Yesterday, I watched a movie called Gimme Shelter on Netflix. I didn’t realize that Vanessa Hudgens was actually in the movie until I started it, and even then, I questioned whether or not it was her. Now, my only references to her work other than the High School Musical franchise, was Sucker Punch. That being said, I didn’t really have any high expectations. I’d heard of the movie briefly before, but didn’t get a chance to catch it when it was in theaters. That being said, Netflix is a wonderful invention. Based on a true story, Hudgens plays Agnes “Apple” Bailey, a pregnant runaway teen. The film co-stars Rosario Dawson as her drug-addled mother, Brendan Fraser as her well-to-do biological father, James Earl Jones as a compassionate priest, and character-actress, Ann Dowd as Kathy, the woman who runs a shelter for homeless, young mothers.

The role of Apple is a far cry from Hudgens’ current project as the title character in Gigi on Broadway. Her portrayal is riveting, raw and honest. She gave the role everything her talents could provide, had the dialect down, and was vanity-free.  She really shines and seems to leave the Disney star behind with this role. In a key scene in the hospital, Hudgens spars with James Earl Jones and holds her own against the industry veteran. That scene itself pretty much sealed the deal for me, giving me a new found respect for an actress who has often been simply labeled a teen star. Although the film could sometimes have the feeling of a Lifetime movie or even reminiscent of Precious, it is well executed and performances elevate it to a level that makes it worth a watch. It’s currently on Netflix and I am glad I stumbled upon a gripping tale with amazing performances.

Akie2
Akie Kotabe (@AkieKotabe)

What happens when you’re majoring in computer science at the University of Texas in Austin and decide to change to theater after successfully auditioning for a student film, subsequently finding your passion in life? If you’re Akie Kotabe, it pays off. With roles spanning across film, television, and theater, Kotabe is currently co-starring with Oscar-nominee Salma Hayek (Frida) in the action/thriller Everly, coming to theaters Friday, February 27th. So, what’s it like to act alongside Salma Hayek? Well, apparently it’s pretty incredible. Playing a character known simply as Dead Man, many of the characters in the film, directed by Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2: Dead End) are referred to using descriptive monikers. Kotabe has a supporting role as a man who has become the target, along with Hayek’s Everly, of assassins and is left for dead. Trapped in an apartment, the characters are faced with dealing with their existence and survival, “Think Die Hard in a single room” Akie told me.

Based in both London and Los Angeles, Akie fell in love with acting in college when he auditioned for a student film on a whim and got the part. He says that he didn’t know anything about acting before that, but has since studied both at university and with various well-known acting teachers in the industry. This non-traditional trajectory into acting has proven successful for the Michigan-born, Texas-bred actor. He’s had guest spots on Mad Men, CSI: Miami, and Without a Trace. Kotabe also puts his bilingual abilities to the test where his roles may require him to have a command of the Japanese language and accent

However, he proves his versatility with quite an impressive filmography. Securing his first AFTRA gig (when SAG & AFTRA were separate unions) while still in Austin for the Jamie Kennedy Experiment, he says he’s had some interesting experiences. He got the aforementioned AFTRA show even after he accidentally bashed his face into a wall during the audition. Woops. We’ve all had weird auditions as actors, sometimes it’s the odd ones that pay off the most.

The passion that Kotabe has for acting is apparent when talking to him. As a fellow actor, we talked about our love for the craft, and the fact that being able to entertain people is one of the best things to be doing in life. Having gotten the acting bug in college, lived and worked in Japan, Los Angeles, and his current city of London, Akie says he’s enjoyed something different from every place he’s lived. He’s also learned from those places as well. From doing theater in Japan (both in English and Japanese) to film and television in Los Angeles and London, he tries to gain as much knowledge and wisdom as possible from the people he is surrounded by in the business. “You can learn a lot through the work” he stated, “It’s what gets me up in the morning.”

What was his favorite part of filming Everly? Well, everything. For Kotabe it was being part of a team and contributing to the bigger picture that was most exciting to him while filming in Belgrade, Serbia. I think we can agree that the best part of being an actor is the ability to be storytellers. I am fortunate enough to have the chance to tell Akie Kotabe’s.

Don’t forget to catch Everly in theaters Friday, February 27th.

Thank You Akie for being such a friendly and open fellow performer. It was such a pleasure to learn your story.

Follow Akie: @AkieKotabe & Everly movie: @everlymovie

For more information on Akie, you can also visit his website: Akie Kotabe

In the past few days I’ve felt torn. As an actor, I draw from my experiences both emotionally and physically. We all do that as actors. The difference however, comes with the fact that my muscle memory, my emotional memory, and the fibers of my being are inwardly different. By all appearances, I seem like your “normal” actor, but those fibers in my being would beg to differ. Born three months premature at one pound, ten ounces, with a mild form of cerebral palsy, I’ve had to deal with physical limitations that appear minor, and triumphs that would be considered obscure because “everyone can do that, right?” As a kid, even learning to skip was a huge achievement for me. Learning how to walk again at 13 was a mountain. From a sense memory standpoint, there are things I can bring to the role of someone who deals with limited mobility or physical pain that is unique.

The problem is, everyone can bring something to the table.  Part of me understands the critics, the people who say that they should have cast someone who “understands” Hawkings’ plight with ALS, but that would be, frankly, irrational. Eddie Redmayne did research, met with Hawking, and portrayed him to the best of his abilities. With that, he was awarded the Golden Globe, BAFTA, SAG Award, and ultimately, the Oscar. Hopefully Hawkings’ story, coupled with Redmayne’s portrayal, plants a seed. Maybe people will become curious and educate themselves about issues like ALS, Maybe they’ll look at Julianne Moore’s Oscar-winning performance for Still Alice and become aware of early-onset Alzheimer’s’ disease. It’s an actor’s job to bring truth to a situation to the best of their abilities.

I do believe though, that actors from all walks of life need to be seen, not just portrayed and represented. Their voices need to be heard. We as actors are supposed to bring truth to the screen, so let’s do that.

Selma director, Ava DuVernay, and her lead actor David Oyelowo (who portrayed  Martin Luther King, Jr.) got seriously overlooked this morning as the Oscar nominations were announced. Even though Selma received a Best Picture nomination, it failed to get recognized for its directing and acting efforts. Also on the acting front, Jennifer Aniston, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Amy Adams (who won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy) weren’t able to secure nominations. Clearly, Jennifer Aniston and her team have been campaigning for an Oscar nomination for a while. She’s received a SAG Award nomination, and it’s clear that whomever is in charge of her publicity, wants her to win. I think it’s safe to say that both Amy Adams and Jennifer Aniston lost their spots to Marion Cotillard this year, for a film I wasn’t even aware of called Two Days, One Night.

Another point that people have been making in various other blogs about this year is the fact that all of the nominees are in fact, white. Apparently, the average Oscar voter is 63 years old, white, and male. So there’s that…Also, what’s up with no nomination for the Lego movie?

A customer came up to me at my survival job, she was buying Entertainment Weekly with Michael Keaton on the cover. His new movie Birdman is coming out and getting a lot of buzz for him. Sometimes, when a cover intrigues me, I might blurt out a comment. I did.

“Oh wow, Michael Keaton. What’s he been up to? Haven’t heard that name in a while.”

“He has a new movie coming out. How do you know about Michael Keaton? You seem really young to know that name.”

“Haha. I guess. I’m an actor, I do my research. Plus, he scared the crap outta me in Beetlejuice when I was 4.”

“You do comedy, right? Stand-up and acting? I think we talked about this before. How’s that going?”

“Um, good. Thank You.”

“I think it’s really great that you’re pursuing it. You’re funny.”

“Thank you so much.”

And with that, the woman took off her sunglasses, and asked me, “What’s your name?”

“I’m Stephanie Gould. Nice to meet you.”

She extended her hand, and said, “So nice to meet you. I’m Debra Winger.”

“Um, THE Debra Winger?” I asked.

“Well, there’s no ‘THE’ on my driver’s license, but yes,” she said with a laugh.

“Oh my goodness”

Now, at this point, I was blushing, but I kept my cool I think. I mean, it’s DEBRA WINGER…from Terms of Endearment for cryin’ out loud. But, as we continued talking, she asked me how things were really going with my career, and what I was up to next. I told her I’m studying improv, and auditioning a lot. She  told me that she’d be on the lookout for me and that she’d make sure to come by and say, “Hello” to me at my day job. She told me to keep going, and not give up. She told me that the butterflies in your stomach at an audition or performance never really go away. She was a bright spot in my day, encouraging and kind, and I am grateful that I had yet another meeting with a truly talented individual whom I have admired as a performer for years. So Debra Winger, if you are reading this, Thank You. I think our meeting was the universe’s way of saying that things will work out.

As a side note: A friend of mine were at an event a while back, she had a great piece of advise for me. She said, “Don’t get starstruck, they [celebrities] are artists and we’re artists. We do what they do. and they do what we do. Act.”

jamesgarner

Ask anyone of my generation or younger, and they’ll probably tell you that James Garner is “the guy from The Notebook.”  My response to that  is, “WHAT?!”  Seriously though, today we lost another great: actor, James Garner passed away at the age of 86. To many, he wasn’t just that guy from The Notebook. He was Bret Maverick, and Jim Rockford. He was the unlikely movie star  with two purple hearts  from the Korean War. He appeared on Broadway, once, in a non-speaking role in The Caine Mutiny Court Martial where he learned and honed his craft.  In the 50s and 60s, westerns were big on television, and James Garner turned the character of Bret Maverick into an icon. He found television success again in the 70s as another icon, Jim Rockford of The Rockford Files. Even with his numerous  television successes, including an Emmy for The Rockford Files, he managed to find fame on the big screen too. He starred in  The Great Escape, and  received a Best Actor Oscar nomination in 1986 for Murphy’s Romance. In 1994, he starred in the film version of Maverick, with Mel Gibson stepping into the shoes of the famous gambler, and Garner as Marshall Zane Cooper. In his later years, he starred in The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, and yes, The Notebook. He was a versatile actor who needs to be recognized for his impressive career. Rest in Peace James Garner, you were my mom’s favorite actor.                                                              You were more than the guy from The Notebook: You were a Maverick.

This is a clip from Garner’s famed series, Maverick, with Clint Eastwood looking for some trouble:

If I could turn back time, I wouldn’t worry about what the “theys” in the business think. I wouldn’t be consumed with self-doubt because of what”they” thought.  If I could turn back time, I would not wish to be the ingenue, I would be different and that would be okay. If I could turn back time, I would tell my younger self, that it’s okay to go after your dreams. It’s okay to have self-doubt, everybody does in this business. The important thing though, is to not be consumed by it. Even now, I have doubts, but I learn to move past them. Sometimes it’s difficult to do, I know. Any performer, whether they are an actor, a dancer, or a musician, has their doubts. There are always going to be people who can do things that you can’t. But that rule can also be reversed. You can do things as a performer that others cannot. It’s okay to be the funny one, that’s what you’re good at. It’s okay to want to pursue bigger and better things, it’ll keep you sharp. Practice everyday. Work on monologues, work on scenes, work on a line, a moment, a look. Work everyday. Work hard. Work smart. Give yourself homework. Go to auditions when you really fit the role–you’re specific–so use that gift. Tell a story–good, bad, or ugly–don’t be afraid to tell a story. Tell your own story, tell others stories. But, never stop being an interpreter. Never stop being a vessel for the story. Act your heart out. It’ll pay off. You just have to believe in yourself.

Richard Jenkins and Haaz Sleiman in “The Visitor” (2007)

There are certain actors I have a deep seeded need to work with. I want to learn as much as I can from them. Richard Jenkins is one of those actors. He’s “that guy”  you’ve been seeing in movies and television shows for years.  You definitely know his face, but not necessarily his name. His IMDB resume dates all the way back to 1975. Yet, it wasn’t until he starred in the 2007 indie film The Visitor, that the world, and the Oscars, took notice. He received his first nomination for the first leading role of his career. When talking about his experience while filming The Visitor, he states, “I would say ‘I’ll go back to my trailer now’, and they’d say, ‘No, no, you’re in the next scene. It’s one of those things that I didn’t know if I would ever get an opportunity to try. I’ve been waiting my entire professional life for this experience.”

Some actors wait their entire careers to have the “leading man” or “leading lady” experience. Some people never get there. I’m a character actor myself, so who knows when, or if, I’ll get there in the feature film realm. I’m glad that Jenkins has gotten the recognition he deserves. And you know what? Right after his success with The Visitor, he went right back to doing character work. And personally, it just goes to show me, as an actor, that it is ultimately about he work. It’s not about who has the biggest part, or the most lines. It’s about the work, and what you can bring to it as an actor. In this film, he brings his “A” game. He gives it everything that he’s got, and it shows. His years of experience as a character actor just might have prepared him for his moment in the sun. He’s fantastic in the film. I have always been a huge admirer of his work and I am glad he finally got his moment to shine:

So, Mr. Richard Jenkins, if you are reading this, from one character actor to another: Bravo! And I want to work with you.

Mia Farrow as Daisy Buchanan in “The Great Gatsby” (1974)
Mira Sorvino as Daisy Buchanan in “The Great Gatsby” (2000)

This article was inspired by the fact that the movie posters for each of these films has the same font type. That, and the fact that my boyfriend was wearing a shirt bearing the cover art of the famed book, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald today. The iconic American novel has been adapted for the screen six times, including the soon-to-be Baz Luhrmann interpretation, set to be released this May. The first adaptation was a silent film in 1926, followed by the 1949 version starring Shelley Winters, and the most famous version, the 1974 film starring Robert Redford, Sam Waterston, Karen Black and Mia Farrow, with a screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola . The 1974 version won numerous awards, including: 2 Oscars, 3 BAFTAs, and a Golden Globe. Then, there is the 2000 television film version which aired on A&E, starring Mira Sorvino, Paul Rudd and Toby Stevens (Maggie Smith’s son) which, sadly, won no accolades. The reason was probably because, along with the script, the performances seemed like carbon copies of the ones that came before it.

Not only that, but the vocal characteristics for each are nearly identical. However, that may be due to the source material that F. Scott Fitzgerald provides. Source material, for us actors, is very important because it can tell us details about the characters that would otherwise be made up. Fitzgerald describes Daisy’s voice as, “breathless” and that her voice is “full of money.” This tells the actor how to perform the role to such an extent that some performances might seem similar, if not identical. Fitzgerald was extremely specific with how he wanted his characters to be perceived by readers. I am eager to see how Carey Mulligan interprets this famous role in Baz Luhrmann’s version.

I was unable to embed the video from the 2000 version, but you can click on the link and watch it here. For easier viewing, you might want to fast forward the video and start it at 3:27 or so, just get to the part with Daisy.

I was, however, able to include a  scene from the 1974 version:

In each clip, you can see that the vocal qualities of Daisy are nearly identical. Below is the trailer for the  updated film version starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby, Toby McGuire as Nick, and Carey Mulligan as Daisy. You’ll also notice in her exclamation of  the line, “Gatsby? What Gatsby?” is equally as similar as the previous two.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s specificity with his character descriptions  led actors Mira Sorvino, Mia Farrow (and now, Carey Mulligan,) to interpret Daisy in similar ways. Not all acting is about creating. Sometimes, we just have to be the vessels for the director’s vision and the interpreters of an author’s description. In the end, they may turn out similar. That’s alright. It’s hard to interpret F. Scott Fitzgerald anyways, never mind adding a screenplay to the mix.