“I’m a sex loving, anti-sex trafficking activist!”
“I was a nerd. The second the computers came out, my mimi [grandmother] gave me her hand-me-down 286 with MS-DOS. I was obsessed.” Firstly, I have no idea what she’s talking about. And secondly, I’m just as alarmed to hear these words come out of her pillowy lips as you are. There’s one thing that becomes quickly apparent about actress AnnaLynne McCord: she’s not at all what she seems.
Within the first four weeks of meeting AnnaLynne, together, we had survived oppressive Ohio heat, a cyclone, and Billy Zane. It was the summer of 2012, and we were filming a Mark Jones thriller—Scorned—in a tiny, impoverished Midwestern town, Portsmouth. Admittedly, I was apprehensive about meeting this 90210 (and more recently, Dallas) bombshell; when looking her up online she seemed too perfect, glam, and even diva-ish. Also, I guess I made the stupid assumption that since she was playing a somewhat superficial character on TV, she would be like that in real life as well. Kinda ignorant since I had also just come off a series in which I had played a diehard bitch (of which, as it turns out, AnnaLynne was a “diehard fan”). Short of any better accommodation in Portsmouth, the cast and crew (yes, Billy Zane as well) were put up in local student living quarters. AnnaLynne arrived the day after I did, and I remember the first glimpse I caught of her from the balcony of my “dorm”: effortlessly tanned, luscious sandy blonde hair, large Paris Hilton-style sunglasses… I think I was just about ready to turn the other way and hide when the glasses lifted, her clear blue eyes lit up, and she exclaimed, “Viva?!!”
I’ll pause here for just a moment. In the face of common journalistic codes of practice, and to disclose full transparency, it’s important that I acknowledge my decision to interview and write about AnnaLynne. She’s a close friend of mine; as I just mentioned, we co-starred in Scorned, and we’re also scriptwriting partners. So yes, in the “real world” it wouldn’t be entirely appropriate for me to take on a story about my bestie. But given that SheRa Mag promises to break the rules, since this is my magazine (cue tongue poke), and as a testament to how awesome I think she is, I’m doing it anyway. For that reason, rather than the standard style of adopting the subject’s last name throughout the article, I will refer to my friend as AnnaLynne. And at times, just Anna.
In the midst of about a million other commitments she had on her agenda that week, when I finally got AnnaLynne on the phone to ask her if she’d agree to be interviewed by me and grace the cover of our debut issue, her response was priceless. “Ah, let me just think about that…” Pause. “OF COURSE!!” It’s her extreme dualities that make AnnaLynne so fascinatingly complex. At a moment’s notice, she’ll fluently grace the red carpet of a prestigious humanitarian event, but then all at once, the trailer-park girl from Atlanta, with her Southern vowels and neighborhood humor, will unapologetically emerge. AnnaLynne is a self-made phenomena who, at just 15-years-old, packed a suitcase, moved to Miami, and began a modeling career. But modeling was never the final goal. AnnaLynne was saving up for her eventual move to LA (after a few years in New York) to become an actress.
But let’s go back a little earlier. It comes as a delightful revelation to discover the gawky girl behind the celebrity. Now profoundly self-aware and open—her boyfriend, actor Dominic Purcell, affectionately and repeatedly tells her that she “talks too much”—AnnaLynne explains that it was likely the result of being home-schooled and therefore not exposed to school-yard judgments that saw her with “absolutely no self-awareness whatsoever.” This was a decision made by her parents for which, she stresses, she “is extremely grateful”. As a kid, AnnaLynne explains how she would dress in “boy T-shirts, weird long shorts and mid-calf socks, [and] the ugliest tennis shoes you’ve ever seen.” And rather than the flowing locks I now see before me, as a child, she was fixated on maintaining what she calls a “chronic ponytail.” Along with her computer and tech tendencies, AnnaLynne was a Star Wars fanatic and had “all of the figurines: the lightsabers, Darth Vader, The Millennium Falcon…” And curiously, before realizing that she wanted to be an actress, her childhood dream was to be a math teacher! “Oh, and also an archaeologist, but that was more due to the fact that I was in love with Indiana Jones.”
It’s this same mathematical brain that claims to see everything in “lines”, and AnnaLynne approaches acting from a similar geometrical standpoint. “I’m willing to do asymmetry when my hair’s down but when my hair’s up, I require perfect symmetry,” she explains of her negotiations with hair stylists on set. And this kind of left-brain thinking, unique to many creative types, resonates in all aspects of her life. At (just turned) 27, AnnaLynne owns a home, travels between friends, family, and movie sets, routinely attends events, and is actively involved in fundraising. You quickly realize that only a structured, compartmentalized mind like hers could manage all of this with such ease. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that when AnnaLynne caught wind of the role of Pauline—a girl with aspirations in medicine—in the thriller, Excision (director Richard Bates Jr’s Sundance hit), she stopped at nothing to procure it. Initially, Bates dismissed AnnaLynne as being wrong for the role: AnnaLynne is pretty, Pauline is not. His hands tied, Bates finally agreed to meet with the determined young actress, and so before their meeting at a cafe in Hollywood, AnnaLynne’s makeup artist secretly met her in the parking lot and gave her “horribly bushy eyebrows.” “Eyebrows throw off symmetry,” she explains, “eyebrows and teeth. But we didn’t wanna go in with bucked teeth ‘cos that’s weird.” She greeted Bates in the cafe with her childhood ponytail, loose jeans (“not the cool boyfriend type either”), and a shirt layered on top of another one. “It was an ode to those boys in the 90’s,” she reminisces. Still unconvinced (“I was just a pretty girl with eyebrows as far as he was concerned”), Anna picked up a steak knife and proceeded to saw at her hair. “He’s like, ‘stop, stop! You’re crazy!’” Suffice to say, she got the gig.
AnnaLynne’s most admirable pursuit, however, is her dream to abolish sex trafficking and slavery. Arguably her gutsiest duality, last month, at the premier of her human rights short film, I CHOOSE, she declared, “I’m a sex loving, anti-sex trafficking activist!” That same week, in an interview with Cosmopolitan, Anna had exposed that she is also a survivor of sexual assault. The message in her directorial debut supported her provocative “sex” statement: she chooses to have sex and “love(s) it”, while victims of trafficking, sex slavery, or any other kind of sexual assault, don’t.
Having begun her engagement in the fight to abolish slavery in her early 20’s (she was honoured by Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro on behalf of Woodland For Women Worldwide in 2009), AnnaLynne first met the now topical Somaly Mam (Cambodian author and human rights advocate who focuses primarily on sex trafficking) in 2009. She describes this important moment in her life: “I had a bunch of things I wanted to say to her and when I met her not a word would come out of my mouth, because my experience of meeting her is that when you are in the presence of greatness, words fail you.” Since that fateful meeting, AnnaLynne has become an active participant of AFESIP (Mam’s Cambodian-based organization) and the Somaly Mam Foundation, which was founded in Mam’s name in 2007. AnnaLynne flies to Cambodia every year and continues to contribute generous personal monetary donations. Since Simon Mark’s scathing Newsweek investigation into the legitimacy of Mam’s story, however, the Somaly Mam Foundation has rejected AFESIP (which has consequently dissipated), Mam has stepped down, and, almost unanimously, the media have dethroned her. But AnnaLynne stands by her friend and mentor: “I understand a survivor mentality. The choice is live or die. Just do whatever you have to do to live. That’s it. This is what survival instinct is. It’s instilled in every animal in the animal kingdom. We are not exempt.” Anna looks at the psychology of the fickle many who once embraced Mam as their “hero” and now, just as easily, cast her aside. “For an ordinary person to place another ordinary person onto a pedestal of extraordinary-ness (for lack of a better word), and then feel let down when they find out that the person is in fact ordinary, did you not just let yourself down?!” Moreover, referring to the 7000 + girls that Mam has rescued and continues to rehabilitate, AnnaLynne asserts, “Somaly never once lied about what she is doing.” And to the city-slicking, middle-class journalists who are so quick to criticize, she says, “no one who has spent the personal time with Somaly and the survivors; no one who has walked where I have walked, slept where I have slept, and experienced what I have experienced in Cambodia with Somaly and her brigade of heroes could ever give a listening ear to such vile reports as those of one who clearly cares none for the fight to end human slavery but more for the demand that humans be held to a standard of perfection.”
The Somaly Mam crisis is not just ideological for AnnaLynne though, she is deeply invested in Somaly as a person, her work, and the girls at her centers. In the aftermath of Mark’s article, the centers, that have been financially dependent on the Somaly Mam Foundation for seven years, have been cut off. With tears in her eyes, her guard now entirely collapsed, Anna confides, “I’ve been in hysterics, Viva. I’ve broken down many times. As if I’m a parent who can’t provide for my child. It’s a horrible feeling.” AnnaLynne is now in the process of setting up a recipient fund which will send crisis monies to “the girls left desperately in need.”
AnnaLynne is the queen of dualities: bombshell and nerd, glamorous and humble, girly and tomboy, a math brain and an artist, sex loving and a protector of the sexually abused, fiercely assertive yet empathetic, hard yet soft. With such focus, drive, and determination, no doubt AnnaLynne will continue to convince directors that she is the girl for the job, make her own righteous and powerful films (whilst changing the statistics of female writers and directors in Hollywood), and finally, end sex slavery. As beau Purcell rightly stated at the I CHOOSE premier, “all those victims of sex slavery and abuse are fortunate to have someone like Anna in their corner.” They really are.