Jennifer Leigh Mann has always loved the movies.

One of her favorite childhood memories is walking from her grandparents’ home in downtown Graham, North Carolina, to the movie theater. For Mann, the whole experience was exhilarating – the smell of popcorn, the previews and the opportunity to travel to a completely different world for two hours.

Little did she know that one day, she wouldn’t just be watching movies. She’d be acting in them.

Mann, who will graduate from UNCG on May 6 with a Master of Fine Arts in acting, doesn’t have the “typical” acting background. She wasn’t in the high school musical, and she never took acting classes as a child. However, it was her love of film that spurred her to take a giant leap of faith and move to New York after graduating with a degree in international studies from UNC Chapel Hill.

“The day I graduated from UNC – that morning – I realized I wanted to pursue acting,” Mann said.

Her first audition in New York was for the TV series “Sex and the City.” Mann was working as a server at the Hudson Hotel when one day Michael Patrick King, the director, writer and producer of the show, walked in with some cast members. Mann approached King and expressed her love for the show and her desire to act. An hour later, she received a phone call from the show asking if she could audition that day.

“It was a miracle,” Mann said. “To me, it was a sign, because I was really questioning myself.”

While she didn’t get the part, she started to get more auditions and feel comfortable in New York. She did commercials and acted in a soap opera for several years, among other roles.

“All these little things kept affirming that I was where I was supposed to be,” Mann said.

Mann ended up back in North Carolina, but she knew she wasn’t finished with acting. She signed with Marilyn’s Agency in Greensboro and landed roles in the NBC TV series “Revolution” and the movie “The Ultimate Life.” Even with her success, however, she knew she lacked the foundational training that she needed.

“I started thinking about MFA programs in North Carolina,” Mann said. “Once I started looking at UNCG’s program, I knew it was what I wanted to do.”

Jennifer Leigh Mann using straps to release tension

Mann works with Professor Gabriel to release tension before auditions.

Mann calls the two-year MFA program the “hardest and most rewarding thing” she’s ever done. Since arriving at UNCG, Mann has booked two major roles: She landed a recurring role as Caroline Miller in season four of “House of Cards” and played Mrs. Blacker in the film “The Disappointments Room,” the majority of which was filmed in Greensboro. The movie, starring Kate Beckinsale, will be released in December.

“I felt prepared for those auditions because of all the hard work at UNCG,” Mann said. “I’ve taken classes in acting, voice, film, movement and history, and every single one of those classes helped prepare me.”

For Mann, the support of her classmates and the faculty in the program is what has allowed her to be so successful.

“I have a huge support system,” she said. “I’ve made it through the program because of the support of my classmates and teachers. I feel so blessed.”

What’s next for Mann? Her dream is to live and act in both places she calls home – New York and North Carolina.

Above all, she wants to continue to do what she loves, and she wants to have an impact on others.

“I want to work in films that make a difference,” she said. “I want to be a part of something that changes people’s lives.”


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Story by Alyssa Bedrosian, University Relations
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Relations