With a resume including shows like General Hospital, Veronica Mars, Bates Motel, The Magicians, and Midnight, Texas, you’ve probably seen Jaime Ray Newman on television before. Or you might have caught her in February, giving her Oscar acceptance speech.
“Besides the birth of my kid, it was the most incredible moment of my life,” said Newman, who shared the award for Best Live Action Short Film with her husband, Guy Nattiv. “It was genuinely unexpected – we had no idea.”
Newman – who graduated from Cranbrook Kingswood High School and attended Interlochen Center for the Arts – admits their award-winning film, Skin, isn’t the easiest to watch. It focuses on the true story of Bryon Widner, a reformed skinhead who got his racist facial tattoos removed, with help from black activist, Daryle Jenkins.
Skin – Nattiv’s first American project – was originally supposed to be a feature.
During summer 2016, their agent took the script to producers, who said the script was amazing and Nattiv was an excellent director, but this sort of racism just didn’t really exist in America anymore.
“We were so devastated that we literally took our retirement funds and made the short, as if proof of concept,” Newman said.
“In the meantime, President Trump gets elected, Charlottesville happens, and the world kind of caught on fire,” she continued. “What was ‘not in the zeitgeist,’ unfortunately, was now front and center.”
While true, Skin only got into one film festival, the HollyShorts Film Festival, which it won and qualified them for the Academy Awards. Then, well, they won.
This is only the beginning though. The duo have multiple films in the pipeline for their production company, New Native Pictures. They want to make movies that aren’t just entertainment, but a platform to ask questions about culture, society, and politics, and push social boundaries.
“Pure escapism isn’t what we’re interested in. It’s important to have that in the world, it’s just not our mission statement,” Newman said.
Newman is less selective about the projects she chooses when it comes to acting. But one TV show from her career stands out from the rest – Eastwick, a 2009 ABC fantasy comedy-drama based on John Updike's novel The Witches of Eastwick.
It may have only lasted one season, but Newman said it gave her a launching platform and was the first pilot she did that was picked up.
“That was a very powerful experience for me,” she said. “I loved working with women. It was an ensemble show but I worked my ass off. I loved working on that show.”
She’s not only done television – including Hulu’s highly-anticipated, Little Fires Everywhere – but film and stage work as well, which she’s dying to get back to.
“I just love to work,” she said. “To me, being on set, being amongst other actors, being with crews, that’s my life blood.”
She’s been doing this for a while now.
Newman’s father has hours of home footage of her singing, dancing, and performing, but it was her role in a local equity theater that sealed the deal. She received her equity card at age 10.
From there, she would not only learn at Cranbrook and Interlochen – the two most influential places on her as an artist growing up – but start her own theater company as a junior in high school, producing three plays.
Skin may have been the first film she produced with Nattiv, but clearly it’s always been in her.
“I see a direct through-line from that 16-year-old to me at age 41 standing up on that Oscar stage,” Newman said.