ATM sits down with actor Tyson Wagner as he discusses a few
bias views exhibited within the film industry and examines the progression on
how social classes influences the film narratives.
ATM: How would you say the aristocratic
and the proletariat are depicted in American film?
Tyson: In the large and big-budget productions they don’t
usually seem to accurately reflect the working class as well because I don’t
think they are as in touch with the type of person they try to portray.
But when the actors do their jobs correctly it does not
usually matter the class of citizens they are playing. This is because of its emotionally
driven stories that are so out of normal it all blends together in a big
fictional world that the general audience would not usually relate to.
Generally, I would say they try to make the working class more relatable, and
the rich are usually the antagonists to many stories.
ATM: Why do you think the aristocrat
take on the portrayal more?
Tyson: The general audience viewer or target demographic
would usually be the working class, it makes sense financially and they can
relate to it as a protagonist.
ATM: So, if an aristocratic was the
protagonist how would this influence how the general public who is of the proletariat
depict the movie?
Tyson: The Marvel franchise has Iron Man as a protagonist,
but since the stories are so out of this world it would still draw in crowds to
see these movies.
ATM: If aristocratic characters
started to play protagonists, then how will this change the film standard?
Tyson: In many of the stories the rich need to learn how to
be humble as a character arch, it’s been played out many times. I do not think
if audiences can relate to the stories they would be as inclined to go out and
pay to see the new movies.
ATM: Why should American aristocrats
of today be humbled? Wouldn’t this show them assimilating to the proletariat’s
feelings and emotions?
Tyson: Generally, they aren’t depicted as the caring or
sincere type in the beginning of a movie and when they become humble it’s
usually their character development coming full circle, it is usually to convey
that they are also human and capable of the full spectrum of emotions everyone
ATM: Why can’t black, white, Hispanic, and Asian aristocratic people be as humbled as black, white, Hispanics, and Asian proletariats?
Tyson: They are viewed to be the silver spoon type who have
everything handed to them. The audience has to see them go through the type of
learning experience to see their full potential.
ATM: Could this be exploiting
Tyson: I would not say exploiting. Most films are produced
and made by the rich, who then profits from those movies. It is their own class
who they’re trying to portray in most cases. I would not say it is an accurate
depiction. Many of the upper class I have met have been quite down to earth. I
would say it is a production tactic but not exploiting.
ATM: Do you like the term “rich” or
Tyson: Aristocrats isn’t a common term used by most people
but depending the placement both can fit. Saying someone is an aristocrat
sounds nobler than just being rich, like they hold more power with that title.
ATM: It’s the same term as what is
classified as the word “celebrity.” Those are not celebrities, they are black
and white aristocrats! They have been conditioned to live by the term. They are
entertainment aristocrats. This use to be the norm for people in their field.
Those are aristocrats. The term “celebrity” is a diminishing term. Black people
and other marginalized groups are grand enough to have such a nobler term
reflect their hard work along with the white race in their field.
Tyson: Yes, I have seen “celebrity” be used as a scandalous
title in an article. Especially if it is reflecting anything negative about a
person its being written about. Also, putting those word together (celebrity +
scandal is what typically sells.
ATM: They are aristocrats! Well, entertainment aristocrats.
Tyson: I also don’t know if I can talk much about race in
Hollywood though. As I am not from a marginalized group, and not part of the
“celebrity” group either, so I would not have a perspective from either side. I
will however agree that they definitely need to work harder to gain and
maintain that status being from a marginalized group because in any industry it
would be difficult.
ATM: I am not a modern-day aristocrat either. You are an actor. Money or a ‘celebrity” status should not reflect your passion or your identity. Stay away trying to obtain titles. Titles do not mean anything. See society makes some nonmarginalized groups feel they cannot relate to the current marginalization. They can. You can. We can. We may not the same race, but we do drink the same water. We breath the same air. We walk the same. We might have different sizes, but we all it all the same. Why? Because we are human.
Tyson: Most people look down on my
career choice when I don’t have that status to back up my passion, and my
work that I do get is overlooked or ignored by most since it doesn’t
have anyone of the status in it. It eats away at my self-identity,
self-worth by not achieving that yet.
And yes, being human is definitely
something that every race shares, but that doesn’t mean
equality unfortunately, hopefully soon though. I can hear and understand these
struggles but not witness them firsthand, that’s why I’m hesitant to speak on
the matter, but I will give you my perspective.
ATM: The same feeling
you are expressing is how black people have felt for decades. White people’s
culture, customs, lifestyle have been our history. It was sneakily forced on
us. We complied but we did not understand it at first. It didn’t
represent what we felt.
Tyson: And I can empathize and
relate through my own past and present struggles. I don’t know if anyone not
from the democratic can ever fully understand the hurdles marginalized
groups need to overcome. But having the conversation is a great way to help
start to understand for most people.
I know. There is a deep social disconnect. This is why they cannot understand.
No matter how much we protest and try to establish equality. Its oblivious to most
white people. It is not them not wanting to help or understand, but it’s the
oblivion. We have lived in a society so long that misses the things
and the next generation picks it up and calls it history.
Tyson: I believe that its like
holding up a mirror to show a face they are not familiar with because they have
not seen anything from that perspective. Unfortunately, change only happens
through choice as well and not enough people are willing to change.
They are not willing because of the social disconnect. It is similar to an airborne
disease that his scoped our nation, culture, and education. Education is just
history relay to us.
Tyson: I want to thank you. I have
never had an opportunity where someone wanted to hear my thoughts on any
subject and share it. This has been an enjoyable experience.
Josef Altin plays Ryan in season 2 in
Netflix’s Chewing Gum. Altin surrounds
himself with sensible characters and comedy that shapes the British comedy style
by putting a unique twist to the preparation of what goes on behind the scene.
ATM: What can one
understand about the role of your character?
JA: I played a twenty-year-old young man
called Ryan that lived nearby on an estate with his mum. He finds it hard to
find work because of his criminal background, so he works for his stepdad
sometimes which is Tracey’s father’s furniture removal company. Work is up and
down, so Ryan is always looking for other easy ways to make money to
ATM: What is a day of
shooting like? How you continue to
immerse yourself into life?
JA: You get picked up by one of the production
drivers or taxis in the morning. You get driven to the base where you got the
production trucks, makeup and hair trucks, costume trucks, and the trailers for
the actors. You are met by the 2nd AD who welcomes you and shows you to the
trailer. They tell you that the call sheet is in there for you or they hand you
one. The call sheet has the times to be in hair and makeup and when to get into
costume. The ADs always make sure you are where you need to be because
sometimes, they might want you to get ready earlier or later than that time.
So, in the meantime, they ask you if you want breakfast and usually, you can
get something to eat. Once the time has come around to see hair and makeup and get
into a costume, you typically have a bit of time before you go to set to
rehearse and film.
When you get to set, you have a rehearsal with
the Director before you do a crew showing which is mostly everyone who has to
be behind the camera when filming. Or a closed set just requires the minimal
possible crew in the room to make it more comfortable for the actor if there’s
a tiny bit of nudity going on for a bit of the scene in which one of our scenes
had in Chewing Gum. You would then get ready to block the scene and have
another rehearsal with our sound packs attached to our waist or attached to our
ankle to be prepared to shoot the scene. Once shot, the Director decides if
they want to go again or not. If their happy and everyone else is happy, then they
move on. If not, they continue filming with the amount of time, they got left
to get what they need.
ATM: How did the
behind the scenes affect your experience as an actor?
JA: When they are happy, we move from a wide
angle to the characters point of views. Once the cameraman, sound, and others
have captured every actor and their happiness with the scene, we move on
with the other scenes on the schedule for that day. And if you still got scenes
to do, sometimes they’re right after each other, or sometimes you have a little
wait until you are on set again. Everyone breaks for lunch and goes back
to set after or waits at the base until you get called again.
When filming has wrapped, you go to makeup and
hair to clean up. Then you get changed in the trailer you’ve been put up in and
hang your costume up for the costume department at the end of the day or leave
some separately for the wash. Once changed your transport usually has arrived
to take you back home and you get handed a call sheet or get told a call sheet
for tomorrow will be emailed to you soon or tonight for tomorrow if you got any
ATM: What is your
connection to your onscreen character in comparison to the main character?
JA: My character Ryan is the stepson of and worked
with Tracey Gordon’s real father part-time. You find out in a later episode 6.
But for now, Ryan was first seen hanging about smoking against a wall on the
street near the estates in series 2 episode 5. Cynthia spots him and likes the
look of him. Cynthia went up to Ryan and said she was lost but she was
lying. He directs her, but Cynthia wanted him to
take her. They get to the flat and Cynthia asks Ryan up into the flat. Once
inside she asks Ryan if he wants to have an alcoholic drink while Ryan looks
around at the room surrounded by the message of “I love Jesus.”
They have some awkward small talk and Cynthia
comes out and asks him if he wants to have sex. He finds this really weird and
he thinks he’s being set up by a hidden camera show. But Cynthia is serious and
there’s no hidden cameras, so he goes with it as a nonbeliever of him being set
up. After they have sex Ryan says he feels tired and goes to sleep and Cynthia
goes to sleep in another room with a big smile on her face. When Cynthia wakes
up the next day, she realizes Ryan has gone and then notices she have most of
the flat’s belongings!
Later, in episode 6 we realize Ryan didn’t
know Tracey was related to Cynthia as Ryan and his stepdad has come to deliver
some cheap furniture to Tracey’s mum because she was recently robbed. But who
is there standing next to Tracey when we arrive with the same stolen
Her sister Cynthia, and it dawns on Ryan that
he just robbed Tracey’s mums house. Tracey was played by the talented and
lovable Actress Michaela Coel & Cynthia was played by the talented and
lovely actress Susan Wokoma.
ATM: Does your
character seem to find more jobs to help him survive that are noncriminal or
more when they are criminal?
JA: Because of Ryan’s past it’s hard for him to get the job he wants. He does have
a criminal record. He’s not going to
give up trying to find one as he wants to change his life around. He still
results back to criminal jobs only when the opportunity arises when no cash in
hand jobs are around. He’s looking into going to college to train for a
plumbing course when he gets around to it and survive on any money coming in the
ATM: How would you
describe Cynthia’s curiosity? What is your character’s thought process about
JA: Ryan finds Cynthia’s curiosity a bit weird
at the time, but he loves her characteristic of acting
straightforward. My character’s thought process about women is that he has
always been brought up to respect women and to never lay a hand on a
Sally Rubin is the co-director for the film Hillbilly. She tackles the wrong representation of residents and people who have origins in the Appalachia region. They are often greeted with derogatory language such as stupid, ignorant and more. They are often asked offensive questions such as Where did you get that accent? Or Do you know what TVs are? Rubin shares her views on how Hillbilly strive to advocate a better view on people from the Appalachia region.
ATM: What is your perspective on
the representation of poverty in America?
SR: We talk so much about this in
the movie. Poverty is represented in America as two dimensional, and it is a
human element. Poverty is something that is treated as materialistic,
stereotyped, and simplified. The wide story behind poverty is always removed.
We tried to put the human faith back on poverty in Hillbilly. It is a really important point that Appalachia is not a
place of poverty. It is a huge region that has over 23 million people. A lot of
people are not poor and are well off. They do not look like what most people
ATM: What else were you setting out
to tell in Hillbilly?
SR: We wanted to tell a story that
told a different story of Appalachia, the Appalachia you do not get to see. The
people who live here who do not look like the story. There are a lot of
stereotypes in a nugget of truth. You can always find it if you are looking to
prove it. However, we believe there is more to every stereotype that meets the
eye. We set out to uncover the people who come from Appalachia who do not look
like that. These people in their gender and sexual orientation. It exposes a
side of Appalachia that has not been widely seen in the media.
ATM: How do you feel in the
beginning stages of the establishment of when a stereotype is created that
someone can become marginalized?
SR: Stereotyped dumps down human
portraits. Stereotypes make people who are complicated have complicated
nuisances’ stories with their characters. We wanted to show people who are from
here who are represented with the Hillbilly stereotype and how different they
could be. Your question is how stereotypes lead to marginalization. People and
the rest of America see these stereotypes and do not go or look any further.
They do not go to see what this person is really like. Stereotypes offer a
quick easily summary of what people are like and what is in front of them. It
is so much more in reality of what is about these portraits. It becomes easy to
marginalize people when you do not see them as human beings and see them as
these two-dimensional characters.
ATM: In what ways does your film
talk about how a person can up rise from a stereotype?
SR: Some of it is personal beliefs.
Stereotyping is inevitable for a human being. It is something we just do.
Sociologically we put people in boxes, try to fit them into existing ideas of
how people are so that we can compartmentalize and manage the world. It is a
survival instinct. I do not want to criticize people for stereotyping because
this is what we do. On the other hand, all of us always have to be thinking
about and notice our reactions of how we put people in these deep boxes and see
them as complex and third-dimensional people.
ATM: Does a person have to come
from humbled or poor beginnings to understand the deep-rootedness of poverty
and how it affects one’s life?
SR: This is a really good question.
I have been amazed since the release of the film from people who do not have
working-class roots or Appalachia roots or rural roots. A lot of the film is
about media representation on stereotyping. Even if you are not from Appalachia
or rural areas, we all seem to laugh at these types of people. This resonates.
One of the most powerful responses to the film was in New York City. These are
people who had no connection to Appalachia. Some of them resonated with the
film. There are some universal themes to the film that rings true to everyone.
It is the idea of making assumptions of people based on what we see on T.V. We
have all done this. Everybody can relate to this.
ATM: How can the media affect the
detrimental perspective of contemporary Americans when talking to rural areas
and rural identity?
SR: Media does some of the most
damaging and cultural work when it comes to our current political and social
divide. It is media that is responsible for the portraits that make people seem
to like these characters who do not get along. The media says things like “All
Appalachia voted for Trump. He is only in office because the people in Southeastern
United States put him there.” It is not true. Often the media dump things down
in packages. Film and television are a fast medium. It is not an easy or the
written word. There is no time to necessarily go back. Often film and
television are responsible for these two stereotypes.
ATM: If the media are mostly known
for wrongly commercializing, and putting out the authenticity or the core truth,
then why do we still run to it?
SR: This too is a really good
question. This again is human nature. We cannot help it. We want and need these
human stories. We are used to stereotypes, and we do not watch media
critically. We sit back, and we are used to being entertained. Most of us do
not watch film and television to be educated, but we watch it get entertained.
These are very different time masters here. Also, specific to the “Hillbilly”
type, we got so used to seeing these types of portraits that most people do not
blink an eye when a person comes on scene with a pipe, slug hat, or southern
accent. This is what we expect of the region and we do not expect anything
else. We are so desensitized at this point to the stereotype. We just do not
see it critically. This is the most specific part to it. We do not even know we
are watching a stereotype, but we think we are watching reality. This is when
it’s the most damaging.
ATM: So, we are getting brainwashed and do not even know it.
SR: I would say this is not just
with “hillbillies,” but with women, folks of color, and folks from different
regions. This is kind of what is done.
ATM: A lot of times when you are
watching something that is offensive to a specific gender or sexuality, you do
not see it while it can also be targeting you. You do not see the persuasive
language until afterward. You go “wait that was targeted at me, and I did not
SR: Right. Maybe the professor
points it out. It is said in class, and then you realize what has been done.
ATM: Culturally, how would you
describe the American mass media in a way that would get captured in a future
SR: This is a great question. It is
very innovating. I have been in a documentary film for almost ten years. Within
these ten years, I have seen it changed, and evolution in the type of media
young people are creating and have the type of appetite for. We see a huge
amount of evolution in the documentary and fiction form. Different types of
cameras are allowing for different types of stories to be told. It is an
exciting time. Younger and younger people who have grown up during the internet
and post 9/11 are the ones who are becoming the future media makers of our
country. You have seen the social process through the media over the decades.
ATM: What is your connection with other female filmmakers, and how are you working to empower women in this industry?
ET: It was always super important to me to be surrounded by other female filmmakers. It is a very natural thing for me to create film with other women. I needed to fight for people’s attention, and I needed to fight when I started my career as a producer for men to take me seriously. So, it is important for me, but it is not a new thing. I started the production company on my own as a woman and asked another female producer to join me. It is important to create something together, and it is important to take a female approach when it comes to filmmaking. I also started to direct and have recently finished my second documentary with another female director. So, I am not just a female producer, but I am also a female film director. It is wonderful that I am around another female director as I love to make films with other women.
were the times you felt men did not take you seriously because of your gender?
ET: Also because of my age. I was very young when establishing MovieBar, it had just come out of film school, and was in my early to mid-20s. It is unusual for someone who is under the age of 25 and a female to establish a company, so it was the gender and the age. I was 100% confident that men wouldn’t take me seriously. I always needed to put extra effort and time into what I did for people to take me more seriously. Now that I have started to direct recently, I am facing the same problem. I needed to face the fact that some men just think women cannot direct. They thought we could not direct our documentary, it was an insult. Why do you think we need help? We never turn to you to ask for help. Why do you come to us offering help in directing when we never asked? I started out fresh as a director. Even recently, I witnessed some prejudice with this from people who are probably not experts in this field. “These chicks cannot direct.” When people noticed the success we gained in Europe for our documentary series, things started to change, and people started to take us more seriously.
you feel like the 1% during the start of your company because you were going
against expectations? What was the journey like for you to know you could do
Experience helped and gave me the confidence to know more about filmmaking.
Also, gaining more projects and trust from people. When you begin something,
you probably have a lack of confidence, so gaining experience helped me. When I
was calmer with my knowledge and had more confidence in myself, then I could be
more aware of who took me seriously and how I should act. I also had more
positive feedback than negative feedback and could deal with it easier after a
did you daydream or visualize while sitting in the seats of your film school,
as far as your career and the film business goes?
ET: I was thinking about Hollywood. When I was a freshman in film school, one of my producers turned to the entire class to ask, “Who spoke English? Who wanted to come for a summer job on an American shoot?” I raised my hand because I did speak English. I wanted so bad to know how to become a trainee. At 20, during the summer, I found myself on this huge American shoot. I was serving coffee to Mr. Ben Kinglsey and Patrick Dempsey. This is how I started my film career as a trainee. It was a wonderful experience because I saw some fantastic and phenomenal actresses. I have a theatre background, so I was interested in the acting. It was an amazing experience. Because of this American film shoot, it helped me to find myself in the film business. I really dreamed of making it in Hollywood, and today, here I am.
Explain the start of the preparation for BP Underground and introduction to
meeting your co-director.
ET: My background is in television and directing. So, I always had this creative aspect in me, even after becoming a producer I still see myself as a creative producer. After being a part of so many countless projects creatively as a producer, I found an urge I had not mastered. I met this woman named Anna who would later become my director for the BP Underground series. We knew each other briefly, but we met at a concert. She started to tell me about this idea of hers to portray certain sub cultures of Hungary. I told her I had the same idea because this is where I came from. If someone is connected to any of the sub cultures, then they really shape you. After becoming old enough, I felt cathartic in a good way about where I came from and what was important at the time. Every youngster belongs to certain music sub culture, but why? How? I wanted to portray it. We teamed up, and the rest is history.
misogyny infused in Budapest’s music similarly to how it is in American hip hop
come from Budapest, which is such an interesting spot in the room. We are
literally on the edge of east and west. My country became westernized thirty
years ago. I was already alive and only in elementary school, but I remember
the regime change portraying in the music subculture. This was not just hip hop
but hardcore punk. This was in the 2000s. Again, we are talking about the
American pop culture genre that some youngsters on the other side of the world
think is fascinating, and here they created their own version of the American
sub cultures. Both hardcore punk and hip hop are so deeply rooted into American
society. Everything that came from America back then seemed cool over there,
but they added their own voice to it, which was very different. When we are
talking about hip hop, I do see a lot of similarities in our music. For
example, we have Romani and Gypsies. It gave the Beastie Boys a legacy, which
is why white men can rap. We touch all these topics and others.
During the 1990s and early 2000s in Budapest, what were the main musical themes
present in the music?
were chaotic times. The regime changed a couple of years before. There was a
sense of hysteria that was going to be in our democracy. A lot of lyrics
touched on social justice, drugs, poverty, teenager problems, and depression.
There were other genres of hip hop, like the little gangster scene. Some songs
were funny and sarcastic about things in society. Also, in both sub cultures,
unity was important and wanting to feel like they belonged somewhere. You could
feel anger and frustration in the hardcore punk movement. These are the topics
now that come to my mind. There were a lot of questions about the future of
Hungary and society. Where would the society go?
are some of the interesting aspects of the dark anthology series The Field
Guide to Evil?
ET: I am the producer for the film The Field Guide to Evil. This is a horror movie, and the director is Peter Strickland. It is a film with eight sequences, and every sequence is about a folk story filmed in the director’s country. The folk stories are somehow horror related and very dark. Each of them is very brutal and executed in a very fascinating way. It is an art-house project. I oversaw the sequence directed by Peter Strickland. He is very well known in the indie world, and he is married to a Hungarian woman, so he picked a Hungarian folk story. Our sequence is called “The Cobblers’. It was so much fun!
does the horror in the film represent about Hungary?
ET: In every nation, folk mythology has darker aspects. It is very interesting to feel in any given nation’s consciousness, in a way. It is a fascinating topic. As a Hungarian filmmaker and person, it is very interesting to see the dark side within our mythology. These are the stories not being told to children, and you do not necessarily hear, but they still exist. What is interesting in the Astoria or Polish sequence is that we had so much in common, even though I did not know about this sequence and was not involved. The American sequence was also so different and interesting, and there is an American twist to it. It was very modern and contemporary compared to the European sequences that took place during the 19th century. You could not tell, but it was all ancient stuff vs. the American.
does living as a Hungarian woman mean? What are the average expectations or
views put on Hungarian women?
feel like Hungarian women have to fight for their rights. I am very sad to see
that we are not represented as well in our parliament. I am very sad about the
situation of Hungarian women. Domestic violence should be treated differently
and taken more seriously. It is such a tense issue for me. We should have more
female role models and more female leaders. We do not have a track record of
female leaders. For me now, living in the United States, it is refreshing to
see that the United States is on a better stage. However, we do have a lot of
successful female artists in Hungary, but it is still not enough. We should be
more present in the political field and every other field. We should be paid equally
and taken more seriously. Hungarian society needs more projects.
were your role models?
this is such a nice question. One of my role models was my mother for sure.
Aside from being a mom, she was a successful medical doctor. This was in
addition to being a mother, a wife, and being in a hospital all the time. She
managed it. My other role model was my aunt who is a very successful actress in
Hungary. We all grew up watching her movies. She was involved in the show
business, and this was what I saw as a young child. I saw her movies and
visited her at the theatre. Both were very super successful in Hungary and were
you could morph these two inspirations into a slogan, then what would it be?
was momentous for me to see a woman achieve her dreams. They both gained
tremendous success in their fields, and they were independent. For me, it was
being an independent woman, to decide to fight your destiny, and your own
actions. These are very important issues, and they both represent independent,
successful, and strong women.
were you able to hold on to these inspirations, while most Hungarian women did
not have access to those types of inspirational women?
ET: It is
about education. Hungarian education for women should be changed. Women should
get more respect and equal rights. Things are changing slowly.
does combining the topics of war, love, and amusement parks help to make a
stronger film narrative in Swoon? Also, what is your relationship to these
ET: It is a Swedish film, and I am producing it. It is Swedish life based, though I am not Swedish. It is a romantic love story, but it more reflects Swedish society, iconic places, and topics. It is about a Swedish amusement park in Stockholm, which has been the capital for 200 years. I am not Swedish, but I am honored these people choose me to be a part of their time. I will travel to Stockholm for the premiere of the movie in two weeks, but culturally, I am not connected to it because it represents a different country. I learned so much on this project about Swedish society.
These topics are adjoining in a way, unfortunately. It is important to discuss. It is an individual question about what you want to say in your movie. What is the movie saying? I believe in messages and that you should make a movie because of a message. You should not make a movie because you want to pose as a filmmaker. I know so many people that are just in the industry for the pose. I hate people like this. You should be in this industry if you have message or if you have something to give. Not because it is cool, but because you do have something to say. Unfortunately, there are always wars for a revolution. If you have specific message for a specific war, then it is great to make a movie about it. I come from a world where we had a lot of wars, revolutions, and battles. Nothing is stable. Our neighborhood is former Czechoslovakia.
a war next to my country in the 90s, which is insane in a neighboring country.
Love is something that is interesting for all of us. Amusements are a great
idea that we captured in this feature film Swoon. Besides this, I would
not use an amusement park, but it is deeply related. It is an element for the story.
It is about two families and their amusement parks and is sort of like a Romeo
and Juliet story in a way. I hope there is going to be an English version aired
in the United States.
are ways you are looking to share your European skills with American indie
filmmakers? Also, what are your upcoming projects and workload?
ET: After my premiere, I have to go to Hungary to receive a big award. It feels good being a part of something when coming from nothing. Now, I have many things on my desk. I am involved in projects in the United States. I am trying to share the bridge between European and American filmmakers. I am trying to work on co-productions together. I have so many projects going on. I am involved in a documentary, a huge feature film, and they are both American. I am also developing written content, and I have meetings. I just want to show American indie filmmakers they should come and collaborate with European filmmakers because it is beneficial to everyone.
has your upbringing as a Hungarian city girl shaped you into who you are today?
ET: Wow. I can appreciate things more compared to America. When I was born in Hungary, there was socialism. It was not like a poor country, but it was not a wealthy country either. For certain items as a teenager, I needed to travel to Astoria to buy them. Teenagers are enthusiastic about certain things. I still sometimes shop in United States on the quantity and choices. How many cornflakes are on a supermarket shelf? These certain things I am not used to. I am an 80s girl. In the 80s, even though I was young, I witnessed that art has a part in criticizing society. You can make a change with art. I saw this when I was a young girl. My father was a playwright and a director of museums. I grew up with a Bohemian family and intellectuals who made a difference in culture under socialism. I inherited it. Art is such a strong tool if you use it in the right way. It is definitely from where I grew up.
did you view the United States?
United States was the land of opportunities. I know the Unites States has its
problems, but it still is an existing democracy. I come from Europe where
democracy is not always that obvious. I love the United States. I was eleven
the first time I was in the United States. I had an uncle who lived in Chicago.
He invited me, so I spent an entire summer there. It was the end of the 80s. It
was such a huge difference for me coming from socialist, communist Hungary to
the United States.
differences did you see at eleven years old?
ET: I felt like kids in my age range were much freer in a way. Back then, I did feel it was a much wealthier place than the country I came from everything was existing, and everything was here. Everything is quite fascinating. I remember when I was eleven, and we went to Toys R US, and I freaked out. I was like, “This cannot be true.” I was so into music. This was the MTV era. I was like, “Oh my god. MTV!” I was just watching all the music videos and brought tons of music in every form.
did you tell your Hungarian friends about your venture in the United States?
were so jealous because I got home with so many American clothes. They liked
me, but they were jealous. Thank you for the brilliant questions, I enjoyed
talking with you! These were such relevant and eventful questions.
S. Epatha Merkerson has played in various
jaw-dropping films through the later part of the 90s and until now.
Merkerson’s role on Chicago Med has her once again taking on an authoritative
and leadership position as the character Sharon Goodwin. The NBC drama features
Merkerson running the hospital. She carries the important trait of believing in
her employees. This allows them to continue doing their best work. Merkerson
gives her opinion and view on her character. “Well, she runs the hospital.
Goodwin takes charge. She believes in her staff, and the buck stops with her.
She doesn’t suffer fools and will call someone out when they’re wrong.”
Merkerson playing a
leadership role is often not easy. It comes with challenges, problems, and
issues with employees. This could challenge her character’s point of view.
Strength and grace get used in the portrayal of Sharon Goodwin. How would
Sharon Goodwin handle a stressful situation? “Hopefully with grace but we’ll
see…Gwen Garrett has arrived, and Goodwin’s’ authority is being questioned!”
It can be very stressful to come into a job and have your judgment of things
get questioned. Goodwin pushes this through and looks to provide the best care
at the hospital. She carries out the true description of her job. This happens
through the pressure from the higher-ups on the job. How did you prepare for
this character? “I spent time with an administrator in a Chicago hospital and
with our medical consultant at Cook County Hospital Burn and Trauma Center.”
Aside from Merkerson’s role of Goodwin
on Chicago Med, she recounts on a previous character that resonated
with her. Her character Lola Delaney in the independent film Come Back
Little Sheba. What has been a character/role that has resonated with you
through your career? “Lola Delaney from Come Back Little Sheba. I’m
rarely cast in roles where the character is so vulnerable. It was refreshing
and challenging at the same time.” This 2008 Broadway revival of Come Back,
Little Sheba earned Merkerson a Tony nomination.
The award-winning and long-standing actress shares the characteristics and traits behind being a successful actor and her approach on acting. “Training, work ethic, being prepared, being on time, and respecting the process.” Through the years of being an actor, these are Merkerson’s key elements of how she approaches the acting industry. “I believe no matter where you are in your career being a team player is key. I’ve worked with some incredible people over my 40 years and counting and the ones I remember the most are those actors, technicians, designers, directors who respect everyone on set.”
Christine Toy Johnson stars in Marvel’s Iron Fist and Lifetime’s You. Christine speaks with ATM about her obligations to acting, poetry, and shooting at night on set.
Explain your technique to acting.
CTJ: Since I am a writer and an actress, I tend to approach characters from the same angle in finding out what makes them tick. What are their motivations, obstacles, and objectives? This is a very basic acting 101 thing, but this is the place to start. I then like to look at the character’s subtext, the underbelly, and motivations. What the character’s central wounds are and the things that affect them — also, the things that affect the things around them, their decisions, and actions. I also have a list of questions that I like to ask myself to get to know the character. This is both from an acting point of view and if I am creating the character. What are the things they battle to achieve? How do they evolve in their revelation, as they go through the arc of their story?
Why were most of the episodes for Marvel’s Iron Fist shot at night?
CTJ: We shot a lot at night because the exteriors in New York City were important to the storytelling. There were some times when I went for a normal television call time at 6 am. There was a time where the call time was 1 am. New York looked different, and the streets were quiet, and they could get the atmosphere they needed. The traffic is less busy in the wee hours of the morning. It is true when they say the city never sleeps. The neighborhoods were scouted out to make sure there was no traffic. The city was never completely dead. I got on set from 3 am to 4 am in the morning. There were always people out. It was easier for them to manage and get the light and the soundscape to be quieter than in the middle of the morning or even at dusk. The light and the sound would change. They would make sure the street we were shooting on was locked down.
Also express how you changed and what you learned throughout these four months?
CTJ: This was my first time working on a project for such a consecutive period of time. I have done different shows over some time, but this was more concentrated. I learned how to concentrate differently and how wonderful it was to establish this kind of family on a show. Also, how you can discover along with the writers how your character changes. When first starting to shoot in January, I did not know how my character would develop. The writers knew the arc of the story. As the story continued to shoot, we all learned different things and the elements contributed to the characters and the storyline. We all learned something new when working on the show.
What does your character say about a woman that can take charge?
CTJ: It says a lot. It says a woman can overcome whatever obstacles she has and to do what is right. Even if some mistakes might be made along the way. A woman can stick to her guns and retain her sense of what is right.
How can someone like your character give both families and work attention
without making the partition between the two wider?
CTJ: Women are the multitaskers of the earth. We just figure it out. I know I feel very strongly about the importance and the ability to make priorities and that they get done. Intrinsically, I will say women are great multitaskers. It is certainly true of this character I play on Iron Fist.
As the poetry teacher to the female lead in Lifetime’s You, what are some poets
that interest you?
CTJ: Oh, good question. Emily Dickinson. Her poem I dwell in Possibility “I dwell in Possibility – A fairer House than Prose –More numerous of Windows –Superior – for Doors – Of Chambers as the Cedars –Impregnable of eye –And for an everlasting Roof the Gambrels of the Sky – Of Visitors – the fairest –For Occupation – This –The spreading wide my narrow Hands To gather Paradise.” I love the idea of dwelling in possibility. There are so many times with everything in the world and life; we can as is our human nature dwell in fear and the idea of lack. I like the idea of dwelling in possibility and knowing there are infinite possibilities out there that we can take if it is intentional.
Yes. If you want it, then go get it.
CTJ: This is right. This goes back to your question about being able to balance everything. I did not mean to be glib about us being multitaskers. I think it is true. It comes from an intentional commitment to making things happen and not being afraid of not being able to do it. But knowing you can do things you set your mind to do. You have to make space for it, but it is possible.
The fear sometimes leads you closer to accomplishing what you need to
accomplish. Have you ever heard of her poem ‘Success is counted the sweetest?’
CTJ: No, but I want to know it.
It is also a poem about Emily Dickinson, and it happens to be my favorite. She
talks about a courageous army and a dying warrior. The moral of the poem is
saying that only a person who has suffered true defeat can understand success.
So, meaning a person who fails and fails is the only one that knows success at
its finest — not the person that barely fails.
CTJ: This is certainly true. Also, the idea that you can’t appreciate what you could have until you have not had it. This probably is not what Emily Dickinson was meaning.
No, she says a line that relates to exactly what you are saying, but she says
it in an Emily Dickinson way.
CTJ: I am a big believer in gratitude. Also, in acknowledging the gift that you have and the potential, you can live up to. Being mindful of this is a driving force in my life and career.
In You, at what point does his deep infatuation become an obsession and love
comes out the picture?
CTJ: This is a tough question. This is probably different to everyone. The circumstances of the show are pretty unusual. I do not know how to answer this. I would hope that the love between them comes when it is mutual and when they have gotten to know each other very well in a compassionate and human way. Obsession develops when someone is focused on their lens and needs. When it is a mutual relationship, the people care about each other. Obsession seems to be one-sided.
How would you classify this deep infatuation with the lead character?
CTJ: This character Joe is sure he knows what is best for Bec. This drives him to do all of these things for her. For example, he kills one of her ex-boyfriends because he thinks he is in the way. Joe thinks he is doing the best thing for her. It is not only a feeling that he wants to be with her but a certainty that he knows what is best for her. He is what is best. He is going to remove any obstacle that will keep them away from each other. This is where I said it was one sided. He has not checked in with her to see if she wanted her ex-boyfriend dead. He just decided this would be a good thing. Once it becomes a little unbalanced, then you are tipping the realm of an obsession.
Brian Sieve wrote compelling script for The Possession of Hannah Grace. The movie shows what goes into a script after writing it and how it can influence the audience’s view of the movie. Sieve examines how identity in this movie is a constant reminder of regaining one’s self through the main character Megan Reed.
ATM: Why do you like to write
material that messes with your mind?
BS: This is a really good question. I was certainly a child of cable television. It was cable television during the phase when these types of movies were being shown on T.V for the first time. The scary and R-rated movies. They were so easily accessible. It was a little like riding a roller coaster as a kid. You are sort of drawn into the excitement of it but also scared of the dangerous element. From a young age, I had the push and pull of being attracted to something that was dangerous and fun, but also the fear of “is this going to scare me to death.” I gravitated to those elements for some reason. My parents are always horrified when I tell the story of being able to watch movies like this as a child, they say, “Where were we?” I say, “Good question.”
ATM: Why this title for your film?
BS: I’ll tell you a story. When I first wrote the script, it was called Cadaver. I sat down with Sean Robins, who is the producer for Broken Road. We talked about different ideas. He saw a news article about working in a morgue as part of their community service sentence — for drunk driving or whatever. There was something about this idea that was inherently creepy — one person working alone in a morgue. Why would someone want to spend all this time working a night shift in a morgue? Why would someone be drawn to this job? Is this something they are pushed into?
Out of this, I came up with the character Megan Reed who is a former police officer recovering from some addiction issues and PTSD. It made sense to me that someone would have to prove themselves to build their life back up after they had lost their identity or sense of self from a traumatic experience. This kind of person would be willing to do anything to get their life back on track. For me, creating characters like this who are willing to do anything to regain what they once had is always an interesting place to start. From there, I came up with the idea that a cadaver is brought into the morgue where Megan is working and all the supernatural stuff starts happening. Cadaver was the most logical title because the script was essentially about a cadaver. After selling the spec script to Sony/Screen Gems, developing the script with them, and preparing for the movie to be released, the Sony marketing team discovered that cadaver is a word a lot of people did not know, especially a younger audience.
BS: I was surprised too. I was like, “You have to be kidding me. Come on, in high school I knew what a cadaver was.” This is what their marketing said. They tested a variety of titles. The one that came back as most interesting and exciting was the “The Possession of . . .” So they took the character of Hannah Grace who is the villain in the movie and used her name to complete the title. Because later in the movie you find out the villain was a victim of possession. The original title had a bit more mystery to it. You never take into account that there is this whole side of marketing as a screenwriter.
ATM: While writing the script and
visualizing the scenes in your mind, would you say that this is your movie
BS: For sure. It is really important to visualize what the character and their environment look like. You want the story to feel as authentic as possible. The authenticity is not there if you cannot immerse yourself in this world. I always spell out what the location looks like with any script that I write. Especially with a script like this because it takes place in a morgue. The layout of the morgue and the way that the characters navigate their way through the location becomes important in staging the set pieces. It is important to draw a visual map, so you can feel you are living in it with the characters.
ATM: What expectations are held on
you as a screenwriter?
BS: With a horror film, it’s not only important to deliver scares to the audience, but also provide them with characters they can see themselves in. As the characters go through an emotional arc, you want that arc to be cathartic for the audience. For me, the expectation is always that the writer will build events around the character arcs that force the characters to examine their lives and hopefully force us to examine our lives through them
ATM: How did you examine yourself
through the characters in this script?
BS: Megan is dealing with the loss of her identity. She has lost herself after a traumatic experience, including her self-worth and her self-confidence. This has brought on an anxiety disorder, which is a scary, universal fear for me and many others. Losing your sense of self and at the same time being able to overcome your anxieties about these losses can be a terrifying prospect. Through Megan, I was forced to confront my own anxiety issues. Conquering those fears and those demons is what allows you to prevail at the end of the day, but that can be a very long journey.
ATM: How can there be a sense of
morality in horror film? How can someone become scared, mentally confused, and
still have a new take on life?
BS: The audience can become scared, but also feel really connected with the characters. Fear can come from now knowing where the main character will end up. Going through the experience with the characters in the movie, audience members who are dealing with similar issues in their lives will can hopefully come out of the movie inspired by Megan’s ability to conquer her demons. The goal of going to see this movie is finding the same strength in yourself and the issues you are dealing with that Megan finds by conquering her own demons in the film. She is not a character that believes in the afterlife. She believes that when you die, you die. Her core belief system is tested throughout the course of the movie because she is seeing things that make her think she’s crazy. Having the audience test their own belief system can be fun, exciting, cathartic, and introspective. Hopefully they walk out the movie feeling what Megan feels, which is a sense of accomplishment.
ATM: How was your late mother, Celebrity Hair
Stylist Rosita Mendoza, an inspiration in your career? How did she influence
IC: I do not have
children in real life. I take the role as Alba after her and the way of how she
would have said something. She was very humorous and eccentric, and Alba does
get like this. My intentions and reflections come from her. I hear her voice as
ATM: Why do you believe the American
television strays away from addressing concepts such as an older woman’s
IC: This is a great
question. It is not only sexuality, but mostly on older women, period. It is
the very ageism of living in this country, and also working in Hollywood. I
cannot complain because they have given me a chance to play this character that
is kind of out there. They put her in situations where you would have never
seen an older woman be in, let alone an older Latina. I am grateful for the
writers, grateful that they have rallied around Alba’s character and that they
are exploring her sexuality among other things.
She is not this one-dimensional character.
You will see some of
it in the coming season. I told one of the directors, “I do not feel the
same because my body is not the same. I do not feel as attractive”, and
this happens to a lot of us in our older ages. We feel less attractive, and
this is how society positions the way you think. I do not feel this way all the
time, but Ivonne feels very sensual with her age. They take many great strides with
Alba in trying to break this ageism mold about an older woman being sensual,
but other things remain in place. They sometimes ask me to do things in a
certain way while playing Alba even thought I would do it another way, closer
to my reality.
I am an older woman,
but I am still young in my mind, so I use modern references. I have to keep in
mind that this is Alba, and that her life is different than mine. She was
exposed to different things than me growing up. When going through these
choices they go “Can you do it more conventional?” It is sometimes not a
conventional way when I’m delivering the lines like my mother would have. She
was a very independent and vocal in the way she lived. She was very successful
in her career.
Alba does not have a
care in the world. I try to infuse this strength in her. This is the thing with
older characters. You are supposed to be ridiculous because you are older. Older
equals ridiculous and out of touch. It is ageism. Now they have a chance to
explore the sexuality of the character on Jane
the Virgin, especially in the season coming out in January.
ATM: What are your views on how your character
progressed? How did it end last season?
IC: I was in shock. We
did not have this page of the script. I was blown away by the episode as I was
seeing it. Writers went full on Telenovela style, which in Spanish is totally
different than what we are doing in North America. Even though you are doing a
Telenovela in Spanish and keeping it campy, you are not playing over the top
and campy. It is the norm to have this style in the Telenovela. We play it knowing
we are keeping the campy and over the top. I cried and was happy the actor
playing Michael was working again when Michael appeared at the end. It seemed
like a little bit of a fantasy when he came back and reappeared. It was real. A
lot of the characters in the plot of the show had to do with the reason he did
not die. You see how he died, and you see more implications. It all makes sense
and it will be interesting to see how he comes back for all the actors,
especially Jane’s character.
ATM: How has your acting technique change from
when you started to what it is now?
IC: I have been doing
this for so long it becomes second nature because you are in it. While young, for
your instrument as an actor to recognize the signals of where it has to go
emotionally, physically, mentally in my characters you do not enclose anything.
You do all the exercises constantly, you write on the board, and then you
accomplish them. You achieve another goal and then do another technique. I had
made a career in theatre first. This teaching gives you the opportunity to
develop your technique. I have been doing it since 1975, and it just becomes
second nature. You can look at a page and see the intentions and actions the actor
has to take. I am now in television mode. It does not have to look theatrical
but has to look like a slice of your character’s life.
I believe in dreaming
a lot in this craft. Some actors go: “It is what I feel.” Well, who cares what you feel. It is about
what the character feels and needs to have. I learned this at Stanford. I
graduated with the knowledge that went into both my mind and career. It becomes
a part of your DNA.
ATM: How did working with Francis Ford Coppola
reflect your career today and what would you tell him?
IC: I have never seen
Francis after doing the Godfather Part II. Can you believe this? I went to San
Francisco and did Mother Courage. I was doing Repertoire. I was Mother Courage.
I called his office because I wanted him to see me. I wanted him to know that he
influenced my life and career. I had never known how to become an actress. I
had never dreamed or known I had this in me. I wanted to experience and witness
what he provoked. That day, unfortunately he was out of town. I spoke to
someone in his office and said, “You have to tell him this is what he did for
my life. He changed my life forever.”
He was just looking
for a nightclub actor. After
meeting me, he decided to give me a name in the movie. This was for my first
credit. He knew that I had never done a movie before. He had the presenter say
the name of my character. This was very generous of him, and he did not have to
do this. He had the casting director call me specifically to say he did this
It took me a year and
a half to resign from my television show in Puerto Rico. It was a variety show,
which was on the air for two years. I had decided to become an actress. Everyone thought I was crazy to leave. When studying with
Lucille Ball and telling her this story, she said: “You left a banquet for an
empty table out here. You are truly ambitious.” I had never thought I was. I
was driven by the art and craft that I discovered in my soul and heart. This was
all provoked by Francis. By him just giving me this part in The Godfather II. I
wish I had the opportunity to see him and tell him this before one of us is
gone off this planet.
ATM: When did you become grounded in your
womanhood and sexuality?
IC: I was known as a
sex symbol in my country while I was younger. I rejected this for a long time.
Back then no one would take you seriously. Now, after the 90’s, I realized that
I have a right to express it. People think, especially with Latino characters,
that somehow you are a hot young chick and the hot tamale while younger. Then,
they cast you as an apron-wearing grandmother who dresses in white clothes. She
is always feeding the family and does not bring anything to herself. She does
not have boyfriends or any form of sexuality. I realized this, which is why I
strive to look for it in the characters that I play. It is a stigma that we
have for older women. I look at Ivonne, which is myself, and I am a very
sensual woman. It doesn’t have to do with being alone or having a boyfriend. You
do not have to have a boyfriend to be sensual. You have to have your
authenticity and be your authentic self. Some women are taught to
Not me. I am not going
to be asexual in anything. I am going to be wonderful and fabulous. I am going
to show my body and that I am in shape. I have never done anything with my face
to become younger. You can be fabulous with just wearing your wrinkles and
showing how mature you have become. You earned it. I try to bring my true self,
and people on the show know this.
ATM: What were the social norms regarding the
social construct in civilization for how women were positioned during the
time you emerged into adulthood?
IC: Women were very
restricted. I believe in the social revolution of feminism. I have partaken on
this movement since moving out here to the States. I grew up during the time of
the 60’s when you were supposed to behave in a certain way. I had a boyfriend
during this time and was going to marry him. I was a Psychology major at the
University of Puerto Rico at this time. I had to dress like he wanted me to
dress. I had to put on the makeup he wanted me to put on. I had to do my hair as
he wanted me to do my hair. This was normal. It was okay for the man to tell
you what to do, what to say or not…so you would not embarrass him or his
This was how I was
brought up. At least in the 60’s. I joined a beauty contest because I needed
money. I wanted the money to do my master’s degree and this made us break
up. He just did not understand how or why I was going to be parading in a
bathing suit in front of thousands of people. He thought this was degrading the
name of his family. Oh no. It was to the point where he would supervise and
approve how I looked before we went out.
This is when I broke
out of this mold and said no more. I joined a hippy community for almost a year
and completely dropped out of society. I wanted to understand who I was in my
art and in my mind. I wanted to figure out what I wanted to do, not what my
mother, my boyfriend, or society wanted me to do. During the 60’s, it was very
hard as a woman to do this. You were accused of being immoral. You were accused
of many things, but it did not matter. As long as I knew in my heart the truth
of what I was being fed into my head, I had to look for my part in my journey.
It was very different.
I look through the
pictures of me as a fashion runway model at this time. We used to dress wearing
little gloves. There was a photo of me on a Pan American airplane and we are
there with our gloves and hats. You had to dress up to travel. It was a
different time when I was brought up. This was exactly it. You were not
supposed to have opinions or be vocal because it was not lady like. Believe me,
it was a very interesting time to live in.
ATM: This sounds very strict, and that women
were voiceless in the pursuit of their identity.
IC: Yes, we were like
a second-class citizen for sure. You at the time accepted this position as the
norm. There are still women who do. This is incredible. This is the 21st Century,
and there are women who still behave like this and who believe this is the way
to live, to please others and society. Unbelievable.
ATM: How do you feel the integration of
Telenovelas into American entertainment has changed the view of television in
IC: There are a lot of
Telenovela style shows coming into American television. Examples include Jane
the Virgin and Ugly Betty. These are shows in Spanish that come from
Venezuela and Colombia. The shows are brought here, and they get Americanized.
You cannot do the original because it does not have the same understanding of
how we think in society. It is interesting to see that there is a lot of
prejudice taking place against Hispanics, but yet, these Hispanics shows are
becoming hits in North American television. It is so ironic and interesting.
They are Hispanic
shows except ones they get adapted into the United States they become
Americanized Hispanic shows.
My character was not
an immigrant in the original Jane the Virgin because she was in Venezuela. My
character was created as an illegal immigrant to add to the American landscape.
They have me speaking only in Spanish. This is another reality out here for
Spanish people of the first generation. These are shows coming from Latin
American and now they are influencing American television.
These shows have
changed the style for many other shows. It is like a Telenovela, but then it is
not. To me, it is not, but a Telenovela interpretation. This show is a Dramedy.
These shows were like serious shows in the Latin society. Jane the Virgin was
not a comedy, and neither was Ugly Betty. Here, she ended up working on Madison
Ave. It is interesting about the take of these shows when they are adapted to
the North American market. I like the idea that in North American shows, the
Latino American family are here in the United States as normal people. They are
not only in gangs, drug dealing, or being criminals. They are hard working. An
important part of society to raise their family like any other Northern
American family would do.
ATM: What is next for you after Jane the
IC: My plan, if I do
not get another show after playing Alba on Jane the Virgin, is to move to
Puerto Rico. My mother left me her house after she died. I also invested in
some real estate. I would like to stay here
and make some films. I am interested in the community of filmmaking over here
and creating stories. This is my plan, but you must always believe that God is
in charge. You have plans and then God has other plans for you. I would like to
live six months here and six months there to take care of my spirit. I long to
be in my country and to smell the air. I long to see the green of the
landscapes. I will live to contribute to my fellow Puerto Ricans and to my
Sydney Viengluang plays Dr. Sun Mei in Syfy’s Z Nation. She was introduced in the third season as the head of the Pan Asian American army. Viengluang talks with ATM about her role, series themes and breaking barriers.
ATM: Why are science fiction and
action your favorite genres?
SV: You do not have to live on
earth with science fiction. Growing up I always loved the shows that used more of
the imagination than the real world. These are shows like Star-Trek and others.
For some reason, on other Syfy networks shows there tends to be diverse
casting. We have an African American woman lead on Z Nation played by Kellita
Smith. There is so much diversity in the science fiction world as far as
casting. This is because “aliens” can be different colors. They all do not have
to be like white America. I like science fiction, the use of imagination, going
out to the different worlds, and galaxies. Futurist topics to me have always
been interesting to me. I have always loved action. I grew up as a tomboy. I
always liked to do physical things and things like riding my bike. The stars in
the action movies would always kick bad guys’ butts. These were the T.V. shows
and movies that I was always drawn to.
ATM: Wouldn’t the stereotype or
what we consider as a “tomboy” today get seen as being inclusive?
SV: Nowadays people want to see kick-ass and bad ass women especially for people of color. I just watched the trailer for the new Men in Black movie starring Tessa Thompson. She is playing one of the agents. I was like “Go, Tessa!” This generation is much more open to seeing strong, capable women that do not need to be saved by a man — also, the man being their knight and shining armor. This genre now you see as one of my favorites Jessica Jones. Back in the 90s, it was Jennifer Garner in Alias. These are the types of shows that I grew up watching and still watching. This generation is more open-minded and inclusive in wanting to see strong female characters because this is who we are and that is who they are. It is more inclusive and reflective in this day and age.
ATM: How can futuristic things like
yourself further one’s imagination regarding thinking outside of the scope of
what is presented to us humans?
SV: People who think outside the
box are people who probably had a wild imagination as a child. They are
creating these worlds because sometimes people have the talent. Some people
have the talent of saying “I am going to make this alien world. I am going to
do make Star Wars.” These are things that were never imagined before, and this
is a great talent to have. The writers and creators who can create this world
have an extraordinary imagination that normal people probably have but do not
tap into. This is because they already have the “think outside of the box” mind
frame — this where they can go outside of the box in passing.
ATM: What has been your furthest
thought that would be considered outside of the box?
SV: Being an Asian American woman and
pursuing an acting career is already not typical and outside of the box. This
is already very rare. This is already something within itself that is showing
people that this is outside of the box.
ATM: How does the show Z Nation add
to the American Science Fiction television series?
SV: It is one of a kind of a show. I always go to diverse casting. Karl Schaefer who is the creator and show-runner could have made Kellita’s character a white woman. She is the lead of the show. He could have cast everyone white. This is the POV of the show. This is the landscape of T.V. and science fiction. It has everything for everyone it is not just different races, but it has different age ranges. We have comedy, drama, humor, and other things. This is why we resonate with families. It is a zombie apocalypse and horror. This is why you see families who are fans say, “they get together every Friday night to watch it.”
ATM: This show is the new norm for the next generation and just
became the norm for the previous generation. The plots and themes that are
emerging which would be the norm for your son or daughter, what do you think
they would say about it?
SV: They will probably look back
and laugh at us just like we did of what Hollywood was 50 years ago. When you
read about Hollywood 50 years ago, and it was rare to see anybody of color. If
it was, then it was very stereotypical. We would get white washed were
a white person would play an Asian person. This was ridiculous. The sons and
daughters of this next generation will look back and say “Are you serious? You
guys were having trouble finding Asian American actors. There were biases. It
was hard for Asian Americans to find third-dimensional roles.”
Gwen McGee gives insight on her role as a medical examiner on Criminal Minds and explains the deep-rooted psychology on why people might like to play deranged characters on television shows like Criminal Minds. McGee also has a recurring role as a judge on Days of Our Lives.
ATM: Was there any other shows before Criminal
Minds that centered around the psychology of a criminal?
GM: I watch a variety of shows that deal with
criminals. You are interested in psychology as an actor. There is something
that happens to them that turns them. This could be the death of a parent as a
child or some abuse as a child like a guy who likes to kill women. He probably
did not have a good relationship with his mother. Maybe a girlfriend did him
wrong, and this twisted him wrong. The root of his thing would be rejection.
These are all negative and evil spirits. When you are a criminal, you never
think you did anything wrong. You always have a justification. This is why people
love to play those characters because they are also juicy and fun. They always
have wrapped mentality. Even in the episode I did, the person figures the
husband is cheating. Her answer is to kill everybody. “Ok lady.” These are
ATM: The psychology behind their crimes that is
deep-rooted in them mostly derived from their childhood?
GM: Childhood or adulthood. It could be all the
way up from their 20s. They have some trauma that was never resolved.
ATM: This is sad.
GM: It is totally sad. Even people with
relationship issues that have been burned by someone. They think “I will never
trust like this again.” They messed up all their relationships instead of
owning it. “I got burned in a relationship, and now I am going to move on.” This
is not how they think logically. They think “This is never going to happen to me
again. I am going to get them first.” It is rooted in evil or unresolved
emotions. It is always the good thing to forgive and let go. There is no
perfect person. You have to forgive, or it just eats you up.
ATM: It interesting when the killer on these
shows forget they did the crime. They say “Oh, it was not me. I did not do it.”
GM: Some people have split personalities, and
this comes from trauma. So, to survive a trauma, you might go into another
character. For them, it is a split personality. “Joe did not do it, but Tommy
did.” It is another way of getting into another space going into the dark side
to commit something like that. You have to think there are a lot of loose screws
with people that do this type of thing. I would think they never got any
psychiatric help or basic therapy. They do not know how to do it. Maybe they
never got exposed to it or thought it was an option. You have talk or vent it
out. You can write a letter to vent and not mail it. I have done this a lot
(Laughs). You feel so much better once writing the letter and then you move on.
There is a lot of violence in this world.
ATM: How does the style of the director make
your role on Days of Our Lives conveyable to the audience or viewers watching?
What level of aggression do you take on as a judge on this show? How would you
say black women judges or black judges are portrayed on American
GM: Soaps’ actors are some of the hardest
working actors ever. A script a day. Directors style vary per episode.
They all follow format there. Rehearse and shoot. Listen and keep order. I
demand professionalism in my court as Rose Duncan and usually get it due to my
tactic to take how they act in court into my decision. Reality show judges are
different from real judges. It’s up to the individual actor to portray the
judge as they see fit with direction from the director or producers. Pray, I
get it right. Power can corrupt you know.
ATM: What did you envision your life at 21? What
emotions did you possess?
GM: I set out to be a movie star after getting
out of drama school. Read books on how to do it. Started in New York and
what they taught in school–How to act and what you encounter, — the Business
of acting –was two different things. Even thought about teaching the
business of acting but maybe they have added those classes by now. Universities
do a disservice by not teaching the BUSINESS of acting.
The highlights of living in New York was getting
cast in Do the Right Thing by using persistence on Spike Lee and New
Jersey Drive directed by Nick Gomez. Getting cast as one of the original
members of Breakfast Time with Tom Bergeron and Laurie Hibberd when they
launched the FX Network. In Los Angeles, the director who helped me a lot
is John Terlesky. He cast me in two lead roles in Malevolent opposite Lou
Diamond Philips and my first episode of Criminal Minds. John rocks. Rap started
to become hot. Saw LL Cool J in concert. Loved his energy.
Nowadays, it’s good for actors to know basic
filmmaking. I took a class in that and loved it.
Helps you express yourself as an artist. I shot
a documentary short called SISTER CARE which won Best Documentary in the 2018
168 film festival. I was very happy about that. It’s edgy and basically
about the impact of street drugs on the family members that must take care of
them after something goes wrong with their body or brain, i.e., MS or Dementia.
Perseverance. Sheer determination. (This will be
needed throughout any career) Then my mentor at the time told me
God would help me with my career. That was groundbreaking news
to me, and I started going to church. There were Broadway people in church and
actors and musicians in New York. That helped tremendously in those early years
and still does. Actors must get a handle on rejection- it’s part of the
business. Church and or bible reading helps.