Santana Dempsey is well on her way to taking Hollywood by storm. The up-and-coming actress has landed guest spots on some of the biggest TV shows, including "The Newsroom" and DirecTV's drama "Kingdom," starring Nick Jonas.
Now fans can see her in the Lifetime movie "Megachurch Murder" as the techy nerd Harlow Gillman.
"It's a murder-mystery about a young preacher's daughter that goes through trials and tribulations after her father is found dead," Dempsey told Headlines & Global News. "We think it's an accident but we end up finding out that it's a murder and it's a conspiracy within the church."
Her character is best friends with the preacher's daughter, Hannah, played by Shanica Knowles.
"She's this tech-savvy nerd who's really into computers and we have this computer chip that has all this information on how the preacher died and throughout the whole movie she's trying to decode it and she eventually figures out who killed the preacher," Dempsey said.
"Megachurch Murder" was Dempsey's first big role, but the California resident knew long ago she wanted to become an actress. After a year of studying journalism at the University of Missouri, Dempsey suddenly decided to switch career paths.
"I realized that I didn't like telling the news, I really wanted to be the news," she said. "I was good at journalism but it wasn't where my heart was [so] I went over to the theater department and started talking with them and they were having auditions for a play and I said, 'Let me just try,' so I started auditioning and I booked one of their first shows as a dancer and that's how I got into it and never really looked back."
Dempsey's drive paid off, and not only has she worked alongside some of the most well-known names in Hollywood, but she is also becoming a role model for other aspiring actors and actresses. The young star, who naturally has a funny side despite going through a rather dark childhood, told HNGN that she's an advocate for adoption and mixed-race youth.
When she was 6 years old, Dempsey and her younger sister were adopted together by a white family. Dempsey explained that her mother - who was white - committed suicide when she was younger, and her father - who she says is Latin American and from an "Afro-Caribbean" island - was never a part of her life.
"I'm [a mixed-race] advocate because I don't want to be boxed [in], the same thing with my career. I want to be able to be all the things that I am and get to play each of them," she said.
Dempsey tackled this issue, and many others, in a personal, one-woman play called "The Other Box," which focuses on life events such as abandonment and struggles with identity, gender and sexuality.
"I was afraid to write the truth about things that happened to me," she said. "The first time I actually wrote the play, in 2011, it was the most therapeutic, nerve-wracking and scariest thing I've ever done in my entire life. To put myself out there ... but it went over very well."
Dempsey said she is now in the process of trying to give the play a full run and then hopes to tour with it at different high schools and colleges.