When celebrities hang out with Bustle editors, we want to give them the chance to leave their mark. Literally. So we hand them a pen, a piece of paper, a few questions, and ask them to get creative. The rest is up to them. This time, Manifest star Luna Blaise is leaving her mark in the Bustle Booth.
Mystery looms large in Luna Blaise's new NBC drama Manifest, premiering Sept. 24. Her character Olive's father, twin brother, and aunt are presumed missing, then dead, after a plane disappears, before mysteriously returning five years later un-aged and unharmed. And that's about all that both the audience and Blaise herself know about the show at this point. "It’s almost like a slap in the face but you’re so happy that they’re back," Blaise teases in a July visit to the Bustle office. "It’s gonna be crazy when everything unfolds and we all find out what’s going on." But although the supernatural forces surrounding the premise of the series weigh heavily on the characters, the emotions they're coping with underneath are all too pedestrian.
Blaise says that the confusion and vulnerability that her character experiences at the start of the show are feelings people of all ages — though particularly teens — will relate to. "I think the most relatable thing is that she’s just trying to be a teenage girl," Blaise says. "She’s just trying to live her life, but at the same time, she’s trying to stick to the reality of everything and she’s putting all the obstacles that have been in front of her and she’s like, ‘Ok, you need to deal with everything that’s been kind of pushed in our face instead of just pushing it over our head.’"
One way her character alleviates the stress surrounding her life is by going to therapy regularly. Facing her issues head-on is a stark contrast to many of the other characters' approaches to working through the surreal situation the family finds itself in.
"Everyone else on the show is kind of trying to move on super quick. And I just don’t understand how that’s possible," Blaise says. "Like your family’s been presumed dead for five and a half years. They randomly show up, and you’re perfectly fine? I think that’s a lot of people’s coping method almost, where it’s just like, ‘Let me try and forget that that happened and move on with my life.’ But for me, it especially being a teenager — and hopefully a lot of teenagers watch the show with their family — is that she’s going through all the things that normally, and in a healthy way, a teenager or any person should be going through. It’s anxiety, it’s depression, hopefully we don’t go through that. But everyone does at some point."
An actress and singer (she had just wrapped a 22-city tour when she auditioned for Manifest), Blaise is no stranger to portraying characters who struggle to come to terms with their own reality. As the Huangs' neighbor Nicole on Fresh Off The Boat, Blaise had a memorable scene in which her character tells her friend Eddie that she's gay. The moment reverberated on both social media and in Blaise's own life.
"It was incredible," Blaise remembers. "Like, I will never, ever, ever forget that. I knew that a lot of people were gonna respond differently. I 100 percent was in and then the sooner it got to the airdate of the episode I was like, ‘Oh my god. How are people going to respond? Am I going to get a bunch of hate for this even though that’s ridiculous?’ I was like, with social media these days, ‘I don’t know what’s going to be said.’ Plus, for me I only wanted a positive outlook on it all. And then once the episode came out, it was nothing but love and positivity and I was getting mentions on Twitter and DMs on Instagram and emails saying like, ‘Your episode on Fresh Off the Boat helped me come out to my sister or my family or my mom and my dad. My anyone.’ And I was like, ‘That’s crazy that I was able, a character, was able to help you in your real life.’"
The experience also involved Blaise partnering with GLAAD in order to better educate herself about the LGBTQ experience and represent Nicole's truth with sensitivity and accuracy. "I could not have done it without GLAAD," Blaise says, "they’re incredible and I really bow down to them."
Just as both Olive and Nicole lead with authenticity, so does Blaise in her approach to performing and life in general. "I’ve always told this to my mom, everyone, that once my job starts feeling like a job, I’m going to stop doing it," she says. "I have to remember that no matter how hard it can be sometimes, and no matter if you’re crying in your room at four in the morning, that this is what you’re supposed to do. I haven’t gotten anything given to me. Like, I’ve always worked for everything I’ve done. I’m going to keep doing that forever." No matter what seemingly otherworldly event is hurled at the actress, or her character, next, her approach to facing it feels nothing if not down-to-earth.