Ireon Roach is a beautiful spirit who finds comfort alone and surrounded by the right people. Currently starring in 4400, her experience has been a true whirlwind where she got to learn how the industry really goes! An advocate for people with bi-polar disorder, Ireon brings her heart and soul into all areas of her life and that of others. We are so happy to share with you guys our exclusive Vulkan interview with Ireon Roach!
Can you tell us who you are at a first glance? And now, who you are when people look a little closer.
At first glance, I think I seem like a very cool-headed people’s person who has things together and can be very optimistic. Not shy, but to myself and my circle. I also feel like I often give the impression of being on the move because I don’t know how to sit still and can seem to be about my business. I’m a very spontaneous person, I love just seeing where the day takes me. I’m also a writer, have been since I was a kid. I write a lot of poetry and I usually host slams/open mics around the city or workshop plays. I think uplifting the voices in my community is something that’s important to me and you’d be surprised by the amount of talent that comes out of pockets of my city that people don’t usually investigate. Though I have my hand in many pots, I also love my solitude. Finding ways to recharge and relax is equally as important to me as all the things people see.
You star in “4400” which happened just as you graduated! Congrats! What has this experience been like?
Oh, thank you! Yeah, what a crazy transition? I almost immediately moved back to Chicago, which I’m happy to call home, got to work on what I love, and learned so much about how the industry moves in real time. It’s been incredibly gratifying and challenging, a whirlwind both internally and externally. And when I move fast, I tend not to grasp everything that’s really happening, so I had to make sure I was taking time to process each day and be like, “Yes. That really happened. And it’ll happen again tomorrow. And you’ll do it even better.” Suddenly I was surrounded by this amazing cast, robust crew, and whip-smart creators who had faith in me — so I had to meet that energy with a strong spine. This has truly been a masterclass in grace, gratefulness and following what feeds me.
Why did you want to pursue acting? What is it about the industry that you are most attracted to?
As a kid I had a lot of thoughts and many emotions and lived a life truly surrounded by characters, just itching for a way to express all of this and keep my mind moving. Through writing, I quickly figured out that acting was a craft that brings together our words, minds, and bodies in such a particular way that not only moves the audience, but the artist. I remember early rehearsal processes being so exciting to me, because suddenly everyone in the room gets to become an expert of this other world and build this other life to somehow bring us back to our own — the best way to learn! So, the attractive thing about the industry is how so many different artisans come together to realize that world and offer it to our present one as an escape that inevitably leads you right back to yourself. And its stuff we feel like we can’t do or say in places we could only imagine ourselves. I was like, “Wow, look how free I can be here,” and quickly became obsessed with how much freedom I could help people bring home.
On set, what do you love most about your character?
My favorite thing about Keisha on set is her hair. Not only does Rukey Styles and the amazing hair department spend a lot of time crafting these looks, but it is very thoughtfully aligned with the story. I would learn a lot about Keisha through how her locs were styled, assuming she styled them herself. It was such a big deal for her to literally let her hair down, we would joke about it on set! “Ooooh, Keisha’s hair down today!” And it’s like, ok what does it mean to literally let your hair down? What does it tell me about this person that she took the extra time to do this intricate twist up look? Just, all these little, small things that really help me walk more honestly in her shoes for that day. It was so exciting to walk into the hair trailer in the morning to see what the new creation was and be in conversation with that design element.
As a queer woman, what do you believe has been the most challenging in our society? And now, the most beautiful?
I think a lack of exposure to different walks and ways of life must be one of the greatest challenges in our society. Exposure builds empathy builds tolerance. And I truly believe that. Even though I have beef with the term “tolerance” in relation to people and the way they live their lives. To tolerate connotes an allowance and I feel like no one can (or should be able to) “allow” me to do something I was going to do anyway — live my life in a way that heals me and harms none. And I think this feeling doubles down on women and people of the queer experience, because otherness is baked into those identities as things farthest from the people who formed this society. But it does leave room for beauty to be found in the resilience of othered experiences, the passing down of culture and story and all those things we are supposed to forget which stops us from overcoming these challenges.
Share with us a time you were tested and how you overcame it.
I tend to think of my trajectory in our education system as, funnily enough, one long test that got harder and harder each time I “passed”. I grew up on the South Side of Chicago and attended elementary school where most of my classmates looked and lived like me — l felt comfortable. Due to a lack of resources in my community, I didn’t feel adequately challenged. Following those resources, I found myself entering more predominantly white spaces at the expense of my social comfort and sometimes safety. Realizing this was a hard pill to swallow because I find a lot of pride in who I am and where I come from and feel that shouldn’t hold me back from wanting to better myself. What a suffocating thought? It was not my character for which I wanted more, but the opportunities to let it act on the world. Moving away to Boston for college and navigating this on my own has been one of my greatest tests both as a person and as an artist. I constantly had to negotiate the maintenance of my character, built way back then on the South Side of Chicago, against the comfort of an institution and industry that could feel like it didn’t know what to do/how to respond to people like me. I decided the best way to counter social and creative spaces that deemed me ‘unknown’ was to know myself best. Those years were essentially one long meditation on my own wants, needs and communities that fed me. They kept sane and grounded. I know I will continue to face this test, but I have the cheat sheet.
You are also an advocate for people with bi-polar disorder. Can you tell us more about that?
It’s interesting, I’m not sure that I would call myself an advocate for folks with bipolar disorder. I was diagnosed about two years ago and am still learning about how I personally live with this. I will say I struggled through that diagnosis while measuring it up against who I thought myself to be and thought my mind to work. I quickly found this not to be helpful as it rejected the fact that this was just a part of me and oddly affirmed the stigma that it meant something was wrong. But there wasn’t. There isn’t! There’s nothing wrong with people taking an interest in their mental health and making sure they have all the tools they need to find peace of mind, whatever that looks like for their mind. So, I guess in that way I do advocate for mental health awareness and maintenance and through my carrying BPD, breaking the stigma not only of having bipolar disorder but gross paraphrases of what it could look like. Because the truth is BPD, like many mental disorders, doesn’t look one way and people experience these things very differently.
What advice would you give to someone suffering this disorder/ someone who is close to someone who has it?
To those living with bipolar disorder: trust yourself. The mind is a tricky thing, but that does not mean it is trying to trick you. The mind is amazing, so your mind is amazing and nothing to be afraid of. I’ve found that approaching my disorder with fear and frustration ensures that I’m met with scary and frustrating thoughts. Try to be interested in what your body and mind are signaling to you by listening deeply to what you’re experiencing and paying attention to the things that get you there and those things that get you out. Try not to deal in absolutes of “good” and “bad” (feelings/thoughts/days) for there is so much in between and it is all information to carry into your next moment. Try to remember that there is always a next and new moment. But notice I say try. That narrow spectrum of successful/unsuccessful rarely leaves room to recognize the triumph that is simply trying.
To those close to someone with BPD: Patience. Patience. And more patience.
Tell us more about what fills your heart with passion and fire.
Ask anyone who speaks to me for more than ten minutes, I can be passionate about many and most things (hi Sagittarius sun). But I think all those things could be traced down to liberation. I am endlessly passionate about the many ways I can experience freedom and give it to folks who know chains too well. I feel blessed to have grown up seeing the many ways there are to imprison a person, their body and mind, their agency, their scope of the world…you know I could go on. To function in this society is to choose your sentence. To be an artist in this society is to choose to end one. Somewhere I decided that finding, building, and sharing beauty is one of the greatest tools of liberation and most exciting way to lead my life because there are so many ways to do it. So, I love the written and spoken word, making beauty out of the things we know physically and letting them resonate with the soul. I love laughter. I love love. I love music. I love prayer and the many forms it comes. I even love destruction! We must destroy the internal and external circumstances that reject our experience from being a beautiful one, a free one. The many paradoxes that come with this journey of liberation is what truly fills me with a fire and wonder for everything I bring myself to.
What does meaningful change mean to you?
I think meaningful change means a collective decision has been made in consideration of everyone this change would come to affect. No one person, one mind, one way of viewing things has ever brought about a meaningful change, it is always based upon the consensus of a group asking intimate questions of the current reality. We also tend to make the most meaning out of the unrecognizable things we build when things seem new and challenge us! So, I think meaningful change is also imaginative and bold. It works with the people, not against them; it activates the people, it doesn’t pacify.
Plans for the next year?
Next year I hope to be featured in more films that excite me. There are some things in the works now that I’m very proud of with people I truly adore. I also am building a producing muscle in this industry and hope to get more involved with the other side of the table in this industry, helping some exciting new voices get their hat in the ring. I’m also finding ways to get more of my writing into the world. Generally, planting more seeds to cement myself in the industry as the multi-faceted artist I know I am. And then traveling — I have so many places to go!