Monday, October 31, 2011

Interview with Juliet Landau

Actress Juliet Landau, best known to television audiences for her portrayal of Drusilla in 17 episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) is currently co-starring in John Patrick Shanley's Danny and the Deep Blue Sea @ Crown City Theatre through December 18. In our chat the actress, who is a member of the Actors Studio, talks about what it was like growing up the daughter of famous parents, actors Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, her favorite plays and what drew her to playwright John Patrick Shanley in the first place.

I heard you did a gala benefit reading of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire.
This is the centennial year of Williams birth, so I produced a two-evening staged reading of the play, and we raised a ton of money for charity, which was wonderful. We were packed. We got standing ovations, It was really amazing. I brought John McNaughton in. (director of the reading and also of the current production of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea) We were looking for Stanley, and I e-mailed casting director Bruce Newberg. He had just seen Burn This at the Taper and Matt (Williamson) had gone on as the understudy in the performance, and he said "I think he would be your Stanley" and we met, and it was a great collaboration. We had a wonderful time. We tried to get the rights to do Streetcar, but they were unavailable this time. So, I have always loved John Patrick Shanley and I thought Danny and the Deep Blue Sea would be a wonderful fit for Matt and I and John and for the theatre in terms of the space.

Why do you love Shanley so much?
I love ...his writing is really beautiful. For instance this play is set in the Bronx, but there's a real poetry to the writing as well. And of course, the themes that he explores, there's just a lot of depth and so many layers, and it's incredibly rich, which for an actor that's the gravy, that's the stuff that you love. At a recent talkback, there were a couple of actors in the audience who said that they had not been on the stage in a while and that they got real excited by the play. One of them said "After 8 years, I want to do this again!"

Do you think the play is based on real people Shanley knew?
I do. Well whether specific...I think it might have been a conglomeration of a number of people. It definitely feels likes it's through the osmosis of the neighborhood and that milieu that he was in. Obviously that was absorbed.

From your standpoint, how does your character Roberta transform?
Roberta has an incredible journey. One of the things that's interesting...John Patrick Shanley calls it Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, an Apache Dance. It really is this push and pull between the 2 characters, or you could liken it to a roller coaster; there are such ups and downs in it. Roberta comes from such extreme obstacles; she carries this glimmer of hope that there's a better way, that she can have a better life. Both of the characters are at complete wits end when they meet and literally, if it wasn't for this meeting, they would both end up dead. So from the beginning of the play her emotions are driving her and she shares a lot of what her life has been, which she's never told anybody before. She reveals a lot; Danny ends up revealing a lot. Through a massive push and pull by the end of the play, that glimmer of hope, that hope comes through. She makes quite a journey.

What was your first exposure to Shanley?
I had never worked on his material, but I had read all his plays and seen his films. I had seen other people working on it in acting classes.

Do you bring a lot of material to work on into the Actors Studio?
I have, and I worked for years with my mentor and friend and incredible human being Susan Peretz, who has since passed away. I would always stretch and try new things with her in class in between professional projects.

I'm sure you're asked this question a lot, but what was it like growing up the daughter of Martin Landau and Barbara Bain?
To me, it's normal. When I was little, I actually thought that everybody was on their own TV set because everybody in the neighborhood were actors. I remember Rob Reiner lived nearby and he was on his TV. My sister had been friends with Diahann Carroll's daughter; that was before me, but she had been on her TV. Lucille Ball lived around the block and Peter Falk. I went to a friend's house one day and I asked "What time is your parents' show on?" (we both laugh) And they said "What are you talking about?" And I said, "Everybody's on their own TV, aren't they?" They said, "No!"

How old were you then?
I was pretty tiny. What's funny is I grew up to be, I guess, on my own TV. That's how it was. (we laugh some more)

That's really cute.  I mean I grew up on Mission Impossible and I watched both of them and they're both amazing. When did you first feel you wanted to be an actress?
I thought I would never be an actress. I was a dancer.

Did your parents discourage you?
No, not at all, except they didn't want us to do it as kids. They felt like the business is not necessarily a nice business. But they were completely... whatever you want to do when you're not kids anymore... that's fine. But I was a professional ballerina, and I danced professionally for about 4 and a half years. I realize now that I always approached dancing as an actor. To me, even though I was incredibly technically proficient, it was about expressing something. I then started taking some acting classes. I had been finding the dance world a little bit insular, and I loved the fact that you could have a verbal exchange with people, that you could talk about conceptual ideas, and use your body and your physicality as a component to express something but you could also use your voice. So I started acting classes.

When was this?
I studied for probably about 4 years solidly before I started auditioning and got my first job. Then I started getting theatre work, one show and then another show, so that was my progression in becoming an actress.

Did you realize that dancers at a certain age will need something else to rely on besides their physicality?

You'll have to forgive me, but I never saw you in Buffy on TV. Talk a little about the experience and how it enriched your life.
Drusilla was a wonderful role. I and another vampire were introduced as the main villains in season 2 of Buffy and it continued. We were described as the Sid (Vicious) and Nancy of the vampire set, and it was a delicious role. It had a lot of different dynamics. We were villains, but we also had this massive, incredible love affair, and it was just loads of fun. And I get most recognized for it and Angel and for also working with Tim Burton in Ed Wood.

Who is your favorite playwright?
Tennessee Williams, and working on Blanche was such a tremendous experience. When you work on Williams or Odets or Shakespeare or Shanley, the play does so much work for you; you're so supported. You spend a lot of time as an actor where the material is less than deep and your job is to fill it with as much as you can. It's such a joy when you have great feels like it's right there under you holding you and then there are just so many riches in it.

What's up next for you?
I have a movie that's coming out that I just finished doing looping on a few days ago. Dark Hearts that has a really interesting director Rudolf Buitendach. It's his first feature, but he won an award from the BBC for his short film for Best New Director. He's super-talented. I'm very excited, and I play a very different character than I've ever played. Her name is Astrid and she's an artist and art gallery owner. She's sort of beatnik-inspired, dresses like an art piece and is always a little bit stoned and talks with a slight Cajun accent. (she laughs) Then I have some animated stuff and voice overs, so we'll see what happens.

Do you have any idols?

Sure. Some of them aren't here anymore. Marlon Brando. I love Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Gary Oldman. Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett...Jodie Foster...

If you had one project to look forward to, what would it be?

...For me it always comes down to the role and the director. Working on this with John McNaughton...he's brilliant.
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Danny and the Deep Blue Sea continues through December 18 at Crown City Theatre in NoHo. Don't miss Juliet Landau & Matthew J. Williamson!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Interview with Matthew Lillard

Film star Matthew Lillard is now onstage at the Big Victory Theatre in Burbank in the world premiere play Harbor. Star of Scream, Scooby-Doo, SLC Punk and the soon to be released The Descendants with George Clooney, Lillard's first love is the theatre and he makes a return after an eight year absence. In our chat, he talks about Harbor, how it came to be and his other current projects.

How did Harbor come about and what are the challenges in playing your role in it?

I host an acting group at my house every two weeks and we read plays. Jon (Cellini) brought Harbor in to be read, and it played great in the room, and everyone was very excited about it. We were roommates at Circle in the Square for years. I had just come back off of doing a film, and in the back of my mind, months ago, I thought it (the play) would be my comeback into being an actor, having been gone and directing for so long. I decided to do it in the fall between pilot seasons. We put it on paper and committed to it. The's outside my wheelhouse, I've never played a guy like this. Tom's a kind of blue collar Boston guy, and you go with the fact that he's wrong, he's the selfish one and you have to find the humanity in what he's doing and saying. It's such a well written play and the challenges are...just keeping him human, grounded so that you can relate to him and that he feels real.

Tell me about your film Fat Kid Rules the World.

It's based on a young adult book that I optioned eight years ago about an obese teenager that in the opening frames of the movie is about to kill himself. He gets saved by this little punk rock guitarist, and they start a band. So it's the trials and tribulations of this American teenager who's overweight and lost in America. It took me eight years to get it, and I'm super proud of it. Its stars Billy Campbell from The Killing, Matt O'Leary and Jacob Wysocki from Terri. It's got a great little cast; we're a small movie, but I think it plays really well. Our music is done by Mike McCready of Pearl Jam. Let's see what happens.

This is your first direction, correct? How does it feel to switch chairs to director and producer?

It's great. I mean I like being a storyteller. It's the difference between being the quarterback on the bench and the quarterback on the field. I like things hanging in the balance and having it be my responsibility... my fault or my success. Success rests on your shoulders, and I like that responsibility. So much of an actor's process is laying at the hands of other people, and for better or for worse, I've done incredible movies and I've done terrible movies. I like telling the story and I like being in charge of telling the story.

What is your the favorite film you've done?

The Descendants, which is George Clooney's next movie, and that's Alexander Payne's new film after Sideways. Right now there's a lot of buzz for Academy Awards. Clooney will definitely get nominated. To be a part of that, and it's the most exciting movie I've ever been a part of, because it's so high profile in such a critical way. It hasn't been released yet, and already it's odds-on favorite to be all over the Academy Awards. That's really exciting, and then as an actor, SLC Punk, the little independant film I did ten years ago, that's probably my favorite performance to date.

You won some awards for that, didn't you?

I did. I won the Argentinian Film Festival for Best Actor. It was a movie that went under the radar, but it's still around. If I walked down the street right now, there's a bunch of fifteen to twenty year-olds, odds are, that'll come over and say "Hey, you're the guy in SLC Punk." More so than they would Scream or Scooby-Doo.
Punk has such an incredible following.

What are your feelings creatively about Scooby-Doo?

Something like that is a piece of business in my life that ...I mean, can we talk about acting and not talk about the business of acting? Actors have to balance between how do I feed my kids and how do I maintain my dignity. More so now than ever, there's not as much work as there has been. Our industry is completely upside down like a lot of industries in America. Right now it's harder than ever to just get by. To be number one on the call sheet is an excitng place to be, but... Was Scooby-Doo the most rewarding, creative movie I've ever done? Certainly not, but it's been huge in my life and has allowed me to continue to be an actor.

Who are your idols past or present?

I grew up on Jimmy Stewart. If I picked an actor I'd like to be, it would be him. There's just something about his charm...he did drama and comedy effortlessly...he had the opportunity to be everyman.

Do you have a role that you haven't played that you'd like to play?

No, I used to, I really wanted to play George in Our Town. There's a play called Tracers, I didn't get cast in it, and I had to play that role, so I went out and started a theatre company to create the opportunity to play that role. But now I really don't hold on to that quintessential performance, that singular role. To me...all I want to do is continue to work and find things like this. I mean if you could be the first guy to play Brick (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) or the quintessential actor that brings a part to life and makes it definitive, like say a Malkovich...

Maybe yours is right around the corner. Anything else you care to add about the play Harbor?

Being back on stage is awesome. The last thing I did was the European premiere of Fuddy Meers by David Lindsay-Abaire and the European premiere of Neil LaBute's Bash in London on the West End. That was eight years ago. So, it's great to be back.

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Interview with Tribute Artist Peter Mac

(photo: Mike Pingel)
Tribute artist Peter Mac happens to be one terrific actor/singer who does his very best work in a dress. In our interview, he talks about how it all started, the characters he honors and his gig at the Gardenia over the next year. Like Charles Pierce and Jim Bailey before him Peter Mac is keeping the art of creating impressions alive and vibrant.

In brief, how did Judy Garland influence you to become a tribute artist? You have an entire show about this Becoming Judy, so be brief, but still in detail. Mention all the personal stuff.

Well, for starters Judy made me just want to perform. I was drawn into that euphoric overwhelming sense of joy that she exuded. As for the impersonation itself? I gathered that Judy was being portrayed by the majority of impersonators as a falling down drunk (except of course by the brilliant illusionist Jim Bailey). And (forgive my French) it pisses me off when some queen dons a sequin jacket and a bouffant wig and launches into tirade about booze and pills. I don’t find humor in someone else’s adversity. Yes, Judy had an addiction problem but it is not why she is so loved and celebrated. Imitation is supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery not battery.

You have such variety in your shows. I've seen three so far, and each one has been different. Each month has brought us - such a lucky audience - a diversified format! What has been your primary goal? Or what has made you diversify rather than stick with one basic show?

What I do could be described as cabaret stock. There’s summer stock and winter stock, I do Cabaret Stock. So as one show is being put up on its feet we commence to working on another. It’s a great challenge and I love that. I hate to hear an audience to say “Oh, we saw that already!” A show like “Judy in Concert” is always evolving because we keep certain material we need i.e. Trolley Song and Over the Rainbow but then I can add new material as well. Judy’s catalogue of music is enormous. Plus, all of the songs she never got to sing.

How many other characters besides Judy do you tribute? 
There are about a dozen including: Mae West, Tallulah Bankhead, Peggy Lee, Liza Minnelli, Katharine Hepburn, Dame Edna , Little Edie Beale, Gwen Verdon, Helen Reddy.

Which ones are your favorites? Why? Which are the most challenging to pull off?

They all have a special place in my heart. Each one is so uniquely different from the other. I love Tallulah because she was so no holds barred and raunchy. Peggy Lee had such an ethereal quality to her as she got older. It was as if she were in a trance or slightly out of focus, (but still brilliant ) in those later years. It was all about the lyrics with Peggy, what a story teller! In an evening where I do 5 or 6 of them that’s the biggest challenge. Making sure that each lady is her own individual self. Judy is without a doubt the crowning jewel for me.

Anyone you're working on that you'll be adding at some point in the near future? Care to share?

There are definitely new divas coming up for me. Some are musical theatre/film stars, some historical celebrities and a few fictional divas as well. There always has to be a connection for me, which is key. I don’t even think that I pick them anymore rather they pick me.

Tell me more about the play you did in New York that was the basis for Becoming Judy and when do you intend to mount that here?

The show Judy and Me is my autobiography. A six person play .It really is a story about intolerance and the homophobia that I suffered in school and that so many young kids are still plagued with. Twice I contemplated suicide between the ages of 12 and 16 because I couldn’t take the abuse anymore. I attribute a large part of my survival to Judy’s music, movies and her wit. People respond to the show very well…both gay and straight audiences. If you were ever the odd kid out people seem to relate to it. I am hoping that the show will play the west coast eventually. It is such an important story.

Do you like singing as yourself or do you prefer the dress up shows?

I am simply a stage whore, HA! I love any chance to perform. I do enjoy performing as “me”. Don’t forget when I was 15 I started studying voice with the brilliant David Sabella and he taught me so much and helped to mold the tenor I’ve grown into. That being said I went into this business because I love make believe. How’s this? I would love to do a 4 week run of Damn Yankees and play Lola for two weeks and Joe Hardy for two weeks!

Tell me about your wonderful costume designer. How did you two get together and how do you work? I mean, do you give her detailed ideas of what you want, or do you just feed her and she comes up with the goods? They all look terrific!

I’ve worked with several wonderful costume designers over the years. All who have been instrumental in helping to bring Judy to life. I really feel I am in the business of replicating and so I have recreations of several of Judy’s concert/television gowns. Garland fans go wild for that kind of thing. It makes my pretend work that much easier. Just recently I started working a talented young lady, Athena DeCocq, who recreated Judy’s Valley of the Dolls/1967 Palace outfit (top photo) for me and she is already working on two more iconic outfits.

 How is it different to do the show at the Gardenia and then at Oil Can Harry's? You must have two totally divergent audiences! 

It never ceases to amaze me how audiences will vary. Something that works well at one venue may not at another. Tom Rolla’s Gardenia is wonderfully intimate and iconic. It’s the longest running cabaret venue in the country, so that’s an honor. Oil Can Harry’s is whimsical and the demographic is different. I often use Oil Can’s as a workshop for new shows. Both venues are a delight to play.

What plans do you have for 2012 as you fulfill your Gardenia contract?

There are several new theatrical concerts we have planned for Judy in 2012. One in particular I’ve been hoping to do for some time. BUT you will just have to wait and see. I love my audiences to be surprised.

Anything else to add?

You’ve given me this great opportunity to say whatever I want? My you’re a brave man! What I do is a lot of fun and very rewarding and I’m extremely proud of my work but I do wish it were regarded a little higher in the cabaret circuit. There are those who do look down their noses at it. Though I don’t consider myself (and have been told I’m not) a drag queen what I do is an extension of that particular art form and yes, it is an art form. It is a shame that Drag is considered a four letter word and that in some circles female impersonation is a poor bastard relation to be avoided.
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See Peter Mac as himself in Home the weekend of November 25, 26. 27 after Thanksgiving @ the Gardenia and then in The Judy Garland Christmas Show there December 12-17.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Spotlight on Pulling Leather's Ted Ryan

Actor Ted Ryan's Pulling Leather is currently on stage @ the Actors Forum Theatre in NoHo. In his first full-length play Ryan has written quite profoundly about love and also plays the central character in the dramedy. In our chat, he tells about what motivated him to pen Pulling Leather.

Give me your background—where you're from, acting training, stage experience, films you've done, etc.
I'm originally from Phoenix, Arizona. I caught the acting bug around the age of fourteen, but my family will tell you I was always the center of attention at holiday parties. I formally trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, both in New York and California. Over the years I’ve done several stage plays including Glengarry Glen Ross and Box 27. Recently, I played a serial killer in the film The Cellmate.

Did Pulling Leather start as a one-act? Or were some of your one-acts related in theme to this play?
Pulling Leather was conceived as a full-length two-act play, but was quite short at first. Over the years it evolved, lost a character, and gained a rhythm I’m very proud of.

What propelled you to write Pulling Leather?
The metaphor of struggling to stay on the horse, as it related to my own personal struggle with life's challenges at the time, just made immediate sense to me. I wanted to write a play about love, loss, and passion. The idea of making the main character a saddle bronc rodeo rider came to me when I saw the movie Brokeback Mountain. It was playing on the television and I became fascinated with the rodeo scenes. So I Googled ‘rodeo’…and have since been to one.
Are any of the characters based on real people, or is it all fiction?
Some, yes; others were just compiled from folks who have come and gone throughout my life. For example, the character of Beth, played with such eloquence by Tess Christiansen, was based on an old friend. Dr Kitner, played compassionately by Larry Lederman, is based on a therapist I used to see as a child, who remains a very close friend to this day. All the characters have stories of my life in them.

What do you want audiences to take away with them—especially regarding love?
The play’s theme is ‘How much would you give up for love?’ I would like the audience to walk away with hope—hope that love and personal passion can happen at the same time. While this may seem like something that should happen, it doesn't always work out that way.

The play is compelling in that your character has a lot of issues to deal with. What do you feel is at the core of Jacob's emotional weakness?
Because of recent circumstances triggering a repressed memory, he finds himself losing his confidence. At his core, Jacob suffers from a sense of loss and a longing for clarity.

Do you have a favorite playwright? Writer?
Sam Shepard, Edward Albee. My two favorite plays are True West and The Zoo Story.

What about actors? Any idols?
There are so many awesome actors out there, but Al Pacino is by far my favorite.

Tell me about Audrey Singer's Tuesday workshop at Actors Forum and how an actor benefits from participating in it.
The Tuesday night workshop is a place for artists to work on their craft. We have singers, writers, actors, dancers... We have fun there. We do good work. We care about and love the theatre.

Anything you care to add?
I’ve been lucky to have this opportunity as an artist. Pulling Leather is very special to me. I look forward to this play’s future.

Actors Forum Theatre
10655 Magnolia Boulevard
North Hollywood, CA 91601-4066
(818) 506-0600