollywood a go.

“I never tell students to go to Hollywood because it’s so hard to get in, but Emily has all the things you need,” said Eric Bishop, her theater professor at MiraCosta.

“She stood out. There’s something magnetic about her personality,” he said.

Perseverance pays off

Emily didn’t land a part at her first audition with “The Young and The Restless.”

When she auditioned again several months later, there was a new casting director who noticed on Emily’s resume that she was born in England. He asked her to read the part with a British dialect.

“I did and they changed the name of the character from Jade to Jana, and I got on the show as a British punky girl,” Emily said.

Ironically, the actress worked hard to lose her British accent when she moved to California from England at age 9.

“Some kids at school teased her about the accent, but it was nice. Now it’s working for her,” Flora said.

Emily grew up in Bedfordshire, England. Her mother is Persian and her father is British. She speaks fluent Persian and knows French and Spanish.

By the time Emily moved to Carlsbad, she had already gotten a taste for performing.

Emily’s first role was an angel in a Christmas play in first grade at her school in Bedfordshire.

Her interest in acting grew from there.

“She’s very serious about what she does and works hard,” Flora said. Emily has appeared in TV shows and movies including “What About Brian,” “Employee of the Month,” “The Reality Show” and a seven-part series for iPods and cell phones called “Coma.”

At MiraCosta, she starred in “Gypsy,” “The Children’s Hour” and “Moon Over Buffalo.”

She was named a finalist in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival’s Irene Ryan Acting Competition in 2005, where she was pitted against several hundred students from colleges and universities across the country.

“She has a lot going for her, but doesn’t let it go to her head,” Bishop said.

That includes a great work ethic and high standards.

“If she hadn’t gone to Hollywood she could have gone to Broadway. She has a gorgeous singing voice. She’s really funny and has great timing,” Bishop said.

Staying grounded

Emily credits her success to the training she got from MiraCosta faculty such as Bishop and Marylou Gombar.

“He would go over things with us, but also let us go through rehearsals and find what we wanted to bring out in a role,” she said.

Of course, Emily admits that Hollywood is different from anything she’s experienced before.

“You have a mike in your face and you’ve got to talk softly and get used to cameras in your face, but they do use theatrical terminology,” she said.

Sometimes two episodes are filmed in a day, and her work day can last for 14 hours.

“It’s fast paced. There are no rehearsals and you have to always be paying attention,” Emily said.

She’s learned to memorize pages of script right before a scene.

The work has perks, like seeing the other side of famous actors.

“It’s fun to see what someone is like onstage and off. One character in the show seems crazy. She has extreme facial expressions and is overdramatic, but off the set she is very sane,” she said.

Making it in Hollywood hasn’t kept Emily from coming back to MiraCosta and talking with old friends and teachers.

She came back several months ago to coach MiraCosta students at the Actors Academy.

Her message is upbeat.

“If you really want to do something, you can, but you have to be that devoted.”

Reach reporter Linda McIntosh at (760) 752-6756.