Interview with Gabrielle Stone on “Stray”

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Known for ZK: Elephant’s Graveyard, Speak No Evil and Cut!, Gabrielle Stone is an accomplished actress with an impressive resume of work. In Stray, Stone is Jennifer, a troubled young woman with a disturbing past and a penchant for killing. Penned and helmed by award-winning writer-director Nena Eskridge, Stray follows Jennifer as she struggles to break free from a cycle of violence and seek love and redemption in a small town. In this one-on-one interview, Stone reveals the challenges she faced in bringing a flawed and exceedingly complex character to life.

Gabrielle Stone
Gabrielle Stone

What attracted you to this film and the character of Jennifer?

Gabrielle Stone: I read the script and the role was an actor’s dream. There are so many layers to her. She’s so broken but so strong. She really spoke to me, and it was something I wanted to do. The script was written so well that it was really a no-brainer.

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Did you audition for the role? If so, what was that like?

Stone: No. Someone had recommended me to Nena. She reviewed my demo reel, we had a phone conversation and she hired me for the role. A pretty easy process on my end.

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What did you draw from to develop Jennifer as a troubled, complex character?

Stone: I think, in any character, the challenge is find the parts of you that are in that character. And even in a dark character, there are ways to do that. I really enjoyed being able to pull bad experiences from my past—heartbreak and deaths—that I had to deal with. So I used those in ways that made Jennifer always be in that fight or flight mode. And I hope that’s what translated on the screen.

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Ana-Maria Arkan & Gabrielle Stone

How collaborative was it working with Nena Eskridge as writer/director? Were there elements of Jennifer you added beyond the script?

Stone: Because Nena is an actor’s director, she was always open and wanting to hear my opinions and ideas. So we would kind of morph everything together when we were on set. She really had a delicate process in putting the film together. She flew me out a few days early and we walked around the town together. She showed me all the different places, letting me into much of the backstory and personal elements she had put into the script. So I really felt I had acquired a deep knowledge of Jennifer before we even started shooting. As far as adding my own elements, I think that happens naturally in any character, but Jennifer definitely had some aspects of myself. Nena was always open and wanted that.

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What did you find most challenging about your role in the film?

Stone: I think to not overdo things. When you’re doing a drama, there’s always the tendency to go all the way all the time. But you really can’t in something like this, where there’s so much going on. You have to pick and choose when she’s going to let everything out and let all that stuff come to the surface, and when to keep it internalized and not go so big with it. So that was the challenge of finding the really important moments in a slew of so many important moments.

Dan McGlaughlin as boyfriend Greg Wells
Dan McGlaughlin as boyfriend Greg Wells

I sensed that. There were a couple of scenes where you really could have gone over the top and turned Stray into a slasher flick, but you held back and kept her humanity.

Stone: You have to do that, especially when you want people to connect with the character. It’s hard when you have a main character that’s so up and down. You have to give her qualities that people can connect with, so the audience isn’t just hating her the whole time.  

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What was it like balancing a character who is at once dangerously psychotic and yet in some ways surprisingly sympathetic?

Stone: It’s really about looking at Jennifer as a whole and finding places in all the heightened things she was doing and going through, then finding what I connected to and related to. When I was on camera, I wanted to make sure that the things I connected to where things that I pulled back on. So the audience could see the humanity in her and the realness of identifying with how they might have felt that way at one time in their lives. While the circumstances are outrageous at times, there are parts of Jennifer that everyone has experienced or at least seen someone they know go through. So I wanted to make sure that when we got to those moments, they were very real.

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As a dancer, do you ever have the urge to do a dance film?

Stone: I did a film coming out next year called Dance Night Obsession with Harvey Lowry as director and featuring Antonio Sabato Jr. I only have one dance scene in it, and it’s not even my style of dance. But it was a blast.

What’s next for you?

Stone: I just shot a horror film in L.A. called Rock, Paper, Dead, directed by Tom Holland. I also wrapped a full-on comedy called The Competition directed by Harvey Lowry.

Interview with “Tri” Director Jai Jamison

Director Jai Jamison
Director Jai Jamison

A skilled filmmaker who focuses on character and emotionally driven stories, Jai Jamison has directed, written and edited a number of captivating films. These include Speak Now, Wheeler, Anthony Samuels and most recently, Tri, which Jamison directed and co-wrote. Named the Best Narrative Feature Film at the Chesapeake Film Festival, Tri stars Jensen Jacobs and Chris Dyer garnering them Best Actress and Actor, respectively.

Jensen Jacobs & Walker Hays
Jensen Jacobs & Walker Hays (day one)

TRI follows Natalie (Jacobs), an ultrasound tech who is inspired by a cancer patient to sign up for a triathlon. With the support of her friends, coaches and teammates, Natalie digs deep to discover just how far she can push her mind and body. In this one-on-one interview, Jai Jamison reveals what drew him to this project and the many choices he made in making Tri such an emotionally moving film. (warning: contains a few spoilers)

Jensen Jacobs & Walker Hays
Jensen Jacobs & Walker Hays

Tri is so powerful on many levels. What inspired you to make this film?

Jai Jamison: I was hired by Ted Adams, the producer, to do this film. He’s a two-time Iron Man athlete and a certified triathlete coach. He used input from people he trained along with some personal stories from those he knew to do a story about triathletes. What drew me to the film was the inspiration: In triathlons, the community is so important in terms of pushing each other to do their best. It’s less a competition against each other and more about competing against yourself. It’s about the people supporting you—the volunteers, the other racers, the family and friends around you. I saw a lot of parallels between the Tri community and the people that surround cancer patients and their support groups. So I wanted to tell a positive story about inspiration.

Natalie (Jacobs) "hitting the wall"
Natalie (Jacobs) “hitting the wall”

The film accurately walks us through the steps and hurtles of a triathlon. Had you ever run the triathlon yourself?

Jamison: I had never done a triathlon and had never even been to one. So as soon as I was hired to direct the film, I attended a triathlon. I was struck by the community and such a positive vibe, the support, the volunteers, the racers, the family and friends—they were all there to push and help each other out. I left with a big grin and said to myself: this is what I want the movie to feel like. That was the broad, macro-vision of the film. In terms of depth, Ted was the hands-on consultant for how the steps played out. He was there to make sure we had the steps, and that those steps corresponded well with the narrative of the story.

Candice (Shawn Pelofsky)
Candice (Shawn Pelofsky)

You include not one but several people struggling with cancer. Why did you include so many in your film?

Jamison: When they came up with the story, they definitely wanted a parallel between those two struggles. Many people who do triathlons run in someone’s honor or they are cancer survivors who use the race to push themselves and reclaim their fitness and physicality. When Ted did the Nation’s Triathlon a few years ago, he remembered seeing a woman wearing a shirt that said, if you think this is hard, try chemotherapy. And that really left a mark on him. We thought that weaving together those two journeys—cancer and Tri—was a way to have each journey become a metaphor for the other. We felt that including more than one cancer patient would allow a broader swath of people to relate to what these characters were going through.

Zeus (Kenneth Simmons)
Zeus (Kenneth Simmons)

Why did you choose the Zeus character (Kenneth Simmons), a retired wrestler, to help Natalie overcome her self doubts?

Jamison: When doing the rewrite, we wanted to showcase the broad spectrum of people who compete in the triathlon. So we included an athlete from another discipline. The idea of including a big, hulking professional wrestler who is almost Zen-like with his views on the world and an ability to see things and motivate people in an unexpected way, that was something that really appealed to me. In essence, he became the conscience for the group.

Jensen Jacobs & Chris Dyer
Jensen Jacobs & Chris Dyer

I found the Mission Moments both inspirational and emotionally powerful—is that something often done in triathlon training?

Jamison: The Mission Moments came from seeing the team in training. It’s a way for team members to share what inspired them to compete before they go out and train. The Moments really stuck out as a true narrative device to get into the backstory of these characters.

Natalie works through the pain
Natalie works through the pain

It seemed that Natalie had enough to overcome, why did you have her crash and sustain an almost debilitating injury on her collarbone?

Jamison: That was based on many of the real struggles triathletes had to face. Ted was running a Tri race in Hawaii called the Lava Run. He passed a woman who was running, limping and crying. After finishing the race, she later learned that she had broken her hip. She was in remission from cancer and the chemotherapy had weakened her bones enough to break her hip. So I wanted to throw one last obstacle in Natalie’s path. The bike accident happened to Ted during training. He hit a tree, was dazed, but was saved by his helmet.

Shawn Pelofsky & Chris Williams
Shawn Pelofsky & Chris Williams

The Max character (Chris Williams) initially refusing to award a metal for just competing in the triathlon seemed to come from a political position that espoused winning not just competing as the ultimate goal.

Jamison: The idea behind Max’s character was a hotshot outsider who really didn’t understand what the Tri community was all about. It takes Candice (Shawn Pelofsky) walking him through the concept of getting a medal just for finishing the event. He represents the idea that symbolic measures can help you accomplish your goals. In the opening scene, one character says about Winston Churchill, he spent a lot of time being profound; it’s amazing he had time to fight the war. And the reply was, well maybe that’s how he won the war—being profound. Max’s character kind of represents the antithesis or foil to that thesis. Eventually, Candice brings him around and completes his arc. The metals aren’t participation trophies. I believe that finishing a triathlon is an accomplishment.

Natalie, steps from the finish line...
Natalie, steps from the finish line…

“Nocturnal Animals” the Consequences of Wrong Choices

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Turning an ordinary story of romance into an unusual film, writer and director Tom Ford delivers Nocturnal Animals to the screen. Interestingly written, the movie twists and turns as it visualizes a book through the mind of the reader. It’s a different kind of film, one that needs a firm understanding of what it’s all about as it progresses. Is it a love story or one of revenge? Some may not get it at first, but that’s ok, because the thriller that she’s reading is a movie in itself. Read more

“Moana” a Princess with Courage and Determination

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Adding another princess to their gallery, the movie Moana comes to theaters and it’s perfect for kids and family. This feature takes place in the Pacific Islands with Fiji in mind and a young girl who wants to save her people from dying from lack of food. The adventure shows how courage, friendship and uniting with others can help you achieve your goal. Read more

Interview with Hannah Levien on “Blood Brothers”

Growing up in Australia, Hannah Levien worked extensively in theatre before making her feature debut playing a teenage-runaway in the award-winning Australian film The Horseman. A recipient of the Arts Queensland Professional Development Award, Levien also starred in SyFy’s The Magicians and appeared in the popular TV series, Supernatural (as Calliope).

Graham Denman, Hannah Levien, Jon Kondelik
Graham Denman, Hannah Levien, Jon Kondelik

In Blood Brothers, Levien plays dual roles: Genevieve, a waitress and single mother, and Vanity, a street tough prostitute. Both characters fall victim to two brothers who concoct a deadly game to fulfill their devious fantasies. In this one-on-one interview, Levien reveals what attracted her to this dual lead role and the challenges she faced in bringing both characters to life.

Hannah Levien as Genevieve
Hannah Levien as Genevieve

What attracted you to the roles of Genevieve and Vanity?

Hannah Levien: They’re two so very different characters. And I was eager to play both in the same film. That’s never happened to me before. As an actor, I came up doing a lot of theater in Australia, so I’ve had to play multiple roles on stage, but never on screen in the same film. I also believe that people have their light and dark sides, their fantasies, and the things they fear. I felt that by playing these two characters, it was like exploring each of them in a way—exploring Genevieve’s dark side through Vanity, and Vanity’s light side through Genevieve.

Hannah Levien & Graham Denman
Hannah Levien & Graham Denman

Did you audition for the role and what was that like?

Levien: No. I didn’t. I had worked with writer Jose Prendes before, and the producers were familiar with my work. They had seen Children of Sorrow, a psychological horror film in which I played a woman who immerses herself in a cult in Mexico. I’m very grateful I was offered these roles outright, because knowing that I had the roles, I didn’t have to go through that audition process, which forces you to make very quick decisions. And because I got to sit with these characters, I wasn’t influenced by any early choices one makes—I had time with the material to come up with ideas—like should Vanity have a wig or should she should do this with her voice and posture. It came to me through the process of what happened to her at the start of the film, and talking with Jose. So I’m grateful that I wasn’t influenced by these premature decisions, which would have made me construct these characters at the audition.

Hannah Levien & Jon Kondelik
Hannah Levien & Jon Kondelik

I sensed that in your performance. There were plenty of surprises that kept popping up in the film.

Levien: I owe that to Joe’s script. Vanity just says things you don’t expect her to say. There were some more provocative things in the script that didn’t make it to the screen.

Hannah Levien as call girl Vanity
Hannah Levien as call girl Vanity

What did you find most challenging about playing these two women?

Levien: It was a relatively low budget film, so we didn’t have that much time to do many takes. We’re always trying to outrun the day. It’s characteristic of most films and TV—you can only do so much in the time you have. You also have to “kill your darlings” and let certain things go. I do find horror challenging because you have to get to really big emotions very quickly. You’re getting chased with a knife-wielding guy or smashed in the head with a rock. You sort of sit with a lot of dark stuff for a long time. You don’t have the creature comforts to help you sustain that emotion. We were fortunate to have some well-established actors in the cast.
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The film was hard to watch during some scenes, like when Genevieve was so violently attacked.

Levien: I found it difficult as well. Genevieve is just so sweet. But that’s what the writer wanted—someone who was perfectly pure to be attacked by two brothers plotting their first murder. They were taking something away from the world. It was a hard sequence to shoot because we were short on time, and I felt that if a woman was going to be attacked, she might fight her attacker a bit more than Genevieve did. If it were me in real life, I’d be putting up much more of a fight. On the other hand, it was great to play Vanity because she gets to kick some ass. That’s one of the benefits of playing two roles in a film. I did a bit of research and learned that if you’ve been hit in the head, it can totally debilitate you and prevent you from fighting back.

Hannah Levien as Vanity
Hannah Levien as Vanity

Was it difficult to make the transition from the innocent Genevieve to the tough-talking Vanity?

Levien: No, it wasn’t. I drew on my training as an actor. You develop these different voices and draw on things within yourself. So every time you work on something, you open up new worlds. I’ve played characters similar to Vanity, so that character came quite easily. The dialog helped as well, since Vanity’s was so different from Genevieve’s. I kind of wanted Vanity to have a spin-off film (laughs) because I wanted to see how she gets on when she leaves.

Hannah Levien as Vanity getting even
Hannah Levien as Vanity getting even

So what’s next for you in 2017?

Levien: I’m taking some time to work on some of my own writing. Right now, I’m talking to a number of filmmakers about some projects for next year. I can’t officially confirm anything, though.
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Hopefully, you’ll do something lighter, maybe a romantic comedy?

Levien: Yeah, there was a time when my friends were saying, “can you stop dying on camera.”(laughs).

 

 

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” Gets Off to a Good Start

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Review by John Delia, Jr.

Many years before Harry Potter’s birth there was another time where turmoil ran the wizard world. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an interesting prequel to the Harry Potter series as it dives in deeper to the historical part of the JK Rowling magical franchise. Based on a book that appeared in one of the earlier Harry Potter stories, JK Rowling explores adventurously into her wizardry realm. Read more

“Arrival” a Sci-fi Mystery that Drags

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If you are looking to see an exciting film with a lot of creativity and adventure, then you may want to look elsewhere than Arrival. More of a mystery that spools out like Jodi Foster’s Contact that moves at a slow pace trying to fill in the blanks to the very end. With Arrival however, the film does take some twists that at least give the audience a measure of fun. Read more

“Journey to Space” Reveals Past, Present and Future of Space Exploration in 4K Realism

Narrated by a deep-space captain we all know—Patrick Stewart—Journey To Space reveals in stunning, 4K realism how NASA and other space adventurers are boldly taking on the challenges of interplanetary space travel. Highlighted by extensive interviews with astronauts Chris Ferguson (Commander of the final shuttle mission) and Serena Aunon (a new astronaut chosen for future flights), Journey To Space delivers a breathtaking overview of past space achievements, current projects and future plans, including a number of Mars missions.

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Journey To Space underscores how the Space Shuttle program led the way in moving us into the space station era, a critically important step in preparing astronauts for journeys to Mars and beyond. We see astronauts at work and play in the confines of this tubular home circling the globe every 90 minutes. Perhaps not since the film, Gravity, have viewers been treated to some of the most spectacular space footage—including stunning views of Earth and work on the Hubble Space Telescope.

International Space Station (ISS)
International Space Station (ISS)

Watching the International Space Station (ISS) being assembled is an awesome visual treat. We see how astronauts learn to live, build and conduct science in space, laying the foundation for the next giant leaps to explore the planets.

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Among the major highlights of the film are the many parallel efforts to place humans on Mars. The film explores in fascinating and realistic detail how astronauts will travel, land and live on the Red Planet. We learn the many ways our early Mars pioneers will survive on a lifeless world, the habitats they will build, and the many physical and psychological challenges they will face after years of isolation from Earth.

Mars mission
Mars mission

Also documented in stunning visual detail is Orion, a spacecraft designed to carry humans on long-duration deep space missions throughout the solar system. We learn about Olympus, an inflatable transportation habitat that’s 50-feet in diameter and provides astronauts the work area and living space necessary for long-duration missions. And finally, the Space Launch System (SLS) is presented in detail, showing how its huge rocket will carry spacecraft, Mars landers and ascent vehicles to place astronauts on the surface of Mars.

Mars habitat
Mars habitat

Journey to Space should inspire a new generation of astronauts to explore space, while reminding us of the accomplishments of the Space Shuttle Program, the ISS and the many unmanned Mars missions.

 

“Hacksaw Ridge” a Gut Wrenching Heroic War Movie

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Cinematically brilliant, the movie Hacksaw Ridge grabs you by the collar and slaps you upside your head with a true story of our fearless military and a hero that earned the respect of his country. It’s a reminder why we are free and why all our American soldiers can hold their head high for battles fought in every conflict. Sometimes it takes the insight of a good film like this to bring us back to reality. Read more

“The Handmaiden” A Spicy Mystery with a Tryst

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Spicy and exciting the film The Handmaiden enters select theaters this weekend and for adults it’s a powerful mystery drama with romantic overtones. The fine direction, acting, story and cinematography make the film pleasurable. It’s for those who like a titillating movie experience tied in with a sordid plot that takes some unexpected twists. The film, if it had been rated, could have easily received the highest MPAA judgement possible. Read more

“A Man Called Ove”, Tugs at the Heartstrings

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Heartfelt, touching, compassionate and tragic yet romantic, the film A Man Called Ove comes to America from Sweden. The country’s choice for their entry into the Academy Awards best foreign film, the movie should make the top 5 in that category. All around best in direction, acting, cinematography, music and script the film has the potential for a nomination in the top 10 for overall Best Picture. Read more

“Once in a Lifetime” a Challenging Assignment

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The true story Once in a Lifetime offers a sincere look into the lives of a classroom of teens who get to tackle one of the most challenging assignments of their life. The opening scene however, shows a discord between a Muslim student and a faculty member regarding the wearing of a hijab (Muslim head covering). While this incident never gets fleshed out, according to the press notes supplied, producer Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar includes the scene to show freedom of expression and the principle of secularism. The scene has the power to suggest a whole new plot for a different film on the subject yet does not take away from the production that follows. Read more

“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back”, a Military Crime Thriller

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Where I was not too fond of the first Jack Reacher film that came out in 2012, the sequel “Never Go Back” delivers much more energy. The action sequences are quite good even though they are not on par with Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible series. In addition the storyline has pangs of déjà vu from other action films within the past years. All that said, if you are a big fan of Cruise or just want to escape to a movie where you can forget a bad day, then this military crime thriller should do the trick. Read more