Taking Advantage of a “Career Lull”: Using My Words

What do I have in common with Steve Martin, Tina Fey, James Franco, and Andrew McCarthy? We’re actors who are also writers. You read that correctly, Andrew McCarthy is, in fact, a writer. He’s an award-winning travel writer. Check out some of his stuff on National Geographic Traveler. Now, I’m not talking about actors who all of the sudden want to “write” their memoirs, and get a ghost writer to do it for them. I’m talking about people with actual skills, who do their own writing. As a matter of fact, Tina Fey and Steve Martin actually STARTED OUT as WRITERS. I’m guessing they did it while they were pursuing acting as well, due to the fact that they are in both realms of the industry. Granted, there are those actors who have also written screenplays or stage plays, and blogs,  but that’s a different type of article all together.

I started acting when I was around the age of 8, maybe 9.  But I started making up stories as soon as I could talk. I even had an imaginary friend when I was 5 who I would tell my stories to. Her name was Jinglelyn, and again, I was 5. When I actually learned to read and write, writing took a back seat to performing onstage. I had found my passion for storytelling on stage. And I loved it. It’s my first love. Telling stories, no matter what shape or form, is what I love.

What I find funny now, is the fact that my parents kept giving me journals on my birthdays or Christmas, and I never really used them. I wasn’t really a “dear diary” type of girl anyways. It seemed sort of silly to recount my day on paper. I started writing short stories and plays, and when I got to high school, I helped start up the creative writing club at my all-girls, Catholic high school. I wrote stories, parts of novels I was working on, and seriously wanted to become a writer and an actor when I grew up. I was involved in anything creative. I sang in choirs, acted in the school plays and wrote stories. My English teacher even gave me a writing award my junior year of high school.  When I got to college, I majored in English because I love the element of story-telling, plot and characters. I thought it would help in the acting realm because I was able to learn about the different things that make up a good story. It was sort of like four years of script-analysis. I acted throughout college, even directed. My senior year of college, I got my first headshots and auditioned at my first major theater convention, which led to moving to NYC to study at Circle in the Square Theater School.

Within these past six years, I have been acting and putting writing on the back burner. I got my union cards and even pursued stand-up.  The closest I came to writing, before starting this blog, was stand-up comedy, which I still love because you can create your own material.  I started this blog because I wanted to get back into writing, and I wanted to write something from the perspective of an actor who was going through the ups and downs in their career. Not someone who is washed-up and giving advice. I’m still in the trenches and being in a  career “lull,” I have been writing about what I love. Movies I love, movies I loathe, anything and everything that has to do with the industry, with a unique perspective. It seems like I’m in good company of those who came before me. If you use all of your talents, it can lead to something. What that is, I don’t know. But I am pursuing my writing and my acting. So I guess I can add a back-slash to my job description. I’m a writer/actor. And I’m so glad you are reading my blog. Thanks.

Emilio Estevez Directed “The Way” (2010)

Other than the fact that I think Emilio Estevez is awesome because he just so happens to follow me on Twitter, he is also one of my favorite directors. More people know him from his work as an actor (The Breakfast Club, Mighty Ducks Trilogy to name a few) or his famous family (Charlie Sheen is his brother and his father, Martin Sheen also stars in The Way.) As a director, though, he shines. Much like this year’s man of the moment, Ben Affleck, Emilio directs and co-stars in nearly all of the movies he has directed (Wisdom, Men at Work, The War at Home, Rated X, Bobby and The Way.) It’s not a bad thing to do, especially if it is done well. In both the case of Ben Affleck and Emilio Estevez, they pull off such feats quite remarkably well.

Here’s the wonderful trailer:

What’s most impressive other than the obvious fact that Emilio Estevez directed his own father in the film, is the literal journey they took during the filming. The short summary of events, according to IMDB is, “A father heads overseas to recover the body of his estranged son who died while traveling the “El camino de Santiago,” and decides to take the pilgrimage himself.”  According to trivia on IMDB as well, filming took 40 days which, as a Catholic, I find kind of funny seeing as the Lenten season lasts 40 days. But again, my sense of humor tends to be sort of warped seeing as I went to Catholic school my whole life (even college.) Anyways, Estevez does a brilliant job at capturing the emotion of the story and the beauty of the locations within the film.

The thing that I find most interesting about the story of The Way, is the premise seems like such a simple one. Yet, the complexities of human nature and relationships that develop throughout the film stand out as one of the highlights. Much like this year’s Argo, at the heart of the film, it’s about the people in the story. With The Way, there are no special effects and there is virtually no budget. It’s low budget, indie film making at it’s best, “Filmed with a small crew of fifty people and a couple of cameras for filming. No trailers were used, and, as Estevez jokingly remarked, neither was a director’s chair.”

The fact that Martin Sheen is one of the most remarkable actors of the past 50 years bears repeating. He’s fantastic. He’s Method. He truly takes what his current circumstances are and infuses them into his roles. As the grieving father, Tom, Sheen takes the same journey (literally) that his character is taking. In some ways, I think the physical journey helped the actors portray their characters in a more truthful light. Since the moment I saw this film, I loved it. I have to apologize for not summarizing or going more in depth about the film. That being said, everyone takes a different journey. Someone might have a different view of the film than myself and it might effect them differently than it did me. I think it’s one of the those films that makes you turn inward and examine yourself, your life and your relationships. It’s fantastic and I think more people need to see it. For what it’s worth, it’s available for both rental and instant stream on Netflix. The Way is a film that, whatever your religious beliefs, spiritual or not, it’s message of love and the power of human interaction is truly amazing. See it. Now. And Emilio Estevez, if you’re reading this, I just want to let you know that you and your father are on my list of people I want to work with one day.

Eye Candy: Tarsem Singh’s “The Fall”

Lee Pace and Catinca Untaru in Tarsem Singh’s “The Fall” (2006)

Aside from the fact that this 2006 masterpiece from director Tarsem Singh (Mirror Mirror, The Cell) is a visual triumph, it also stars Julliard grad, Lee Pace (TV’s Pushing Daisies,  Spielberg’s Lincoln) in one of his first major film roles. Not only is this film visually stunning, the story and the methods used to direct the actors (especially the young girl) are especially interesting. Tarsem has not been receiving the recognition for his work that he should. According to IMDB, this movie took four years to shoot in 28 countries, using locations themselves instead of special effects. In compliance with the trivia, the DVD features several behind-the-scenes segments that validate these claims. The featurettes are equally as interesting as the film itself. As an audience member, an actor and an avid movie buff, I am surprised that this film, no pun intended, fell under the radar.

Take a look at the fantastic trailer:

Although it won several awards at film festivals for cinematography and even as a film as a whole, it hasn’t gotten nearly the recognition it should be getting even currently. The wins for Ang Lee’s Life of Pi have rubbed me the wrong way. I’m not saying that the film is not valid within the industry, or that the efforts of the effects engineers are unwarranted. I’m simply saying that if you put it up against a film like The Fall which was filmed in the early part of the past decade, you can’t hold a candle to it.

The Fall, through utilizing the beauty of its natural environment, the simplicity of storytelling, and incredible actors, has become one of the best films of the past 20 years. And much like The Fall, this  year’s underdog film Beasts of the Southern Wild shares elements of a young girl and older man (in the case of BOSW it’s Hushpuppy and her father) as well as seeds of fantasy seen through the little girl’s eyes.  Then comes the issue of the acting. While Catinca Untaru had virtually no training and didn’t even speak English when filming began, I think she does a better job in the child actor category than Quvenzhané Wallis simply due to the fact that she learned from her fellow actors about the craft and it shows. Her emotions are varied and dynamic, honest and heart-felt, all while being unforced. At times, Wallis’ “Hushpuppy” seems to be struggling with giving a wide range of emotions. She seems to play “angry” and not actually be angry. Cantinca Untaru, on the other hand, seems to be sad when she is, be angry and frustrated when her character is and all in all, be more honest. But, this is not a comparison of Beasts of the Southern Wild and The Fall. I’m simply illustrating the fact that Untaru’s performance was just as good, if not better, than Quvenzhané Wallis’ at the same age (during filming.) That’s how good this film is. It has an influence over the films that come after it.

In fact, having trained actors alongside Untaru might have helped her performance in more ways than one as evidenced by this tidbit of trivia:

A miscommunication between the casting agent and Catinca Untaru led her to believe that Lee Pace was a real-life paraplegic. Director Tarsem Singh found that this brought an added level of believability to their dialogue, so he decided to keep almost the entire cast and crew under the same impression. Singh had to speak to the actor playing Alexandria’s father and explain that his role was smaller than it appeared, since the script implied that he played the role of the bandit (actually played by Pace) in the fantasy scenes. Apparently it was hard to keep up the lie – a makeup artist walked into a room to find Pace standing and almost passed out from shock.

The behind-the-scenes featurette delves into the trivia by showing the exact moment when Catinca Untaru learned that her co-star was not a paraplegic in actuality, but just a really fantastic actor. It takes an actor with extensive training in both The Method, The Stanislavski System, and even Meisner to pull off something as complex and in-depth as Pace did. It is evident that training does pay off in the end and no matter how natural one’s ability, a class or two in technique always helps.

As far as the visuals in the film, the next clip was shot on location in Taj Lake Palace, Lake Pichola, Udaipur, Rajasthan, India:

Again, in the behind-the-scenes footage of the film, what I find most interesting is the fact that they are on location.  In subsequent interviews about the movie both the director, Tarsem Singh, and actor, Lee Pace reference what it was like to film on location. Actor, Lee Pace speaking about the film:

Everyone should see this film for the visuals, the acting and the fact that it has been severely over-looked by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as well as mass audiences as well. Rent it on Netflix and take a journey all over the world. It is currently available to stream on Netflix.