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Wingman Wednesday

Bella Shepard

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Not all content is created equal. And it’s not all distributed the same way either. Us old-timers – the pop culture obsessed who were raised on Saturday morning cartoons and sit-down sitcoms – we’re not yet hip, at least not entirely so, to the various streaming platforms churning out quality programming not named Netflix, Prime, or Hulu… but our kids are.

And that’s where Brat comes in. The digital studio and network with nearly two million subscribers is the HBO of tweens, and with their new highly-anticipated YouTube series “A Girl Named Jo,” they’re poised to steal the eyeballs of young adults all over the country throughout the July 4th holiday.

We recently sat down with “A Girl Named Jo” star Bella Shepard to discuss balancing her education and career, what she feels is the biggest draw of the series, and why she wants to make it clear that she is nothing like her character Alice.

TrunkSpace: You’re currently juggling a career in the entertainment industry while also attending high school. What approach are you taking to finding that balance between both areas of your life?
Shepard: I actually was able to graduate early from high school. It was difficult to manage working with school, but I did an online program that allowed me to work extra on my days off, and the weekends. Education is very important to me, so as soon as I graduated, I decided to take at least one college course per semester, (I just finished math!) that way, I’ll have several classes under my belt when most of my friends are just graduating from high school.

TrunkSpace: That is great. Congrats on graduating! Your new series “A Girl Named Jo” premieres in just a few short days. What emotions are racing through your mind as you gear up to have the show released to the world?
Shepard: I’m very excited for the fans to get invested into the storyline. It’s new, and there is nothing out there like it! I’m nervous because I hope they like it, and I hope they realize I’m not Alice! I’m also proud because we put so much work into the show.

TrunkSpace: The series is a period drama that takes place in 1963. When you’re working on something that, story wise, takes place decades before you were born… how do you go about relating to the time period? Did you do research on that era to try and find Alice’s place in the world?
Shepard: Wardrobe helped set the mood and helped inspire me. My grandma was actually in high school in 1963 and she sent me yearbook pictures and told me stories – it was cool.

TrunkSpace: For those who aren’t familiar with the series yet, can you tell us a bit about the premise and where Alice falls into the overall story? We know she is a “mean girl” but just how mean is she?
Shepard
: She’s so mean! Alice is a friend to Cathy but becomes jealous when Cathy starts a new friendship. She is manipulative and always seems to have selfish motives. She is caught doing something she REALLY shouldn’t be, and it sets the tone for the way she tries to get back at people. I think she’s actually feeling so guilty about what she did, that she is acting out.

TrunkSpace: You’ve spent eight episodes with Alice so far. From what you know of her, what aspects of her personality do you enjoy tapping into the most? What excites you about getting to play Alice?
Shepard: Well, because she’s so opposite of me, it’s fun to play that part of her. I hope that somewhere in the series, she finds redemption and we can see deeper into what makes Alice tick. But, we don’t get to see that just yet! I also love her sense of style, her clothes are super fun. I also got to change physically by dying my hair blonde – I’m naturally a brunette!

TrunkSpace: “A Girl Named Jo” will air on the digital network Brat. While the network certainly has its fans (nearly two million subscribers) do you think the biggest challenge to the series right now is just letting people know that the show exists and where/when it will air, especially given how much other great content is out there in the world today?
Shepard: Brat has such a huge following, and the fact that the way people, especially my age, are viewing content has changed so much, that I really don’t think it will have trouble being seen. I actually think it will spread like wildfire, especially if the fans like it! Annie (LeBlanc) and Addison (Riecke), the stars of the show, have such a great, loyal, wonderful fan base. They are excited! I’m so excited too!

TrunkSpace: What do you think the biggest strength of “A Girl Named Jo” is in terms of it capturing an audience? What is going to suck people in and keep them watching?
Shepard: The fact that it’s set in the ‘60s is different and fun. Also the fact that it is a mystery, gives the viewers the ability to invest in the story. I think a lot of shows don’t give fans enough credit sometimes, they don’t think the viewers want to see something with a little more depth, especially the early and mid teens. Brat really gives them a story to sink their teeth into with this show and I think they will have fun trying to solve the mystery, even if Alice gets in their way!

TrunkSpace: If fame came knocking on your door tomorrow and suddenly everyone knew your name and wanted to know exactly what you were up to in your private life, is that something that you would be comfortable with? Does the spotlight have its share of pros and cons?
Shepard: Of course there are pros and cons. I know what I am signing up for in this business. I think there needs to be a good amount of access for the fans, and that’s okay with me. My grandparents live in Michigan, and I grew up there, and if it ever gets too much, I can go there and retreat into my room at their house.

TrunkSpace: What kind of career do you want to have? Is your focus solely on acting or do you see yourself branching out and taking on other roles within the entertainment industry?
Shepard: I’m 100 percent sure that I want to be an actress for life. I have no doubt about that. I love developing characters and being able to do this for a living. I can’t see myself doing anything else. I’d like to have a career like Meryl Streep, Debbie Reynolds, Betty White, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Jodie Foster – iconic through every generation, and they produced amazing work whether it was comedy, or theatrical.

TrunkSpace: Hollywood and the business can be a weird and wild world. How do you stay grounded, especially being so young, and focused on your life and career goals? How do you block out all of the industry hype and noise that can cloud people’s vision?
Shepard: I constantly remind myself who I am, what I’m here for, what I want for my future. I also try to surround myself with genuine positive energy, like my family. Grounding myself can be as simple as being quiet and petting my dogs, or my guinea pigs. I also go to my acting class. My teacher, Saxon, has small, meaningful classes. She really inspires me.

A Girl Named Jo” premieres July 3 on the Brat network.

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Wingman Wednesday

Michael Gross

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It would be a GROSS understatement to suggest that Michael Gross expected he’d be talking about the “Tremors” franchise nearly 30 years after he first slipped into the paranoid skin of Burt Gummer. Not an immediate hit by any means, the horror/comedy mashup about a race of underground worm-like killers was a slow burn, finding an audience in the aftermarket where it lived on in VHS, DVD, and eventually, the digital domain. Now, with the release of the sixth installment, “Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell,” the veteran actor is once again hunting the relentless movie monsters, and enjoying the character’s personal journey along the way.

We recently sat down with Gross to discuss his favorite Burt story arcs, why he prefers not being John Wayne, and how we could all take a lesson from the Keaton family in these politically-divided times.

TrunkSpace: We would imagine that your “Tremors” journey has been a bit of a pleasant surprise, because when the first film came together back in 1990, it probably didn’t scream franchise right out of the gates, correct?
Gross: No. In fact, it didn’t even scream future at all, because the original film was not all that widely accepted in its first theatrical release. It was out for less than two weeks. It did not have a huge opening weekend. It caught on a little bit, but really wasn’t around very long. I had very few chances to see it in a major motion picture theater. I think I saw it twice. And it was only in the aftermarket venues, in those days, the prehistoric VHS copies, where it began to catch on and became this dirty little, private secret to a lot of otherwise normal human beings that this thing was out here. And, so, that’s when it caught on, in the aftermarket.

So, I never thought there would be a second one. Like most actors, I’m usually paranoid about never working again, and you just think of it as a one-off – a great one-off – and what fun it was, but the response was somewhat tepid, you know?

TrunkSpace: Do think the way that the industry has changed in terms of the distribution model has enabled it to go further than what anyone imagined?
Gross: Well, yes, that’s certainly a part of it. The industry in general has become so compartmentalized. When I first began television in 1982, there were three networks. Three, that’s all. There was no cable. It was totally bizarre. And there wasn’t even a Fox Television in the first year of “Family Ties” in 1982. There was NBC, CBS and ABC – that was it. And, so, now you can literally pick the channel, the world, the kind of news reports you want. You want to listen to Fox News? Fine. You want to listen to Al Jazeera? Go ahead. BBC? Have your choice. And I think it’s the same way in the video market, they can distribute things piecemeal to people in different ways and say, “Well, here’s something for you, here’s something for the rest of you, here’s this, here’s that,” and send them out. The technical changes have made all this possible.

TrunkSpace: A long-term character journey like you’ve experienced with Burt is usually something you see in television. Is it a bit of a different experience with something like “Tremors” where you’re stopping and picking back up again with long breaks in-between?
Gross: Yes. I actually like the stopping and going. Before I really entered television and film I did a lot of stage work, repertory theater work, where I was more… on “Family Ties” I played one character for seven years, and I used to tell people I felt more accustomed to playing seven characters in one year than I did playing one character for seven years. So, I love the variety. I don’t know if I could take a steady diet of Burt. That is, day in and day out, going to the set every day and being Burt. I mean, it’s fun, but I don’t know. Maybe I have a little Attention-Deficit Disorder or something, but I do like the variety, and it’s one of the things that attracts me to acting, not playing one character all the time.

For example, I don’t know that I would have cared to, I don’t know, been John Wayne, for example. You saw great films, and he was an iconic character, but the characters you saw were the further adventures of John Wayne, with a different character, maybe a different costume on. I always loved the variety… more of the Dustin Hoffman and the Daniel Day-Lewis type of people who like to submerge themselves into a role rather than have the role completely reflect them. A perfect example, in a couple weeks I’m going to do another episode of “Grace and Frankie” for Netflix, in which I play a gay man.

TrunkSpace: Which in the grand scheme of things, must be the dream… having the opportunity to slip into as many different skins as possible?
Gross: Well, yes, and I never thought of myself as a leading man. I’ve been a character actor. I was never the young leading man, I was always a guy who was somebody’s buddy, or somewhere in the background, but transforming himself into different people. So, when people ask me what’s it like to be the star of “Tremors,” I say, “I don’t consider myself a star as much as I am part of an ensemble.” I’ve always felt part of an ensemble, and that’s the secret to longevity, to me.

TrunkSpace: And we would imagine that variety also pertains to the “Tremors” franchise because each film has it’s own feel tonally. Yes, they’re part of the same universe, but they aren’t all cut from the same cloth.
Gross: You’re absolutely right. That’s one of the reason’s I’ve had a part, not the ultimate part – I’m not the ultimate decision maker – but I have had some sort of voice in the character of Burt and what he faces in some of these things. In the early “Tremors” movies, it was about Burt’s expertise as a monster hunter. You didn’t learn terribly, terribly much about him as an individual, or what his challenges are, personally. Between 1 and 2 he lost his wife, but in 3 he never spoke about that again. And in “Tremors 5” we wanted to explore the possibility of what’s it like for a man who’s a complete loner, almost misanthropic, to have to deal with someone who comes from out of nowhere who says, “Oh, by the way, I’m your blood relative, I’m your child, and I want to get to know you.” Well, nothing could be more challenging for the misanthrope than to have another human being in his life. And, so, I wanted to be in this struggle with his personal life as well as his professional life. And in “Tremors 6,” to me it’s about, without giving away all the details, it’s about a man having to give up some control. A man who always, always wants to be in control. Not only be in control, but wants to micromanage a situation. Does he deal gracefully, or ungracefully? Dragged kicking and screaming, or easily, into giving up control?

TrunkSpace: He has to learn how not to be in the driver’s seat, in a way.
Gross: How not to be in the driver’s seat! And, so, just as an actor, to me it’s always interesting in the journey a character takes in a piece, and for me that was part of his journey, which made it interesting. And should we do a “Tremors 7″… we’re already talking about ideas. Now, that could be pie in the sky, it may never happen, but we’ve already discussed where would Burt go next? What would be the next challenge for him, professionally, with monsters, but personally, with his own monsters, if you will.

TrunkSpace: Well, and at the end of the day, we would imagine that as far as a performance standpoint is concerned, that’s the most interesting part, the personal stuff he’s dealing with?
Gross: Exactly. I’ve always loved them. I’ve loved every one of them, but for me, personally, as an actor, one of the most interesting, just in terms of the journey a character takes from one place to the other, was “Tremors 4,” a man who came in from the East Coast who looked down his nose at these hardscrabble people in the middle of nowhere, who didn’t wash, who had no civilization, there was no opera house, there was no poetry to their lives, they were just… it was a subsistence existence. He disliked everything about the place, and everything about the people. And in the course of the piece he learned to love them, love the place, and think of it as someplace worth defending. That journey was the most fascinating journey I took as an actor in the first four films, just because of the changes that took place in Hiram Gummer, in the space of, you know, under two hours. And that’s always part of the fun for me.

TrunkSpace: You had mentioned that you started your television journey in 1982. If you could sit down with that version of yourself from almost 40 years ago, what would he say about how your career has played out? What would he think?
Gross: Well, I would say I’m sorry I haven’t had more of a feature film career. In some senses, I look back on “Tremors 1” and it could have been my breakout role had it been marketed a little better – had more people seen it – because, to me, it was so vastly different from what I had done for seven years on “Family Ties.” I have some regret that there’s not more of a feature film career. Not because feature films are inherently better, but a lot of people see them, and it gives you a certain cache in the business that you don’t otherwise have. It’s not that we aren’t all respected as actors, and I love having, I think, the respect of others in the business and the craft, but the most exciting thing for the actor is seeing the best material and getting a hold of a good piece of material before somebody else sees it. Those A-list people get to see the good material first, that’s all. It’s not about praise, it’s not about fortune, it’s about looking at the good scripts early, you know, before they’ve gone through other peoples’ hands. And, so, that’s why, to me, a feature film career is exciting, because you have access to material that other people don’t. That’s why I was so long a part of the stage, and still enjoy going to the stage from time to time, is it’s always chasing the good material. And that’s one of the reasons I keep coming back to Burt, because the comic genius of this character alone is worth the journey – the comic paranoia, the obsessive compulsive disorder, the utter imbalance of the man is such a pleasure to play. It can be mined for such comic treasure.

TrunkSpace: Finally, Michael, we live in such politically and socially divided times. What do you think a Keaton family Thanksgiving would look like in 2018, because they themselves had different POVs, and yet it never made the family fracture?
Gross: You know what I think? There’s a part of me that wants nothing to do with rebooting that show, absolutely nothing, because it was such fun when we did it, and it would be hard to recapture that wonderful spirit. But one of the reasons I would love to see the Keatons together again is, as divided as they were politically, they always settled things amicably. Ronald Reagan… it was his favorite television show, and he came very close to actually becoming a guest on it, but it was rejected for various reasons – security and scheduling, and it was a bit gimmicky, but it came close. There were talks about his making a cameo appearance on this thing. But those were the days, even in the days of the Reagan years, when Reagan, who had very different ideas from Tip O’Neill, from Massachusetts, two Irishmen could sit down over a bottle of whiskey, and hammer out their differences, and come up with something. Government works with compromise just the way good marriages, or good families work, with compromise. And, so, the Keatons were always able to have kids who didn’t believe what they did, yet were not sent up to their bedrooms without dinner, or dessert, because they happened to disagree with their parents. There were ways of working it out, and love conquered all. And, so, I think that would be a great dose of things to have again in this period of time, had it been rebooted.

Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell” arrives today on Blu-ray combo pack, DVD, Digital, and On Demand.

Tremors: The Complete Collection” is also available today on DVD.

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Wingman Wednesday

Caitlin Leahy

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It’s not every day that such a historically significant role, one steeped in Biblical lore and legend, comes along, so when Caitlin Leahy was given the opportunity to portray Delilah in the new movie “Samson,” she opted to take a different approach to the character than we have seen in the past. Yes, Delilah tempts Samson, as is her destiny, but her motivation for setting him on such a pernicious path is not as clean cut as we have been lead to believe.

We recently sat down with Leahy to discuss Delilah’s emotional tug-o-war, how she hopes the audience views the character’s personal journey, and why she’d love to be able to pursue a career in acting and still call Chi-Town her home.

TrunkSpace: In the new film “Samson,” you’re playing the iconic Biblical character Delilah. For those familiar with her story, where does this latest version venture off? What aspects of her are entirely new?
Leahy: Delilah is generally known as Samson’s wicked temptress. In the film, Delilah’s storyline is more complex. She is pitted between Samson and Prince Rallah and walks a fine line between good and bad.

TrunkSpace: From a performance standpoint, is there a level of intimidation on your part portraying such a well-known figure? With so much history involved with Delilah, does it put pressure on you to deliver on previous perceptions of the character?
Leahy: I went in entirely with my own perspective of Delilah. My goal was to humanize her and not play her as a one-dimensional character. The weight of playing such an iconic role didn’t sink in until the film started getting a lot of buzz.

TrunkSpace: The character as it has been told for centuries deceives Samson. Her own motivations aside, did you present her as someone who enjoys her deception or are her actions a product of her circumstances? Does she have redeeming qualities that will make audiences sympathize with her?
Leahy: Her actions are most definitely a product of her circumstances. She does what she has to in order to survive. Her motivations are mostly pure throughout the film, but ultimately has to choose between love and betrayal. I hope audiences empathize with her.

TrunkSpace: There’s something “Classic Hollywood” to the look and feel of the film. The sets and wardrobe have that great Golden Age of Hollywood vibe to them. Does working on a film like “Samson” help achieve any childhood goals in terms of how you viewed the movie-making experience when you were little?
Leahy: Working on “Samson” surpassed all the dreams an actress could have about Hollywood. From filming in South Africa to the massive sets, every intricate detail really allowed this elaborate world to come to life.

TrunkSpace: How do you personally view “Samson” as it relates to your career moving forward? Do you see it as a bit of a game changer for you in terms of the size and scope of the film/role opening more doors in the future?
Leahy: I certainly hope it opens doors for me, and I think it already has. Since shooting “Samson,” I have filmed several other projects. Most recently, I play a role in “God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness” coming to theaters March 30 and next I film an episode of “Grace and Frankie.”

TrunkSpace: How are you approaching your career as a whole? Are you someone who works through detailed plans on approach and initiates them, or do you let life and fate take control? In this industry in particular, is it difficult to plan too far in advance?
Leahy: I love to be in control of what the future holds, but as the expression goes, “Man plans, God laughs.” I work very hard and do everything in my power to seize opportunities as they come. That being said, I have to constantly remind myself that I can only do so much. What’s meant to be will happen.

TrunkSpace: What do you believe is your biggest strength as an actress is? What are you most comfortable with throughout the process of finding and portraying a character?
Leahy: My biggest strength is my work ethic and attention to detail. I like being prepared enough with a role that I can find the fun. There are many talented actors, but the ones that have success and longevity never lose their work ethic and are very versatile actors.

TrunkSpace: On the opposite side of that creative coin, where are you hardest on yourself as it relates to your career?
Leahy: I am harder on myself than anyone else will ever be. It is difficult to watch myself on screen and be objective about my performance. I nitpick and always find areas to improve.

Leahy in “Samson”

TrunkSpace: You’re also a model. Was it difficult to break into acting having already established yourself as a model? We would imagine that perceptions can sometimes work against you in that those in positions to cast may view you as a model who wants to act as opposed to an actor who happens to model.
Leahy: I started acting when I young and fell into modeling when I moved to Los Angeles. Modeling has provided me with a lot of great opportunities, but my passion and dedication has always been with acting.

TrunkSpace: When you’re modeling, are you also playing a character? Do you tap into different personalities for specific shoots?
Leahy: My experience with modeling is mostly “Lifestyle” modeling which centers around selling a brand or product. Occasionally I get the opportunity to play a character, but it’s mostly smiles and likeability that they are looking for on Lifestyle shoots.

TrunkSpace: When you decided to relocate to Los Angeles from Chicago, was that a difficult decision? Did it take some soul searching to leap head first into the great unknown that is Hollywood?
Leahy: Most of the opportunities to act in film and television are in Los Angeles. I knew from a young age that moving to LA was inevitable. I have an extremely close family and leaving them was the hardest thing I have ever done. I would love to be able to live in Chicago and still act.

TrunkSpace: We read that you hope to write a screenplay in 2018. If someone came to you tomorrow and said, “Caitlin, here is a blank check… go develop a project for yourself.” What kind of film or series would you put up on the board and greenlight?
Leahy: I love playing characters that are far removed from myself. Some of my favorites female roles are Charlize Theron in “Monster” and Marion Cotillard in “La Vie en Rose.” I would love to create something in that caliber. Most recently, I’ve been thinking about writing a lighter script based on two of my sisters’ travel adventures; something along the lines of “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.”

Samson” arrives in theaters today.

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