Actress Sandra Lee knows her way around live theatre, having starred in her very first production while a student at the Vere Technical High School in Clarendon. That opportunity ignited a passion for the arts, which would later see the then dreadlocked Lee studying at the Jamaica School of Drama during the era of persons such as Oku Onuora, Blacka Ellis and Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, and subsequently at York University in Canada where she pursued fine arts.
Lee’s journey has taken her through many plays, acting alongside Volier Johnson and Audrey Reid, and also touring with King of Comedy, Oliver Samuels, as the female lead in the Devon Haughton play, Big Yard. But her quiet dream was always the big screen, and Lee, whose current full-time job is not even theatre-related, had her dream come true when she copped a role in the movie, Second Chance,where she plays a recovering drug addict who gets a second chance.
“How I got involved in Second Chance is that I got a call one day from a good friend to say that Cleon James was doing a movie, and they wanted me for an audition. COVID was just happening, so I did my audition via Zoom and got the role,” an exuberant Lee told The Sunday Gleaner.
Second Chance is James’ sixth film and is based on a true story about the struggles people endure to gain the opportunities they want. The main actors are Spragga Benz, who plays David; Merlisa Determined, who plays Dana; and Jhonn de La Puente as Alpha. DJs Tony Matterhorn and Supa Twitch, as well as soca DJ Barrie Hype, also make appearances in the movie. According to the synopsis, the film “follows the story of a Rastafarian with a university degree who struggles to find a job in corporate America. His hopes are dashed when he is discriminated against for his religious beliefs. Frustrated, he falls into a life of crime with old high school friends. He is, however, given a second chance to make good with his life.”
Lee has a couple of scenes alongside Spragga Benz, the internationally recognised dancehall artiste who is also making a name for himself in film.
“It was a nice experience working with Spragga Benz. He is a great guy and such a down-to-earth person. The little time I spent with him on and off-screen was pleasant,” Lee said.
Quite content with her “small role” in Second Chance, Lee has taken away all the positives from the experience. “I am excited for Cleon [James] because I see the dedication and the hard work that he has put in to make this project a reality. The group of people around him is just so professional. Dem mek me feel like a big star,” she said with a laugh.
She also admitted that with this newest experience, she could actually end up “preferring acting in movies over live theatre”. However, it has made her respect live theatre even more.
“I have found that it is even easier acting on film than the live stage. If anything happens, you can always fix it. Live theatre is great and definitely a bit more challenging. I have always had lead roles, so it was always a lot of lines to study. But from I was a little girl, I’ve dreamed of being in a movie. At 64, and it’s happening … it feels like a second chance,” she declared.
Lee shared that over the years, she has done work outside of theatre because she “had to do something”.
“I was the only one [actress] living overseas during the ‘80s, and so when the tours ended, and everybody went back home to Jamaica where they did their buying and selling, for example, I had to find work. So, at one point, I was a director at Mary Kay and had been working at Carnival Cruise Lines.”
Second Chance has had premieres in Ft Lauderdale, Atlanta, Boston and New York, with one planned for Jamaica next week at the Palace Cineplex in Sovereign Centre and opens in all four cinemas the following day. James, who is Jamaican, told The Sunday Gleaner that the feedback has been “all positive” despite having more than its fair share of tears. “Mothers are drawn to it, especially those who may have a son, a nephew who has gone down the wrong path. You may do your best for your kid, and they still end up making poor choices, but with the right training, they may just return to the fold.”
Lee definitely plans to be on the island for the local premiere. Of the New York premiere, she recalled, “It was so overwhelming to see the audience getting involved. I went with my sister, who is very critical, and it was a relief to see her so engrossed in the film. The real lesson is that a lot of people in life want a second chance.”