An interview with James Marsters on Dudes & Dragons

James Marsters
James Marsters

Widely known as Spike, the loveable blond English vampire in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, James Marsters went on to play the alien super-villain Brainiac on Smallville. He also played time-travelling Captain John Hart in the British sci-fi series Torchwood and the terrorist Barnabas Greeley in Syfy‘s Caprica. Marsters next appeared in the 2007 movie P.S. I Love You and as Victor Hesse in the first season of Hawaii Five-0.

In the hilarious fantasy-comedy Dudes & Dragons, Marsters plays Lord Tensley, a powerful wizard who vows to rid the land of love through the use of his fire-breathing dragon. In this one-on-one interview, Marsters reveals what he liked about the role and how he enjoys playing loveable villains—like Spike.

James Marsters and Kaitlin Doubleday
James Marsters and Kaitlin Doubleday

What drew you to this film and the role of Lord Tensley?

James Marsters: When they offered me the role, I read the script, and after the first 5 or 10 pages, I was confused. But after that, I kind of clicked into the style. I realized what they were going for, the world they were creating, and I started laughing. And I didn’t stop until the end. I was reminded of some of my favorite filmmakers who often do that to me. They’ll confuse me until I understand the world they’re painting. Like the Coen Brothers: When I first saw O’ Brother Where Art Thou, I said, “what the hell is this?”

James Marsters and Kaitlin Doubleday
James Marsters and Kaitlin Doubleday

I can imagine a lot of green screen work with the dragon. What was that like?

JM: For me, working with green screen was very freeing. I come from theater where that’s kind of the environment. We had a few chairs, rocks, props and costumes—everything else was up to our imagination. When you’re acting, you’re supposed to have fun. In theater, they call it a play for a reason: No one pays money to watch you work. Your job is to play it. So when I did this film on green screen, it was glorious. If we’d actually filmed this is the real world, we’d be fighting horses and just getting our butts kicked. I heard about what the Hobbits went through in The Lord of the Rings, going through all that snow and ice water getting hypothermia. When you’re doing theater, it’s temperature controlled. But when you’re on location filming, you’re dealing with a certain level of discomfort because of the weather. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but you never see puffy coats in films. Actors are in these thin, fashionable coats pretending to be warm. But the truth is, they’re freezing to death.

Marsters and the Dragon
Marsters and the Dragon

What did you find most challenging?

JM: I didn’t really find that much challenging. When acting works, it’s effortless. When the script and props work, and other actors are supporting you, and it’s all working, you almost feel like it’s too easy. The temptation is to start acting more because you feel like you should be doing something. So filming this was just a joy. There was the challenge of not laughing at the dragon because the dragon was a guy with a stick and a green dragon head walking around. It was supposed to be very scary and serious but he looked silly inside.

Kaitlin Doubleday and James Marsters
Kaitlin Doubleday and James Marsters

Where did they shoot the film and what was that like?

JM: In Salt Lake City. We found a really good space with a scooped cyclorama that looks like the inside of a swimming pool. It has a nice even green tone for a background, and it had a very high ceiling for high and low camera movement.

"King' Marsters
“King’ Marsters

What do you like playing these evil off-kilter characters?

JM: The thing I liked about playing Lord Tensley was that his evil was destructive, powerful and angry; but underneath it all, he’s kind of a frightened child and heartbroken in romance, which makes him kind of adorable at the end of the day. Having that combination is delicious. I don’t know if he’s sympathetic, but you can take him into your heart and regard him as a poor little boy. So trying to achieve that was what drew me to the part. If I could bring that off, it would be really fun to watch. Playing a comedic villain, not scary, but a little more pathetic is what I liked.

James Marsters as Spike
James Marsters as Spike

Going back a few years, what did you love about playing Spike?

JM: My favorite thing was just being able to say those words. My acting process is basically just memorizing my lines and dreaming. I’d be sitting up in bed the night before, getting the lines down and letting my imagination take off. The better the writing is, the more fun that process is. I’ve never had such a consistently fun time playing Spike. Drew Goddard was one of their writers, as was Steve DeKnight, Jane Espenson, David Fury, the list goes on and on. I was working with people that would go on to be the movers and shakers of Hollywood. They were all poor, hungry and new, and working together to make one product. You get that level of talent around one table and it’s like Camelot. All that got funneled down into a script that I could enjoy.

I also liked giving Sarah (Michelle Gellar) and David (Boreanaz) a headache. I’m a bit of a punk rocker subversive, and when I see someone with power, I have this instinct to balance the scales. In Hollywood, you have to be oh so polite to the lead. They’re both great people, but being forced to do that brought out a bit of rancor in me. So between “action” and “cut,” I’d stress them out a bit, seeing if I could mess up their lines, get under their skin and make them uncomfortable.

What can you tell us about Abruptio?

JM: Oh, that’s a disgusting film. I was reading the script and thought there’s no way I’m going to be part of this. It’s too much, it’s going too far. Then I got to the end of the script and it all says something worthy. And it’s going to be done with puppets. When you see that, it becomes very interesting. I play this character who lives in his mom’s basement.

 

 

Interview with Singer-Songwriter Sara Niemietz

Sara Niemietz.
Sara Niemietz.

Known worldwide as Postmodern Jukebox’s striking front-woman and for her solo YouTube music videos, Sara Niemietz has starred on Broadway (Carol Burnett’s Hollywood Arms), appeared in television and film (Akeelah and the Bee, Glee), released four albums, sang in Times Square before 50,000 people, and spent countless hours honing her craft singing and playing the guitar, bass and piano.

Recently featured on TIME Magazine and Mashable, Sara released her Postmodern Jukebox cover of Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself” for an upcoming feature with FELIX. After recently completing a headlining sold-out U.S. tour with the band, Sara is set to hit the road again on a 75-city international tour with Postmodern Jukebox.

In this one-on-one phone conversation (direct from Dubai), Sara provides some insights into her career and how she approaches singing and songwriting.

Sara hat

When did you first decide you wanted to write and perform songs?

Sara Niemietz: When I was four years old, I went with my Mom and Dad to a BJ Thomas concert. They wanted to familiarize me with the songs so I wouldn’t be bored at the concert, so they played them on my way to day-care and driving around Illinois. By the time we got to the concert, I knew all the songs and began singing along with them. At the concert, BJ saw me from the stage, singing along and invited me to join him — on stage. And I was hooked. I started writing songs in my early teens when I learned to play guitar. I sang and wrote a lot in high school. I released my first songs shortly after that.

How and when did you and Snuffy Walden start working together?

Sara: I first met Snuffy when I was nine. I was doing acting gigs in L.A. and he was doing the music for the show Providence. I had a guest star role on that show (as singer/actress), so I had to go to his studio to record the vocals for the show. Later, I was watching Friday Night Lights, for which he did the music, and I recognized the name. So I sent him an email with a video and we reconnected and started working together. He’s been my music mentor ever since.

Sara Red hat

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can you go into how your life experience formed the basis for some of your songs? Perhaps provide some more memorable examples?

Sara: Much of my music is influenced by what I’ve seen. When I was 10, I lived in New York for a while doing a Broadway show. I was struck by the hustle and bustle of the city, which influenced me to write the song, “Rooftops,” which is kind of an escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. I got another song off my new EP that I just did a video for called “Taxi Outside,” and much of the imagery for that is the glitz and the glam of Hollywood, and seeing what lies beneath the gilded surfaces.

Your Dad played in a Rock band in Chicago and your Mom played in church choirs. How did that influence your musical style?

Sara: I grew up listening to a lot of different music. My parents loved classic rock – Stones, Zeppelin, Beatles, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Dylan, Randy Newman, Carol King and Steely Dan. There was lots of jazz too, so I got to know the great American songbook.

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You said that music is the purest form of expression with no barriers. How does that apply to your work personally?

Sara: What you might not be able to say in conversation or in generally expressing yourself, you can with music. It’s art and saying anything you want to talk about is fine. With music the notes help express what you want to say.

You also said that music is a blank slate and a magic wand. So how do you wield that magic wand to create your music from a blank state?

Sara: I try to do it as honestly as I can. I love what music does. There’s so much civility in music. You can do anything, so you want to make sure you use that freedom the right way. I like to be deliberate and honest, and to tell my story. I try not to chase the coolest fad or be “in the club.” So I sing about what I see, which might resonate with someone.

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What artists would you most like to collaborate with?

Sara: Oh, man. I’d love to collaborate with Andrew Bird, who is an awesome violinist and songwriter. Also Tom Waits would be a dream to collaborate with. And Steely Dan is my favorite band, so I would carry their microphone.

You’ll be doing a 75-city international tour with Postmodern Jukebox. What can fans expect in terms of new and old songs.

Sara: I spent a lot of time in the studio before I left. So there are lots of new songs and videos. I’m in Dubai right now. We went to the top of the Burj Khalifa and then on an off-road desert Safari.

So, you’re performing in Dubai?

Sara: We’ll be opening for Toto at the Jazz festival. We shot a new video for the next single off my new EP. And I’m still writing while on the road. I use my backpack guitar and I’m always writing demos and sending stuff back to L.A. I’m going to work on a new project when I get back. We’ll be posting short videos from the road.

Check out Sara’s unique new cover of Meghan Trainor’s “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” It’s awesome.

 

Interview with Cas Anvar on “The Expanse”

Case Anvar
Case Anvar

After a starring role on Sy-Fy’s recently wrapped series, Olympus, Cas Anvar stars in The Expanse, the bold, new series everyone’s talking about. Set 200 years in the future, after mankind has colonized the solar system, The Expanse is cable TV’s most expensive show to date—$5-6 mil per episode—each shot as a stand-alone feature film. The stunning new series follows police detective Miller (Thomas Jane), ship’s officer Jim Holden (Steven Strait), and his crew as they unravel a conspiracy that threatens peace across the System and the survival of humanity. In this one-on-one interview, Anvar reveals what drew him to the role of Alex Kamal and the various challenges faced by the cast and crew in bringing this epic series to life.

The Expanse cast
The Expanse cast

What attracted you to the role of Alex Kamal?

Cas: I get to play an East Asian, Mars-born fighter pilot in space with a Texas accent. I’m a huge advocate of diversity in TV/film or theater. I like to see humanity properly represented. It was wonderful to be offered a role where my ethnicity has nothing to do with the character or the story. Plus, he’s a hero, one of the guys trying to save the universe.

Approaching asteroid
Approaching asteroid

What’s the most challenging aspect of playing Alex and being in this series? What’s the most enjoyable?

Cas: He’s a guy who is always kind of cool as a cucumber even when he’s not. I’m the opposite, very impassioned, vocal and demonstrative. I’m very didactic. I speak, act and move my hands a lot. But Alex is a guy who communicates with his eyes and subtle head tilts, chewing on a toothpick. He’ll make a wise crack with a southern expression to sum up what everyone’s feeling but can’t explain. He’s a man of few words, but what he says has a lot of meaning. And that’s a departure for me.

Trawler
Trawler

Fans of the books will ask how closely the SyFy series follows the vision of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.

Cas: Very closely. We have those two gentlemen on board. They’re showrunners, have written one of the scripts and are part of the entire season as consultants. They fought for certain aspects of the show to honor the original vision and they’ve won most of their big battles. Fans of the books will be very happy to see a TV series coming off a successful series of novels that are very authentic and honors its spirit and energy.

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As pilot of the Rocinante, you also manage the ship’s fire control system. Will you engage in combat and with whom?

Cas: There’s plenty of action, battles and evasive maneuvers for our ship and others. Space travel is not easy and not safe. There’s no artificial gravity in our world—its terrifyingly real. We also don’t have faster than light travel, so it takes a lot of time to go from point A to point B. And if you want to go fast, you have to put your body through an immense amount of stress. We don’t have inertial dampers; instead, we have “juice,” a cocktail we inject before going through a high G burn. Juice is full of steroids, blood thinners, anti-coagulants and stimulants to keep the brain from stroking out, your heart from stopping and your lungs from collapsing. In a high G burn, you can barely move, so instead of big joysticks to control the ship, we can only move our fingertips half centimeters at a time to navigate the ship.

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When the crew of the Rocinante discovers a derelict vessel, will we learn then about its devastating secret?

Cas: The show is brilliantly written by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby (Children of Men and Iron Man 1) and features an amazing, talented cast. All will come together to uncover this incredible, dark conspiracy that threatens to destroy all of humanity. So the conspiracy won’t be revealed right away, but following the book, will slowly be unveiled.

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 12.05.30 AM

The series is set 200 years in the future. Will viewers be brought up to speed on the tech speak?

Cas: One of the beautiful things about the Expanse is that there will be lots of cool tech but it’s completely background. Like Blade Runner, which had flying cop cars and sentient robotics amidst a gritty, Chinatown vibe, The Expanse will have a gritty, real vibe that doesn’t flaunt the tech, but it’s all there.

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What cultural aspects of humanity will the series explore?

Cas: So much of The Expanse novels deal with the diversity of the humane race and how integrated it will be 200 years in the future. Look at what’s happening already with the current Mars One manned mission. They’re picking the most qualified people who will serve to immediately homogenize the gene pool. Once they’re up there, they’re not going to have a huge variety to choose from—you’ve got 50 men and 50 women. So those people will start colonizing and they will become the culture of that planet. You’ll have an entire population of heroes and adventurers, people who will never see a blue sky or green forests and ultimately be buried on Mars. That’s what The Expanse takes into account: Who would those people be? In The Expanse world, the adventurers and pioneers are Asians, East Indians and Texans. So you have these ethnically diverse people that speak in a Texas drawl.

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So the Series Explores Diversity and Different Types of Conflict?

Cas: It enjoys exposing the frailties of the human species. So while traditional racism is gone, as a species, we’re always looking for an enemy. So what do we have? “Planetism,” in which we create tensions among Earth, Mars, lunar, and asteroid belt people—called Belters. These people live in different gravities and atmospheres. Some complain that they can’t return to Earth because their bones are weak from living in zero or reduced gravity. This gives them something to fight about, since they’re part of the Earth’s underclass, which is being denied enough air and water.

Dominique Tipper
Dominique Tipper

Will the series adopt a dystopian stance or will there be hope?

Cas: Regardless of how bleak, greedy and selfish humanity becomes, there will always be those unheard people who work toward peace and prosperity. Ultimately, the more honorable aspects of the human spirit will prevail. We’re survivors, we always have been.

The Hat
The Hat

Fans have been asking about Thomas Jane’s hat—was that a personal choice or was it in the script?

Cas (laughs): The hat is important to the story and to the character. It’s a significant aspect and intimate part of Detective Miller’s character. That hat goes through a journey during the entire season.

 

Interview with Vanessa Angel in “Trouble Sleeping”

Vanessa Angel
Vanessa Angel

Known for her various roles in Weird Science, Kingpin, Sugar babies and Hall Pass, Vanessa Angel is an accomplished talent with a broad body of work. In Trouble Sleeping, Vanessa plays a woman tormented by the memories of her late-husband’s suicide. Her life is further complicated by the arrival of her stepson, who will soon inherit all of his father’s wealth. A psychological thriller with a twisted sense of humor in the vein of the Coen brothers’ films, Trouble Sleeping is directed by Robert Adetuyi and stars Billy Zane, Vanessa, Rick Otto, Ingrid Eskeland, Kale Clauson and Fred Stoller. In this one-on-one interview, Angel reveals the challenges she faced in bringing her compelling character to life.

Kale Clauson, Vanessa Angel and Rick Otto
Kale Clauson, Vanessa Angel and Rick Otto

What attracted you to this psychological thriller?

Vanessa Angel: I was excited when I read the script. Rob (Adetuyi) and his lovely wife thought I would be a really good for it. And it’s so rare that you find a script with a middle-aged woman in the lead. For me, it was her unraveling, that emotionally, there were just so many things to play. But her personality made it appear that everything was okay. I grew up in England, and I used little snippets of my mother for the character. In England, during my parents’ generation, there was a tendency to keep everything in with a stiff upper lip, to give the appearance that everything is great, when inside, there’s a whole cauldron of emotions happening. So l loved the script, which Rob originally wrote as a play five years ago. It was just such an actress piece, and yet the story was so intriguing. It had that dark Coen Brothers humor as well, which I saw when I read it the second time.

Vanessa Angel
Vanessa Angel

What challenges did you face in bringing Vanessa’s character to life? Vanessa: I didn’t have a lot of prep time, and since the casting was so last minute, the people Rob had in mind for Alex didn’t have a window open at the time, so Rob cast my husband for the role. That was actually great because when you’re in a relationship with someone, there are nuances of communication that you have in a marriage that are very hard to create with an actor, especially when you literally meet the day before shooting. So I was hoping that would come out, and because Rick is my husband, we had a chance to go over the scenes at home, which really helped when you don’t have much prep time. It was challenging to hit the emotions and bring in that sense of comedy as well. We shot the entire film in 12 days, so that also presented a challenge. Rick and I have a daughter and we don’t usually work at the same time, so the logistics of being a parent and filming 14-hour days presented an additional challenge.

 Vanessa Angel and Billy Zane
Vanessa Angel and Billy Zane

The dialog is particularly lean and effective. Was it in the original script or did you hone it down during filming?

Vanessa: It was actually in the original script. We did make some changes as we were filming. Sometimes you rehearse a scene when you’re reading it on the page, but then when you actually make it come to life, you change it. The dialog was very pared down and read like a play. I loved the Memet-esque feel of the dialogue. Rob was very open and not married to every word—especially if he felt it wasn’t working. We also made some changes to the final scene. Luckily, we had Roy Wagner as the cinematographer/DP who was absolutely brilliant in making Rob’s vision come to life. Because of the stillness of the dialogue, he wanted lots of camera movement, as opposed to repeated over-the-shoulder shots, which would have made some scenes appear too dead.

Kale Clauson and Vanessa Angel
Kale Clauson and Vanessa Angel

The lemon merengue pie reference underscored with subtle wit Vanessa’s need for acceptance in this dysfunctional family. Your thoughts on this?

Vanessa: I sort of came up with the idea. Originally, there wasn’t a reference that the pie had been on her wedding menu when she was married to Charles. I wanted there to be a reason for it to be said. I did a TV series back in the ‘90s called Weird Science, which was a very broad comedy. I always try to bring a little humor into a film, but also make it real. But you can’t be too broad in these situations because it affects the tone. Vanessa is driven by making this poor decision. She slowly realizes the error of her decision, and how she can’t live with it anymore. She’s guilt ridden while trying to keep the appearance of being very together.

Vanessa Angel and Rick Otto
Vanessa Angel and Rick Otto

What do you think the film tries to convey with the recurring nightmares of Charles trying to kill Vanessa?

Vanessa: That’s a very interesting question. I think, it’s just Vanessa not coming to terms with what she’s done. It’s in her subconscious. Anytime you make a decision you don’t feel good about, it often recurs in your dreams. And that’s how you work things through. I think that Vanessa can’t accept that, and slowly, toward the end of the film, she realizes that she can’t be without Charles.

Vanessa Angel
Vanessa Angel

Dr. GIlbert is an amusingly off-kilter character. Do you believe he helped highlight the film’s unique point of view?

Vanessa: Yes (laughs). We shot with him the very first day. It was when he was telling us Vanessa’s stepson was coming home. He’s so funny. It was the first day, and Rob wasn’t quite sure how the rest of the shoot would go. Rob was concerned that maybe it would be too funny. But it was very real and it felt right.

You have an extremely broad body of work. What do you like about psychological thrillers?

Vanessa: As an actor, any time you can find layers, the objective or reason why someone is the way they are, it’s a plus. I think psychological thrillers give you so much more to play with. Comedies are more surface. So I love to use my emotional depth and sense memories to go to those really dark places. As an actor, you’re trained to really enjoy going to those emotional depths. So you need to access that when you’re doing these kinds of films. It makes you really feel alive and in the moment.

 

Interview with #Horror Writer/Director Tara Subkoff

Writer/Director Tara Subkoff (courtesy WireImage.com)
Writer/Director Tara Subkoff (courtesy WireImage.com)

A native of Westport, Connecticut, actress/writer/director Tara Subkoff is known for As Good as It Gets, The Cell and All Over Me. In #Horror, which stars Chloë Sevigny and Timothy Hutton, a group of girls face a night of horror when the compulsive addiction of an online social media game turns a moment of cyber bullying into a night of insanity. In this one-on-one interview, Subkoff reveals the challenges and real-life experiences that shaped this film.

Why did you decide to make #Horror?

Tara Subkoff: I didn’t really decide to make it all in its entirety at once. Studios have groups and decide what they want to make. But artists don’t. They make what they feel. They have a point of view and they want to say something, and make it more clearly through the whole process of writing, shooting, editing, and all the art collaboration that was collaged in the film. At the end, I’m as surprised as you are as to where the film went. I think that’s the true nature of a good film, and one that evolves.

Chloë Sevigny (courtesy of IFC Midnight) i
Chloë Sevigny (courtesy of IFC Midnight) 

Sadly, there are way too many marketing and focus groups in filmmaking these days.

Tara: I completely agree with you. I’m very grateful that the film was independently financed, which allowed me to create a real director’s cut. I’m so grateful to IFC for distributing the film. I could have gone with someone else, but they wanted to re-edit and change things. It’s very rare that a filmmaker’s vision is honored. I’ve had some experience in Hollywood as an actor with features and directing several shorts, but I wanted to create a film that was really artistic.

Timothy Hutton
Timothy Hutton (courtesy of IFC Midnight) 

What was the biggest challenge you faced?

Tara: Shooting in three snowstorms was pretty damn challenging. Nearly half my crew walked off, saying I was crazy. We couldn’t breathe it was snowing so fast. And this wasn’t CGI snow, but real snow. The other challenge was filming with minors, which was their first film experience. It was an 18-day shoot and we lost three days to bad weather. Another challenge was editing the film. My advice to all young filmmakers is to shoot as much as you can—before they take the cameras away. It really matters when you go into edit and you don’t have that other shot, or that snow that matches the other snow. I had to be very creative with editing. You really learn screenplay structure the hard way when you’re in the editing room. Hopefully, all this will make me a better writer.

cyber bullying
cyber bullying (photo courtesy of IFC Midnight)

It seemed like the isolated home with all its bizarre art was itself a character. Why did you choose that setting?

Tara: I really wanted to write about the 1% of the 1%–the people who have it all. We secretly all want to have it all, and we’re conditioned and brainwashed to want that. I wanted to write about the life we aspire to—what that looks like and what that feels like. I think art is very important; it holds a feeling, and if it’s good, it stands the test of time and communicates something that is abstract but important. The artwork came from my friends and it’s really another character in the film. I grew up in Westport so I’m familiar with that world, the importance of keeping up appearances, the possessions people have, and keeping up with other towns—rich vs. poor. I wanted to create a visual landscape that was very specific.

Chloë-Sevigny (courtesy-of-IFC-Midnight)
Chloë-Sevigny (courtesy-of-IFC-Midnight)

The film goes into a host of issues, including cyber bullying, parental neglect, infidelity. Why did you choose to include them?

Tara: I wanted to write about modern life and its many problems. I think they’re the same problems that we’ve always had, but they just look different today. And I wanted to be honest about what they look like.

Haley Murphy,(courtesy of IFC Midnight)
Haley Murphy (courtesy of IFC Midnight)

Can you go into the actual events that inspired the film?

Tara: Many of my friends had 12-year olds who were severely cyber bullied at the time. And I was severely cyber bullied as a 12-year old on the bus. I was horrified by it, much more than any ghost in the woods. But in my day, I could go home and the bullying would stop. With the platform kids have today, it never stops, it’s relentless. You can’t just put the phone down and turn it off, it just keeps going. It’s a whole new level of cruelty and meaness. And it could follow you into your college application, your first job interview or first love interest. It’s out there for all the world to see. It’s so humiliating and disgusting. It’s very damaging when you’re developing as a person. So I wanted to write something that felt real in 2016.

The graphics were stunning, bold and a bit unusual for a film of this type? What was the thinking behind that?

Tara: I wanted to portray the feeling of going into their game world. It’s another life and you’re locked in it. If you play CandyCrusher, the colors and the world are so addictive. I wanted to convey what it feels like to get lost in your phone.

 

Interview with Rebound’s Ashley James

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.

Mark Scheibmeir & Ashley James
Mark Scheibmeir & Ashley James

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.

Ashley James
Ashley James

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.

Ashley James
Ashley James

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.

Ashley James
Ashley James

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?

Mark Scheibmeir & Ashley James
Mark Scheibmeir & Ashley James

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?

Kevin Bulla as the Bartender
Kevin Bulla as the Bartender

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.

Ashley James & Director Megan Freels Johnston on set of Rebound
Ashley James & Director Megan Freels Johnston on set of Rebound

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.

Ashley James
Ashley James

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.

 

Interview with “Person of Interest” Star Michael Emerson

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.

Michael Emerson
Michael Emerson

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.

Jim Caviezel & Michael Emerson
Jim Caviezel & Michael Emerson

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.

Michael Emerson, Amy Acker & Sarah Shahi
Michael Emerson, Amy Acker & Sarah Shahi

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.

Michael Emerson
Michael Emerson

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.

Michael Emerson & Carrie Preston
Michael Emerson & Carrie Preston

 

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?”

Michael Emerson & Amy Acker
Michael Emerson & Amy Acker

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?

Michael Emerson
Michael Emerson

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?

Michael Emerson as Benjamin Linus
Michael Emerson as Benjamin Linus

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 

An Interview with Rachel Miner on “Frank the Bastard”

Rachel Miner
Rachel Miner

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.

Rachel Miner in Frank the Bastard
Rachel Miner in Frank the Bastard

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.

Rachel Miner
Rachel Miner

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.

Rachel Miner & Andy Comeau
Rachel Miner & Andy Comeau

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.

Rachel Miner & Andy Comeau
Rachel Miner & Andy Comeau

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.

 

An Interview with Vanessa Ferlito

Vanessa Ferlito as Aiden-Burn-CSI-NY
Vanessa Ferlito as Aiden-Burn-CSI-NY

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.

Vanessa Ferlito & Sam Trammell
Vanessa Ferlito & Sam Trammell

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.

Vanessa Ferlito & Sam Trammell
Vanessa Ferlito & Sam Trammell

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.

Vanessa Ferlito as Catherine "Charlie" DeMarco -- (Photo by: James Minchin III/USA Network)
Vanessa Ferlito as Catherine “Charlie” DeMarco — (Photo by: James Minchin III/USA Network)

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.

Interview with Natalie Burn on the movie Awaken

At the time of our telephone interview Natalie Burn was in Turkey making a film. I caught Natalie on her day off sightseeing like an ordinary tourist.

In the fictional action movie “Awaken” Natalie Burn stars as Billie Kope. She’s a woman hell bent on finding her sister, but ends up on an island where a black market organ dealer is harvesting body parts for the rich. The film demonstrates Natalie’s fine acting talent as an up and coming action actor. Read more