Daphne Zuniga Shares Her #1 Piece of Advice: “Never Stop Learning”

daphne zuniga has had quite an entertainment career. she’s graced the big screen (Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs) and the small screen (Melrose Place), and only just recently found her two passions in life. 

First, she learned her love for behind-the-camera work. Sure, we selfishly loved her performance/hated her character as Brooke Davis’ mom on One Tree Hill, but her role as an actress was only scratching the surface. Today, she’s a director who is following her passions, constantly learning, and (our favorite part!) telling the female-centric stories that are so often absent from the narrative. 

Next up, she learned what real support looks like. Daphne just got married for the first time to her longtime boyfriend and soon realized that real love doesn’t mean losing freedom,  but instead it means finding someone who provides the most freeing and empowering kind of support, the kind that pushes you to do and be better. 

So with those two lessons, daphne has become unstoppable. And she had some lessons for us when it comes to constantly evolving in this thing called life. Ready, set, fangirl.

(photo credit: Christina Trayfors)

(photo credit: Christina Trayfors)

The void: In a few short words, who's Daphne Zuniga?

Daphne: Daphne was born to explore what it means to be human. 

I have always been pulled by inner growth. For as long as I can remember, I've always thought the reason we were given a life must be to experience it to our soul’s potential. It must be. 

I was also born to act, I know that. But I more than just act, which is why I'm now fulfilling another creative expression of directing.

I never wanted to do anything other than act. But because I've been pulled into this self-exploration, these yearnings have always come naturally to me.

The void: With this exploration being something you’ve been around and been intrigued by your whole life, why is it so important for you to move into directing now, after 20-plus years of being in front of the camera? 

Daphne: It felt natural. I have been on sets for so long in one capacity, as an actor, but over the last five years I’ve found myself looking around feeling like I could be doing more—I’m a very proactive, productive, creative person naturally. It started to feel less as less like a fit for me to say my lines, go back to my trailer and sit there. I was like, what do I do now?

I finally took action to manifest directing. I called someone who I had acted for, who was at Lifetime, and I said I wanted to shadow her on anything that she knew of. So she gave me one of her shows to shadow on, which was Lifetime’s  “Unreal.” I was shadowing these three different directors and I did that for a few months—it was so freaking gratifying. That's why I like to keep learning and learning and learning; it felt so great to be on that set, with my little backpack and not going off to the trailer. I was learning and it felt right. And it feels right now and absolutely natural. 

To see something and make it actually come to be is an incredible feeling. Acting is very internal, but with directing, I get to make things with my own imagination, I get to make it happen.

The void: being a female director, what do you want to achieve? 

Daphne: The next film I'm doing isn't necessarily a story that I would think I want to tell women or I think needs to be about women, but it's a wonderful story. And I think because I'm a woman, I will be able to tell it in a way that, perhaps, a man wouldn't be able to because there's a lot of vulnerability. the theme is basically how you must make yourself vulnerable for real love and intimacy. 

And that isn't necessarily a theme for women, it's for men too. But I think this world could use some more stories about how masculinity actually involves knowing yourself as a man, and your vulnerability, and not shutting yourself off from it. I think this world could really be served by more of those stories. 

our emotions [as women] don't need to keep being placated or put down because men can't handle it.  they need to actually honor women and our emotions and our creativity, because as they do that they are going to learn to do that for themselves. I do feel like that is an important theme for films now.

I feel like we're on the brink, we’re at a time right now where the entire planet needs to see things through a female lens, or let's just say, a more feminine lens. If more of our stories are told through that lens, it's going to be included more, and then become part of the norm. And I feel like the more women who come into direct and write, the more the current landscape will naturally change. Because you write what you know, right? And you direct from what you understand. the good news is, there are an infinite number of stories out there for women to tell.

The Void: with these projects and the desire to continually learn and explore, how do you maintain a work-life balance? 

Daphne: I feel like a lot of the women I know are hugely, very successful and real nurturers, yet they think of themselves last. I don't know why we do that. 

One of my primary selves is definitely the producer, the do-er, like I'm out there getting shit done. There's a part of me that just can't stand sitting around, she feels like it's too lazy. So she always has to come up with stuff to do. But what happens is, if I do that, I'm going to physically come down with something. if I don't balance, if I don't come back to my center and remember that there is a part of me that would love to get together with a friend or notice the view. I feel like it's our job to come into center, and as the adults in the room, we really have to listen to each need and then balance it. 

(photo credit: Christina Trayfors)

(photo credit: Christina Trayfors)

not to bring it back to me, but I just got married for the first time. And it's the weirdest thing because we've been together for 12 years. I tell my friends, I feel like I was an old married couple and now I feel like a newlywed. like it really has changed my mindset, my chemistry, and my energy. I used to think that if I was with someone, they were going to want to kind of shape who I am or not like how free I am. Well, I picked a man where I am dead wrong—I just feel so supported by him, never pulled back. And it makes me want to give him more and support him and make him feel really good.

The Void: what is one piece of advice you wish you could have told your younger self or somebody starting in the industry right now?

Daphne: I would say if you're going to stick it out, it's going to be hard. You're going to have to find a way to appreciate and love the process. That's different for everybody. But it is hard, especially as a woman in this business. 

But I think things are changing now. I feel like people are allowed to be themselves now.

I just feel like it's come down to really don't ever stop exploring and learning. And don't be afraid to ask for help.  I think that's the biggest mistake people make is that they feel like they cannot ask. or if you pray, if you believe in a god or your higher self, ask and then feel and listen to the answer. ask for help. Because I swear to God, the help will come. 

The Void: If you were to be remembered for one thing, what would you want it to be?

Daphne: I want to be remembered for understanding, listening to and embracing people. And for really being non-judgmental, and helping people embrace themselves. 

I feel like we live in a culture right now that kind of perpetuates the judging of others, which then causes us to then judge ourselves. So I want to be remembered for that, and to never, never stop learning. Life is short. 

make sure to catch daphe in lifetime’s “gates of paradise” (airing August 17th), and stay tuned for “The Waiting Room,” which she is directing this summer.

all photos taken by Christina Trayfors