By Carolina Lumetta, News Reporter
If you type “notable Wheaton alumni” in a Google search, you will find the names of influential evangelical leaders such as Jim Elliot, John Piper and Billy Graham appear on your screen. But Wheaton’s notable alumni base has recently expanded to include Piper Curda (‘19), an alumna who stands out as one of the few women of color mentioned in the database.
Curda is an experienced actress and has starred in several TV-shows and films, including the web-series “Just Another Nice Guy” and Disney Channel’s “I Didn’t Do It” and “Teen Beach 2.” After graduating from Wheaton last May with a degree in interpersonal communications, she moved to Los Angeles to resume her acting career.
In an interview with the Record, Curda recounted her days at Wheaton and how those experiences have impacted her career.
Did you have any concerns about coming to Wheaton at a moment when you were already established in the acting world?
I think initially I had concerns about how leaving Los Angeles would affect my career. It’s a little bit unheard of for a “child” actor who’s had some semblance of success to dip out during what’s considered the peak years for work. But I also knew that if I couldn’t take a break from this world for just three years, then I was in too deep and that was all the more reason for leaving. And if I’m being completely honest, I’ve never really liked L.A. The entertainment industry tends to be a very toxic environment overflowing with people chasing fame or money and never making real connections with other people or, if they do, it’s for all the wrong reasons. So I knew I wanted to sort of escape from all that to really ground myself and make sure I was secure in myself as a human being and child of God. All of that outweighed whatever concern I had about my career dying out. Even if I never work again, I’ll never regret having made that decision for myself.
What was unique about your education at Wheaton?
The amount of care and respect that the professors at Wheaton have for their students is unreal. I recognize that a lot of people at other schools didn’t experience that. I also really appreciated the liberal arts aspect, which was a new concept for me. A big thing I took away from my education at Wheaton was learning things I never would have thought about otherwise. [Studying the liberal arts] gives you a better and wider perspective on what’s going on in the world and a broader view of education in general.
How do you feel about being known as a notable Wheaton alum?
I definitely feel a bit of imposter syndrome. I went to Wheaton just like everybody else, so it wasn’t that much more notable than anybody else. I appreciate being able to help represent the Wheaton community, but I’m not going to pretend to be any sort of champion of women or people of color just because I’m on a list that I didn’t put myself on.
The weirdest thing is that I went to Wheaton with the sole purpose of not being notable. I had spent the last few years of my life on the Disney Channel constantly having people recognize me. But I had this deep desire to be a normal person — to just be a college kid.
Thus far, that’s probably been my biggest accomplishment in life — not only graduating college with a degree, but doing it alongside people and making a life for myself that is meaningful in a way that has nothing to do with my success. But I’m glad I can bring a little diversity to the mix and get the ball rolling on adding some more women of color on the notable alumni list.
What are you doing now, after graduation?
Right now I’m back in L.A., focusing on my career as an actress, which basically just means living at home and auditioning a lot. It’s a never-ending cycle of job interviews until something sticks. And everyone knows the interview process is the best part of trying to get a job, so that’s just all kinds of fun. The plan is to hopefully work enough to make this my life. I’m actually about to start working on a film next month, but I don’t think I can say much about it until a later date. I’m very lucky to have the chance to work so soon after getting back to the grind and I’m stoked about that.
How does your faith play out in your acting career now?
You meet people who are in this business because they have a passion for [entertainment], but there are people who pursue it for fame, and that kind of blows my mind every time. It’s just such an empty desire, and my faith has always been really important in managing that desire. The mantra that I’ve always tried to live by is that [my work] is not to make me famous, it’s to make God famous. If and when I get any kind of platform, I never want it to be solely about me. I want to direct attention toward my creator, the one who made all of this possible and glorify him. I definitely falter, but that’s what I always try to live by. In this industry it’s so easy to fall into the traps of “it’s all about you,” but that’s not what this life is about.
When I was in high school, I was the kid who posted Bible verses on Twitter and put little paragraphs on Instagram accompanied by a picture of a cross, but there was an element of attention-seeking [in those actions]. I still look back on those things and think, “Oh my gosh, I was so full of it.” You can post about your faith as much as you want, but that doesn’t mean you’re living it out in the right way. I am still trying to figure out the balance between proclaiming my faith and doing so in a genuine and glorifying way.
Can you talk about your most recent project, “The Wretched?”
“The Wretched” was a wild experience because it was my first horror movie and I am an avid non-watcher of horror films. I hate them. I’ll watch five minutes of one and have nightmares about it for months so it’s funny in an absurd kind of way that I’m in one now. And I think the genuine fear I have of most things in life might have aided my performance in it. Most of it was very light-hearted and silly because we had a phenomenal cast and crew and no one took themselves too seriously, which is crucial in creating a fun set environment. There were some scenes we shot at 3 a.m. in the middle of the woods in Nowhere, Michigan with this horrifying prosthetic monster crawling around, and in those moments I was genuinely terrified. But then an hour later we would all be gathered around the table eating dinner with the monster who was actually a really lovely woman named Madeline, and she still looked horrendous but she was also eating mashed potatoes, so it helped put things in perspective in my mind. Right now, the film is playing at a lot of festivals and the directors are fielding some distribution offers so hopefully at some point it’ll be somewhere where more people can see it.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.