News reporter Annette Lawless has been with WJW Fox 8 in Cleveland for the last two years, after moving there from her native Kansas, where her heart still seems to be. The Kansas State alumna and die hard Wildcats fan, has recently branched out into acting, which is how I first noticed her. Annette plays the vilianess “Pandora” in the upcoming action fantasy film Lady Dragon, written and produced by Kristina Michelle.
Besides covering news stories for Fox 8 and her acting gigs, Annette co-hosts the podcast show Hottie and the Jerk, is a wiz in the kitchen and an experienced bowler, recently scoring a 238. She’s also very knowledgeable about the best places to eat in Cleveland (and you owners whose restaurants she’s given praise to here, should show her your gratitude). Learn more on Annette in my following interview with her. For those who haven’t heard of her before; you’ll probably someday remember seeing her here first, before she became a famous actress, cooking show host, or pro bowler, depending on which path she takes.
CHRIS CHARLES: Great to have you here Annette. As you know, I interviewed your acting classmate and Lady Dragon star, Kristina Michelle, last month.
ANNETTE LAWLESS: Kristina is my girl! And thank you for having me, Chris. It’s a pleasure.
CHRIS: Right now, you’re branching out into acting. Do you think you’d eventually leave broadcasting if you became successful enough as an actress?
ANNETTE: To be honest, I haven’t put much thought into it. I might if the right opportunity did arise, but both businesses are so fickle. Let’s just say I’m not quitting my day job anytime soon. Besides, I sincerely love my work as a TV journalist. What’s best is how similar the end-game is for both: movies educate, motivate and inspire people. TV reports do the same.
CHRIS: The trailer for Lady Dragon says “‘introducing’ Annette Lawless as Pandora,” so is it your first starring role in a film?
ANNETTE: Yes, it’s one of my first big leads. In the past year-and-a-half, I’ve been involved in about 20 projects, including bit roles in high-profile films like The Avengers, Fun Size and Alex Cross. I truly love the indie film scene, though. There’s sincerity and passion behind every project.
CHRIS: Tell me about your character; Pandora.
ANNETTE: If there’s a root of all evil, you’ll see it in Pandora. Essentially in Lady Dragon, a paleontologist (Kristina Michelle) uncovers a new dinosaur species. In the spirit of a special dragon she unearths, she transforms and is set to fight the evils of the Earth. The darkest of all evil is Poppa Joe (Vernard Adams) and I’m his minion, so to speak, Princess Pandora. Joe is a chump, and I fight his battles for him. Typical guy, right? Kristina and I have some pretty epic fight scenes. In a promotional shoot, we managed to break four swords, so I’m anxious to see how many survive the feature film. It’s going to be badass and super sexy. The film has generated a lot of buzz in the independent film community.
Also, Kristina recently got her black belt, which is truly intimidating. Film co-creator and grandmaster Ray Szuch has been working with me on my moves. I’d imagine by the end of it all, I’ll crank out mind-blowing stunts. He’s won several Emmys and has a knack for making people look like the real deal.
CHRIS: I’ll look forward to it coming out. “Lawless” is a name that dates back to medieval England, but you have an exotic, Mideastern look. Do you ever get asked if it’s you’re real name?
ANNETTE: All the time. That, and people always ask if I’m related to Lucy. I used to hate my name, but I’m glad I didn’t change it for the sake of television. FYI; aside from speeding tickets, I’m no lawbreaker.
CHRIS: I wouldn’t have taken you for one. Do people often ask or try to guess your ethnicity?
ANNETTE: Absolutely. When they do, I often ask them to guess, but very few people actually nail it. My father’s family has a mix of mostly Irish and some Native American roots. My mom is Vietnamese. My father met her when he was a medic in the Vietnam War. She was the best thing to come out of his time in the service.
CHRIS: So, for the last two years, you’ve been at WJW-TV in Cleveland. What’s it been like for you?
ANNETTE: Moving to Cleveland has been an intense journey. I work as a TV reporter for the station, leaving my family back in Kansas. I’ll admit, I’m good at what I do, but I’ve stumbled upon a lot of dumb luck. Fox 8 is my third job in television. Before I came here, I got several job offers, but Cleveland just felt like the right fit. A top 20-television market, and a Fox station ranked as number one ….that’s rare. I may be the young cub out of the reporter pack, but this city is filled with opportunity. I’ve had the chance to interview high-profile politicians, Charlie Sheen and the women of Hot in Cleveland. I truly feel like the luckiest girl around.
CHRIS: Would you prefer being in the studio behind the anchor desk rather than out reporting on a story?
ANNETTE: I wouldn’t trade reporting for anything. Going out in the field and competing in the grind is important, and it makes this business real. I have plenty of time to make my way to the anchor chair, but it isn’t today.
CHRIS: What have been some of your favorite news stories that you’ve covered?
ANNETTE: “The Hunt for Charlie Sheen” was by far one of my favorites. Little do people know that I do all my camerawork, but on occasion, like this one, I was paired with one of my favorite photographers. My boss told me I was going to do a story on Charlie Sheen coming into town. He was recently axed from Two and a Half Men and was going on a comedy tour. It was our mission to find him. I really didn’t know how possible it would be finding one man in a hustle-and-bustle city, so I decided we should have some fun. I created this crazy embarrassing sign that read, “Has anyone seen this man?” Charlie’s picture was also plastered on there. We ran around Cleveland interviewing people in the strangest situations, and it was beyond comedic. But of course, getting Charlie was the ultimate goal, and we did …twice. We staked outside of his hotel on a blistering cold day, and he came out and chit chatted with a slew of media. I, however, wasn’t satisfied. We later found him on another side of town, where I pretty much got a one-on-one interview with him. It was much more candid and he was kind enough to sign my hand-crafted sign. I still have the thing. The gig garnered a lot of national attention, and I’ve had some incredible job offers that have come along with it. Maybe I’m a fool for not tapping into the right opportunity, but I figure when the right job comes, I’ll take it. The story won me several awards, as I also edited the piece in a matter of minutes. I was named one of the top editors for 2011 from the National Press Photographer Association.
CHRIS: Good job, your persistence paid off. Ever cover any news stories that were dangerous at all?
ANNETTE: My most dangerous reporting experience was when I filming footage of a storm, and it turned out that an EF5 tornado was ripping through a community just a quarter-mile away. It was pitch black out, so I didn’t realize the significance of the damage until ceiling insulation landed on my feet. I went inside after that. That’s pretty much Kansas in a nutshell. The world’s most unpredictable weather. And people say living in the “Snow Belt” is bad.
CHRIS: Any reports that didn’t go as expected?
ANNETTE: That’s pretty much every story. I don’t often make mistakes, but sometimes I walk away from an interview wishing I would have asked better questions or filmed something differently. The television business has enormous pressure, and as the field continues to change, it’s a challenge to be able to stay on top. This year, when the election scene in Cleveland was mega-hot, a political candidate was coming into town. Let’s just say things were not in my favor that day. An angry PR person booted me from the property and things got nasty. I finished the story, but needless to say, I didn’t vote for that candidate.
CHRIS: Since joining WJW, have you often been recognized around Cleveland, as you’re now kind of a local celeb there?
ANNETTE: People always say “Oh you’re on TV? You’re famous.” But, people, and when I say that, I mean local journalists, who think they’re “famous” are deluded. I’ve had viewers run up to me and say my name, but I would never say I’m a local celebrity. Some people in this business are very narcissistic. It’s annoying, but I’m certain their careers won’t go far. My co-workers are much more attractive and popular than I am. I just bring a subtle sizzle to the news. I leave the local “celeb” title to Michael Symon and Lebron.
CHRIS: You also do a podcast show; Hottie and the Jerk. It’s done with you in Cleveland and your co-host in Kansas?
ANNETTE:Hottie and the Jerk is in it’s second season and doing fabulously on iTunes. My co-host is a friend, Youtube and Twitter sensation Vaughn Fry. Our weekly podcast focuses on prime time TV, where we recap and critique the shows. It’s a fun project that started out of nowhere. Being in two separate cities and time zones, ironing out the logistics can be a mess. Vaughn edits the shows, while I maintain them on our site; HottieandtheJerk.com. The website has peaked with up to 4,000 hits per episode which is maddening. We truly have been blessed by social media. Episodes air by 8PM Saturdays.
CHRIS: Has there been any interest to do a televised studio broadcast version of that show?
ANNETTE: If Vaughn and I were approached, I’d be all for it. The only challenge is finding time to do the shows and have a full-time job. We will squeeze in a couple dozens shows in an hour-and-half podcast. But, if we were to move in that direction, I’d certainly hope that we were living in the same town. And I’d hope that Vaughn would listen to me. Men never listen (laughs). Just kidding …sorta. You hear me, Vaughn?
CHRIS: From some of the photos I’ve seen at your Facebook and Twitter, you seem like a girl who really enjoys food and, despite being so slim, you also seem like you can really put it away at the dinner table. True?
ANNETTE: Yep. Girl has to eat. I came from a family of cooks. My dad bakes homemade rolls and lots of great comfort food, while my mom gets innovative with more exotic, Asian-inspired dishes. My two older sisters have worked as caterers, so their meals truly seem like works of art.
CHRIS: Do you exercise pretty hard to stay so slim or, at the risk of having some female readers hate you, not do so much to stay in shape?
ANNETTE: I do not exercise, but I do run around a lot every day. Plus, I carry my own camera equipment at work. So I’m sure somewhere in that eight-hour crunch, I get a full-body workout.
CHRIS: So, tell me what are your favorite restaurants in the Cleveland area for….
Pizza: Angelo’s Pizza in Lakewood. There is nothing like it. Best pizza in my life. Amazing dough.
Seafood: Luxe Kitchen & Lounge in Cleveland. Food becomes art. Also, the place was an old bank building recreated into a restaurant. How cool is that?
Sandwiches: Melt Bar & Grilled. The restaurant makes old-school grilled cheese into melt-in-your-mouth heaven. I go with a simple sandwich and one of their tasty soups, like a cheddar and ale. Also, they have some of the tastiest restaurant french fries.
Chinese: Li Wah in Cleveland. My faves are the spring rolls, fresh or fried. I also am a big fan of the spicy orange beef. Must use Sriracha sauce with any of them, though. Out of this world.
CHRIS: Ah yes, I remember Melt Bar & Grilled being featured on Man v. Food. I’ll definitely make a note of those places for the next time I’m in Cleveland. You also enjoy cooking?
ANNETTE: Yes. I’m always concocting something in my kitchen. It’s much cheaper than eating out. Plus, I know exactly what’s in my food. Maybe that’s my secret to staying slim. My ultimate dream is to have a cooking show. My cooking style is like an exotic, budgeted Rachel Ray.
CHRIS: What are some of your best dishes?
ANNETTE: Baking is an inspiration of mine, though I like to cook a myriad of dishes. My favorites to make are cookies, apple cake and bierocks, which are like a German calzone made of beef, cabbage and onions. Just about everything in my kitchen is from scratch, including sauces and bread which I make at least once a week. Cooking is therapeutic for me, and working in TV, it’s far cheaper than from Freud-knockoff with a couch.
CHRIS: I also understand you’re also quite a bowler and recently bowled a 238 game?
ANNETTE: My mom got me hooked into bowling as a child. I played on a league from the time I was about eight and well into my teens. At times my teams were so good, we’d go to state tournaments. I have a few trophies from the “glory days.” I re-entered the bowling scene about a year ago, and have been doing well. My average started at about a 115 and now is about a 150. Part of that is due to experience, but I also got a new ball and throw my bowl more like a pro. In the past couple months, I’ve bowled three 200+ games. If you bowl that consistently, you can go pro. That’s my plan: Quit acting. Quit reporting. Get a goofy shirt and hit the lanes. Seriously, I would consider it. I like to give a touchdown dance when I score on an amazing split. It’s hysterical.
CHRIS: I’d love to see that. What other sports or activities do you enjoy?
ANNETTE: Softball. I used to play it as a teenager. I wasn’t really great at it, but I enjoyed the team aspect. I usually played second base or shortstop. Growing up, my family would go to Royals baseball games. I loved traveling to Kansas City and seeing George Brett and Bo Jackson play. Bo and I share the same birthday, November 30th.
CHRIS: Being a Kansas State alumna, you’re an avid Wildcats fan. So, have you been able to attended any of their home football games since moving to Cleveland?
ANNETTE: Unfortunately, I have yet to make a trip back to Manhattan since I’ve moved to Cleveland. An avid fan of Kansas State football and basketball, I cheer them on from Ohio. And I get to do it in my PJs. A big plus! We surprisingly have a lot of fans here in the Buckeye State. West Virginia joined the Big 12 this past year, so I was able to join my fiancé, a sports photographer, while he was working that game. The Wildcats won, and it was a blast.
CHRIS: Is there anything interesting about you that you don’t usually include on your bios?
ANNETTE: I have a passion for shoes, but rarely get to wear heels because of the grind of my job …and the fear of dropping pricey equipment on the ground. I also own more than eight websites and dabble in professional web design. I’m not an HTML-geek, but I do like crafting eye-popping material.
Recently, I was named a Youtube Partner and a verified journalist on the highly competitive MuckRack.com. It sounds silly, but it would make my day to become verified with a blue checkmark on Twitter. I know it’s a stupid form of validation, but hey, a girl can dream!
CHRIS:Once again; it’s great to have you featured here, Annette. I, and I’m sure many of my readers, will be keeping an eye out for your future projects. In closing, any plugs, hellos, or shout-outs to anyone?
ANNETTE: I would just like to thank anyone who’s made it to this part of the bottom of the web page. Congrats. You’ve won my plug! I’d love for you all to go to my Facebook Fan page and LIKE it. I put quirky photographs on there and updates on projects, news stories, etc. Also, I’m an avid Twitterer. I posts on there quite a bit more than Facebook, but I try to entertain with little quips. Plus, I love chatting with people on there. You can also check out my Youtube channel and my website, just to prove to you how schnazzy it is.
Under the watchful eye of a pelican at the California coast
With American Idol finalist Amelia Finefrock
Enjoying one of her favorite pastimes
Also a jigsaw puzzle wiz, Annette’s able to put together 1000-piecers in a day
Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Chris flirted with the music business there and in Nashville before joining the U.S. Army and serving in South Korea. He remained in Asia for several years afterwards, teaching English, traveling, and covering the regional entertainment scenes. Currently in a mindset between Seoul and San Francisco, besides Idol Features, you can also catch his writings in the print edition of the monthly magazine, Effective.