Ozzie Stewart

Ozzie Stewart jumped into character even before she got the role of Ms. Vy, a street hustler and gifted bookie, in Beautiful Jones, a nonunion film she read about in Back Stage East in January. For the audition she dressed for the part, intending to bring the character to life in front of the director and casting director.

"I took on the personality of Ms. Vy," says Stewart, who was born in Trinidad. "She's sweet but can be lethal. I'm a reactionary type of actress, so I try to become the person in my mind."

From among 200 auditions — culled from 900 submissions for eight different roles — Stewart made a strong impression, wowing the director and casting director enough for them to rethink Ms. Vy, who was originally supposed to be from the South. John Lord, the film's writer and director, says that Stewart's presence brought something unique to the character. "She's from the Caribbean and brought a different flavor to the role," he says. "She has a slight Caribbean accent, and it made me re-evaluate what I wanted to do with the character."

Stewart says she had fun preparing for Beautiful Jones, which tells the story of the title character, an assassin whose father is a compulsive gambler who abandoned her as a child. Her preparation included working with a fight trainer on breathing exercises as well as attack and defense techniques and other physical activities. The film begins shooting in July, and there are plans to submit it to the Sundance Film Festival.

Stewart admits that her path to acting wasn't always crystal clear. Prior to pursuing acting full-time, she was working in the garment industry. A good friend, Renton Kirk, continually encouraged her to pursue her art and motivated her to keep going to auditions. Kirk's life was cut short in September 2004 when he was caught in a strong current off Fire Island and drowned, but Stewart still follows his advice: "I feel like he's up there watching me and pushing me."

The influence of Stewart's nomadic lifestyle — she has lived in Trinidad, England, and the United States — can be seen in her versatile work on film, on stage, and as a model. "I prefer film because I can be so many things in a shorter time," she says. "Stage is wonderful, though, because you get immediate feedback."

-- Leesa Davis