In NewsWhistle’s weekly question-and-answer series, Clara Morgan speaks with some of the world’s top influencers and finds out more about their lives and careers.
This week, Clara speaks with actress, author, and animal rights advocate Leesa Rowland, who is the founder of the non-profit organization Animal Ashram. Leesa is also currently planning a new reality TV series focused on the mission of animal rights and the plight of animals in need.
Leesa, the daughter of an artist and a college professor, grew up in Austin, Texas. She studied broadcast journalism at Texas Tech and acting at the Stella Adler Studio in Los Angeles, CA. Leesa has a cult following for her role as Victoria in Troma Entertainment’s Class of Nuke ‘Em High Parts 2 and 3 and also appeared in Return To Nuke ‘Em High. She acted in Troma’s television series Troma’s Edge along with Lloyd Kaufman and Debbie Rochon. She co-starred in Travis Campbell’s Slaughter Daughter as Phyllis Adjani, an eccentric mother who drives her daughter to insanity. The movie won best feature film at Orlando’s 7th Annual Freak Show Film Festival.
Leesa co-starred in a web series called Two City Girls with fellow Troma actress Lisa Gaye, and also appeared on Oxygen’s Jersey Couture. Apart from her substantial acting track record, Leesa is the author of motivational book, Discovering the It Factor Within You, in which she seeks to inspire by sharing her own life story. Leesa’s biggest passion in life, however, is animal advocacy, and she has been a vegan all of her life. She has been active with national non-profit organization Last Chance for Animals since 1989, and is the founder and president of the New York non-profit group Animal Ashram.
Says Leesa, “Life is full of choices and living a cruelty-free life is the best choice I have ever made. There is plenty to eat without eating animals, plenty to wear without wearing animals and plenty of entertainment without exploiting animals. My choice is compassion. It is always in fashion.”
1. Leesa, you started off your acting career with roles in cult classics, but have appeared in numerous films and television shows throughout your career. What has been the most memorable appearance, and why?
My role as Phyllis in Slaughter Daughter was memorable because I was able to work with my dear friend, Nicola Fiore. This was a dynamic and sentimental role. Nicola and I have performed together many times before and it is comfortable to be with her on set. She is easy to work with and we laugh & have fun all the way through the production.
2. You are a big animal rights advocate, and the founder and president of the New York non-profit group Animal Ashram. Please tell us a bit about Animal Ashram and why you founded the organization.
Animal Ashram was created to raise awareness of animal rescues and the need to educate people about animal rights. We are promoting an “Animal Bill of Rights” to expose people to the broad spectrum of living conditions for animals held in captivity. We advocate change and better conditions for all animals.
Most New York state laws pertain to laboratory animals. Protection of laboratory animals has been the subject of many political debates and proposed regulations. There are no laws that require general protection of companion animals and/or wildlife. Isolated laws addressing subjects such as service animals and carriage horses in New York City exist…but these are isolated examples. There is still much more to be done about protecting laboratory animals. We must view the larger picture and be proactive for ALL animals.
3. Can you tell us about an especially memorable moment or success story from Animal Ashram and why this specific story has stayed with you?
There are so many memorable moments. I think one that stands out is the runaway cow Freddie who was saved after escaping the slaughterhouse in Queens back in January. We witnessed this drama unfolding on the news. We were taken with this cow’s spirit and will to survive. That evening we made the necessary phone calls and helped others learn about Freddie’s plight. This rescue was made possible by a caring man in New Jersey who responded to the plea for help and acted selflessly. He operates a rescue sanctuary in Wantage, New Jersey. He negotiated this cow’s release and relocated him to Skylands Animal Sanctuary.
In 2008, I rescued a cat from the kill list in Florida. This particular cat became my loyal friend and confidante. I named him “Moo” because his coloring resembles a Holstein cow. Moo has been with me for eight years now.
4. You have been a vegan all of your life. Why did you make this choice?
I have been a vegan since birth. For some reason, I could not tolerate eating animal flesh or dairy products when I was young. My parents insisted that I eat things they ate, but I had an aversion to ingesting any part of a living creature. This was a source of debate and acrimony in my parents’ home. The more they pushed meat and poultry in front of me, the more I resisted.
5. In addition to being an actress and animal rights advocate, you are also the author of Discovering the It Factor within You. What inspired you to write a motivational book?
I wanted to share my own story with the world and inspire people to be the best they can possibly be.
The book unveils my secret methods – from spirituality and religious views to auras and chakras to mantras and more – helping each reader build their charismatic personality, discover their own bright light ,and excel in life.
My book was inspired by a desire to help people recognize their potential and have greater confidence. We all have skills and talents and problems to overcome. My book elevates personal attributes and urges the reader to focus on inner beauty and strength to overcome adversity.
6. Tell us something that people do not know about you.
I would like to meet my father. I was adopted from a children’s home. I have no idea who my father is or was. The mystery of my father weighs on me and I wonder what he is/was like and what he did in his life. It’s a constant curiosity and strange void in my life.
7. How would you define your style? Where do you find inspiration?
Princess Diana. I admire the style and grace of Princess Diana. While she was alive, she dressed conservatively and wore only the most appropriate clothing for the occasion. When she traveled as a representative of House of Wales, she always embraced children and encouraged them to wear traditional native clothing to represent their culture. Diana was the omnipresent beautiful hostess with a message of love and benevolence. Her style was as much about her smile and attitude as the way she dressed. In designer fashion or in blue jeans, Diana was beaming with warmth and joy. Her presence was her style. I try to remember that my style is as much about my attitude and confidence as it is about my wardrobe.
8. What is your number one closet essential?
My formal black tuxedo jacket. It’s my standby piece when I need to go someplace quickly.
9. Which three items must you always have in your purse and why?
Lip balm, reading glasses, and my iPhone. I can’t live or see or talk without them.
10. What is the best international dining experience you have had?
Restorante Il Refettorio at Monestero Santa Rosa Hotel & Spa in Italy. The chef made me a special meal comprised of vegan delectables and innovative delights.
It was so scrumptious and gorgeous I took a picture!
11. Your favorite vacation spot and hotel?
Capri, at the Capri Palace. Every time I am in in Capri, I feel at peace. The Capri Palace is romantic and unique and extraordinary. The elevated vistas and pools are incredible. It sits on a cliff with spectacular views and comforts.
12. What song can you listen to on repeat?
I have two songs that I listen to on repeat: “Perfect World” by Karen Chisholm – the song is just so upbeat and makes me happy, and “Peace Train” by Cat Stevens – it’s my theme song.
13. If you could meet anyone in the world, who do you want to meet?
Thomas Jefferson. To meet Thomas Jefferson and talk with our third President, who was also an architect, statesman, entrepreneur, inventor, and philosopher would be fantastic. A true renaissance man, Jefferson was ahead of his time and had vision.
14. Lastly, where will we find Leesa Rowland in five years?
We have been planning a TV series dedicated to animal rights. We believe that stories about animals in distress and subsequent rescues can inspire viewers to become involved. We need more great success stories about animal rescues each week so people can come to respect animal rights and become proactive. In five years we will be managing a huge nature sanctuary in Texas, Canada, Mexico, or Australia. Ideally, we would franchise our Animal Ashram rescue facilities and have satellite locations all over the world.
Lead-In Image Courtesy of Patrick McMullan