Where were you when you were 11 years old? You’ll likely be asking yourself this exact question after you hear the success story of Kayla Bohan. Kayla is an 11-year old actress/musician with over 82.9k Instagram followers to her name. Not to mention, the young actress also completed her second feature-length film, both of which were directed by her mother, Kate. This mother-daughter relationship is like no other, and in this interview, the pair discuss their relationship, working together on a film, and future plans.
Kate and Kayla, could you two discuss your relationship a little bit?
(Kate): My daughter, Kayla, and I are very close, and we enjoy each other very much and never run out of things to talk about when we are together.
But Kayla is not just my daughter, she is the girl who always surprises me and inspires me to improve and grow up along with her.
Completing the feature-length film, “Harper,” is one of the great highlights of our respective lives and is an accomplishment we share together that we both can be proud of. For us, has been the perfect work situation with mutual feelings of achievement.
Shooting “Harper” was very challenging, with many scenes that were shot in remote locations, such as mountains, farmsteads, and this was done in the heat of the summer with lots of biting mosquitoes.
Kayla as Harper had very physical scenes that we captured on film. She had to take falls, jumping from here to there, making it seem as if she was flying as she moved quickly across the screen.
Playing Harper, an 11-year-old girl in the film, Kayla not only has to smear mud on her face to look ugly, but she also had scenes where she was galloping on horseback across fields then she had scenes where she fishes in a pond and slips into the water.
On one particular night, in the middle of a hot Summer at 3 o’clock in the morning, we were shooting a scene in the forest thick with mosquitos. In that scene, poor Kayla had to wear shorts and a vest and crawl through some ruins while the mosquitoes were eating her alive. She also had to smear wet mud on her body as part of the scene. The heat with humidity and smells were terrible but she’s stuck with it.
In one of the most important scenes, she was being chased by wolves and had to climb up a tree and then fall out onto the rubble underneath. Then she had to lay face down with her mouth near the ground crying for help waiting for rescue. While real wolves were not really chasing her, the bugs on and around the tree were real and were climbing onto her and into her hair.
The scene took six takes and over an hour to shoot with bugs everywhere. Kayla was a real professional however and got through the scene even though she was freaked out by the bugs. Kayla can be very fearless when it comes to getting a good shot and getting the scene right. She is exceptional, I think a lot of kids would have given up under those circumstances, but she can be very strong and tough when she needs to be. Her strength, hard work, and courage on the film set helped inspire me to keep going even when I was super tired and running on empty.
I feel her performance as “Harper” was very real, natural, and memorable. She can convey so much meaning and drama in her eyes.
The film “Harper” was released in North America in December 2021. I think people who see the movie will remember the strong optimistic and lonely character played by Kayla. I believe her performance will touch the hearts of many people. Many industry professionals have been impressed and said, “The acting is so real at such a young age, how does she do it? Where did she come from? She really is an artist. Her unyielding performance on screen is truly admirable and fascinating to watch.”
And now the film is on its way to the 94th Academy Awards for consideration. I am very proud and hopeful for my daughter’s future, she is my pride and joy.
(Kayla): On and off-screen, I really have a lot of real feelings to share. During the dozens of days of filming, my mother was not only the director but also the producer of the entire crew. She worked 12 hours a day. Because she has so much responsibility, she rarely even had time to take care of me when she got a second to rest.
Even though she tries to make a special effort for me because I am her daughter, she also tries to be very nice and supportive to everyone. Out of respect for her and her position I usually call her the “director.”
Almost every scene is very difficult to set up and prepare for and it goes without saying that sometimes we must repeat scenes many times before we get it right. It can be exhausting for everyone. I try to help where I can, taking care of my own props and being prepared for [the] next scene.
I saw my mother working very hard even when she was very tired and distressed. Sometimes there wasn’t even time for a meal or she would have to miss meal time so she could prepare for the next shot but she never complained.
Throughout the shoot, every minute of our mother-daughter collaboration was very moving and enjoyable. In my mind, she is not only a talented director and producer but also the personification of the perfect mother. Her hard work has paid off, and finally, we see this film in the running for the 94th Academy Awards, which is an incredible honor for my mom.
I believe her hard work and sincerity will soon be recognized by the industry. With the good buzz around this film, I hope film contracts began to fly around my mom like snowflakes. The success of this film will open many doors for her. I am proud of my mom’s intelligence talent and beauty. She’s not perfect, but she always tries very hard to be the best she can be.
Also, I would like to share [some of the] questions that I often encounter from people on set: “Why don’t you look more like your mother? Is Kate your real mother?” When they look at me, they see my light complexion, light brown hair, and eyes that change color in the sun compared to my mom a funny intelligent Asian woman with black hair and dark eyes.
A lot of people ask this question, I think it’s because superficially my hair color and eyes look European but if you look closer you will see the fine features of my mother in my face and in my smile, and in my heart.
Sometimes this question surprises me because not only did my mother give birth to me but she is my day-to-day hero and champion giving me the strength and the wisdom to be a good person.
My mother has tried hard to make sure I have a normal life. She saw to it that I grew up in a beautiful but simple home in Los Angeles and got a chance to study in a local public school, participate in after-school sports and art activities, and eat delicious cookies baked by her.
To go a little further, what is it like being able to work with each other every day? Is the separation between family-time and work ever difficult?
(Kate): Every opportunity to work and spend time with my daughter makes me very happy. Every day and every moment with Kayla are precious. She is like the rising sun with endless energy. Sometimes as her mother, I have to give her a warm reminder when she needs it and also, I try to give her the greatest support and protection I can. I try to make sure that she has a normal schedule as much as possible, like any other child, with normal reading time and sleep hours. I try to keep up with her and enjoy seeing her progress. I often hear people say, “Mother always thinks time flies fast, [a] child thinks time flies slowly.” Ever since hearing this, I can’t help but think how profound it is. I mean there’s no way we can keep following behind our children forever so we try to make the best of it while we can. An important moment that can change her life may only happen once. As meaningful and beautiful as the time we spent together, it is also perfect because it only happens once. We all need to cherish and make good use of this time we have together.
For me, being able to work with Kayla on this film has been a long-standing dream of mine. Kayla’s performance has ushered in for her, the beginning of an amazing acting career.
The separation between family time and work is not difficult for us. We are a good team but at the same time we are independent individuals, we have our own interests and respect each other’s space. We cherish each other and [the] time spent with family very much.
(Kayla): The day Harper finished shooting, my emotions weren’t very strong, I felt a little unfulfilled like I’d only done a small part of the whole job. The story, theme, and character I played were very challenging for me as well as the shooting experience.
Before filming, I was chatting with my mother, and I asked her, “What will it be like to work on set with you? Because of who I am (your daughter) will I be able to express an idea if I have one?” The answer I got, in the end, was completely different from what I imagined. The open, creative, and collaborative environment my mom created on the set gave me a great sense of security. Because my mother and every actor on the set are equal. In my heart, she is a very dedicated professional, a wise and humorous director, and the best mother I could ask for in life. I hope time will pass slowly and she will always be young and healthy.
Kayla, how does it feel to have completed your second film?
(Kayla): Of course, I’m excited. It’s literally a dream come true, sitting here with the audience watching my movie on the big screen. Especially being surrounded by so many supportive people. Every scene, every clip is a memory.
Today I am also very grateful to the team behind the film. I think together we have made something powerful that will command attention.
The team is incredibly talented and worked hard to bring their knowledge and experience as creators to this project. They are true heroes and I thank them from the bottom of my heart.
Kayla, I noticed that you’re also a musician, do you have any favorite artists and/or musical inspirations? Also, what is your favorite instrument to play?
(Kayla): Over the years, I have created a lot of original music. They all are inspired by my life, my impulses, my passion. The songs that I write are like bookmarks in my life, a diary. When I write a song today it has meaning to me. When I hear it again, years from now, I will remember the way I felt. It’s like a time capsule of my life to remember who I was then.
Sometimes I find out that friends of mine or classmates or their parents still love and listen to my songs years after I wrote them. Sometimes people tell me that they love my style of songwriting, and it makes me proud that there are many fans who really like my songs.
Of course, I try so hard, and sometimes drive myself crazy trying to be perfect and then fail and finally I try to embrace my imperfections. I hope I’m a singer who can write beautiful notes, and I hope I’m a good actor who can express my emotions in a variety of different roles, and then I hope my performance will resonate with my audience.
I like to play music with a guitar because I can take it with me anywhere and I can write my music score at any time. I can record my heart at any time and be able to sing to my friends and family is also good, a very beautiful thing.
Both “Kayla” and “Harper” have very tough subject matters. Kayla, what do you have to channel in emotional scenes? And Kate, are there any challenges that come with directing your daughter in these types of scenes.
(Kayla): The protagonist of the film, “Harper”, is a girl who fights for love and soul. It tells the story of 11-year-old orphan Harper, who panics in the face of sudden adversity but still chooses to stand strong and help a family member who is struggling. Harper manages to overcome all obstacles and her love, tenderness and patience are amazing.
This character was very challenging and a new form of cinema for me. It taught me the importance of persistence in the face of difficult circumstances. You can only see your way through if you have courage. At first, I thought it was impossible to play this role because I didn’t have the rough life experience of Harper, including a lot of life experience in the countryside, but I didn’t give up. I read the script over and over learning about the story. That’s what told me how this girl faces uncontrollable life circumstances and how she copes with difficult relationships in her extended family. There is a fragile beauty in the story. When I learned how she copes with the bonding relationship with her aunt and how they grow to love each other, I cried. My attitude started to change, and I was able to bring something heartfelt to the character of Harper for the story. I gradually fell in love with this character and was willing to work hard for it.
Because of all this, the story even inspired my grandpa to be willing to undergo an important surgery. These are some of the unexpected benefits that the story inspires.
I think it’s a very sweet and uplifting movie. A young girl tries to find her way in a sometimes harsh and unforgiving world. She is strong and kind, and her journey reminds us of the value of appreciating the good things in our lives and opening [up] to others. I hope that by watching this film, a deeper understanding of the story shows how having to go through tough experiences like Harper’s, people will find inspiration. With these insights, it is my hope that people will learn to have more compassion for each other and support those less fortunate than themselves.
I’m very proud of myself for playing this role. I gave it my heart and soul and I hope it inspires others to do the same in their lives. I think the film conveys Harper’s bravery, strength, kindness, and patience.
(Kate): Kayla’s character is a normal ordinary eleven-year-old girl trying to find her way in a sometimes harsh and unforgiving world. Because there are a lot of bad things that happen in the film, I knew it would be challenging for anyone to understand and show complex emotions.
To help guide Kayla’s performance, I explained to her how sometimes actors when faced with difficult emotional scenes draw upon their own sad experiences for inspiration, such as when her favorite cat ran away a year ago and never came back. I know how much it meant to her and how she used to cry at night, thinking of the cat.
It’s very hard for a mother to see her daughter suffer or be in pain but during the filming, I did ask her to use this technique to help direct her and I think it helped her find great emotional depth to bring to the character.
I think a sense of loss for loved ones is a powerful common emotion human beings share. Her performance is like grass emerging from the cracks of the stone, but it is this unpretentious and unadorned power that can always touch people’s hearts. It is precisely because she successfully deduced the sense of power in this ordinary but very strong young girl that she is growing into such a good actress who will be beloved by audiences for the tender and sensitive characters she portrays.
Kate, are there any immediate plans for your guys’ next film?
(Kate): We just finished a Netflix documentary and are now in post [production]. Hopefully, 2022 will produce a series of films and challenging productions.
Kayla, are there any specific types of roles that you hope to tackle in future films?
(Kayla): I want to try to do some comedy. I love to laugh and make people laugh. I like the way it feels to be funny and I’m strongly trying to find more joy and fun in my life and help other people do the same.
I love the feeling of going to a comedy in a theater filled with people enjoying themselves together. Life is good when people laugh.
I’m also very passionate about Marvel movies where you get all the new details and characters in the future of amazing imaginary universes where there are no boundaries.
“Harper” was released by Indican Pictures for its “Oscar run” beginning on December 15, 2021, and will be in theaters until January 29. The film will hopefully see a wide release in the spring of 2022. For more information, click here.