Masiela Lusha (born October 23, 1985) is an American author, actress, producer and humanitarian who first gained recognition after starring in film and TV projects such as ABC's George Lopez and Sony Picture's Blood: The Last Vampire. As an author, Lusha has translated poems and prayers by Mother Teresa, and has written several books in various languages.
Lusha spent her childhood chiefly in Albania, Hungary and Austria. She studied ballet in Vienna, and then moved to Michigan in 1993, where she continued to train in various forms of dance. She rose to fame when she co-starred as the passionate and rebellious character, Carmen Lopez, for five years, on the syndicated Warner Brothers series, George Lopez. This reportedly established Lusha as a TV veteran by the age of 20. She then appeared in movies such as Muertas, Katie Malone, Ballad of Broken Angels, Summoning, A Father's Love, Time of the Comet, and Sony Pictures Entertainment, Blood: The Last Vampire. In recognition of her work, Lusha has been awarded two consecutive Young Artist Awards for Leading Young Actress in a Comedy and Drama. In 2007, Lusha founded a production company, Illuminary Pictures, and has since produced two films with the company. Throughout her career, Lusha has been placed on numerous 'best dressed' lists.
As an author, Lusha is also considered to be the youngest author in the world to publish a book in two languages. She is also recognized as one of the Top Ten Talented Poets of North America for her published work Lusha has since written four books of poetry, Inner Thoughts, Drinking the Moon, Amore Celeste, The Call, a novel The Besa, and two children's books, Boopity Boop! Goes To Hawaii, and Boopity Boop! Writes Her First Poem, which was released in 2010. Lusha has also written and translated poetry in English, Albanian and German.
Lusha's personal experiences in various countries inspires her passion for humanitarian work. Most notably, in 2006, Lusha founded the nonprofit, Children of the World Foundation, which shelters, educates and promotes healthy communication between family members. She donated 10 acres (40,000 m2) of land so the charity could build its first community center in Southern California.
Early life and education
Lusha was born in Tirana, Albania and is the only child of Max and Daniela. She was named Masiela by a merging of her parents' names. In 1990, Lusha and her family left their homeland. Upon leaving Albania, Lusha moved to Budapest, Hungary, and Vienna, Austria. While living in Vienna, Lusha studied ballet and art. Lusha later said in an interview that she and her mother "shared one shadow throughout each transition" in their lives and considered her mother to be her "best friend." In a later interview, Lusha's kindergarten teacher described Lusha as "a soft-spoken, gentle child with absolutely no tincture of rebellion in her make-up." Echoing such observations, Lusha's former English teacher described Lusha when she was 12 as "thoughtful and graceful... full of enthusiasm and energy."
When later asked about the Albanian culture she left behind, Lusha was quoted as saying: "There’s a condensed softness about the Albanian people, and I’ve witnessed examples of their hospitality and compassion. Their blood runs through my veins, and I am proud to call myself Albanian." It is reported that many of the women in Lusha's family were published poets, and much of her creative inspiration was fostered by her mother. At that time, Lusha's mother was an editor who had published the first full-color Albanian magazine, Ora. As a child, it was revealed that Lusha's nightly lullabies consisted of her mother's poetry recited to her every evening. Inspired by her mother's work, Lusha then wrote her own collection of poems in various languages a few years later.
Childhood and adolescence in America (1992–present)
At the age of seven, Lusha settled in Michigan, reportedly learning English as her fourth language. She later admitted that becoming fluent in four languages in such a short period of time caused her to have a difficult time understanding assignments in school. Lusha is said to have credited her English teacher, Mrs. Presta, for restoring her confidence by encouraging her to recite her poems before the class. As a result, she dedicated her first book of poetry to her teacher.
In Michigan, it is reported that Lusha enrolled in ballet, jazz, tap, lyrical and cheerleading. It is reported that Lusha's school, John Muir Middle School, also voted her captain of their cheerleading team. That same year, Lusha also won first place in her school's talent show for performing a tap routine to the song Cotton Eye Joe. Performing in various local theater plays, Lusha later said she soon realized her calling was to entertain.
At the age of twelve, Lusha began a modeling career in Michigan. After a few months of professional modeling and acting in local theater plays, she was discovered by a Hollywood talent agent who held an open call in Detroit, Michigan. It was later reported that over six hundred children attended; at the end of the mass audition, the agent narrowed down his list to three children and selected Lusha as his client. That following year, while acting in Los Angeles, Lusha became a published author with her first book of poetry, Inner Thoughts.
Early recognition (1997–2004)
Lusha wrote poetry in various languages from the age of eight. At the age of 12, while residing in Michigan, Lusha published a book of her poems titled Inner Thoughts. This book named her as the youngest author in the world to write a book in two languages by the Michigan press. Soon after, Lusha was recognized as one of the Top Ten Talented Poets of North America for her published work, and also received the public recognition of former President Bill Clinton, who encouraged her to stand as an example for future generations. Upon graduating high school three years early, Lusha had published two collections of poetry. In 2004, Lusha described her passion for poetry as "simply inherent" and later said that "while some mothers sing lullabies to their children, my mother read me poetry. And to this day, I associate my strongest and most insistent feelings with words lyrically organized on a page." As of 2010, Lusha has since written seven books.
Drinking the Moon, novel and children's books (2005–present)
In several interviews, when describing the fulfillment she feels when writing, Lusha said her writing "filled that void," and its words "fed that vital necessity for ownership of oneself." In 2005, Lusha published her second book of poetry, "Drinking the Moon." In 2008, Lusha also completed two more books of poetry: Amore Celeste and The Call. By the time Lusha had arrived at UCLA, she had reportedly written over 150 poems in various languages and had published in literary magazines.
At the age of 24, Lusha published two children's books titled Boopity Boop! Goes To Hawaii and "Boopity Boop! Writes Her First Poem." Ana McKenzie of the Tolucan Times wrote of Boopity Boop!: "...Lusha's smart incorporation of imagery, similes and metaphors is digestible enough for children of any age..." In various interviews, Lusha stated that she wrote Boopity Boop with the desire for her work to be used "as a tool to unbind children from the expectations of poetry because every book should carry a moral and release a child into a world of self-expression and exploration." In a 2010 interview, Lusha said, "I believe it is our inherent duty as a global society to ignite a flare of confidence and purpose in every piece of literature and entertainment for our children."
In 2005 Lusha also completed a novel titled The Besa. The novel is based on a popular Balkan legend about a promise fulfilled past death. Lusha later admitted that she completed the novel in a month "with the desire to cement and celebrate the fundamental traditions in Albania." By the age of 20, Lusha had also translated into English several Albanian poems and prayers by Mother Theresa and had published several poems in the German language.
Themes and beliefs
Lusha's work explores a variety of poetic form. Her work ranges from classic iambic pentameter to contemporary free verse, exploring a unique blend of themes and rules. Lusha's work does not seem to venture into the autobiographical. Instead, her various poems focus on universals themes such as muse, compassion, and purity. She also uses unusual images and symbols in her poetry, including marble history, liquid moons, and cotton angels. Her later style has often been compared to that of Pablo Neruda. In Drinking the Moon, she has also written about charity, celibacy, and temperance. In a 2004 interview, Lusha stated: "Poetry is a lyrical insinuation. Often, its melodic subtlety kisses the subconscious mind."
Career beginnings and early roles (1997–1999)
Lusha launched her career as a model and theater actress in Michigan. While residing in her hometown, Lusha's first theatrical role was a nonspeaking, background character in her school's production of Up and Away. It has been reported that her nonvocal performance caught the attention of the school's drama coach who approached her about enrolling in the drama department that following year. Upon entering the drama department, Lusha then portrayed the role of Cinderella in the play, The Last Dress Rehearsal and Belle in Beauty and the Beast. She also portrayed an Umpa Lumpa and a Tap-Dancing Box in the play, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. For her performance as a "Dancing Box" Lusha received the recognition of her peers who founded the Masiela Lusha Dancing Box Fan Club. Purportedly, within weeks, over 175 classmates signed in support. Soon after moving to California, Lusha was selected as the principle fashion model in a multinational Back-to-School JC Penny television campaign which aired in America and South America, and was cast in the Alanis Morissette Music Video, Hands Clean.
Hollywood: George Lopez and popularity established (2000–2007)
"Acting is not a lofty performance; it is simply the source of becoming and existing transparently. Acting, I find, is the art of frothing to the surface every raw and honest emotion. The moment an actor pretends, he loses his audience forever."
2000 was Lusha's television debut with a guest appearance on the Disney Channel series, Lizzie Mcguire as the character Olivia in the episode Last Year's Model. Lusha made her film debut in the 2000 film A Father's Love, as Lisa, the lead who reminisces on her experiences with her father.
In 2001, she was "handpicked from a pool of 2,800 actresses" to portray the role of Carmen Lopez on the newly developed ABC sitcom, George Lopez. The show was executive produced by Academy Award winner Sandra Bullock and Bruce Helford. After completing its 120th episode, the show reached global syndication, and established Lusha as a TV veteran by the age of 20. That following year, the George Lopez show won an Emmy and was established as the second-longest-running sitcom in television history to star a Hispanic lead, after I Love Lucy. To this date, it continues to be Nick at Night's highest rated series. Later in the series, it became known that Lusha was the only non-Hispanic in the cast. Reportedly, despite this revelation, the Hispanic community accepted her portrayal of Carmen Lopez and embraced her as one of their own. Lusha described her character as "possessing a wisdom, a naïveté, and an idealism all glued together by passion of the rawest form." Lusha also said that Carmen taught her more about boys and rebellion than most of her friends, and that she often envied her brash, passionate ways. Lusha said she liked feeling sheltered as a teenager, compared to Carmen who she said "yearns to escape the confines of a family who doesn't understand her." Lusha's character moved to Vermont to attend college prior to the end of season five. Although to this day Lusha has yet to reveal or confirm the reasons behind her departure, George Lopez stated in 2007 that due to "creative differences" her character was written off the show. In a later interview, Constance Marie, Lusha's TV mother, revealed that the series "could now return to its full-hispanic cast."
Lusha won two consecutive Young Artists Awards for Best Leading Actress in a Comedy and Drama for her portrayal as Carmen. While working on George Lopez, Lusha also voiced the role of Nina for four years on the children's animated series Clifford's Puppy Days. The cast consisted of Happy Days actor, Henry Winkler. Portraying the character of Nina introduced Lusha to children's entertainment, and in 2009, when Lusha wrote her first children's book, she credited her earlier experiences with the show. For her portrayal as Nina, Lusha received her third Young Artist Award nomination.
International film roles and global recognition (2008–present)
In December 2009, Lusha joined the original cast of George Lopez for a televised reunion on Lopez Tonight. During the live reunion taping, when asked about her experiences on the show, Lusha said: "it is the show that keeps giving. Every year it offers something to society, and it offered something to each and every one of us. It brought us all together for a lifetime."
Lusha has since appeared as Mira on an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. At the suggestion of George Clooney, Lusha has also appeared in the film Muertas (2008) in which she portrayed the determined and sensitive lead, Aracelli. In the film, Lusha's dialogue was in Spanish, and although she reportedly did not speak a word of the language, she later said in an interview that she was "thrilled with the challenge." Lusha also stated that to her, Muertas "is a love story reflecting on Araceli's dreams for a better life." She described her character's struggle by saying, "Araceli also understands that to dream is to defy, and to defy is to be captured and killed. Araceli's bravery is about her willingness to take that risk." Throughout filming Lusha reflected on her mother's own struggles and filmed Muertas as a "tribute to her integrity and strength." In the film, Lusha was said to have "glimmered with an innate aura of elegance and grace. She projected an iridescent portrayal of vulnerability and strength."
Lusha also starred as Saint Agnes in the Albanian production of Time of the Comet (2008) based on the novel A Difficult Year by poet laureate and several-time Nobel Prize candidate, Ismail Kadare. Throughout the film, Lusha's dialogue was in a specific Albanian dialect. In 2008, Illyria Magazine, reviewed the film, stating: "Lusha has given a memorable and powerful performance by expressing beautifully the inner conflicts of Agnes as well as her vulnerabilities to the core. Even the writer Ismail Kadare has appreciated her work." In the same article, Fatmir Koci, the film's director, said of finding their Agnes: "We searched across Albania for two years for our lead actress. We visited schools, everything. We needed an actress who had a purity about her, an innocence. As soon as we saw her performance on tape, we knew she was the one. There was no discussion about it." He added, "She was professional, always lifted our moods when filming became difficult, and we loved her. As soon as she entered the set, everyone stood straighter. In the film, Lusha plays a catholic nun who falls in love with a Muslim rebel. When describing her character, Lusha said Agnes "symbolized a country brimming with souls who were searching for their roots and happiness during a time of political and social conflict." Lusha also said that Time of the Comet held a special place in her heart because "in the end we are all searching for our home, that one place where we belong." When asked about her experiences working with different nationalities and cultures on set, Lusha was quoted as saying: "As actors, we dug so deep into our senses, our country's borders and cultures blurred into one pot of emotion, and we performed above the complexities of language and formality." Since it's theatrical release, the movie has become the highest grossing film in Albanian history, re-airing in television networks in Germany, Austria, Kosovo, Italy, and France.
Days after wrapping Time of the Comet, Lusha portrayed the role of the sword-wielding, vampire in disguise, Sharon in the Sony Pictures high-budget remake of the cult classic Blood: The Last Vampire alongside Jun Ji-Hyun. The film was co-produced by French company Pathé and Hong Kong company Edko. In 2009, the film premiered in Japan and was released internationally by Sony Pictures.
In 2011, Lusha also starred in the films, Katie Malone and The Architect. In Katie Malone, she portrayed the role of Ginger, a premed college student who is tormented by the ghost of a slave girl. One Tree Hill actor Stephen Colletti and Superman star Dean Cain costarred in the movie. The film is slated to be released by American World Pictures in 2012. In The Architect, Lusha acted alongside Stacy Keach. In 2012, Lusha also starred in the film, Of Silence, alongside Muse Watson.
Humanitarian work and public service campaigns
It is reported that Lusha's personal experiences in various countries, and in her own war-torn homeland, inspires her passion for humanitarian work. Lusha's charitable work focuses on social issues such as children rights, culture and education. She is involved with various family-oriented charities, is an animal rights enthusiast and the patron of 1736 Family Crisis Center.
Since 2004, as the Ambassador for Scholastic's Read for Life, Lusha is involved in national PSA commercials and continues to read to school children across America. Throughout her career, she promotes "the value of appreciating the written word." As the national spokesperson for the Great American Bake Sale, a hunger-relief program, Lusha visits local towns throughout the United States and supports food drives to help battle childhood hunger. For her role as a national spokesperson, Lusha promotes the importance of raising funds to help local communities.
Lusha has stated numerous times that she would like her books to be used as tools for children to pursue their individual dreams and passions and has commented, when asked what she would be doing if she weren’t a celebrity, "I dreamed of being a teacher when I was younger. Teachers throughout my life have played a vital role in the development of my creativity, and as early as I can remember, I've always been inspired by the power of their work." When describing her role as a young author, and youth ambassador promoting education, Lusha famously stated: "I feel it is our inherent duty as a humane society, above any intangible responsibility, to invest in our children’s potential, passion and confidence, because with every child labeled lost in this world, we lose a battle.".
Contributions to Children of the World Foundation
While filming in the Balkans in 2006, Lusha was made aware of the deprived conditions of local homeless children wandering the streets and begging for food. About her personal experiences meeting these children, Lusha said:
As I witnessed the heartbreaking conditions of orphans, some as young as five years old, lining the streets, I felt that these children were robbed of their human and inherent right to be loved, and receive the opportunities that society can provide.
Later that year, Lusha founded the Children of the World Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that offers food, shelter and education to families in deprived conditions. For Children of the World, she donated 10 acres (40,000 m2) of land for a community center focused on rehabilitating families in need.
Lusha's career and television influence has been explored in a number of books, most notably How to Become a Magnet to Hollywood Success by Michele Blood and Rock Riddle. Lusha has also been mentioned in Whiz Kids by Jesee K Mwaura; The Albanian Poets Almanac; The American Family on Television by Maria Brooks; Become a Magnet to Success: Through the Sea of Unlimited Consciousness by Bob Proctor; Contemporary Theater, Film and Television by Thomas Riggs; Albania - Webster's Speciality Crossword Puzzles; George Lopez: Latino King of Comedy by Lila Guzman and Rick Guzman, as well as George Lopez's own autobiography, Why You Crying?: My Long, Hard Look at Life, Love, and Laughter.
Little is known of Lusha's personal life. During the filming of George Lopez, Lusha was reportedly privately schooled on set. Lusha graduated from Burbank High School at the age of 15. That same year, it was revealed that Lusha attended Glendale College, in Southern California. She graduated with an AA degree and transferred to UCLA as a junior at the age of 18. While at UCLA, Lusha majored in Creative Writing. In 2007, Lusha founded the production company Illuminary Pictures and has since produced two films with the company. In 2008, it was reported that Lusha was labeled a genius. However, in a 2009 interview, when asked, Masiela Lusha dismissed the story as "absolutely untrue" and called it "misleading." She later said that "any child imbued with a sense of purpose and self-worth can accomplish what I have, and even surpass me." Lusha currently resides in Los Angeles, California.