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

Interview with Tina Ivlev on Bound To Vengeance

Tina Ivlev on Bound To Vengeance
Tina Ivlev on Bound To Vengeance

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.

TIna Ivlev
TIna Ivlev

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.

Tina Ivlev as Eve in Bound To Vengeance
Tina Ivlev as Eve in Bound To Vengeance

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!

Tina Ivlev as Eve
Tina Ivlev as Eve

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.

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Interview with Once Upon A Time Star, Kristin Bauer Van Straten, on Illicit Ivory Trade

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.

African elephants are intelligent creatures
African elephants are intelligent creatures

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.

An elephant dies for these trinkets
An elephant dies for these trinkets

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.

Elephants are loving animals
Elephants are loving animals

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.

EARTH FOCUS: Illicit Ivory airs on KCET. The program will also be available on http://www.kcet.org/ivory and KCET.org/ivory. The trailer can be seen on http://bcove.me/slkmg39e (warning: contains shocking footage of killed elephants).

 

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Shawn Carter, Image by Ben Miller

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