Inspirational Women In Hollywood: How Murisa Harba of About The Work Actors Studio Is Helping To Shake Up The Entertainment Industry
Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Just be yourself. People like authenticity so lean into who you are. Your brand is what gets you booked.
As a part of our series about Inspirational Women In Hollywood, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Murisa Harba.
An award-winning actor and director, Murisa Harba lives to push boundaries. She is a leading acting coach, author, thought leader, and speaker in Los Angeles, passionate about empowering actors to elevate their truth in storytelling, ultimately unlocking their creative genius.
ABOUT THE WORK Actors Studio was founded by Murisa in 2013 on the principle of challenging actors to push past their comfort zone with her signature techniques THE CHAKRA APPROACH® and THE MACRO METHOD. Her custom 7 Steps To Elevated Truth mentorship program supports actors by empowering them to think differently about the craft, uncovering what makes them unique and likeable so they can up-level their careers. Murisa teaches at the Los Angeles SAG-AFTRA Conservatory and is also recognized as a Backstage Expert. Her book Acting With Energy is an international best-seller and is available on Amazon and all major bookstores. www.about-the-work.com
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in Paramus, New Jersey to an American mother and Bosnian father. While I enjoyed learning and did well at school, I thrived in dance and theatre. When I was ten years old, the Bosnian war broke out, both physically and psychologically affecting my family. My father was able to escape his two brothers along with their families. They came to live with us for a few years as they settled into safe suburban life in America. It was an incredibly eye-opening experience at such a young age to witness their integration into American society after knowing they experienced such horrors that came with surviving a war. I became “conscious” at ten years old and wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps of philanthropy (he was awarded a Purple Heart for his contributions as Founder of the Bosnian Relief Fund). The creation of art became my way to express these feelings. I knew deep in my heart I had something to contribute to the world but wasn’t sure what it was just yet.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
After years of acting, dancing, and voice training, I was accepted to Boston University’s College of Fine Arts as a theatre major. It was not until I began directing in my senior year when the seeds of my future began to grow. A close friend and I created a show that became our senior thesis. Due to a shortage of directors in my class, I was encouraged to step into the role of director, while also acting in the original full-length play. It was during the rehearsal process that something inside me awoke. The collaborative process of creation and communicating story in a visceral way created a deep sense of fulfillment. I dreamt of having a space where I could experiment, pushing boundaries with other like-minded artists in the name of growth as an individual, and more importantly, as a society.
As a thought leader, I hope to raise the level of global emotional intelligence resulting in a more peaceful symbiotic society. By starting with actors, and all artists, my goal is to empower them to tap into their intuitive body, uncovering the similarities we possess within the human body through an easy-to-understand step-by-step guide bringing awareness through the accessible and prominent lens of TV & Film. By utilizing the mainstream media to produce the ground swell, I believe if we can focus on what makes us similar, we can close the gap between our differences resulting in global collaboration towards a better, more peaceful future. One where we jump to understand versus judge. When I finally uncovered this mission, it all made sense to me. As a little girl, I never understood why “war” happened. If we get to the root of the problem, we can move forward as a society and learn to hear each other’s needs versus arguing over whose beliefs are correct. A tall order, I know. But taking risks is something that I would later understand to become part of my mission.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
When I founded About The Work, I thought I was starting an actors studio. What I didn’t realize was the work we were doing had the power to heal deep traumas. In a method I created called The Chakra Approach®, students have consistently found an outlet of release for traumas they experienced as far back as childhood. What was originally created to use in scene work seemed to be genuinely healing parts of their personal lives. The Chakra Approach utilizes the body’s natural energy centers to create compelling characters and tell nuanced stories in ways that are visceral to an audience. For the performer, it has the power to actively shift one’s temperature and saliva production.
During the first two months of opening our doors and regularly leading what I call a Chakra Warmup, one of my students approached me and shared how this work allowed him to let go of twenty years of anger and shame towards his mother. She had passed and he had never mourned her due to their tumultuous past. He was crying tears of happiness while I was stunned, attempting to piece together exactly how my chakra warmup impacted his emotional life and private relationships in such a profound way. That was the moment I knew I had stumbled upon something that had the power to create real change in the world. I then began writing Acting With Energy: Creating Brilliance Take After Take. Not only is this a book to help actors (or anyone) utilize and harness their energy in a precise and effective way, but beyond that, my intention is that this book will raise the level of emotional intelligence so we as humans can create more empathy as a global community. If we understand how to communicate on an energetic level, we can understand each other’s needs on an intuitive level.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I am not sure if I should share this embarrassing story, but the moral is so good, I think I have to! Early in my acting career, I auditioned for a student film at USC. After the audition, I was having trouble finding the correct entrance to the campus, so I thought I would jump off campus to get there faster. Like any impatient rebel, I hopped the fence that surrounds the USC campus. But this fence had stakes sticking seven feet high! I hoisted myself over the side (happy to have made it over) only to have one of the stakes literally go up the back of my shirt as I landed on the other side.
People were coming and going and there I was stuck on a fence pole, barely able to touch the ground! I stood there on tippy toes acting like everything was totally normal as students and faculty passed by. I even waved to a few people to make it seem like I had everything under control. After about 10 minutes of quietly scheming, I wriggled out of my sweater, plucked it off the fence and calmly walked back to my car. Moral of the story: Keep going and don’t take the shortcuts, what you are looking for is literally just on the other side. Also, it’s imperative to be able to laugh at yourself!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ll share the story about my lowest point, my literal rock bottom. It was 2012 and I was working a mind-numbing 9–5 pm SEO sales job on the westside of Los Angeles that was purely to get me out of debt. I was also suffering from PTSD from another mind-numbing job experience and was in the middle of treatment that left me raw and exposed. The thing that had me hanging on as I’d been cast as the lead in a feature that was a total dream role (I played a Bosnian refugee surviving in America) but the funding had fallen apart. I was absolutely crushed. Then I booked another lead role in a touring production with big names attached and that also fell through. I began to question everything and felt like a total failure that I wasn’t doing anything creative. One day, the emotional swell got the best of me and I ran out of my tiny cubicle, escaped to my car and cried on my steering wheel. In a fit of fury and tears, I picked my phone and called Simon Sinek, who is not only a dear friend of mine (we were neighbors in NYC a decade earlier) but an incredibly inspirational and knowledgeable person with a fantastic insight into the human condition, as well as New York Times bestselling author of Start With Why. He listened to my sob story and offered me his thoughts which somehow alchemized my tears into an empowered, motivating game plan. He said, “Murisa, I see three problems here. 1. You aren’t doing anything creative. 2. You need to be around people and not hidden in a cubicle. (I was one of the only people who actually reported to the office and my boss was on maternity leave. I learned so much of what to do and what not to do from here, as a business owner). And 3. You have no feedback whether you are even doing a good job or not by your absentee boss. He asked me, “Why aren’t you teaching [acting]? You love teaching. Why don’t you start your own thing?” At that moment it all clicked. Of course, I was supposed to be teaching. Later that day, I did three things. 1. I quit. 2. I convinced my director friend that he needed an assistant director (me) for his next play and also auditioned for the leading lady role. 3. I booked a space for my first ever workshop which was the birth of my acting studio About The Work. We are heading into our 10th year this March! I am ever so grateful for my friendship with Simon, he is an incredible friend and human and his insight never leads me astray!
You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
Don’t hop any fences! Just kidding… in all honesty, failure is part of the process so cozy up to it. My favorite quote is “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” by Neale Donald Walsch because it is just so true. Whatever you are scared of, lean into it. Take risks. The number one regret that people on their deathbed have is they didn’t try something, not that they tried something and then failed at it. Think about that. What do you want to be able to say you did when you are leaving this world? What would eat away at your heart if you didn’t at least try? Go towards that, with all you’ve got!
What drives you to get up every day and work in TV and Film? What change do you want to see in the industry going forward?
I’m addicted to the power of story. It is the most effective way we have as human beings to communicate. I wish to see equality and equity for all artists because art imitates life and life is filled with beautifully diverse cultures that need to be represented. It is important for us to make space for all artists and human beings; the only way to do that is through a representation of ALL walks of life through story. We really do have the power to unite the world through story, which is actually the mission of ABOUT THE WORK, my actors’ studio.
You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?
My book Acting With Energy hit bookshelves last month and hit #1 international bestseller status! My hope with this book is that it gives actors and artists a step-by-step process to learn how to listen to their intuition so they can create repeatable brilliance in their performances take after take. Many non-actors have read the book and have reached out to me to say how much it has affected their own personal life, which gives me no bigger thrill! I am on a mission to empower artists and am already writing my next book, which zooms out to a macro perspective of storytelling and how it can truly affect an audience on a cellular level. I have much to share with all types of storytellers out there and simply can’t keep all of this information to myself. Birthing my first book was certainly a labor of love and I’m excited to do it again!
The next project I’m directing is called Bad Therapist, which shines a major light on mental illness and addiction. I’m very passionate about not dancing around the subject and getting to the heart of this topic, especially being a survivor of PTSD. I’m also working closely with a dear friend of mine, who has created a highly brandable pop culture book and television series, to bring the Chakra Approach® to the project, making it the first series to practice this method.
My last feature film The Shattering (of which I won four Best Actress in a Feature awards for!) is now available on Amazon Video. I poured my heart into that film and became very protective of my character, Claire, who went to the ends of the earth to keep her family together. This film, also dealing with mental illness and loss, was incredibly challenging as an actor because of how raw the main character becomes throughout the film. Luckily, I was able to put my acting technique The Chakra Approach® to work and it literally saved me. Using my body from an energetic standpoint to play chords of emotion allowed me to be present and deliver take after take.
We are very interested in looking at diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture and our youth growing up today?
Everyone deserves a voice and should be seen, heard, and valued. That can’t happen if not everyone is represented within our art. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to teach kindness, respect, and empathy for all beings.
Since my mission is to unite the world through stories, I focus on sharing a vision where this is already true.
Something I am very interested in emulating is how Dan Levy envisioned Schitt’s Creek with regards to the representation of homosexual relationships. He didn’t focus on what is wrong in society. He focused on how amazing it could be if things were newly envisioned and being gay was just normal. I deeply resonate with this way of storytelling and was so glad he did what he did with that show. The Emmy wins were inevitable because his vision was clear and we, as a society, jumped on board. It honestly made me so happy.
In addition to this, I am lucky enough to be the mother of two gorgeous little boys who teach me something new about the world every day. Due to the conflict that is naturally inherent in the world, I am very passionate about teaching them ways to lean into their own emotions; something that older generations were perhaps not allowed to do as the societal norm. My husband and I share ways of coping with them whether it be understanding where in their body they are experiencing an emotion and the choices they have to move through different situations or even ways to meditate. I find this to be important because they are understanding how to navigate conflict on an emotional intelligence kind of level. Conflict will happen in the world but if we learn how to move through it, then we will have more space for empathy and understanding in the world.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Everyone’s path doesn’t have to be your path. Don’t fit someone else’s mold, create your own.
- Leap! Take risks! Keep flirting with the edge of what’s possible…What do you have to lose?
- Find a mentor that sees you and understands your vision. There is literally nothing more valuable than having someone on your team not only guiding you but rooting for you too.
- Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Just be yourself. People like authenticity so lean into who you are. Your brand is what gets you booked.
- Get quiet enough to listen to your intuition and your heart! Lean into what you find. Your body never lies.
Can you share with our readers any selfcare routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Please share a story for each one if you can.
Being the mother of two incredible boys under five, I really have to carve out time for myself so I can actually hear my inner voice which is always guiding me on the right path. I am a hardcore fan of Hal Elrod’s Miracle Morning and do my “SAVERS” routine every chance I get. Being a teacher of energy, I was trained in Tai Chi and absolutely love my practice. I have a designated space to divulge in both Miracle Morning and my tai chi practice, then immerse myself in nature as I journal to start my day with a lovely espresso lungo style. I am also a professional dancer and choreographer so I train with my Latin coach as often as I can. Dancing brings me so much joy and makes me thankful to be alive. In between dance practices, I do yoga/barre work and enjoy escaping for a hike in the Hollywood Hills overlooking Griffith Park observatory. Ending the day with a bubble bath with some candles and zen music never hurt anyone either!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I mentioned it earlier so let’s dive deeper into “life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” This quote by Neale Donald Walsch changed my life because I had been mortified by how big my dreams were. I couldn’t even say them out loud for quite some time. I would hide behind relationships and rationalize my way out of being vulnerable and taking risks for fear of failure. This quote hits me in my core because it reminds me the comfort is THROUGH that uncomfortable feeling. Ironically, my buddy Simon Sinek helped figure out my “why” and this quote is a huge part of it.
You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would love to educate more people on the power of our emotional and physical bodies. From our personal relationships to how we interact as a society, there is so much to unlock to truly understand each other on deeper levels. I truly believe if we can learn the language of energy, the world would be driven less by ego and more by heart. I imagine a world where it is me AND you, not me versus you. A world where we work together in the betterment of our communities and the honoring of our souls.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
Dan Levy! I feel like we would be great friends. I really responded to his style of storytelling because he went a different route than most. Instead of shouting and bringing attention to what is wrong in the world, he provided a new vision that was just accepted in the world of his story. In his show Schitt’s Creek, two men fell in love and got married. No one gave them a hard time. It became the norm. As artists, I believe we need to lead by example. Instead of challenging the status quo, why not paint the vision we hope for the world?
Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?
Yes! I am on Instagram as @murisaharba & @aboutthework and Twitter as @murisa & @aboutthework