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Kelley Poling: A Star on the Rise in Hollywood

A star on the rise to watch in Hollywood, Cleveland Ohio-born Kelley Poling has transitioned from being one of the top bathing suit and athletic models of the late 90’s to working as an actress in film and television today. As a model, Kelley worked on campaigns with Hawaiian Tropic, Nike, Yamaha, and Harley Davidson. For a year between her modeling days and her acting career, she was on tour with Madonna.

Having grown up in a military family, she is also a marksman with handguns, rifles, and archery. Kelley is also trained in automatic weapons and martial arts techniques specific to film and television.

When not filming, she travels the world as a competitive Classical Fencer and is proficient with foil, small-sword, dueling sword, rapier, and sabre. Poling has been training for more than 20 years in New York with Maestri Jeannette Acosta Martinez and Ray Martinez of the prestigious Martinez Academy of Arms.

For fun, she surfs, runs 5k races, and performs Celtic/Scottish music.

What are your current projects that you have coming out or working on?

I am always filming a kids show with Totally Studios. I am the Mom of the lead witch on “Charmers” for Brat tv. I have two faith-based movies I just filmed in NYC, a mystery/thriller podcast series coming out soon too.  My Discovery channel episode of “Legions of Exorcists” came out this past fall, as well as a “Peter Five Eight” (starring Rebecca DeMornay &  Kevi Spacey)  and “Velocity” making the film Festival circuits. 

I also had a huge spread in Chic Compass magazine in October, and many projects in the works!

What has working with Kevin Spacey been like for you? 

He was funny, engaging, generous in his work, and a complete gentleman to everyone on set. I also learned a lot about how a great actor processes and works. I loved it. 

What advice would you give other aspiring actors?

Always be studying so you can always be working. 

Have you always wanted to be an actress or how did that come about?

I didn’t! When I was a little one, I wanted to be a doctor/ astronaut that worked at NASA and a ballerina that rode horses. I didn’t understand that it took a lifetime to be good at just one thing. I guess being an actor is a good way to embody many things without spending a lifetime to achieve success. Maybe that’s why I gravitated towards acting because you don’t have to be “this OR that”…you can be “this AND that”- even if it’s only for a short time. I also loved to perform and entertain as a young child. My first experience with acting was a community play in front of a live audience of family and friends. Instant positive reinforcement and a lot of fun. It’s hard not to want more. 

Tell us what it felt like on your first set as an actress?

I remember booking my first role mostly because I was the one who fit into the outfit the best. It really didn’t have anything to do with my talent as an actress, which was good. I felt like an imposter with the other actors, who seemed pretty seasoned for 20 somethings. I still feel like an imposter, but I’m still as brave as I have always been…or presumptuous. Either way, it feels the same. I never lost the “I don’t belong here” feeling.

What was your experience like the first time on set as a stuntwoman? Did you feel like you had a reputation to live up as a women in a male dominated field?

It was a show for the discovery channel and I remember having to drown for the episode. I was thinking…”I can handle this- I’m a surfer” I didn’t realize I had to drown at least 50 times (no exaggeration) because they had this magnificent piece of filming equipment that was as tall as the two story house we were filming at. It had about 20 cameras filming me from different angles and they wanted me to drown a few times for each angle. I didn’t get out of the pool until they lost light. I was freezing- but  I did it. I had to do it. If I failed my first job, how would that bide for my career? 

How did you get into martial arts & weaponry? 

I grew up with a military father. I love my whole family (really), but I’m definitely a Daddy’s girl. He had me make my own ammunition, shoot my own gun, taught me archery, gave me my first sword, and taught me everything about handling weapons safely and smartly. I never lost interest in training in them. Swords are definitely my favorite, however. I also added my own training in fencing and a few Eastern martial arts as the years passed. Martial arts have been my world since I was a little girl. 

What specifically intrigued you about Fencing? Tell us what it’s like to train and become a competitive Classical Fencer. 

I have had a sword in my hand since I was a child. I just didn’t know how to use them well. When I became independent in the business world and had enough money to seek out what I considered the best people to train me in the swords I loved, I found the Martinez Academy of Arms in New York City. Maestro Ramon Martinez and his wife Maestro Jeannette Acosta-Martinez are living legends in the sword world. The depth of knowledge it takes to become a good fencer and the years of training are astounding! What a challenge! It’s hard, so I love it. 

What was one of your most memorable times on set? What was the scariest?      

Working with a 2 time Oscar winner is pretty memorable as well as when you first qualify for your SAG card.You never forget those that help you get to where you want to go in this business. 

As for a scary time on set, I recently realized I have the most demonic voice when I need it for a horror film. It’s terrify and amazing all at the same time. 

How is your work different now then from when you first started?

My work is longer, more complicated, better written, and better performed. I like to thing it keeps getting better with each piece of work. I try to always be better than my last performance. I work hard on that. 

What artist you’d love to work with?

Michelle Yoeh. I have loved her work since I saw “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon”. She brings a serenity to the scenes, as well as power. I would also love to do a fight scene with her in some aspect. Like in “Gunpowder Milkshake”. 

What was a role you dreamed of playing as a child? ( Dorothy from Wizard of OZ, etc), and what did you find magical about it?   

I always wanted to play on a show like “Bewitched” as Samantha where I could do magic and keep secrets-   or on a show like the “Brady Bunch” where I could have all those brothers and sisters on set and all my school friends would be in love with me like they were with “Marsha”.

What genre & type of character has your favorite to play? What type of character would you like to play that you haven’t yet?

I would like to play an older action character. Next on my list is a WESTERN . I have been looking for a good Western lately.    I would also like to play a character where I get to show off my sword skills a little more. 

What actress or actor from times past has inspired you? Any Hollywoodland favorites? 

I Lucille Ball. We know her as the silky red-head, but had quite a range in her career. She was also very entertaining and interesting to watch. I would like to be like that. 

Name your favorite film and tv shows and why? 

Films that I often think of as my favorite are the “ Indiana Jones” series, even the “Young Indiana Jones” tv shows were amazing.  I have always loved avion and adventure. Even as a kid. Bear Grylls is my favorite reality tv show  person, and of course, Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft.

Which directors would you love to work with?

Ridley Scott, Peter Jackson, and James Cameron.

You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure? 

You have to know your “why”. Know exactly what it is that you want to accomplish in this career and never lose sight of that. If you do, you will be chasing rainbows to find a pot of gold that doesn’t exist. 

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

KNOW YOUR “WHY”. It’s like the North Star. Keep reminding yourself why you are doing this. Make it a reason greater than yourself and be the hero of your own story. 

If you could land any ad campaign, what would it be & why?  

Range Rover. I need one with all the off-roading I do for stunt and action training. I would be a good spokesmodel. 

To follow Kelley’s career, visit her website at or follow her on Instagram at @kelleypoling.

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