Ted Demme’s The Ref is one of my favourite holiday comedies of all time, one I re watch every and never tire of. It’s the most cheerful black comedy I can think of, while at the same time being one of the most cynical, acid tongued Christmas movies on record. In spite of this pissy tone, however, it still manages to elicit warm fuzzy feelings and make you care for its loveable, curmudgeonly characters. It’s also got a spitfire of a script, given wildly funny life by its star, the one and only Denis Leary. Leary, every the motor mouthed, nicotine fuelled teddy bear, is an actor who’s work is very dear to me. Many times when I was younger and wasn’t in the best place in my head, I’d watch various films of his, and his standup and he always put me in a better place. Here he plays short tempered cat burglar Gus, who is forced to lay low in a small town on Christmas Eve after being busted and nearly caught by a state of the art alarm system. He takes a middle aged couple hostage to hide out at their house, and goes from the proverbial frying pan into the fire. Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis play the couple, who bicker endlessly and drive Gus up the wall by constantly being at each other’s throats and never shutting up. Spacey never comes up short in intense performances, whether dramatic or funny, and he owns the role, meeting Leary and Davis’s manic energy with his own verve. Davis, an underrated actress, pulls out all the stops an delivers like she always does as well. The three of them are left in the house to hash out their issues, criticize each other, fight, make constant jabs at character and all that other lovely Christmas-y stuff. The hilarity peaks when Spacey’s insufferable brother and his family show up for the most awkward Christmas dinner in history, as the trio tries to disguise the fact that they’re harbouring a criminal from the dimwitted clan, and Spacey’s tyrannical bitch of a mother (Glynis Johns). There’s balance to the stressful vibe, though, as Leary’s presence elevates every emotion from the couple and eventually turns things around, all expertly played by the actors for laughs both obvious and subtle. The excellent Raymond J. Barry is crusty delight as the mean spirited Sheriff, and there’s great work from J.K. Simmons, Christine Baranski, Arthur Nascarella, Vincent Pastore, Richard Bright, Adam LeFevre and B.D. Wong. A Christmas classic for me, for a number of reasons, and one of the funniest, overlooked holiday flicks out there.
Tim Burton’s Batman Returns is my second favourite Batman movie thus far. It’s pretty underrated, stylishly cheeky and full of ornate, wonderfully oppressive, melancholic set design and drips with a gothic sensability that only Burton included in his versions, and seems to be missing from the franchise these days. It’s dark, comical and just a little bit campy, always a winning combination. Michael Keaton steps back into the batsuit for a second time, and he’s even more somber and downbeat than in Burton’s original 1989 film. Keaton is so talented, and one only needs to look at his zany work in Beetlejuice and compare it to the heft and restraint he shows as the caped crusader to see this. Here he’s faced with a snowy, blackened and endlessly corrupt Gotham City, this time under siege from three wildly different villains. Danny Devito plays Oswald Cobblepot, a.k.a. The Penguin, in what is probably the most outlandish character in the otherwise grim film. He’s a bad tempered, knobbly little gremlin, encased in sallow makeup and sporting disgusting, pasty little flippers. It’s hard to tell it’s even Devito at all until that little smart ass mouth opens up to hurl calculated obscenities at anyone and everyone. He aims to be mayor, and only in freaky deaky Gotham would a plan like that ever be taken seriously, from a sewer dwelling, animalistic mobster with an army of clowns following him. Christopher Walken plays evil, ghoulish Max Schreck, an amoral monster of a businessman with nefarious plans of his own, and a haircut that would make Andy Warhol run for cover. Last and most memorable is Michelle Pfeiffer as Selina Kyle, Schreck’s awkward, meek secretary who eventually becomes Catwoman. And what a Catwoman she is. Forget Anne Hathaway, Julie Newmar take a number, and we won’t even mention Halle Berry. No one played the pussy quite like Pfeiffer. She’s got a shiny, skin tight outfit with the body to match, a sassy, sexy attitude, a whip smart mouth on her and just a hint of psychosis, making her my favourite film incarnation of the character. “Meow” she purrs sensually as an incendiary bomb detonates behind her. Damn. They all get wrapped up in various schemes and scams. Penguin wants ultimate power, which apparantly involves kidnapping a bunch of infants. Schreck wants ruthless progress to tear Old Gotham up in worship of the almighty dollar, and Catwoman is content to slash and burn everyone’s plans, until she gets a bit of a smolder in her eye for Batman, providing some electric sexual tension between the two of them that’s a highlight of the film. Neither of them are sure whether they want to kiss or kill, fight or fuck the other, and it’s devilishly entertaining watching them hash out their hormones in naughty little action sequences and slow, slinky intimate scenes, involving both Bruce and Selina as well as their feral alter egos. Their chemistry revolves at the center of the piece, with all manner of circus sideshow madness happening around them. Pat Hingle and Michael Gough diligently put in work as Commissioner Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth, with Doug Jones, Michael Murphy, Andrew Bryarniarski and Paul Reubens rounding out the roster. Burton outdid himself with style on this one, his trademark eye for loving detail laboriously employed here to the point where it surpasses the artistry of a comic book and starts to look like some mad dream of Vincent Price. He dipped his toe in the water of the Batman universe with his first outing. Here he plunges headlong into it and fully commits to a style and tone that’s distilled to a satisfactory point that he wasn’t quite at with Batman 1989. A treasure in the franchise, and a wicked fun film at that.
I just had the chance to speak with incredibly talented voice actress E.G. Daily about her work and career. She is the girl behind Babe Pig, Tommy Pickles from The Rugrats, Buttercup from The Powerpuff Girls, and Baby Mumble from Happy Feet, also lending her voice to shows and films such as Chalkzone, The Land Before Time, Pound Puppies, Recess, Clifford The Big Red Dog, Hey Arnold, A Goofy Movie, The Flintstones, The Little Rascals, Darkwing Duck and more. She also can be seen in Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects, and his upcoming horror film ’31’ which I’m very excited for. Take a look, and enjoy!
Nate: How did you get into acting? Something you always wanted to do or did you fall into it?
EG: Started as a kid, 8 years old had first agent …didn’t book till age 15, Laverne and Shirley…then it took off. Always wanted to dance and sing and write songs, then fell in love with acting …and actually worked hard for it…
Nate: Voice acting vs. Live action? What do you find different about the two, and which do you enjoy more?
EG: Voice acting is very freeing in that I can be anything … a boy, girl , old lady, ball, box, anything! And Im not relevant on my body so that is all very freeing ! On camera I get to dress up live in another realm … I get to be on a set, I get to get lost using my body to be someone else … and I love wardrobe ! I honestly can say I LOVE THEM BOTH.
Nate: Playing Babe Pig. How was that experience for you? Do you like the first film better or the sequel? (I’m a huge fan of the sequel)
EG: I loved the first one, cause it was so simple. But the second was a little darker and very artsy …Liked them both for different reasons. Loved working with George Miller he’s amazing!
Nate: What kind of preparation do you do before doing voice work?
EG: No real prep for Voice over … just make sure I’ve gotten enough sleep and have FUN . Laughter actually warms up my voive …so when we laugh in sessions that is the best for my voice !
As for singing …I do vocal warm ups!
Nate: How was your experience playing Tommy Pickles on The Rugrats?
EG: Tommy Pickles was my first Voice over Job so it was amazing, and I had never done animation so had no pre conceived ideas, just enjoyed it all. Felt like I got to play!! Tommy was such a sweet character it was so precious to play him.
Nate: The Devil’s Rejects- how did you get approached to play Candy? How was your experience working with Rob Zombie and all the other actors?
EG: Devil’s Rejects… I was at my Voice over agents .. when they said we just got an offer for you to do a film….I asked to see the script and the role, and loved it and said yes I want to do it ! ! It wasn’t till I was leaving the office they said its a Lions Gate film. I was like oh great! Then the last thing they said was “Ohhh, also its directed by Rob Zombie” That was the best part!
Nate: You’ll also be starring in 31 directed by Rob Zombie. What can we expect from your character and the film itself?
EG: ”31” BAd ASS …My character SEX-HEAD is bad ass! And one of my favorites EVER. I cant say much about it . They arent even sharing pics of my character yet cause they are keeping her un exposed, I think cause she’s so cool! . Amazing project. Got lost in it.
Nate: Some of your favourite movies?
EG: Favorite movies …This is 40 …Bridesmaids … The Intern … Documentaries ….For now.
Nate: Thanks so much for your time EG!
Proud to present to you my latest interview, with Erick Avari, an instantly recognizable, charming actor who seems to pop up all over the place. He has very memorable appearances in films including The Mummy, Independence Day, Planet Of The Apes, Stargate, Daredevil, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Mr. Deeds, The Glass House, The 13th Warrior and more. He’s also done work in television shows like The X Files, Madam Secretary, The Mentalist, NCIS: Los Angeles, Castle, Lie To Me, Burn Notice, Heroes, The OC, Alias and many more. Enjoy!
Nate: When did you know you wanted to become an actor?
Erick: Age 14 (1966) It was something the late Fr. McGuire said in a class named “moral science” which was essentially a forum to talk about just about anything at all. While on the topic of an artists’ responsibility to society, and he astutely pointed out that societies have flourished when artists hold up a mirror to life and crumbled when artists stopped doing so. It seemed like a noble profession and the final nail in the coffin sealing my fate as an artist. If he were around today I’d have to ask if he thought Art imitates life or the other way around?
Nate: The Mummy: Care to speak a bit about your experience on this film?
Erick: Little bit of trivia. I was originally cast in the role Jonathan Hyde played and Omar Sharif was set to play the curator but two weeks before the shoot they called to say Omar had emergency hip surgery and so they were bumping me up to the role of the curator. It was a wonderful shoot! A couple of weeks in Marrakesh, a couple of weeks in London great cast and the most fun director to work with. It was magic. Made some lifelong friends and reestablished contact with some old. Who could ask for more?
Nate: Care to speak a bit about your years growing up in Darjeeling, India? It’s an area I’ve heard a lot about and would be fascinated to hear what you have to,say about it.
Erick: Funny you bring that up as just the other day some one posted a video of Darjeeling on Facebook and a flood of memories came pouring back. It is situated in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. Nothing like you might imagine India to be at all. Small tourist town nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas with the most spectacular views of the worlds highest mountain, Kanchenjunga. I believe natural beauty stimulates the creative mind and it’s no wonder the residents have always had an affinity to the arts. Growing up I was surrounded by music, dance, theater, literature and given my father owned and operated the only two cinema halls in town, I was a very popular kid on Saturdays when traditionally the two would flock to see the latest “flick” that was playing at either the Capitol Cinema or The Rink (formerly a roller skating rink).
Nate: You have probably the best line in the movie Independence Day, despite only briefly appearing in the first scene. How was filming that for you, and how did it end up that you were uncredited for it?
Erick: Another story behind that. That was Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin’s way of saying thanks for my work on Stargate, shot the year before. Without going into too much detail but it was my first, “offer” and a very generous one to boot and I was overwhelmed with gratitude and though (mistakenly) and by not asking for billing I would be giving back in some stupid way. It was so wonderful to be appreciated and best of all, not having to go through the audition process. I can’t tell you how much of a joy that alone was but to be reunited with the same team even if it was for a week was heaven.
Nate: If you had to think of some of your favourite roles, in both film and theatre, what might they be?
Erick: Sir Richard in Jean Genet’s The Screens performed at The Guthrie theater in Minneapolis. One of the grandest productions on stage that I have been a part of (including King and I on Broadway) and perhaps the most acrobatic role physically I have ever undertaken. I ended up tearing ligaments in my ankle and finished the run on crutches. Best part, people thought the crutches were part of the play!
Vasquez in ’Tis Pity She’s A Whore at the Public theater with Val Kilmer, Jean Tripplehorn, Jarred Harris and on and on. Anyone who know the play knows that’s the run away role. Just loads of fun playing a smooth talking, eye gouging villain with an exit applause line designed to elicit applause to boot!
Nate: Daredevil: Nice to,see you pop in a comic book universe, playing Nikolas Natchios. How was your experience on that film?
Erick: I was completely charmed by Jennifer Garner and I had become friends with Michael Clarke Duncan over the 6 months we worked on Planet of the Apes together so that was …god I’m running out of superlatives but you have in fact touched on some wonderful moments in my career. Sufficeth to say, I miss Michael and feel he died way too young as he had so much to give to the world. He was a wonderful soul.
Nate: Tim Burton’s Planet Of The Apes: an underrated film for me, doesn’t deserve the negative reviews it’s gotten. How was your experience on this one?
Erick: I think a lot of people got robbed on that one starting with Rick Baker for make up. Tim Burton had a wonderful concept going into the film and we, the actors were so excited about where this one was going to go. It’s too bad there were too many opinions that had to be considered in the making of the film and it ended up to be a completely different animal (pun regretfully intended) and was perhaps one of the biggest disappointments of my career.
Nate: Any upcoming projects you are excited for and would like to speak about?
Erick: I am returning to the theater, that is as soon as I find a job! I have been burning to get back to my roots and fortunately I am no in a position in my life where I can afford to do just that. There are roles in the cannon that I have been waiting to grow into and King Lear is at the top of my list. It will be a challenge that I will have to work toward but that is on my bucket list. Shylock is one I’d like another shot at as well and I could go on and on on that score. I am also transitioning into directing independent features and working to develop several projects.
Nate: Films/Actors/Filmmakers that you admire and enjoy, and maybe have inspired your work?
Erick: I have learned so much from every director and actor I have ever worked with. I have been fortunate to have worked with some of the greats of our era and I was always cognizant of the fact that I was getting a free education every time at bat. I think you learn so much from just observing and being privy to the conversations that move the creative process forward. To mention Woody Allen and Lasse Hallestrom and leave out Mike Nichols (whom I worked with although my scene from Charlie Wilson’s war was cut) or many of the theater directors I’ve worked with would be remiss of me.
Nate: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat, and keep up the great work Erick!
I recently had the pleasure of chatting with actor Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, who has appeared in a very memorable turn as villain Dewall in season 1 of HBO’s True Detective, the rowdy, loveable helicopter pilot in The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, as well as films including A Walk Among The Tombstones, Contraband, XL, Stormland, Beowulf And Grendel. He can also be seen in the TV show Banshee, as well as the upcoming fantasy action film The Last Witch Hunter, The much anticipated sequel to Zoolander, and the recently announced adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The BFG. He’s a super nice guy, and I think will be a huge upcoming talent in years to come. Enjoy!
Nate: How did you get into acting, was it something you always knew you wanted to do growing up, or did you fall into it?
Ólafur: I didn´t really decide to be an actor until after my first year of drama school. I know that sounds weird but I sort of fell into acting in college. When college was finishing up, I had no idea what I wanted to do, I loved acting but had never really considered a career doing that. Then one of my friends wanted to audition to get into the drama school here in Iceland and sort of dragged me with him. Of course I ended up getting in but he did not. Even though I got in it still took me awhile to really take the plunge. But in retrospect, getting in was the first step. I was lucky, I got a lot of work straight out of school, lot of smaller parts and as your get older you realize how important experience is. But I wasn´t really using all my potential.
As weird as it seems, one of the best things that has ever happened to me professionally was when I was fired from The City Theatre of Reykjavik in 2003. That really forced me to look at my career and where I wanted to take it much more critically. That´s where the decision was made. I was going to be a better actor, person, an artist. I was going to have a much more honest dialogue with myself and be someone who takes responsibility for their art.
Nate: Who were some of your favourite actors, filmmakers and films growing up?
Ólafur: I was in love with everything film. I remember walking home late New Years night about 25 years ago and seeing one of my favorite films, High Anxiety, I thought it was brilliant (HERE IS YOUR PAPER!) Jaws, Alien, Star Wars, Kentucky Fried Movie, all of James Bond, ohhhhh, to be able to go back and re-watch them for the first time?!!! I also remember loving these teen comedies like Better of Dead and Ferris Bueller´s Day Off. All those actresses and all that teenage angst. I had a crush on quite a few of them.
Nate: Working with Marteinn Thorsson: You and him have done several projects together, what is your working relationship like, and do you plan to collaborate again soon?
Ólafur: Me and Matti are blood brothers. We have done two features and one short together and have in the works at least a couple of films that we want to do. Marteinn is just such a great director to work with, he thinks big and has an extensive background in film, he has worked as a script supervisor, producer, editor, director and screenwriter. There are probably more titles he has held on a set. He is easy, fun, collaborative and honest. You can´t ask for more than that.
Nate: True Detective: You are an integral part of the story despite only appearing in one episode. How was your experience playing Dewall, working with Nic’s writing and acting opposite Matthew? How did ty approach the character? Backstory and intentions etc.
Ólafur: True Detective was such a great experience. I auditioned for a bigger role but was offered this part and fell in love with it. The scene in the bar with those excellent actors, Matthew McConaughey and Joe Sikora was so much fun to do. Joe who plays Ginger in the series is one of my best friends today.
I had studied an Algiers (a neighborhood in New Orleans) accent for my role in a film called Contraband which I was able to use in True Detective. And the writing made the scene easy to do. Overall it was a show filled with good, talented, hard working people led by a man who is one of the best directors working today, Cary Fukunaga.
Nate: A Walk Among The Tombstones: How was your experience working on this, playing Jonas and acting with Liam Neeson?
Ólafur: I had a general meeting in New York with the great Avy Kaufman during which she asked me if I would be around two days later to meet a director. When I met Scott Frank two days later, I had a taxi waiting for me downstairs to take me straight to the airport for my flight home. Scott is such a lovely artist, it was a pleasure to meet him and after a couple of Skype readings he offered me the role. And I can´t really tell you how happy that made me. I though Jonas was such a wonderfully twisted creation. Someone who could so naively get himself involved with the wrong crowd. A crowd consisting of two monsters really. And filming it was truly great. Liam Neeson is one of my favorite actors and he is such a good, kind man. It was one of the best experiences of my life and I would give anything to work with Scott again, which I hope might happen soon…
Nate: Walter Mitty: your character is so funny and memorable, you really gave him a sheepish drunken amiable quality that lights up the whole sequence. How was your experience playing him?
Ólafur: It helped that I had recently played an almost entire film “drunk”. I worked with Jermaine Clement on a film and he asked me twice if I really hadn´t been drunk, I think that might be the best review I ever got. But I have to say that Ben Stiller really made it easy. Both as a director but also as an actor, you could really feel how much he enjoyed the “acting” part and how he made me able to just relax and enjoy being there and not to worry about having to perform. I´ll admit that I there were moments where in my mind was going “holy s..t, that´s Ben Stiller and I´m working with him”. One of the best days of my life was spent at that table drinking that fake beer.
Nate: Do you have any upcoming projects you are excited for and want to speak about?
Ólafur: There are a few projects that I´m excited and a few that I can´t mention. I got to reunite with Ben for a tiny cameo in Zoolander 2. There is a Icelandic tv series called Trapped, which will premiere around Christmas. The series is the biggest thing we have produced here for tv and I´m really looking forward to seeing it. Then there is a film directed by Jörg Tyttel and Alex Helfrecht called The White King. A series for Cinemax, Quarry that really looks incredible and finally The BFG which was an absolute pleasure, directed by Steven Spielberg.
Nate: Thank you so much for chatting , Ólafur, and I look forward to all your upcoming projects, especially The BFG which is a favourite book of mine.
The Coen Brother’s O Brother Where Art Thou is just a rush of pure originality, musical genius and inspired storytelling, situated outside the box of used conventions, and rooted deeply in a whimsical realm of absurd, charming characters on an epic odyssey across the American south during arguably the most eccentric time period, the 1930s Great Depression. It’s the Coen’s second best for me (it’s hard to top the Lebowski, dude), and a film that I watched so many time growing up that it’s almost now a piece of my soul. It’s loosely based on Homer’s The Odyssey. Three bumbling convicts escape from a dusty chain gang in a delightful opening romp set to Harry McClintock’s The Big Rock Candy Mountain. Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) is their silver tongued, troublemaking leader, on his way to reunite with his estranged wife (Holly Hunter, reliably stubborn and sassy) and little daughters. Along with him is short tempered Pete (Coen regular John Turturro in top form) and sweet, dimwitted Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson). Together they get in just about every kind of trouble that you can imagine three hapless convicts on the run in depression era south getting into. They briefly share paths with musician Tommy (Chris Thomas King), cross the radar of a boisterous bible salesman (John Goodman, stealing scenes as usual with his effortless, booming charm), become involved with duelling governor candidates Homer Stokes and Pappy O Daniels (Wayne Duvall and Charles Durning), and have run ins with sexy sirens led by Musetta Vander, the KKK, notorious mobster George Babyface Nelson (Michael Badalucco has to be seen to be believed as the lively, likely bi polar suffering wise guy) and more, all the while pursued by mysterious Sheriff Cooley (Daniel Von Bargen, RIP). It’s quite al lot of goings on for one film, but the Coens are masters of telling zany, eclectic stories that deviate into all sorts of unexpected subplots without ever derailing and losing us. This one flows along wondrously, a wild, funny and haunting fable that almost feels like a dust bowl Dante’s Inferno at times, albeit of much lighter subject matter. Roger Deakins spins poetry with his lens, capturing every chaff of wheat, every ray of southern sun and brown hued set design with painstaking expertise. What really holds it together though, is the absolute knockout soundtrack. There’s so many moments of now iconic musical storytelling that we feel we’re watching a strange bluegrass lullaby that just happens to take place in cinematic vision. The Coens have always known their music, but they transcend to another level of intuition here, gathering an incredibly evocative group of songs and artists together that stir the collective ancestral memory of historical Americana. Off the top of my head there’s You Are My Sunshine, Keep On The Sunny Side, I’ll Fly Away beautifully warbled by the Kossoy Sisters, Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Babe sung by the slinky sirens, In The Highways by the adorable Peasall sisters, Jimmie Rodgers’s In The Jailhouse Now, Lonesome Valley, Ralph Stanley’s two eerie pieces O Death, and Angel Band, also by the Peasall Gals, and the classic Down To The River To Pray, which sneaks up on you and leaves you in rapture from its inescapable grip. My favourite by far though is I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow, an endlessly catchy hobo tune of jangling melancholy and highway humour, sung by John Hartford but cheekily lip synced by Clooney and team, an original piece made up on the fly by the three characters that goes on to make them ridiculously famous under the pseudonym the ‘Soggy Bottom Boys’. It’s all an intoxicating wonder to take in, the period authentic screenplay and production a feast for the senses. The Coens seem to be adept at whatever they try; sly satire, period piece, stinging violence, dark humour, and even touching drama when they put their minds to it. This is a career high for them, a totally unique piece of art that demands multiple viewings and a spot in any avid movie collectors pantheon.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with actor Debra Christofferson, a super talented performer who has done work in films including Wild Wild West, Mouse Hunt, Anjelina Jolie’s The Changeling, White Oleander, My Favorite Martian, and more. She also has television appearance in shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Ally Mcbeal, American Horror Story, Crime Story, The X Files, NYPD Blue, CSI, Weeds, Bones, The Mentalist, NCIS, Southland and a legendary arc in HBO’s Carnivale as Lila. She was an absolute pleasure to speak with. Enjoy!
Nate: Since I don’t see much about your background or training on imdb, would you care to speak about that? Did you come from an artistic background, how did you know you wanted to pursue acting, where did you train etc?
Debra: I honestly don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be an actor. There’s a video of me at about a year and a half old where I come tearing around a corner and look up at my dad, who is holding the camera. I glance down at the floor like I’m looking for my mark, adjust my position, then look back up at the camera and smile like, “Okay, I’m ready for my close up!” It’s pretty funny, and kind of prescient. I was always dressing up as a kid, making up scenarios and entertaining myself, or anyone who would listen. We didn’t have a theatre department in school, but I sang solos and did plays at church, and also performed for years, as did many townspeople, as an extra in the Black Hills Passion Play, a three hour pageant about the last week of Christ’s life. The professional actors in the production were always very kind and encouraging, and made a lasting impression on me.
I attended college on a vocal scholarship, and double majored in music and theatre. I moved to Minneapolis after graduation, and took acting classes and did several plays before moving to Los Angeles to pursue tv and film.
I’ve studied with several acting coaches over the years, but the biggest influence in my process has really been studying metaphysics. The basic idea of being in present moment at all times keeps one honest as a character, and influences the choices I make as an actor.
Nate: Upon first entering the industry and auditioning, where did you expect to go, character wise? Did you have any certain genre or character style you wanted to explore? Did you get to go down the avenues you hoped for? Did it surprise you the characters you did end up portraying?
Debra: Oh, I was so very naive! Training in theatre gave me no preparation whatsoever for working in the television and film industry. I had no idea of how to put together a resume, no clue what it was like to be on a set, no concept of the enormity of it all. I started doing student films to get some footage of myself on camera, so I had something to show prospective agents; I did some extra work to find out what it was like to be on the set of a big production; and I continued to do theatre to keep myself feeling productive. Ultimately, I got an agent, joined the unions, started getting auditions, and was on my way. Very, very slowly, but on my way, nevertheless.
As for a genre, I’ve said in previous interviews how influential the movie “Star Wars” was to me. I had always thought I’d end up in New York and on Broadway, but after seeing “Star Wars,” I just wanted to make magic like that. And now that JJ Abrams is restarting the franchise, I guess there’s still hope! A new hope. LOL!
Besides making scifi movie magic, I wanted to have a variety show like Carol Burnett. I love the idea of being part of a fabulously talented ensemble, playing a myriad of characters, singing and dancing, having wonderful guest stars, etc. That genre has been out of style for awhile, but one never knows when it might make a resurgence!
I am extremely pleased, and I guess somewhat surprised, at some of the characters I’ve been privileged to play. I’ve run the gamet from a normal blue collar worker (“T.J. Hooker,” among others) to a demon (“Good vs. Evil”), to a sexy bearded lady (“Carnivale”). I’ve worked with some of the nicest and most talented people in the Industry, and have had amazing opportunities.
Nate: What would be your dream role in film? Existing or an imaginary, yet to be written character.
Debra: As a kid I wanted to play Scarlett O’Hara. Or maybe it was to just be Vivian Leigh playing Scarlett O’Hara. Dream role – are you listening, JJ Abrams? I want to be a recurring character in “Star Wars!”
Nate: Carnivale- Lila makes such a huge impression on the show, and is somewhat underestimated by others, she’s kind of a cunning, wily girl. Did you enjoy working on that, and playing her? Are you a fan of the show as a whole? It’s such a tragedy it got cancelled so early.. Did you ever have any idea where it might have gone post season 2?
I adored playing Lila! The 1930’s is my favorite time period for music, architecture, clothing, etc., and it was wonderful being able to inhabit that world. I thought the show was amazing – stunning production values, beautifully shot, brilliantly written and performed. It was before its time, and it broke my heart when we were cancelled after only two seasons. Dan Knauf, the creator of “Carnivale,” had the entire series planned out, so there was lots more to see and experience. I recall that the third season was set a few years after season two, and involved Samson gathering the carnies back together as they had all gone their separate ways.
Nate: Mousehunt- pure, delightful physical comedy. The auction scene is like the peak of the tumultuous, chaotic events throughout the film. There was a lot going on, a lot of actors present, and a wonderful screwball comic vibe. How was your experience filming that sequence?
Debra: I made life-long friends on that shoot. We started out near Yosemite, shooting the flooding sequence. The first week there were several minor mishaps on the dangerously muddy terrain, but we all made it through and production held a “whew!” party for us at a local bowling alley. And I fractured my wrist bowling. Yeah, slipped in very slippery bowling shoes and fell throwing a ball down the alley. I had to be flown back to L.A. to get it set, and then we managed to cover the cast adequately for it not to show in the mud and water sequences. It worked out kind of miraculously, and by the time the auction scene was shot, my wrist had healed.
I remember having a blast shooting that sequence. It took several days, and between the mice and the fire, we were kept on our toes. And when you’re working with really fun, talented friends, it’s a joy!
The hardest thing to shoot was a scene involving the main actors floating and swimming through the floodwater. Production built a huge water tank on the Universal backlot near the “Psycho” house, and we were drilled on safety measures with the divers who were under water with air tanks if we needed them. Camilla Soeberg, who played my sister, and I got into the water and tried to dive under to get to the proper depth for the camera, but we kept floating to the top. Our wigs had been built on styrofoam bases, which wouldn’t let us stay under the water. It was hilarious, but an expensive mistake. Ultimately, the whole scene ended up on the cutting room floor.
Nate: Wild Wild West- The scene with you and Will Smith. One of the funniest bits. Were you two given lots of room for playing and improvisation, or was it mostly to script? Did you have fun with that project?
Debra: I loved working on “Wild Wild West.” I had originally read for the role of the bartender early in the movie when Kevin Kline was dressed in drag. They cast someone else, but liked me enough at the audition to still want me in the film, so asked me to dance with Will. That evolved into a couple of other scenes as well. My first day on set involved the dance. We rehearsed it twice and the timing just wasn’t working. I knew musically how to fix it, but was hesitant to say anything to this rapper guy, because I figured he knew rhythm, and I didn’t want to overstep. But when the third try didn’t work, I spoke up. Will nodded and said to Barry Sonnenfeld, the director, “Debra has an idea I think might work.” We tried it and it worked perfectly. After that, I was “in.” I was invited to sit with Barry, Will and the other leads in “video village,” which was surrounded by Will’s bodyguards (there were hundreds of extras on the set), and I kept getting more bits to do. One of my fondest memories is of when the set was cleared for rehearsal and I found myself alone with Barry, Will, Kevin Kline, Ted Levine, and one of my all-time favorites, Kenneth Branaugh. We spent a good 15 minutes working on a scene, and I suggested a line about being “back in the saddle” which ended up in the film. The best part of all, however, was every morning when I got to sit next to Ken in the make-up trailer and chat. It was heaven!
Nate: You made an appearance in the video game L.A. Noire. How was your experience with recording in a sound studio? I ask because in my work I absolutely love doing VO stuff, it’s such a rush, and so wildly different from on camera acting. Did you find this as well?
Debra: When I first moved to L.A. I did a lot of voiceover work for cartoons and dubbed several foreign films. L.A. Noire was a unique experience however, unlike anything I’d done before. The dressing up in the neoprine suit with little ping pong balls all over, working in a black box with yellow gridlines and imagining everything, sitting in a round white room being photographed by hundreds of cameras – crazy! The motion capture included the vocal performance, so there wasn’t separate voiceover work for that. However, when I went in to have my face photographed from a gazillion angles, they asked me to do a bunch of additional lines as various characters, so I got to use different voices and accents to play as many parts as possible.
Nate: Do you haven my upcoming projects, film or otherwise, that you are excited for and would like to speak about?
Debra: Yes, I do. I’m thrilled to be working on an exciting new project, but can’t talk about it! It seems to be de rigueur anymore that one is required to sign a non-disclosure agreement so nothing leaks out about high-profile projects. Thanks, Internet! LOL!
I can say that the powers that be and the lead actors on this particular project were at ComiCon last summer promoting it and that it will be out sometime in early 2016. So maybe check back with me next year!
Nate: I look forward to this mystery project! Keep up the awesome work Debra and thanks for chatting!