Alex A. Kecskes has written hundreds of film reviews and celebrity interviews for a wide variety of online and print outlets. He has covered red carpet premieres and Comic-Con events for major films and independent releases.
Actress and producer Ashley James is known for her role as Lauren in the TV series Hustle. She also starred in White Elephants and appeared in Life Inside Out.
In Rebound, Ashley is Claire, a psychologically broken woman who has just been cheated by the love of her life. While travelling across the country, she encounters hostile strangers and develops debilitating anxiety along the way. In this one-on-one interview, Ashley goes into the challenges she faced in portraying a woman on the verge of collapse.
What attracted you to the role of Claire?
Ashley: I recently did a lot of short films, so I thought I could do a lot with the lead in a full-length feature. It’s interesting how Claire keeps making so many choices that seem weak or wrong to the audience, but she fights so hard. All these bad things and crazy people keep happening to her. And she never really gives up, which I think is very cool.
What did you find most challenging about the role?
Ashley: I felt that much of what Claire did, starting with her choice to leave Los Angeles, was very different from how I would react to these situations. I had to find a way to relate and to feel those same feelings. The fall shooting schedule was fast, and we were shooting a lot every night with not a lot of time off.
Are there any aspects of your persona that you imparted to Claire?
Ashley: Yes, definitely. Every role I play, I have to find something in me that may not be what I would do, but maybe in this situation, would work. I like to think of myself as a fighter, as someone who doesn’t give up. I think that really helped me, especially when she decided to leave Los Angeles and give up her acting career. I’ve been in that place, I understand that feeling, but I haven’t given up; but I could understand how she would react, and how that would be an important choice for her to make.
The cascade of negative events in Claire’s life seemed to underscore a world closing in on her. Do you ultimately see her as a survivor or victim?
Ashley: That’s a really interesting question. As an actress playing the part, I had to see her as a survivor. Because to see her as a victim meant that the story was over before it started. As an outsider looking in, it feels different to watch the movie now. I also think that one of the interesting things I noticed after I saw the completed film is that I wonder how reliable the story is, because it’s told entirely from Claire’s point of view. There’s nothing that happens that isn’t what she’s observing. The story is told from a very single and specific perspective. So is what we’re seeing as a victim really what happened to her?
That town you were in seemed like the world’s unfriendliest town? It was almost a character unto itself.
Ashley: Yeah. Like, was the bartender in on it?
Rebound is a very emotionally draining film? Was it for you?
Ashley: It was. But it was exciting to be in it. I’ve had a fairly happy life. Nothing crazy or tragic. I love playing damaged characters. I like to let myself wallow in emotions that aren’t part of my real life. As an actress, I find it really interesting to be in that place for a little while.
Do you prefer these psychological dramas that explore the inner workings of a character, their struggle to survive emotionally?
Ashley: Yes, I really do. I love comedy. I’d love to be in a sit-com, but it’s not what I get cast in. I’m working on those skills, but what comes naturally to me is anything that gives me a chance to do a character study, to explore all those emotions and actions that are different from me.
Without revealing the ending, which was a bit of a surprise, do you feel that some women could be driven so far over the edge as to do what Claire did?
Ashley: It’s hard to answer in terms of other women, but I definitely felt like when I was finding that action for myself in the role, it wasn’t completely unbelievable to me considering what she goes through and how she feels about herself. Who knows what happened in her life before this that set her up to lose confidence in herself and feel worthless. All this would allow Claire to be manipulated. So I think, it’s possible, definitely.
What’s next for you? Any TV or film projects in the works?
Ashley: Well, I have a 15-month old baby, so that has put a lot of things on hold for me. And I was travelling a lot. I’m sort of trying to figure out how to do this acting thing and mom thing together.
Michael Emerson has appeared on Broadway in The Iceman Cometh with Kevin Spacey and Hedda Gabler opposite Kate Burton. Off-Broadway and regional work includes plays by Shakespeare, Moliere, Friel and LaGarce at The Roundabout, Arena Stage, McCarter, Huntington and many other theaters. His film credits include The Imposters, Playing by Heart, Straight Jacket, Saw and The Legend of Zorro.
Emerson also played a number of damaged or sinister characters on programs like The X-Files, Law and Order, Without a Trace, and The Inside. In 2006, Emerson became a regular on the ABC series LOST, playing Benjamin Linus, a role for which he won an Emmy.
Currently, Emerson plays Harold Finch on Person of Interest. Last season ended with a cliffhanger that saw Harold, John, Fusco, and Root in a desperate firefight with Samaritan’s thugs. In this one-on-one interview Emerson reveals his thoughts on Person of Interest and what viewers can expect from this riveting series now in its fifth season.
What attracted you to the role of Harold Finch?
Michael Emerson: I liked the atmosphere of the pilot episode. It was dark and desperate and urban. I liked its noir quality. I also liked that it was a Jonathan Nolan script, and that J.J. (Abrams) and a strong company was behind it—guys that were going to get something done. And the fact that it was being shot in New York, because I was hoping to be home.
Are there aspects of the character that you imposed on Finch that go beyond what’s in the script?
Emerson: It’s possible that I made him more disabled than he absolutely had to be. It’s also possible that I made him funnier than he had to be. But I take all my cues from the script. So I don’t think I’ve imposed much. I think the writers watch their performers, day in and day out, and they see what their strong suits are, and then they write at it a little bit more.
Finch and his team have thus far been protected by the all-seeing eye of the Machine. How vulnerable will they be now?
Emerson: They’re very vulnerable with the Machine offline and with Samaritan in effect taking things over. There’s nothing to stop Samaritan now. Life goes on seemingly normally, but that’s because Samaritan hasn’t fully figured out what its own agenda is. If it ever does go on a mission, it will be dangerous beyond our wildest dreams.
Finch seems to be struggling with rehabilitating the Machine – its “genie out of bottle” potential for destruction. What powers will Finch give it in its rebirth?
Emerson: That’s what the first part of Season Five is all about: How to revive the Machine. To make it again what it used to be, and whether that’s even possible. And if it is possible, what should be changed? Maybe the limitations and boundaries he put on the Machine were ill advised in a world where it has to do battle with a totally unencumbered super intelligence. So that will be a source of philosophical conversation and conflict between Root (Amy Acker) and Finch.
Do you think the show’s construct of Samaritan portends a dystopian future where privacy and even one’s personal safety are in jeopardy?
Emerson: Yeah, that is the suggestion. I wish it weren’t so plausible and real. But it appears to be.
Season 4 had 22 episodes, Season 5 has been cut down to just 13. Will Season 5 be the last season?
Emerson: It might be the last season with CBS. I don’t think it will ever shoot that long a season again. I think whatever the future holds, it will be 12 or 13 episodes.
So things will be tightly compressed?
Emerson: Yeah, I think, in a way, it’s a plus for the writers who won’t have to spin such long narratives. Or indulge in so many digressions. There will be a greater sense of compression and momentum and I look forward to it. And on a personal note, I’m grateful I won’t be shooting out in the snow in January, February and March.
I had the opportunity to interview your wife two years ago and she said she was the computer expert in the Emerson house.
Emerson: (laughs) That is so true. I must ask her a question or two every day about the simplest kinds of things. Like, “Honey, if I press this button, is that bad?”
So do you have computer consultants that work on the show to keep you up to speed on all the latest technology?
Emerson: I think the writers are voracious readers of cutting edge technology. And each of the writers has someone in their world that they call. We also have an in-house IT staff that handles all the computers you see on the show—the different ways they work and the different things that appear on the screens. There are a lot of smart computer people working together on this.
You were a magazine illustrator in New York for many years. Do you still practice that art?
Emerson: No, I don’t really draw any more. Whatever it was that was satisfying by doing that is now being fulfilled by acting. Or maybe better to say that acting is just another variety of illustration.
Where do you hope the Finch character will go in this new season?
Emerson: That’s a good question. I don’t want to see him destroyed. But at the same time, I can’t really envision the happy ending where he walks away from all of this. I don’t know where he’ll land.
Switching gears a bit, how did you develop the character of Benjamin Linus in Lost? And was the character preordained by the script or did you alter it in some way?
Emerson: I kind of showed up and played what was written. It started with a guest spot on a couple of episodes. I hadn’t any kind of long-range strategy at all when I started it. In hindsight, I think it was a kind of working audition, where they were seeing what might happen if they put a face and voice to the threat of the island. But I guess they decided my face and voice were about right, so they kept me around. I’m more of a reactive actor. I’m not a guy that goes to the writers and says here’s a cool idea I think we should explore. I like my cool ideas to be kind of micro ideas—more like lifting an eyebrow or placing the emphasis on a particular word.
So what’s next for you? Any film or TV projects down the line?
Emerson: In a world where I don’t have Person of Interest on my plate, I would be happy to do some more stage work and remind myself what a joy that was. I haven’t been on stage for 10 years.
WGN America will be the exclusive cable home for Person of Interest
By the time she was ten, Rachel Miner had not only worked for Woody Allen, but was cast as Michelle Bauer on Guiding Light, a portrayal that earned her three Young Artist Awards and an Emmy nomination. Miner has since appeared in such TV series as Shining Time Station: ‘Tis a Gift, Sex and the City, Californication, and several seasons in Supernatural as the Meg Masters demon.
In Frank The Bastard, Miner plays Clair Defina, a recently divorced 33 year-old New Yorker who feels lost and vulnerable. Hoping that a visit to her New England childhood home will help her depression, Clair is instead thrust into an incredibly challenging situation—meeting relatives she never knew she had and encountering a tangled web of secrets and lies. Ultimately, she confronts, unravels, and resolves a painful family history. In this one-on-one interview, Miner reveals the challenges she faced in life, her acting career and in bringing Clair to life.
What attracted you to the role of Clair?
Rachel Miner: I loved her intelligence. And her interest in poetry—we share that. I loved exploring a character’s life without being too fantastic or supernatural. It was fun to play a kind of down to earth, real person.
You went from badass demon on Supernatural to vulnerable Clair in Frank the Bastard. What did you find most challenging about the transition?
Miner: I didn’t find the transition to be too challenging. One of the wonderful things about acting is not having an expectation, being present, and not bringing any preconceived notion to the role. It’s fun to take one skin off, metaphorically, and don another to delve into different things. That’s the pleasure of taking that creative wave. As much as I loved Meg, and being able to explore a role outside of reality, I also enjoyed getting into something very human.
What life experiences did you draw from to prepare for portraying Clair?
Miner: I don’t know specifically, because these things happen on a subconscious level. I know that I was drawing from my life’s feelings and experiences. I spent a little time on college campuses, trying to relate to that environment because I love it, I’m attracted to it, and because it’s not something I personally experienced.
You seem to favor characters that are internally troubled or emotionally adrift. Do you find you have a natural affinity for these roles?
Miner: I must. I’m attracted to characters with more profound, deep-seated emotions that all of us have. So I tend to gravitate to that within a character no matter what. It’s not something I cultivate, but I know that even if I’m given a vary vapid, upbeat character, I try to find what’s deep and underneath.
What I like about you is that you always mix a little humor and sarcasm in everything you do. So I find myself eagerly awaiting your next line.
Miner: Thank you. That means a lot to me. I don’t try to be too funny, but I always like to bring a bit of levity into my roles. Even in the darker circumstances, it really helps. So I’m delighted to hear that comes across.
What role would you love to play that you haven’t yet explored?
Miner: I have no idea. There are so many people and circumstances that really interest me. So I don’t really think about that. I’m ready to accept whatever comes my way.
What do you like about working in film as opposed to TV?
Miner: There are real advantages to both. I like the change of scenery and the travel that goes with working in film. I find that brings something to whatever you’re doing. With TV, people show up doing the same job day in and day out, so it’s rare to have that camaraderie, although it’s something I experienced on Supernatural.
What do you like and hate about auditions?
Miner: I like meeting new people. And I get so fascinated by what they’re working on and their passions that I don’t always track the fact that I should be impressing. I don’t like the aspect of auditioning that causes self-consciousness. I think the killer in auditions is that you become self aware of the people looking at you and nothing else, so there’s nothing else to add to the magic of the illusion.
What were you like in high school?
Miner: You’d have to ask some people I went to high school with. I definitely felt like I was very shy. I was a “hiding behind the hair” kind of good girl. I loved learning, but socially, I felt pretty awkward. I didn’t like showing my face and being looked at. I didn’t feel that anyone should notice me and I didn’t want to be noticed.
What do you do to unwind?
Miner: I read a lot and do a lot of online studying. I listen to music and lectures from the Great Courses, which lets you download college lectures from professors. I also love walking through the park.
What’s next for you—any upcoming film, TV projects you can talk about?
Miner: I’m kind of in transition. I’m open to new projects, but I’ve also been writing. I kind of enjoy this free time to catch up on the times I missed because I started working at such a young age.
I recently had the opportunity to attend the red carpet press preview of Stage 48: Script to Screen, which celebrated the launch of Warner Brothers new 25,000 sq. ft. expansion, ahead of its official opening on July 16th. Based on the studio lot, which is home to more than 90 years of much-loved entertainment, drama and action, Stage 48 offered press, guests and celebrities a new behind-the-scenes look at the world of film and TV production.
Celebs, press and guests mingled as they explored the Central Perk Café, the orange couch in the original Central Perk set from “Friends,” and green screen experiences on the Batpod from The Dark Knight, an ExoSuit from Edge of Tomorrow, an authentic space capsule from the Oscar®-winning epic Gravity and flying broomsticks from Harry Potter.
Talent attending the event included Zack Snyder (Director, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men), James Michael Tyler (Friends), Mehcad Brooks (Supergirl), Reno Wilson (Mike & Molly), Cast of CBS new series Rush Hour, Cast of The Young and the Restless, Henry Byalikov (Dancing with the Stars), Sharna Burgess (Dancing with the Stars), and many more.
Brooklyn native Vanessa Ferlito has appeared in crime-themed series programs including “CSI: New York” and “The Sopranos.” In 2002, Ferlito appeared in Spike Lee’s “The 25th Hour.” The following year, Ferlito starred as ‘Lizette Sanchez’ in John Leguizamo’s acclaimed boxing drama “Undefeated”, which earned her an NAACP nomination for Outstanding Actress in a TV Movie. In 2007, Ferlito starred in Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof. In 2012, she appeared in the feature film, Stand Up Guys opposite Al Pacino and Christopher Walken. Currently, she can be seen on “Graceland,” the hit series on the USA network.
In The Aftermath, a powerful tale of lost love, obsession, and self-destruction, Ferlito stars opposite Sam Trammell (Sonny) as Franki, a tough small-town madam. When Sonny tries to return a necklace to his estranged wife for their anniversary, it’s stolen by a gang of criminals led by Franki. Directed by Tim McCann and written by McCann and Shaun Sanghani, The Aftermath is a gritty and honest portrayal of a broken man, risking his life, desperately seeking redemption. In this one-on-one interview, Ferlito reveals the challenges she faced in life, her acting career and in bringing Franki to life.
What attracted you to the role of Franki?
Vanessa Ferlito: I’m really drawn to dark scripts. And this was a dark movie. I also really like Sam. He’s an amazing actor. Franki’s a great character to play. As a pimp and drug dealer, she’s got a lot going on.
What did you find most challenging about the role?
Ferlito: To try to put myself in that mindframe, which is something I always try to do. To get into that life — in Alexandria, Louisiana, which is a very small town — I hung out around the area to see what it was like to live there and be this person. Most of the people in the film were not actors. So when I go into that place in my mind, it was really challenging for me because I tend to go into a dark place. And I don’t like it much. I usually have my son with me, but since this was only for a week, I left him. I stayed in this small hotel in the middle of nowhere. And that allowed me to go to a really dark place.
What did you draw from to prepare yourself for the gritty, street tough Franki?
Ferlito: I grew up in the streets of Brooklyn, in an Italian family. My dad died when I was two years old from a drug overdose. My mom was straight, never on drugs, but she just got caught up with the wrong people. I hung out with a rough crowd. And the neighborhood I grew up in was rough. We were scrappers. I fought my way through school. And at the end of the day, these kids had to battle what was going in their home. Now, I go to yoga, and try not to use what I was taught in the street. So yeah, I do pull a lot from my background for these roles. Maybe that’s why I always get them.
How is Franki like FBI agent Charlie’ DeMarco and how is she different?
Ferlito: The only difference is that Charlie puts people like Franki away, but at the end of the day, they’re both playing a role. Charlie is always under cover playing a drug dealer or something hard. So Charlie’s the good guy and Franki’s the bad guy. But they’re similar in the sense that they’re playing a role every day. Franki knows who she really is and why she did this with her life. When I see someone like Franki, I wonder how and why she got to that place. What makes them different is extreme; what makes them the same is a fine line.
What do you like about working in TV as opposed to film?
Ferlito: Stability in TV. I was doing a TV show in the middle of my career. I had just played the lead in a Tommy Lee Jones movie (Man of the House) and then Shadowboxer with Helen Mirren. Four days later, I was doing CSI. I was young and didn’t feel I needed that stability at the time. But now, I love it. I go to a job, four and half months straight, every day and I love knowing that I’m okay. Besides, the movie business has changed so much. When I started doing independent films, there were just so many, and they weren’t hiring people just for their name but who was best for the job. Now, it’s based on social media. As a single mother, I like the stability of being on a show like Graceland or CSI.
You once mentioned that you thought about being an undercover cop. What do you find interesting about that life?
Ferlito: Oh my God, I still want to be one. I swear, I was on the set the other day and I thought about getting my degree and becoming a cop. Everyone thinks I’m crazy. There are lots of bad things going on and I want to help. Maybe I’m a control freak, I don’t know. It’s dangerous but fun. It’s funny, I never wanted to be a cop before, but after playing this FBI agent, I thought, I’d be great at this. I was always great at catching my boyfriend. He could never get away with anything. That said, I’m a bit too sensitive, so I don’t think I could handle child abuse cases.
What was your very first audition like? And what have you learned about auditions?
Ferlito: They sent me out on commercials but I never booked once. It was six months of that, then they sent me out for Sopranos and I got the role (of Tina Francesco). Two weeks later, I got the lead in an indie film called OnLine. Then my career took off and I worked with Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino.
What was it like working with those directors?
Ferlito: With Spike Lee, it was a small role in the beginning of my career. I was in one scene. He threw words at me and gave me the freedom to play it. Quentin is a dear friend. He loves TV, loves movies, and he wrote the role (Butterfly) for me (in Grindhouse). People still go crazy over that lapdance—it has a cult following now.
What’s next for you—any upcoming film, TV projects you can talk about?
Ferlito: Not at the moment. I’m working on Graceland now, and I’m not reading any other scripts. We film an hour show in seven days. CSI was an hour and we did that in nine days. So I don’t really have the time to read other scripts.
Tina Ivlev brings a broad acting background to Bound to Vengeance. She starred in the gripping teenage drama, Dry Land, a Colt Coeur production written by Ruby Rae Spiegel and directed by Adrienne Campbell Holt. The play immediately became a New York Times Critics’ Pick, playing to sold out houses in New York. She mesmerized film and television audiences alike with characters who are real, compelling and strong. Her screen credits include The Devil’s In The Details (with Ray Liotta) and Death Clique. Her TV work includes appearances in The Bridge, Graceland, Anger Management, Major Crimes, and CSI.
In Bound to Vengeance, Ivlev is Eve, a young woman who fights back and manages to escape a malicious abductor. But after discovering she may not be the only victim, Eve unravels a darker truth and decides to turn the tables on her captor. In this one-on-one interview, Ivlev reveals the challenges she faced in bringing Eve to life.
What attracted you to the role of Eve?
Tina Ivlev: I thought she was a hero to these other girls. When I read the script, it was this really crazy story. Had it been a sexual exploitation film, I never would have done it. But this was the opposite, because Eve is just so smart and resourceful and heroic. She was someone who had these girls’ best interest at heart.
Did you audition for the role? And what was that like?
Ivlev: It was a standard audition. I hadn’t met any of the writers or directors before. I went in, got a callback immediately after I left, and got the part.
How did you deal with all the bloody violence in the film?
Ivlev: I just got into character and imagined what Eve was going through. It was weird, but I kind of got desensitized to it after awhile.
What did you find most challenging about portraying Eve?
Ivlev: I think her state of mind. She was really in a fragile state early on in the film. She was under tremendous pressure from the extreme situation she was in. Around Phil (Richard Tyson) and these other guys. She had lost her sister, and I think that losing someone so close to her eventually just made her unravel. And that was the hardest thing to find those moments. Like where is she in the script right now, where is she emotionally and mentally. That was the hardest part in playing Eve. There were crazy moments on set where you’re screaming and you have this nose around Phil’s neck. I felt so horrible because Richard had this mark around his neck. It was kind of intense after awhile.
How did you psyche yourself up to play victim, savior and executioner?
Ivlev: That’s why I liked Eve so much, because she wasn’t this victim throughout the whole film. In the very beginning, she turns the table on Phil, which is really cool and refreshing to see in these kinds of films. It was cool and weird. That was also kind of hard to play, because sometimes she gets captured and then she has to be aggressive to turn the tables again. So you’re wondering, who is she now? Has she completely lost it? Will she kill everyone? In the Salt Lake screening, everyone was screaming, no no!
Why do you think Eve was so driven to try to save the other girls?
Ivlev: For me, it was just survivor’s guilt over just losing her sister. The fact that she couldn’t save her, that it was almost her fault. I don’t think it was conscious but in real life, when girls go missing, it’s virtually impossible to find them. They could be in a different country. I don’t know if she just wanted to be a vigilante and take matters into her own hands, but I thought that Eve had snapped and she was unraveling. She couldn’t live with herself leaving these other girls who were in the same situation she was in and who might never see their families again. All she could see was her sister dying in front of her.
What message do you believe the film imparts to today’s audiences?
Ivlev: Hope, I suppose. When I read the script, it was heartbreaking. This person is tying to save these people on her own. Love would be another message. Eve loved her sister and cares about people and wants to save them. She didn’t just run away.
What’s next for you?
Ivlev: I’m auditioning for some projects now. And I’m writing. I don’t know how writers do it. I think actors have it rough but writers have it worse.
So do you like to do these horror films? Or maybe some comedy?
Ivlev: I don’t like to even watch horror films, because I just get so scared. But I love films like Rosemary’s Baby. I also love comedy and drama. So I don’t really have a preference.
Kristin Bauer Van Straten (Once Upon A Time’s Maleficent and True Blood’s Pam De Beaufort) will introduce viewers to a special installment of American television’s environmental investigative series, EARTH FOCUS: Illicit Ivory. An animal rights advocate, Van Straten hopes this documentary will help viewers understand the dire situation that elephants face—that poachers kill an elephant every 20 minutes to feed an insatiable demand for ivory. As a result, African elephants may be gone in as little as ten years. In this one-on-one interview, Van Straten reveals her commitment to saving these regal animals and her passionate pursuit of animal rights.
You’re a long time animal rights advocate. What prompted you to become involved with this particular documentary?
Kristin Bauer Van Straten: I had no idea this was going on. I met with James Isiche from IFAW (international Fund for Animal Welfare). They do great work in Kenya and he told me this was happening. I was so stunned. I’d heard about the ivory crisis in the 80s, but I didn’t realize that ivory was such a widely traded commodity. The cruelty of it is astounding. Elephants are massive and majestic creatures. The slaughtering of these 15,000 pound animals for four percent of their body for a trinket is appalling. I spent a month with elephants in Kenya where we met Cynthia Moss, who had conducted the longest running study of elephants in the wild. She’s observed their family structure, bathing rituals, their birthing and mourning process. I read her book, and there’s just no disputing that they are as sentient as we are.
What were the major challenges in filming this documentary?
Van Straten: Kenya is the only country that has chosen to destroy their seized ivory—as opposed to selling it to China. The biggest problem we’ve seen since the total ban on ivory in the 80s is that other African countries are choosing to enter the black market, become traders and profit from the sale of illegal ivory. Most people in China don’t realize that an elephant had to be killed for their ivory trinket. The word ivory in China translates into “teeth.” Ivory has become a status symbol there; it’s how the Chinese middle class show “they have arrived.And that has fueled this drive to move ivory overseas again. We’re trying to get an all-out ban on ivory, but we’re getting all kinds of blowback from the people who would profit form its sale.
How long have you been involved in animal rights? And in the protection of elephants?
Van Straten: Throughout my life on some level. My dad was such a nature lover. While my siblings aren’t into animals like I am, they are into the environment. I became actively involved, and as my career rose, so did my opportunities to give back. There are so many amazing causes. And since I can’t clone myself, I try to get involved with the most voiceless—and that’s animals. I wasn’t involved in the protection of elephants until about three years ago. I didn’t go to the circus. I don’t believe in slavery. I’m not fond of using animals for entertainment. I’m an entertainer and it’s rough. I think it should be your choice. So I wasn’t aware of the elephant genocide until a few years ago. Lions, zebra, giraffe—all being slaughtered. Many animals in Africa are under siege, mainly from Asia.
What are the short and long-term goals you hope this documentary will achieve?
Van Straten: From what I saw in Kenya, the people there are astoundingly optimistic. I think it’s just their nature, but I also think that when you’re on the ground, literally saving lives, even if you save less than you’d like, there’s a certain can-do attitude that comes from having your hands in the dirt. And that optimism became infectious. The more who get involved, the greater chance we have of keeping elephants on Earth. I watched two animal species go extinct in the last two years, which is very sad. I asked a ranger in northern Kenya what will happen if more people don’t get involved in saving animals and he said it’s uncertain. The only thing we can do is try to support what these heroes in Kenya are doing.
How can people help this noble cause?
Van Straten: Depending on the person’s resources, if all they have is a voice, that’s huge. We need the world to declare an all-out ban on ivory. We need to spread the word as fast as we can. Many people hear about this and make the choice—to write a letter, foster a baby elephant in Kenya, send $50 to one of the organizations that I know will make a difference (they’re on my website).
Switching gears, what are some of your favorite moments in Once Upon a Time?
Van Straten: I usually watch the show, but I don’t like to watch myself. I really had a ball with Lana Parrilla and the rest of the cast. Lana is the first person I got to work and she has this amazing big laugh. The hours are really long, but we just dove in and had so much fun playing with these roles. I just came off seven years playing evil characters, and she has been killing it, playing evil. But now both of our characters have found a softer side.
A cross between Firefly and The Office, the new a space adventure TV series Nobility combines a sleek spaceship in a deep-space adventure with a hearty dose of comedy. The polite, albeit dysfunctional crew aboard the C.A.S. Nobility—the most powerful ship in the Confederate Alliance—are the subjects of a documentary about how this mightiest of all ships is run. Each episode explores the actions of the ship’s wacky crew as they overcome their personal trials and challenges in a broken world that surrounds them.
In these one-on-one interviews, Torri Higginson (Stargate SG1, Stargate: Atlantis) talks about her role as Cdr. Eugenia Pikeman. Also weighing in on his role as the heavily disciplined Eujin Liaison, Lt. Sirius Halud is Darren Jacobs (Elevator Gods, Death Machine, and the two-part sci-fi Starship).
What attracted you to the role of Cdr. Eugenia Pikeman?
Torri Higginson: I find that I always get cast in these big-hearted, nurturing characters, but I love Commander Pikeman because she’s not that. She’s very smart. She has an eye and a wing over everyone, but she would rather not talk to you or you to her. She would rather smack you if you misbehave. I find her energy quite wonderful. She reminds me a little bit of a German dominatrix.
How is this different and how is it similar to the sci-fi work you’ve done in the past?
Higginson: I’d never been part of a project on this grass roots level. Adrienne Wilkinson (who plays Lt. Ara Eris) got in touch with me, so I first heard about it through the actors who told me there’s this world that E.J. De La Pena created that’s really exciting and filled with lots of possibilities. So let’s all dive in and play and see what happens with it. It was a little bit scary but it seemed like a nice environment to play. The cast had already been compiled at that point and it sounded fabulous. E.J.’s energy is very lovely and innocent and he has this big heart for sci-fi. You never know how it’s going to pan out. There’s a bit of irreverence, which you find in the original Stargate and the original Star Trek.
Did you audition for the role?
Higginson: No. Adrienne got in touch with me and I met with E.J. who said we’d love you to come on board. Usually when you audition, even though, as an actor, you don’t feel it’s a mutual audition, you walk into the room and you hope you get the gig. But there is this other thing that happens when you get a job and you have an audition, it’s nerve wracking because you realize you haven’t had a chance to see what the person on the other side of the table is all about. There is a kind of mutual audition that goes on. So that was interesting to walk in, even though I had a meeting with E.J., I didn’t know how it would work or how his energy was going to be. Actors are all little kids that refuse to grow up.
How did you prepare for this particular role, a commander in humanity’s most powerful starship?
Higginson: Well (laughs), I just drew on my life’s experience. I find that in a lot of science fiction, the world is so out there, you really just take what you get from the script. And it seems sort of non-pressured for the whole environment. To be honest, I didn’t do a lot of prep. I read the script and looked at the other characters to see what they were doing. I met with the other actors and with the series creator, and then I just shut up and decided to play.
What was the most challenging part of this role? What scenes or parts do you enjoy the most?
Higginson: It was inspiring to see what they did on such a budget challenged series. But you get used to certain things like their wardrobe—like really? I can fit three people in this thing. Just having to feel powerful and strong in an outfit that doesn’t make you feel that way was a challenge. But I’m still blown away by what they did—creating an entire set in basically one room—wardrobe, hair and makeup, shooting, the green room.
As a ship’s commander, do you get involved in any shooting and fighting? And do you do your own stunts?
Higginson: I had a hard time working on my right hook. We had this amazing stunt guy, Mario, who came in and organized these fabulous fights between Adrienne and Darren Jacobs. And they just rocked it out of the park. I just get to punch people occasionally. I don’t break a sweat, I punch and walk away.
How much can you tell us about your character arc? Will Cdr. Pikeman change? Or will she be immune to the zany antics aboard the Nobility?
Higginson: She has a dry outlook that I really like. She has one eyebrow cocked most of the time and a little bit of an eye roll. What I love about E.J. and what brought me on to the role was that E.J. had such a strong sense of where it’s going. Everyone has a very specific arc. He came at me with “this is the history of this character.” As an actor, E.J. created this world with an actor’s mind. So he has a very strong sense of who these people are. As for my character, she is strong and emotionally reserved, but I think she’s going to open up a bit.
Will there be any romantic entanglements for Cdr. Pikeman? Can you say with whom?
Higginson: I hope so. I not looking forward to another four years of celibacy in space. I think Eugenia and Captain Eric Cern (Cas Anvar) have an interesting history. I think they were best friends during their training days, but I don’t think they had a romantic history. And I don’t think they ever will because he’s got his eyes on the mission—like a modern day Captain Kirk. I think she will have a romantic relationship with someone—perhaps with a Eujin because they are a very reserved and deeply honest race of humans.
The series is ostensibly an incongruous coupling. How is Nobility like Firefly and how is it likeThe Office?
Darren Jacobs: It’s like the Office because we have these cutaways or confessionals where we talk directly to the camera. Nobility has these little robots that fly around and film things that are happening on the ship. They think it’s good for the general population to see what’s happening on board, but it’s not really a great idea because the people running the ship are not the best people. In terms of Firefly, it’s got the sci-fi humor, the science stuff and on-the-nose throw away comedy—like Red Dwarf. All the characters are flawed in some way. My character is differed because I come onto the ship as an innocent optimist who wants to do good. But being immersed with these people changes me. I become tarnished.
You have such a broad acting background. What drew you to the role of Lt. Sirius Halud?
Jacobs: I was in a film with E.J. at the time and he was telling me about this thing that he’d been thinking about—combining sci-fi and comedy. I read the script and I thought it was fantastic. Then he got Claudia Christian from Babylon 5 involved. He asked if I knew anyone could do the serious stuff and the comedy and I got the role straight away. The real test for me was when we did some confessionals with costume and make up. We had a couple of script pages and I did a little improv with the comedy and E.J. and the crew were laughing their heads off.
How did you prepare for the role?
Jacobs: I did lots of research because it’s set 700 years into the future. So I had to learn about the Eujin race of people. We went back and forth about how we (Eujins) would speak. In 400 years, humanity becomes isolated, and in 700 years, they come back. I liked the idea they’re kind of outdated, so we agreed on a 50’s UK accent. In the fight scenes, I’m like a snake.
What was the most challenging part of this role? What scenes or parts do you enjoy the most?
Jacobs: I really enjoyed the fighting, but I also hated it because it was in the middle of summer, we were in this hot warehouse and I had this plastic costume that had half an inch of foam in the front, which when it bunched up, looked like I had these rolls on me. The sweat poured out me. I loved the pilot because the camera follows me through the ship as I meet all the characters. So every day, I’d come to the set and I’d meet a new person.
How is this different and how is it similar to the work you’ve done in the past?
Jacobs: It’s similar in that you come on set and you work with great people. It’s different because I’d come on set and realize that every day, I was working on something that I’d dreamed of working on as a kid.
Will Lt. Halud have romantic liaisons with any of the crew? Can you say with
Jacobs: I don’t know. I do know that he is definitely attracted to Eugenia Pikeman. He likes the idea that she has some respect for him. Eugenia is a strong woman who is really the muscle behind the ship.
How much can you tell us about your character arc? Will Lt. Halud change? Or will he continue to evangelize the Eujin culture with its focus on genetic purity and directed evolution?
Jacobs: My character is from a Eujin family who has had some problems in the past but now my sister and I are doing very well. She is in politics and I’m growing fast in the army. Joining the crew of Nobility is a huge slap in the face for my family because it’s a human ship. I’ve literally thrown away my high rank. Lt. Halud has this hope that the humans and the Eujins can work together, to expand humanity and reach the next stage. But the things that happen in the pilot change everything. Initially both the humans and the Eujins don’t accept me.
Messengers’ stars Shantel VanSanten and Craig Frank talk about the compelling new series, which begins when a mysterious object crashes on earth and a group of unconnected strangers die from an energy pulse it emits. The selected Messengers re-awaken to find out that they must work together and unite their various new powers to prevent the impending Apocalypse. Messengers premieres on Friday, April 17 at 9pm on the CW channel. Click Messengers for brief video.
Born in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, actress/writer Alex Essoe’s diverse body of work includes such films and TV series as Free to Go, Passion Play, House of Lies and Reaper. In Starry Eyes, Esso plays Sarah Walker, a young woman determined to make it as an actress in Hollywood. Stuck in a dead-end day job as a waitress, enduring petty friendships, and going on endless casting calls, Sarah submits to a series of strange auditions. When she finally lands the role in a new film from a mysterious production company, she undergoes a bizarre transformation that changes her into something beautiful…and altogether terrifying. In this one-on-one interview, Esso talks about her role and the challenges she faced in bringing Sarah’s character to life.
What attracted you to the role of Sarah?
Alex Essoe: I totally fell in love with Sarah’s vulnerability and fragility. And how pure her intentions are. She’s so unbelievably hard on herself, which comes from a place of truly loving what she does. The tragic flaw of Sarah is that looks for a sense of identity outside of herself, which ultimately leads to her downfall. It broke my heart when I read the script.
Did you audition for the role? What was that like?
AE: It was me and about 30 other girls. After an audition, I try to forget about it or you can drive yourself crazy. I didn’t hear anything for nearly four months, then I got a callback. They sent me the script, and after I read it, I told myself, I need to do everything I can do get this part. I totally fell in love with the story. So I did the callback, and after another four months, I got a call to have coffee with director Dennis (Widmyer) and we talked for about an hour about film trivia and Zulawski’s Possession, which is one of my favorite all-time horror movies. And lucky for me, my reference to Possession prompted Dennis to exclaim, “that’s actually what this film is influenced by.”
You’ve been on a few casting calls. Were there things you drew from them for this role?
AE: One thing I loved about Sarah’s experience early on in the film is how universal it is. Every actor has to deal with rejection and self-doubts. I don’t know a single actor, who after an audition, hasn’t said, “I didn’t do that right. I should have done this and made that choice.” You drive yourself crazy doing that. So, yeah, the years of casting calls, rejections and picking yourself back up—they reflect Sarah’s inner monologue, as she lives and dies by whether she’s accepted by the industry.
What was the most challenging part of bringing Sarah’s complex character to life?
AE: I would say finding what her boundaries were. Like most people, I have very definite boundaries. There are certain lines that I’m simply not interested in crossing. Sarah had to find a way to justify certain choices she made. Were I this person and had I lived this kind of life, I’d have to find all the things that surmount my personal boundaries. You have to find a way to justify everything and not judge. You can’t ever judge any character you play, otherwise, you really can’t honor them.
Do you have a favorite scene?
AE: The ending was a delight to shoot. The climax at the house was really fun. And the actors I worked with were great. Fabianne (Therese) especially, because I kill her like three times. And the kitchen was just a massacre.
How did you prepare for the physical brutality of the role? Your killing scenes were pretty intense.
AE: When you’re the antagonist and doling out punishment, you can’t really think of it as punishment or something that would horrify you. You have to regard it as work. A great example is Marathon Man where Laurence Olivier is torturing Dustin Hoffman. Olivier said that during that scene, he imagined himself pruning his roses at home. So that’s what I used during some of those violent scenes. Obviously the choices for Sarah were different, since she’s in a different headspace and completely broken down at that point.
What went through your mind when you read the script—with Sarah covered in mud and blood, and her face all bruised.
AE: Oh, bring it on. I couldn’t wait to get started. And the more crazy stuff they added, I said, “yes, more.” The priority is honoring the story.
Did you really shave your head for the final scene?
AE: No, no, no. I don’t know if I’m at that point in my career where I can pull a Natalie Portman and get away with it. We had the best effects team headed by this talented man named Hugo. He was a genius. There was nothing he couldn’t do. Once he put that bald cap on, it was the creepiest thing ever. Maybe in the future, I’ll shave my head. It’s not such a bad look for me.
What message do you think the film sends to aspiring young actresses?
AE: I hope that it sends the message that there are no real rules when it comes to making your way in this industry. Don’t ever let anyone else try and tell you who you really are. You have to know who you are or other people are going to tell you who you are.
Based on the story of “Sleeping Beauty,” Maleficent begins with the backstory of a young fairy (Isobelle Molloy), who is charged with guarding some very beautiful and pristine enchanted woods. When young Maleficent falls for farmhand Stefan (Michael Higgins), their innocent love is yanked apart by her duty to protect her woods and by Stefan’s political ambitions.
When Stefan betrays Maleficent and strips her of a key power to ensure his rise to King, hell hath no fury like a broken hearted, vengeful sorceress now deliciously played by Angelina Jolie. An older Stefan (Sharlto Copley) and Maleficent wage a battle that ends in a stalemate. When the dust settles, Maleficent crashes the christening of Stefan’s daughter, Aurora and casts an evil spell on her: she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and drift into a near-death slumber until awakened by true love’s kiss. Determined to save his daughter, Stefan destroys all spinning wheels in the kingdom and sequesters her in a wooded cabin to be raised by three little fairies.
Maleficent’s heart softens as she begins to bond with Aurora (Elle Fanning). And we’re led to believe that this relationship might stop the war that seems inevitable between humans and the creatures in Maleficent’s mystical moors. When Maleficent fails to undo Aurora’s deep-sleep spell, the three fairies drag in a young prince to kiss her. But this fails as well. Maleficent tries again, this time entering the King’s heavily guarded castle, only to be surrounded by the King’s men who trap her and nearly destroy her. But all is not lost and Aurora comes to her rescue, giving Maleficent what she needs to prevail.
Helmed by first timer and multi-Oscar-winning visual effects and production designer Robert Stromberg (Avatar, Alice in Wonderland, Oz the Great and Powerful, Life of Pi), Maleficent hits all the right notes in a film of this genre. Adding life to flying fairies, magical plants, and imposing tree warriors calls for lots of CGI to convey a world dominated by the mystical and Medieval.
Created for a mixed adult/teen/child audience, Maleficent walks a fine line to appease a large segment of moviegoers. The messaging is simple: forests and nature’s creature are good, betrayal and worldly ambition are bad, and true love’s kiss need no longer be defined as prince and princess.
The Blu-Ray DVD set comes with an “extras” DVD, which features deleted scenes, some behind the scenes clips, and interviews with some of the actors and crew. These extras are short but interesting, especially if you haven’t seen them in the movie promos.