Sussex Central grad fighting for Hollywood glory

Shannon Murray, a 2003 Sussex Central graduate, had the lead role, performed her own martial arts stunts and was the producer of “Rag Doll,” a film that earned numerous awards on the film festival circuit. (Submitted photo)

As a child and in her school days at Sussex Central High School, Shannon Murray says she was always somewhat starry eyed about acting, stage production and martial arts.

“Growing up I did Kung Fu and karate. My mom is a black belt in karate. She knew it was important to have that discipline for us,” Ms. Murray said. “I have two older brothers. We were a rowdy bunch.”

“I had a sports injury during track season my ninth-grade year. My 10th-grade year I couldn’t play field hockey. So, it was like, ‘Well, what am I going to do with my time?” So, I went out for the school play,” said Ms. Murray, a 2003 Sussex Central graduate “I love acting; I already was in acting classes. The way the school had it set up, they had theater as a major. I tried out for the play. I ended up with supporting role as the nurse, which is the role I wanted. I really got the bug, and I turned to my mom (Wanda Murray), and I was like ‘This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’”

Turn the clock ahead almost two decades. Today, Shannon Murray finds herself in the Hollywood glitz of Los Angeles, an award-winning actress, actor, stunt performer and star and producer of “Rag Doll,” a film that made the rounds of the film festival circuit last year.

In “Rag Doll,” she has the lead role as Nora, a woman with plenty on her plate who makes a leap of faith by entering a martial arts tournament to help her sick mother.

“She is doing anything she can to provide for herself, provide for her family and in that she has had to make a lot of self-sacrificing decisions to provide for herself, her mom who is not well, and she makes a leap of faith and decides to enter this tournament, so that way she can help her mom get the proper medication and the proper medical care that she needs,” Ms. Murray said.

In search of a completed script, she found some good luck online at InkTip.com, a resource that offers features, films, music videos and projects for producers.

“I found ‘Rag Doll.’ I contacted the writer, and let him know, ‘OK, I really like it,” she said.

Her interest came with a request, to change the script from boxing to Muay Thai, a combat sport of Thailand that uses stand-up striking along with various clinching techniques. It is known as the “art of eight limbs.”

“A security guard introduced me to it and fell in love with Muay Thai. I love striking. I love hitting the heavy bag. In Muay Thai you get to use your hands, elbows, knees and feet, full body workout.,” Ms. Murray said.

The writer agreed to make the change.

“When this whole journey started three years ago, I was looking for a script to produce for myself as the lead to use as a launching pad for my acting career,” said Ms. Murray.

As Nora in “Rag Doll”, Shannon Murray was selected Best Actress, Best Performance and Best Stunt Performer of the Year, along with overall Best Actor during the Cinema On The Bayou stop.

“I grew up in martial arts and realized that if I could find a good dramatic fight script, that I’d be able to showcase not only my acting but my physical capabilities as well. I really enjoy the fight community — whatever art form you study there’s a beautiful camaraderie between you and what were once strangers. The timing of the film couldn’t have been more perfect. With the rise of female MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) and the rise in awareness of mental health issues in our society – ‘Rag Doll’ was the perfect mix I was looking for.”

“It’s been so nice to show the film in different communities and get the response that we have from people who have been in a very similar situation as our lead Nora or/have lost someone very dear to them and they understand the mental toll depression and anxiety can take on you that not many people talk about or properly prepare you for. You sometimes feel you’re in the fight all alone and that’s tough waters to navigate. So, I think a film like this is very important to show that you’re not alone, we’re all going through something and there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Garnering awards

New Orleans and the Cinema On the Bayou Film Festival was the first stop on the 2019 festival trail, in which “Rag Doll,” its cast and production/direction crew garnered 18 awards. It also landed honors in the Queens World Film Festival, The Artemis Women’s In Action Film Festival, Arizona International Film Festival, Philadelphia Independent Film Festival, Chelsea Film Festival and Golden Door International Film Festival.

As Nora, Ms. Murray was selected Best Actress, Best Performance and Best Stunt Performer of the Year, along with overall Best Actor during the Cinema On The Bayou stop.

“Rag Doll” itself earned various honors for best narrative feature, screenplay, ensemble, action film, director.

“To even like find a script and to make a move that people really actually connected to or really enjoyed was awesome,” she said. “Then to get to take home an award for Best Actor, that was I was going against guys and girls.”

Pursuing dreams

Ms. Murray plans to relish her awards, noting that more often than not, the odds are stacked against you.

“It feels good,” she said. “You get so many ‘no’s’ so often, because you audition more than you ever receive awards. You audition all of the time. You give it your all and you just never get a call back. You never know what happened. You never know what you did wrong or what you could have done better.”

Among her other career highlights: a minor role in one of the opening scenes of the James Franco film, “Oz: The Great and Powerful.”

“Only two lines …,” she recalls.

During her teen years, she went to Washington and Philadelphia for classes and then started going to New York City to pursue her dream.

“Right after high school I moved to New York City,” Ms. Murray said.

Shannon Murray, who left Sussex County after graduating from Sussex Central High School in 2003 to pursue her dream in film, had the lead role as Nora in the film “Rag Doll, which she produced.

When the Writers Guild strike hit The Big Apple, she made the move to Los Angeles in 2008. That has been her home, except for several relocations to New Orleans and a few other places.

Now armed with a manager and an agent, Ms. Murray says her future has no definite map.

“’Rag Doll’ was kind of like my Hail Mary pass. This is it. I’m going to make a feature. I’m going to get out there for everyone to see. And then whatever comes from it, that is what’s supposed to happen. It’s in God’s hands from there,” she said. “I don’t know. I am going see what doors open. We’ll see what I can make happen.”

“Rag Doll” is now available on a number of platforms, including Comcast, Amazon Prime Video, Fandango Now, AppleTV, VUDU, YouTube, Walmart.com, Dish, Cox, Wow, bestbuy.com, Charter spectrum, Mediacom, Google Play, VerizonFios, Microsoft, Telus, Barnes & Noble, Shaw, Frontier, Sudden Link and Armstrong.

Visit www.ragdollmovie.com for more information on the film.