Never in her wildest dreams did Janthavy Norton think she’d become an actor. But, by a strange twist of fate, this skater girl has found herself saying “see you later, boy” to ordinary life and hello to Hollywood. “Somebody randomly messaged me needing a chick skater for a campaign video for Nasty Gal,” skater-turned-actor Janthavy Norton says. “It was really random, but after that things just kept happening. People kept reaching out through word of mouth and that’s how I got into it.”
Norton, a first-generation American, grew up in a Cambodian and Vietnamese household with high expectations from her parents, but ultimately she went her own way. “I’ve always been around skating because of my brothers,” Norton says. “It was a casual thing growing up, but I actually started trying when I was 17. I was at a house party and this guy had a mini ramp that I really wanted to try dropping in.
“I don’t know what came over me, but I was drawn to this half-pipe,” she continues. “I think I fell at least 20 times and I never completely got it. Then my cousin got me a skateboard for Christmas and I started skating all the time.”
After getting her first board, Norton began teaching herself to skate by visiting her local park and watching others. She began studying the details of how skaters bent their knees, moved their arms or placed their feet. “Skateboarding is all about the tiniest little change in movements that will make the biggest difference for you,” Norton explains. “I did have some friends in high school that would take me out and they were able to teach me. Then, as the years went on, I would go by myself, but I still had my peers around to encourage me to try new tricks.”
The DIY approach to skating worked out for Norton, so why couldn’t the same method be applied to building her tattoo collection? These days you may notice she’s rocking a plethora of elegantly crafted pieces from professional tattooers, but her entry to collecting was far more punk rock. “My first tattoo was a stick and poke,” Norton laughs. “I was 14 and I found a video on YouTube. My friend and I did our own tattoos, I gave myself a Hello Kitty. It was cute, but it was definitely a tattoo a 14-year-old would get.”
By the time she was old enough to walk into a shop and have the work done by an actual professional, Norton’s taste had become more refined. Hello Kitty may have been dear to her teenage heart, but it was time to get some more meaningful tattoos. What better place to find that inspiration than her home state of Arizona? “I’m just so down for my state and I love this one tattoo of mine that wraps around my wrist,” Norton says. “It’s a prickly pear and saguaro cactus. It reminds me of driving down by the river with my friends and it was such a beautiful place to have close by.”
Arizona was the perfect place for Norton to find her footing. It’s where she first fell in love with skating and the tight-knit community surrounding the sport. These days she calls Los Angeles home, and while the differences between the two locales are numerous, Norton has found the same spirit of camaraderie in this considerably bigger pond, particularly among fellow female skaters. “When you go to a park and you see another girl, you’re automatically like, ‘Hey, what’s up,” Norton says. “You acknowledge each other because there’s not that many of us, but I think it’s definitely growing. There are definitely guys who believe it’s just a man’s sport and I’ve definitely seen some racy comments online, but I do think it’s getting better.”
Upon moving to L.A., Norton didn’t have much of a plan aside from skating. But this is Tinseltown, after all, so it shouldn’t be surprising that Hollywood came knocking down her door. Following her first campaign with Nasty Gal, Norton has booked skating gigs throughout California, as well as in New Orleans and New York, and she even shot a skate documentary in India. Now, she’s begun booking acting gigs for roles that don’t require knowing how to land a kickflip to nosegrind. “It’s really fun to get to play a different character and push yourself to embody this whole other person, other than just a skater,” Norton says. “I didn’t realize how hard it was until I started doing it. With the skating gigs, I just got to be myself and that’s what they wanted. But this is a totally different craft and it’s made me really respect actors a lot more now.”
At just 25, Janthavy Norton has her whole career ahead of her. She has plenty of new acting projects in the works, will be traveling once more and will undoubtedly continue adding to her tattoo collection. The world is her skatepark and she’s along for the ride.