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Wingman Wednesday

Lillian Lim

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Photo By: Shimon

Human beings are creatures of comfort and habit. When we fall into a rhythm, we tend to keep the beat until forced from our self-induced song, which is why it is so impressive that Lillian Lim decided to pursue her dream of becoming an actor decades after most individuals make that commitment to themselves.

At age 61, following a successful career as a dentist and another dream-worthy pursuit as a fashion designer, the Vancouver native decided to refocus on the creative arts nearly a lifetime after the acting bug first bit her while visiting the theater as a little girl with her mother. Now almost 66, she is experiencing a career-defining moment starring in the drama “Meditation Park,” which is currently available on Netflix.

We recently sat down with Lim to discuss the shelf life of a movie in the streaming age, the shelf life of an actor of a certain age, and how her faith and family has guided her on her path to pursuing her dreams.

TrunkSpace: Your new film “Meditation Park” was released on Netflix back in March. As a performer, do you feel that streaming platforms like Netflix extend the shelf life of projects? Will a film like “Meditation Park” have a better chance at finding an audience in a place where viewers have full control over what they consume?
Lim: Streaming platforms like Netflix absolutely extend the shelf life of projects. It makes it easier for audiences to access films in the comfort of their own homes at a time convenient to them and allows them to watch it multiple times with family and friends in a relatively inexpensive way.

TrunkSpace: As far as experiences go, what will you take from your time working on the film?
Lim: Mina Shum is a genius of a director. I have learned so much from her about how to use my voice, gestures and facial expressions to convey subtle emotions to the audience. An actor often interprets the scene a certain way that may not necessarily be the same as the director. Mina has a very specific vision of how each scene should be played. Understanding exactly what she wanted the audience to feel helped me to adjust my interpretation and play the scene accordingly.

TrunkSpace: You play Anita in “Meditation Park.” What did you enjoy most about inhabiting this particular character and was finding who she was an easy journey?
Lim: I loved the role of Anita because she is so much like me – loud, boisterous, bossy and fearlessly protective of those whom she cares about. She is quick to anger but also compassionate and willing to admit it (albeit reluctantly) when she has made a mistake. It’s funny because when I went for a costume fitting, almost 90 percent of what they asked me to try on was hanging in my own closet at home. We have the same outrageous taste in clothes and we are always out for bargains in Chinatown and at Value Village (the American equivalent of the SallyAnn or the Salvation Army for used clothing).

TrunkSpace: How do you generally go about discovering new characters? Is there a routine that you go through… a process… when you’re cast in any given project?
Lim: I am almost 66 years old. I think I have gone through as many experiences as one could in a lifetime. When I began I thought that acting would be easy, that the ability to act was innate in everyone, like breathing or walking. I didn’t realize how bad an actor I was until I took Crystal Lowe’s acting classes. She taught me how to truly be “in the moment” – how to reach deeply into my own experiences in life to dig out what the character was feeling in that moment – not how to play the character, but how to be the character.

TrunkSpace: We read that your mother was an avid movie fan. Do you think that being exposed to the arts at a young age is a part of what put you on a path to becoming an actress?
Lim: I was thrilled whenever my mother took me to watch the Chinese movies in Chinatown, especially if Fung Bo Bo (the Chinese equivalent of Shirley Temple) was starring in it. She was my age so I often replayed her character in scenes with friends on the block. Most of the Chinese movies were tragedies and I thought the actors must have some kind of superpower to be able to make the audience weep so uncontrollably – that’s when the acting bug bit me. I believe many people have an inkling of what their passion is from a very young age.

TrunkSpace: Ultimately you didn’t pursue acting until much later in life. Why did you wait to go after your dreams and do you regret not having reached for those personal stars earlier in life?
Lim: Although I never voiced my desire to become an actor to my parents I knew they disapproved of acting as a profession because they didn’t believe it was very financially stable and that it involved a lifestyle mired in infidelity and alcoholism. So they advised me to become a pharmacist. After three years I found that pharmacy was not my calling so I considered returning to university to study medicine but my brother, an anesthetist, said that if one of my patients died, I would become devastated and blame myself. He advised me to become a dentist because it was much more difficult to kill a patient as a dentist. I think that whatever you do in life is never a waste of time because you always learn from it. I think it is more of a waste of time to regret what you’ve done because you can’t change the past. You can only change the future. You should use what you’ve learned from your past to avoid making the same mistakes in the future. I believe that having not been an actor most of my life has allowed me to be a better actor today.

TrunkSpace: You were a dentist for 27 years before pursuing fashion design and acting. For all of those adults reading this who are wondering how they can hit the restart buttons on their careers, what advice would you give to them in taking that first leap and seeing their dreams become a reality?
Lim: I have been extremely fortunate in my life that the good Lord has always provided me with supportive people. My mother supported me in becoming a dentist. Then my husband and three daughters supported me in becoming a fashion designer and an actor. Because I am a retired dentist I do not have to pursue acting for financial gain. I do it purely for the passion. I don’t envy those young actors who have to worry about paying for rent, food, clothing, acting classes, transportation, and finding jobs which have the flexibility of allowing for time to go to auditions. But no matter how difficult it may seem to you in the moment, you should never give up your dreams. Take acting classes from reputable teachers, volunteer to do student films so you can showcase your acting ability in your demo reel, apply to reputable casting agencies, have consideration for your fellow actors and help each other out. If you believe in yourself, if you have faith and pray for guidance, it will happen.

TrunkSpace: It’s a difficult career to break into for anybody, but when attempting to do so later in life, there must be plenty of naysayers who are there tell you that it’s not possible. Did you experience others trying to stand in the way of your dreams and if so, how did you block out all of that noise to remain focused on your goals?
Lim: Many of my friends said I was crazy to pursue a career in fashion design at the age of 58. The same ones said I was crazy to become an actor at 61. They all laughed. But I followed my heart because I felt the Lord gives each of us a gift to serve the world and this was His gift to me. And He gave me a husband and three daughters who believed in me. And that gave me the strength to believe in myself.

TrunkSpace: What is it that you love about acting? What makes this profession the one that excites you most of all?
Lim: What I love about acting is the challenge of becoming so many different personalities and making these characters real to the audience. Acting allows me to morph into someone else.

TrunkSpace: What are your long-term goals when it comes to acting? Is there a best case scenario in your mind or are you riding the wave that life brings forth and landing at whatever shore it crashes into?
Lim: My long-term goal is to be recognized for my craft as a good actor. I am not after fame or fortune. I hope to put whatever monetary success I may achieve to good use – give back to the world for the many blessings that the Lord has given me. One of my favorite sayings is from the Dalai Lama – “Service to others is the rent you pay for the room you have here on earth.” I believe that we are put here on this earth to serve those in need. That is why I volunteer to serve dinner and bring homemade desserts to Gospel Mission in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, B.C.

Meditation Park” is available now on Netflix.

Featured image by: Shimon

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The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale

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Series: The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale

Where To Watch: Netflix

Starring: Joel McHale, Paul Feig, Brad Stevens

Reason We’re Watching It: If you’re like us, you were sad to see the day when E! drained the broth on “The Soup.” Joel McHale’s weekly look at pop culture in all of its hilarity was a bright beacon of laughter at the end of a long work week. Well, our entertainment prayers have finally been answered thanks to Netflix! McHale is back with a weekly show on the streaming service that is pretty much just like “The Soup” but perhaps with a wider spectrum of material to mine for comedy gold.

What It’s About: McHale takes a look at the week in pop culture and delivers a comedic take on reality shows, news programs, scripted TV series and more. You can pretty much guarantee there will be a celebrity guest or two on each show, especially if they’re also involved with a Netflix show they are looking to plug.

Whoah! Rewind That!: In Episode 6 of the first season, McHale had Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant on the show for a guest spot that had us cracking up. There was a great play on words using the movies that Olyphant and Barrymore had been in that you just have to watch to appreciate. It might make you… “Scream 2.” (See, scream as well.)

Watercooler-Worthy Tidbit: An interesting side note, McHale is also on the Netflix series “Santa Clarita Diet” playing a rival real estate agent opposite Olyphant, whose character’s name just so happens to be Joel.

And that’s why we’re giving it…

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Everything Sucks!

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Series: Everything Sucks!

Where To Watch: Netflix

Starring: Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Peyton Kennedy, Patch Darragh, Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako, Quinn Liebling, Elijah Stevenson, Rio Mangini, Sydney Sweeney

Creators: Ben York, Michael Mohan

Reason We’re Watching It: Not to pop culturally carbon date some of our staff, but some (if not all) may have worn Dr. Martens and flannel while listening to Oasis and Pearl Jam during art class in high school. “Everything Sucks!” takes a retrospective look at what it’s like to be an awkward, creative teen while attending high school circa 1990-something. It’s a comedy full of heart, not only from the perspective of the students, but the parents as well. You’ll be laughing one minute and fighting back tears of happiness the next.

What It’s About: The show is a teenage dramady set in the ‘90s. It’s a tale of not fitting in, first loves, new loves, creativity and trying to find your place in life during those awkward high school years. The series focuses much of its attention on Luke (Winston) as he tries to woo Kate (Kennedy), the principal’s daughter. Meanwhile their parents find a mutual affection for one another and bond over past experiences and life as single parents.

Whoah! Rewind That!: There is a scene where Luke recreates all of the iconic ‘90s music videos and syncs it to “Wonder Wall” by Oasis. This is all done in a creative, heartfelt attempt at asking Kate to be his girlfriend.

Watercooler-Worthy Tidbit: The scene that takes place at a Blockbuster video store was shot at only one of 10 remaining brick and mortar stores still in operation. Unfortunately, it closed at the end of 2017. R.I.P. Blockbsuter. We will always be kind and rewind!

And that’s why we’re giving it…

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Ash vs Evil Dead

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Series: Ash vs Evil Dead

Where To Watch: Season 3 is currently airing on Starz. New episodes premiere every Sunday. Seasons 1 and 2 can also be streamed on Netflix.

Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ray Santiago, Dana DeLorenzo, Lucy Lawless, Lee Majors

Creators: Ivan Raimi, Sam Raimi, Tom Spezialy

Reason We’re Watching It: We are not only fans of the “Evil Dead” franchise as a whole, but we’re also fans of Bruce Campbell, Lucy Lawless, and now, Dana DeLorenzo and Ray Santiago. The cast of this show is reason enough to tune in, so it’s a boomstick bonus that every episode is packed with laugh-out-loud moments and gruesome gore that would make Greg Nicotero cringe. There is not a show out there right now that delivers on the consistent humor, action and horror in the way that this instant cable classic does.

What It’s About: The TV series jumps ahead 30 years from when we last saw Ash Williams (Campbell) in the film trilogy. Stuck living in the past, regaling his co-workers Pablo (Santiago) and Kelly (DeLorenzo) with tales of his Deadite-filled backstory, Ash’s serenity is soon dashed as evil once again rears its ugly head and forces him to oil up the ol’ chainsaw for some slashing and thrashing.

Whoah! Rewind that!: Much like how that chip jingle goes, Once you pop, you can’t stop; once you start watching “Ash vs Evil Dead,” you won’t be able to stop reliving the many horrific, eye-popping moments. To pick a memorable one in the first episode of Season 3, we had to go with Ash stomping harpsichord strings through a Deadite’s face, splitting it into several slices. This scene gave a whole new meaning to the phrase… slice of life.

Watercooler-Worthy Tidbit: Bruce Campbell and Lucy Lawless have acted together before on the fan-favorite fantasy shows “Hercules” and “Xena.” Campbell played a charming, wise-cracking thief known as Autolycus while Lawless, very obviously, portrayed Xena.

And that’s why we’re giving it…

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Wingman Wednesday

Byron Mann

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Photo By: Diana Ragland

Byron Mann is on one heck of a project run, but he’s the first to admit that it wasn’t planned. In fact, he couldn’t have planned it this way if he tried.

Not only can the Hong Kong native be seen starring in the new Netflix series “Altered Carbon,” but you’ll soon be able to catch him opposite Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the upcoming action film “Skyscraper.” Both projects’ trailers were part of the highly-anticipated Super Bowl roster of commercials, proving once again that you just can’t plan for this kind of thing.

We recently sat down with Mann to discuss the reason “Altered Carbon” feels more like a film than a television series, why it won’t be easy for other networks to duplicate, and the place he often finds himself engaged in character work.

TrunkSpace: “Altered Carbon” seems like such an ambitious show, especially by television/streaming standards. Just the visuals… the sets… they’ve really built an atmosphere and then dropped the characters in to inhabit it.
Mann: I didn’t realize how ambitious they were until I started training for the show, both individually and they had me work with a trainer every morning. It was pretty hard, rigorous training. Then, in the afternoon, we would train for the fight sequence in the pilot episode. We did that for like two months. Training for one fight sequence for two months – it’s pretty steep, yeah.

TrunkSpace: That’s amazing. It definitely had the feel of watching a feature film.
Mann: There’s no question that they were making a feature film. The director, Miguel Sapochnik, who won an Emmy for “Game of Thrones” last year… there was no question that his ambition was to make it that. I mean, listen, the camera that they used was the ALEXA 65. That’s the same camera used for “The Revenant,” the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio. That camera is only used for widescreen display of the image, like in a movie theater. It’s never ever been used for a TV show. He chose to use this camera for this television show, this streaming show, I should call it. The ambition was clearly there from the get-go to make it feature film quality. When you see the first episode, you’ll see very clearly that it is a feature film presentation.

TrunkSpace: Maybe that’s why the sets and world stood out so much to us, because of the widescreen display.
Mann: Yeah. Of course, when we’re filming, you don’t really feel it. I can tell, not only from filming, but actually from the preparation, the training and rehearsals going into it, that obviously the sets were… they built a new world basically. They built a studio for the series. They converted a printing mill into a studio in Vancouver. It’s called the Skydance Studios, and Skydance owns it. I don’t know how to describe it. They weren’t making another “CSI.” They were making a groundbreaking show, from the ground up.

TrunkSpace: Which sort of calls out other networks. Executives at all of these other networks are going to be saying, “We need our own ‘Altered Carbon’.”
Mann: Oh man, that’s easier said than done. You can’t just duplicate that overnight. You can’t. It’s so hard making anything these days. It’s hard making a television show. It’s hard making a feature film. Not only do you have to make a show like that, then you have to make it a super duper outside-the-box, groundbreaking show. Forget about it. You can’t even plan it. A lot of things that came into being. There’s Laeta Kalogridis. She wrote “Terminator Genisys,” “Shutter Island.” She’s the leading science fiction writer in Hollywood. “Alita: Battle Angel,” the movie that is coming out from Robert Rodriguez… I mean, she’s it. She’s the Steven Spielberg of writers. Then Miguel Sapochnik, who was the executive producer and also directed the first big episode, which took 30 days to shoot. So you have a lot of these things coming together to make this kind of a show.

It’s like the Patriots – it’s a lot of things coming into one. Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and Gronk. The reality is, in football terms, you can’t even duplicate that. Where are you going to get another dynasty? If one of them leaves? If Brady leaves?

I’m very honored, very humbled to happen to be a part of this. It’s awesome.

TrunkSpace: When you signed on, did you dive into the source material, Richard K. Morgan’s 2002 book, to see what came before?
Mann: No. When I first started, I talked to Laeta Kalogridis, the showrunner. She said, “Don’t read the book.” So I didn’t. I just read the script, and I had many, many hours of sitting down with her alone, and just asking her questions like, “What’s going on? What happened?” It’s a new world with new terminology, a new technique of how things work. It’s like “Blade Runner.” It’s a brand new world. Believe it or not, I think 50 years from now, I think our lives will be very close to what we see in “Altered Carbon.” It’s predicated on this premise, that everyone has a “stack,” like a gift in their vertebrae. All humans have this gift. Even if your outer body dies, you can go resave yourself again. As I understand, they’re heavily invested in this technology right now, as we speak.

TrunkSpace: So when you’re playing in the sandbox of a whole new world with new terminology and techniques on how things work, does it allow you to take a different approach to performance than you would with something set in modern day New York, for example?
Mann: Not really. As an actor, when you’re doing a scene, you just want to find out the questions. “Who are you? What do you want? What’s happening in the scene?” It’s still human emotions. No matter how sci-fi everything gets, the baseline is still dealing with very basic human emotions – love, jealousy, desire, power – all that.

Mann in “Altered Carbon”

TrunkSpace: Between “Altered Carbon” and the projects you have due up, you’re getting to work in a lot of different genres. As an actor, is it a treat to get to play in so many different types of projects?
Mann: Yeah, I guess it’s fun. It doesn’t really faze me too much. After playing so many different characters, I think it’s all… the stuff I said earlier, it applies to every single project. Basically, you find out who you are, what you’re doing here, and what are you trying to do? That hasn’t changed from the ’70s and the ’60s, when you had movies like “The Graduate,” or “Serpico,” or “The French Connection.” And now with “Altered Carbon,” it’s still the same thing. Especially for an actor, it’s just you playing in an emotion.

TrunkSpace: Is that the personal draw for you as an actor, the discovery of finding out who a character is?
Mann: Yeah. Sometimes you find it on the tape, when you’re filming. That’s gold, if you actually discover that.

TrunkSpace: Are you someone who looks at someone sitting in a coffee shop or in line at the grocery store and breaks down who they are? Do you have those storyteller moments where you’re trying to discover “characters” even in real life?
Mann: Well, it can hit you anytime – character thoughts can hit you anytime. Once you’re thinking about it, it’s in your subconscious. For me, I’ll tell you when it hits me, it hits me when I’m taking a shower. Sometimes I’m in the shower a long time, and you think about these things.

TrunkSpace: We can totally see that. No distractions. No cell phones. Just you and your thoughts.
Mann: Yeah, and the water is warm, hopefully. When you’re under warm water, your body relaxes. When you’re relaxed, a lot of good things happen to you. I’ve thought about that. I said, “Why do I have these great thoughts when I think in the shower?” It’s usually because your body is really relaxed.

TrunkSpace: You had two trailers for projects you’re in run during the Super Bowl. One was for “Altered Carbon,” and the other was for “Skyscraper,” starring Dwayne Johnson. Not too shabby for the most watched television event of the year!
Mann: Yeah, no kidding. Like I said, you can’t plan for this stuff. You just can’t. You just have to go along life’s journey, do the best you can, and then life will kind of find your way towards these things.

Altered Carbon” is available now on Netflix.

Skyscraper” arrives in theaters July 13.

Mann can also be seen returning to SyFy’s “The Expanse” later this year and the upcoming Blumhouse thriller “Only You.”

Featured image by: Diana Ragland

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Wingman Wednesday

Hiro Kanagawa

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Photo By: Kristine Cofsky

While we used to look forward to “tentpole” films rolling into our local cineplexes every summer, now we can see the same production quality, marque names, and multi-layered world building appearing on our televisions every night, holding up the pop culture tent with poles steeped in rich, complex storytelling. In fact, it’s starting to feel like a new, highly-anticipated series premieres every week, and for those of us addicted to the binge, it’s a great time to consume.

The new Netflix sci-fi thrillfest “Altered Carbon” is the kind of show that not only has us excited, but it could very well usher in a new dawn of big-budgeted event series. Adapting a project like this, based on the 2002 novel by Richard Morgan, for anywhere other than a movie theater would have been completely unheard of even a decade ago. The cost alone to bring the futuristic, effects-filled story to life would have scared off every executive from network to cable, but now it seems, much like the technology that makes a show like this possible, the sky is the limit.

We recently sat down with “Altered Carbon” star and one of our favorite character actors Hiro Kanagawa to discuss how he brings his memorable characters to life, why the series could be a game changer for the industry, and the rock ‘n’ roll dream that still pecks away at him.

TrunkSpace: First thing’s first…we love us some you! Your work is always so rich in character and the choices you make with those characters are extremely memorable. What is your approach to tapping into a new character and making him your own?
Kanagawa: Thanks for the kind words. Acting is an ephemeral activity, even when captured on film, so it’s great to know that some of what I do is memorable. Creating these characters really depends on the circumstance, the style and content of the script, the people around you, the specifics of the character. When I was starting out I was coming from a bit of an arty physical theater background, so I tended to work outside-in: find the voice, find the walk, find the way this guy carries himself. But in film and TV, less is more – you really have to internalize things and work inside-out because something as small as a sideways glance or an arched eyebrow can be a big, big move. Also, everybody you’re working with is coming at things from different methods and training techniques and traditions, so I’ve found the most reliable thing to do as an actor is BE IN RELATIONSHIP with your other actors and your environment. I hope audiences appreciate my work as Captain Tanaka on “Altered Carbon.” I’m proud of it, and a lot of it comes out of being in relationship with Martha Higareda’s character, Ortega.

TrunkSpace: As you mentioned, you’re set to star as Captain Tanaka in the new Netflix series “Altered Carbon.” By any standards it seems like an extremely ambitious project, but by television/streaming standards, it feels like it could be the kind of project that forces others to rethink the way that they’re doing things. As you were working on the series, did it have the feel of something that could be groundbreaking within the industry itself?
Kanagawa: Absolutely. And it’s more than blind ambition, there’s a desire, an aspiration to make something really good. I could tell everybody on this project from the top down were dedicated to getting things right. I go into my first wardrobe fitting and a few days later I have another one because they’ve re-thought things. And then another one. I walk on set on my first day and my first reaction is, “Wow.” Same thing the next day when I see another set. And so on. I get called in to rehearse on a Saturday and with input from all of us actors, the scene gets rewritten. There’s creative energy. Everybody’s involved and engaged. Nobody was mailing it in on this one.

TrunkSpace: At this point, millions of people have already viewed the trailer online and the buzz continues to build around the series. As an actor performing within a show that is generating that kind of pop culture interest, does it place you in a position to put expectations on how it will be received and accepted, and in a way, alter your life/career in the process?
Kanagawa: I do have expectations that it will be well-received. I’ve seen bits and pieces and everything I’ve seen excites me. I’ve read the scripts, of course, and being a writer myself, I have nothing but admiration for the writing. I am aware that my work here as Captain Tanaka will probably get a lot of eyeballs and I’m happy about that because I feel good about it. If this creates more opportunities for me in the future, I’m ready. Bring it on.

TrunkSpace: For those who have never read the Richard Morgan novel, can you tell us a bit about Captain Tanaka and what his journey is throughout the course of the series? What did he offer you from a performance standpoint that you have yet to tackle in a project before?
Kanagawa: The series is in the same universe and follows the same general trajectory as the first book, but it’s a major expansion of that universe. Captain Tanaka, in fact, does not appear in the novel. What I can tell you is that Tanaka is a deeply-conflicted and compromised police captain tasked with keeping law and order in a world run by an ultra-powerful elite. He’s a good man in a bad world and he can either keep his head down and do as he’s told, or he can do the right thing. As an actor, you live for characters who are conflicted in this way.

TrunkSpace: From one talked about project to the next, you’re also working on “Snowpiercer” for TNT, a series based on Bong Joon Ho’s popular 2013 film. Both “Altered Carbon” and “Snowpiercer” come with a bit of their own built-in audiences seeing that they had established fan bases in other mediums already. Is that a gift for an actor, working on something that you know people will already be lining up to see, or does it also come with its own set of pitfalls knowing that some viewers might go in with expectations already in place?
Kanagawa: I think there are instances where the fans of a known, iconic story do not want what they know and love to be messed with. I don’t think “Altered Carbon” or “Snowpiercer” will suffer from that given both projects are re-interpreting the original for a different medium. If anything, I feel an audience expectation and excitement to see what new directions both series will go in.

TrunkSpace: You’ve performed in dozens of series and films over the course of your career. Looking back, are there any characters that you wished you had more time to spend with and explore further, and if so, why?
Kanagawa: Lt. Suzuki on “iZombie”, and the Yakuza boss Okamura on “The Man in the High Castle” both met untimely ends. There was a lot more to explore with those characters.

TrunkSpace: You’ve had some great runs on fan favorite shows adored by the Comic Con crowds like those two you just mentioned, and most recently, “Legends of Tomorrow.” But one thing a lot of people might not know about you is that you also played father of the first family of comics, Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four. What was that experience like, giving voice to such an iconic character?
Kanagawa: I don’t do a lot of animation, so it was a tremendous pleasure being in the room with artists who are the creme de la creme of that industry. And as an Asian actor, I thought it was fantastic that I had the opportunity to voice such an iconic non-Asian character. Reed, of course, is kind of the “straight man” in the family, so I didn’t have to move far from my natural speaking voice, but I had a great time with a couple of episodes where Reed switched bodies with Ben/The Thing as well as with Dr. Doom.

Kanagawa with Joel de la Fuente “The Man in the High Castle”

TrunkSpace: You also did an episode of “Supernatural,” which many in the fandom consider to be one of the most memorable in the series’ 13 year run. (“Changing Channels”) That got us to thinking… can you imagine yourself working on one character for such an extended period of time, in this case, 13 seasons, and is that something you would welcome?
Kanagawa: It really depends on the character I guess. I’ve been lucky to have a sustained career without being attached to a single character or show for longer than two seasons. But this is the golden age of the serial narrative and there is so much good writing out there in this medium that I would welcome the opportunity to explore a character over multiple seasons.

TrunkSpace: We read that you started your creative journey as a musician, composer, and writer. Are those areas that are still a big part of your life even as your acting career has continued to propel you forward in ways that you probably never thought possible?
Kanagawa: I am a playwright as well as an actor and I am very proud of the fact that I recently received the Governor-General’s Literary Award for Drama, one of Canada’s most prestigious literary awards. As for music, as anyone who ever played in a high school rock band will attest, I still dream of getting the band back together, taking my shirt off, and kicking some ass!

TrunkSpace: A lot of times our loves and creative outlets can end up feeling like “work” when those outlets become careers. Do you still love acting as much today as you did the first time you stepped foot on a set and began your career?
Kanagawa: I actually love it more now than ever. I feel I’m just starting to get really interesting opportunities, and that’s coming at a time when I’m starting to do my best work. All of that is extremely exciting. I’m chomping at the bit here.

TrunkSpace: Do you view the craft differently now than you did when you first began your pursuit of it?
Kanagawa: Completely. I’m always learning about myself as I journey through life. And acting is a craft you can learn so much about from watching people you’ve never met. You can watch actors who died decades ago and learn from them. You can learn from watching people at the food court at the mall. It’s endlessly, endlessly fascinating.

TrunkSpace: If someone came to you tomorrow with a blank check and said, “Hiro, go make the kind of projects that you want to make,” what would that look like? What kind of project would you develop for yourself knowing that money was not an option?
Kanagawa: Being a writer and having a couple of screenplays and series concepts, I’d use the money to get those things made. I don’t really write roles for myself, but if I had a blank check maybe I’d be tempted to write myself something. Might be tempted to write myself a part where I cross the desert, climb the mountain, and make it to the promised land.

Altered Carbon” premieres Friday on Netflix.

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Somebody Feed Phil

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Series: Somebody Feed Phil

Where To Watch: Netflix

Episodes: Season 1/Six Episodes

Starring: Phil Rosenthal (And occasionally his parents and brother.)

How Do I Know That Guy?: If Rosenthal is both unfamiliar to you and yet strikingly recognizable at the same time, it’s probably because you were a fan of the long-running sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Rosenthal created the series and it’s clear to see that star Ray Romano was channeling the mind behind it, and in the process, doing a bang up job!

Reason We’re Watching It: Yes, the dishes looks delicious, but there are a million food-meets-travel shows out there. What makes “Somebody Feed Phil” different is the heart of the host being fed. Rosenthal doesn’t only just connect with the food he’s sampling but with the people behind each meal. In a show marketed to be about food, what it ultimately becomes is a show about being human, and for us, that’s a winning recipe.

Our Favorite Episode: Like Rosenthal points out in the episode, the country of Vietnam gets a bad wrap, but between the ear to ear smiles of its people and the delectable food coming out of Saigon, this episode was both eye opening and eye edible.

We’re Inspired!: Thanks in large part to our favorite episode about Vietnam, we hunkered down in the kitchen and attempted to make our own batch of Pho, a popular Vietnamese soup. It’s now even more popular with us. Somebody thank Phil!

And that’s why we’re giving it…

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Wingman Wednesday

Adam Bartley

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* This feature originally ran 04/19/17

There are some actors who just steal the scene and captivate viewers regardless of who else is in the scene with them. The on-camera dazzling is never done intentionally. It is the actor’s commitment to the part and pledge to the craft that shines a spotlight on the performance, forcing those at home to pay attention. They exist in a fictional world, but play their character as an authentic resident of the imaginary zip code that we, the viewers, visit as voyeuristic tourists.

One of those actors… one of our favorite actors… is Adam Bartley. As The Ferg on the long-running series “Longmire,” Bartley has been playing the deputy everyman with understated precision for five (soon to be six) seasons. The series is currently in production in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is where we caught up with the Minnesota native.

We recently sat down with Bartley to discuss how the show has changed his life, its pop culture legacy, and his favorite episode thus far.

TrunkSpace: When did you realize that The Ferg went from character to fan favorite character?
Bartley: I don’t know. I think the fans love every character. They’re just so loyal and incredible. But, as far as Ferg is concerned, I think in the first season… I think it was around the third episode when Ferg turned his badge in. When Ferg turned his badge in and said “I’m just not made for this… I can’t do this” and the Sheriff said, “Listen, Ferg, I hired you for two reasons. The first one was because of your father.” And I say, “What’s the other one?” And the Sheriff says, “Well, I’m still waiting to find out.” I think that moment helped people to really connect with Ferg in the sense of how similar he is to so many people and so many people’s paths. You’re not always going to show up and be the best at what you do all of the time. It’s a kind of an everyman availability for audiences and I think that’s what latched people on… they saw a lot of themselves in the character and started to root for Ferg immediately from them on. And then of course, there’s the moment when I think the audience found out Ferg is in love with Cady Longmire.

TrunkSpace: That episode definitely felt like Ferg’s coming out party in terms of revealing him to have various layers, especially when we see him react so emotionally to Cady’s accident.
Bartley: Yeah. That’s great. That was a really incredible episode. That’s absolutely right. That piece… you’re seeing something beyond a sort of loyal, hardworking, trying-to-please-the-Sheriff kind of deputy. You’re seeing a person who has feelings and who you can relate to.

TrunkSpace: From an acting standpoint, what for you has been the most exciting thing about the character’s growth over the life of the series? What were you most excited to work on?
Bartley: Well, any time I’m working in a scene where it’s just Walt and I, that’s always… I love that relationship. Rob Taylor is a very good friend and we have a really good sort of chemistry as friends on and off camera. I really love watching the evolution of that relationship because for Ferg, the Sheriff is sort of the father figure he, I think, always wanted. He just tries to please him and make him proud every day. And so to be able to play in that space is really challenging and exciting.

I would say my favorite episode that I’ve worked on in the first five seasons has been when I get physically apprehended and beat up by the mob and I have to walk to some diner and call Walt. He comes and we sit down and just playing in that scene was really, really powerful acting and he really helped bring that out. I’ve lost my badge. I’ve lost my gun. I’ve been had and I’ve failed again. It’s hard to fess up when you fail and it’s hard to acknowledge that you fail, especially to the Sheriff.

TrunkSpace: Coming from a theater background, when you first started working in those scenes with Robert… he’s so understated and quiet in his delivery whereas in theater you’re taught to project… did that take some getting used to?
Bartley: It’s funny that you say that. I actually talk about this a lot, including last night and a couple of days before. Yeah, that’s one of the great things about this show for me is that it has been an on-camera education in ways that you could never get in school or anywhere else. A lot of that has to do with that when I showed up, coming from the theater, I had been rehearsing my first scene for the pilot and was just so excited and I was all ready to go. I was speaking somewhat loudly and theatrically and told the Sheriff, “Hey, listen I’m so sorry I’m late… it will never happen again!” (Laughter) In the first rehearsal, Rob… barely audible. He just sort of mutters his line to me and walks away. It was really powerful. It was a huge “wow” moment for me because the challenge, I think, on camera for any actor coming from the theater is believing that your most simple, your most honest, open, simple true reaction to any situation is enough. That people are going to find that interesting, without you doing anything more than you saying the line. Obviously Rob Taylor has been in the business for a very long time and figured that out 30 years ago, but I was figuring it out on the fly. It’s been an incredible sort of Petri dish this show, playing around with that sort of trust in myself and in terms of getting it down to the most simple truth in every scene.

TrunkSpace: It’s funny that you said Robert was barely audible because he’s so patient and soft in scenes sometimes that it’s easy to imagine him being difficult to mic.
Bartley: (Laughter) You get used to it. It’s true. We’ve always had good sound mixers. Always. Yeah, it’s so nice to not have to get every word out to the world. It’s nice for you to be discovered… that what you’re saying is being discovered and heard for the first time.

TrunkSpace: When you landed the part, how much of your character did you base on the source material from the books?
Bartley: None, actually. No. I read “The Cold Dish,” Craig Johnson’s book, and kind of soaked in the world, but the character The Ferg in that book is very different from the character that I play. I was really interested in sort of creating my own character because the writers for the TV show had really created a new character for The Ferg. But, I wanted to make sure that I was in the world.

TrunkSpace: We discovered the show late in its run thanks to the wonders of binge watching. It takes hold of you and you get sucked in very easily. That being said, how can so much terrible stuff happen in one small Wyoming county!?!?
Bartley: (Laughter) I know. Luckily Wyoming itself is not that crime-ridden, but in our Wyoming, things have not been very good. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Other than relocating during production, how has the series impacted your life and career the most?
Bartley: Wow. Well… this series has allowed me to realize a dream of mine. To be on camera. And it’s a dream that didn’t really come to me until I was 30 and then it really hit me there with what I wanted to do. I had been doing theater all over the country for 10 years and this not only has changed my life forever in regards to having a seat at the table to be able to do other things… and hopefully having an opportunity to do more things after this… but the singular experience of working on “Longmire” is unlike any show I’ve ever worked on or any play I’ve ever worked on. We are an incredibly close family of people that really love being together and really love working together. I’ll take that with me and I’ll take what I’ve learned from these people, from this incredible group of artists, and how people treat each other and how artists should have space and room to create the greatest version of the stories they’re telling and how establishing great working relationships up front on new projects… how that pays dividends and how it shows up on camera. It’s starkly different from other shows that don’t have those elements. We’re lucky to have an incredible group of producers that from the very first moment on the pilot set the tone for how this was going to go. It’s just not always that way. There’s a lot of other ways people go about doing this business, but as I go forward, that’s the best gift… taking what I’ve learned from this show and these people and applying it to everything I do going forward.

And the other thing is the fans. All of these incredible, loyal people who just love the stories so much and reach out and come to Longmire Days. They’re so kind. This show has really touched a lot of people. It has really changed lives and that’s so humbling… to know that I’m sitting in a coffee shop and somebody comes up and seeing them with almost tears in their eyes to meet me… it’s like, “Wow!” It’s powerful. Storytelling can be so powerful and I just feel so blessed to be a part of it and to have this be my job.

Bartley as The Ferg in “Longmire”

TrunkSpace: And it’s something from a pop culture legacy standpoint that will stand the test of time. The show isn’t going anywhere. New generations will find it.
Bartley: Yeah. No doubt. It’s just a special show for a special time. And the cool part about that is that, even in years from now when I’m missing being down here in Santa Fe and being with this incredible group of people, the wonderful thing is that “Longmire” is still going to be sitting there on Netflix. It’s still going to be sitting there and people can watch it whenever they want. They’ll have new viewers every day. In that way, it’s being sort of aired for the first time every single day.

TrunkSpace: It is crazy to think about now because there was a time when a show would air and you might catch it in a rerun or in syndication, but most shows just sort of disappeared. That’s not how it works nowadays, especially for shows as popular as “Longmire.”
Bartley: They live on. It’s so unique to this time and to this Golden age of television. There’s so much content and people will keep discovering it. That’s wonderful.

TrunkSpace: The show has such a rich history of really great guest stars. Was there anyone in particular that came into the show and gave you butterflies or made you feel a bit intimidated to be in a scene with based on their body of work?
Bartley: Well, the thing about our show is that it is a big open-hearted family and everyone that works on the show gets to be a part of it right away and is welcome. So there’s not a lot of intimidation going on around the set. But that being said, when Gerald McRaney and I had a scene together, that was a really interesting day. He’s a powerhouse. He was playing quite the powerhouse on the show as well and he basically gave it to me, in the rehearsal and in the scene, in a classic McRaney kind of way.

We’ve had so many great guest stars. I’ll just say that. Heather Kafka, who played the woman who had all of the deer carcasses… she’s just an incredible actress. One of my favorite people too. There have been so many like her who have come and just lifted the show up. And Mary Wiseman who played my love interest on the show is just a phenomenal actress. She inspires me and we have such a great time working together and such a great connection on camera. She’s quite special to watch.

It’s one after another. I could name 40 names and keep going.

It’s a special place. It’s a special group. We have an incredible crew. Just the best people. When I come to set, it’s saying hi, every day, to 75 people on my way to rehearsal. And then saying goodbye when I leave. That’s every day. There’s a lot of laughter and a lot of closeness, but also a lot of focus as well. A shared focus. It’s a time I’ll never forget.

TrunkSpace: Walt is a classic Hollywood badass. You also appeared in “Justified,” which featured a more modern badass in the form of Timothy Olyphant’s character Raylan. Having been around so many on-screen badasses, what makes a successful one?
Bartley: (Laughter) A good on-screen badass? That’s a good question. I would say keeping things close to the chest. Characters that say as little as necessary and sort of lead with their actions instead of their words. And having physical stature…

TrunkSpace: (Laughter) That helps!
Bartley: Yeah. Physical stature helps.

Bartley is currently filming season 6 of Longmire.

Bartley also recently guested as Duke in “This Is Us” on NBC and can be seen on the big screen in the upcoming films “Annabelle: Creation” and “Under the Sliver Lake.”

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Wingman Wednesday

Jason Butler Harner

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*This feature originally ran on 7/17/2017

Great performances happen all of the time, especially in this day and age when so much quality content is just a click away. What’s more difficult to achieve is a great career with a body of work that not only improves upon itself with each new role, but that collectively elevates the projects contained within it. Jason Butler Harner has managed to achieve this career potency, seemingly without trying. His natural on-screen magnetism draws you in and never lets go. He is an actor who can say more with a look than a full page of a dialogue, a skill he has put to use in “Ray Donovan,” “Homeland,” and most recently, Netflix’s “Ozark” opposite Jason Bateman and Laura Linney.

We recently sat down with Harner to discuss the complexities of his “Ozark” character, the comfort (and discomfort) of lying in a pool of blood, and the best stages he has ever performed on.

TrunkSpace: In “Ozark” you’re playing rogue FBI agent Roy Petty. What did Roy offer in terms of interesting character elements that felt different from what we’ve seen before from other representations of FBI agents on screen?
Harner: That’s such a good question actually because I’ve seen and certainly played a lot of Feds. Every character in the series is human and conflicted in surprising ways. That’s a testament to what Bill Dubuque created and certainly what Chris Mundy and our staff of writers kept alive throughout the 10 episodes.

With Roy… his name is Roy Petty, which that tells you something… but with Roy, he has a very hard edge. Within Petty’s drive and his expertise as this focused, seasoned FBI agent (albeit complete with some dangerous, unpredictable blinders) is the fact that he has no shame. And I mean that in a good way. He doesn’t give a fuck. Okay, he may have a dash of it, but it doesn’t control him. He is unapologetic about his laser sharp intent to bring down the cartel, no matter how. He’s not interested in the protocol within an agency that is mired in bureaucracy. And, perhaps most importantly, he has ZERO shame about being a gay man, and particularly a gay man in this typically homogeneous, predominantly straight male profession. That was a revelation to me. Huge. It gets no airtime. It’s a non-entity and that is incredible. It surprised me how it exactly evolved as I got more information about him, and of course how I got to reveal more of him. Listen, I’m not an idiot, he’s definitely shutdown, particularly emotionally, in certain areas rooted in guilt and pain. And he may ultimately unlock some levels of regret that could lead to capital letter shame after this first season is over. (You’ll see why in Episodes 9 and 10.) But, for now, his primary motivation comes from so many other places, and shame is just not one of them. That was profound to witness and then make manifest.

They gave me the benefit of a backstory that would unfold much later in the series, and they told me what that story was early on.

TrunkSpace: So as a viewer we’re presented with him, but we don’t yet learn what makes him tick?
Harner: We don’t know what’s going on yet, and listen, a lot of times, and I’ve played some of them, you’re given characters that are very two-dimensional. They’re a mood. They’re very by the book, they’re very eager for a fight. They’re angry, they’re dangerous, psychotic, crazy, for example, and we don’t really explore why, so fortunately for me and for the viewers of “Ozark,” Roy is humanized. That’s my job as an actor, to create my own backstory, find reasons why, try to fill something out, flesh something out so that the producers and editors can decide whether or not they’re interested in that. Fortunately in this case, especially Chris Mundy was like, “Listen here’s what’s going on…” and it gave me something to go from.

I basically have one of those sleeper characters where he’s in it a little bit, a little bit, a little bit, and understandably anybody could think that this character is just going to be in this episode, and then he just keeps coming around and you’re like, “Oh shit, what’s going on?”

TrunkSpace: The series as a whole seems different tonally from a lot of what’s on the air today where, even in the darkest of stories, there’s some sort of comedy woven throughout. But with “Ozark” it strikes that serious tone throughout, and in the process, feels a bit like a throwback in that regard.
Harner: Yeah, especially in that first episode, it’s maintained throughout the whole thing. The color palette of the series is very specific and that was exciting. It definitely was Pepe (Avila del Pino) and Ben (Kutchins), the DPs, and Jason (Bateman) establishing the world of that tone. It was really very clear about what it was.

TrunkSpace: It felt very reminiscent of early Coen Brothers, like “Miller’s Crossing.”
Harner: I love that movie so much. Marcia Gay Harden before anybody knew Marcia Gay Harden.

TrunkSpace: One of the other cool things about the show that is sort of reminiscent of TV in general these days is that creators are showing interesting segments of the country that haven’t been spotlighted before. “Justified” in Appalachia, “True Blood” in the bayou, “Longmire” in Wyoming, and then the Ozarks here, which as far as we could recall, is a picture we’ve never seen painted in television.
Harner: It’s so true. I’m from a small town in America, raised in the suburbs of DC, and then lived in New York City for 23 years and now I live in LA, so I have a great affinity and appreciation for small town America and the fullness of America. I was just at dinner last night with some friends and they introduced us to this friend from Norway, and of course they had no idea what the Ozarks were. I was like, “Well…”

I didn’t know this when the series started and I could be getting this wrong, but the waterfront, the shoreline… there’s more shoreline of the Ozarks than in the state of California. The lakes are so big and what’s around them is so amazing. We have this last shot in the first episode, which is unbelievably beautiful and is not CGI’d at all. That’s shot from a helicopter that’s pulling away and is 100 percent the Ozarks and for real. I think it’s so amazing. (Laughter)

Jason Bateman is just the most amazing person in the world. He is the kindest and the smartest. About halfway through production he rented out a movie theater and shared with the cast and crew the first episode just to sort of be like, “Hey, just so you know this is what we’re making here in case you had any doubt. And thank you.” Which nobody else does on any other show I’ve worked on. Nobody else does that. When that last shot came on, and only a skeleton crew had been there in the Ozarks when they filmed that so only the skeleton crew knew about it, everybody just started hooting and hollering and cheering. It was really great.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned how the first season is 10 episodes in length. From a performance standpoint, does that shorter episode order benefit you as an actor because you know that the story is not going to be stretched out and that each episode will have as much character bang for the buck as possible?
Harner: Yeah, I mean, no offense to procedurals, but you’re not stuck in that format. When they say it’s going to be character-driven, in this case, they really mean it. Obviously there’s a lot of plot that happens in each episode. I remember sitting in the editing room after the second episode and I looked at Jason and said, “I cannot believe how much content we have in one hour!”

The benefit of being on a platform like Netflix and in a series like this is that you also have scenes where you can uncharacteristically sit down with a character or a couple of characters and have what would seem like a long amount of time. I have a monologue coming up, I don’t think they kept all of it, but I have this scene coming up where I’m fly fishing with a character that you’re going to meet and we were really shooting at 5 a.m. on a river in Atlanta with the fog coming up. It was so beautiful, and when you get those opportunities in your life as an actor, you think, “This is why I’m doing this. I’m in waders in the middle of a fucking river fly fishing, which I have been studying for over a month to look like I know what I’m doing, and I’m just going to tell this story and we’re going to sit here for a period of time.” Magical. For everyone too, including the viewer.

TrunkSpace: And what’s beautiful about things right now is that audiences not only expect that, they crave it. They want to see their storytelling play out in that way.
Harner: One of the things I really appreciated was that they really were not interested in the more sensationalist aspects, although there are some colorful characters and situations that happen in the series. It was, “How do we get into the nitty gritty of this family having to survive and adapt to living and completely changing their lives.” But also, be as interested in the nuance of that translation as in the larger concept of everything else happening. I always appreciate that. Jason Bateman’s attention to detail on seemingly mundane things is so good. Just silly things like, if you pick up a phone that’s not yours but you have to access it, Jason makes sure that those details are built in in some way. Those small little details, they credit the whole thing. It makes you go along with the story a little bit more and not have to add your own sort of magical realism that can happen a lot in the things that we see.

TrunkSpace: Could those little details exist in another platform? Could Jason have been able to do that on a major network?
Harner: I don’t know actually. The highest compliment that I can say in terms of my experience, and I’ve been really lucky because I’ve had some wonderful experiences on a variety of platforms, but I have never had the kind of leadership and involvement the way that I have witnessed on this production. Patrick Markey is a great creative producer. Mundy is a diplomatic showrunner. Laura is a Godsend. And Jason is a confident leader. He’s been doing this since he was 10 years old. He understands not only how every department works and how the camera works, but how the productions works. I’m sure there were tons of conversations and meetings with Netflix and MRC as it was going, everything from budget and tone and all that, but it didn’t have the micromanagement feel that a lot of other things that I’ve worked on have had, which is a road to hell paved with good intentions. A road to mediocrity. It takes the vitality out of it.

SCANDAL – “Run” – (ABC/Nicole Wilder) JASON BUTLER HARNER

TrunkSpace: We know you have a theater background and it sounds like as far as that community experience of theater goes, “Ozark” seems to have had that vibe based on the way you speak of it.
Harner: Yeah. I also recognize I’m a series regular so I have a lot more agency. When you’re a guest star, there is a certain amount where, more often than not, you sort of get in and get out, do your thing and hopefully don’t offend anyone. Our set was very inviting to everyone.

I have a joke with a couple of friends of mine who are far more successful than I am. We always talk about the “first day of school” regardless of the project. It’s always slightly nerve-wracking. I’m confident in my abilities and I’m also self-effacing, but when you have the ability to not be intimidated and to ask a question that you know you’re going to get an answer to or, even better than an answer, you might get an, “I don’t know,” that’s assuring. When you’re a guest star and you’re just there for a little bit, it’s very rare that you have the luxury of being able to ask that question.

TrunkSpace: From a performance side, is there any character from a previous series or film that you wish you had more time to spend with just because of the interesting nature of the character itself?
Harner: Yeah, there’s a number of them. Whenever my character is not killed off, I’m really excited. (Laughter) I’m personally excited from a logistics standpoint that I’m not going to be lying in a pool of blood for a period of hours, and I’m also excited for the possibility of returning to that work, of course. (Laughter)

The character on “Homeland” was such an anomaly. All of a sudden he does this violent act and then disappears, so you think, “Well, that person is still around somewhere. Could he come back?”

On “Scandal” it was a wonderful Shonda Rhimes sort of teaser where it was an episode where Kerry got kidnapped and we were in a jail and you didn’t know where we were, but you thought we were in another country. It was great. Kerry was so generous. I got killed, but I thought he was really interesting. I thought that his duplicity was particularly interesting, but then he got shot in the back of the head two episodes later and that was it. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: And there’s that pool of blood again!
Harner: There’s that pool of blood. (Laughter) It’s funny, there’s such respect in terms of the different ways that different sets deal with that… the way they shoot it. Some are very kind so you’re not actually physically in that pool of blood for a long period of time, and some don’t care. “Scandal” was very kind. “Ray Donovan” was very kind. I won’t mention the ones that maybe weren’t so kind. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: We were looking over your theater credits and saw that you have stood on so many great stages. It had us thinking, what is the best stage you’ve ever performed on?
Harner: Wow, that’s a great question. I need to really think about that. So many come to mind for different reasons so I’ll try to compartmentalize them.

I’ll tell you a personal story, and then I’ll tell you some stages that really moved me.

Jason Butler Harner as Varick in Ray Donovan (Season 3, Episode 3). – Photo: Michael Desmond/SHOWTIME – Photo ID: RayDonovan_303_821.R

When I got out of grad school and I started really performing, I went to A.C.T. in San Francisco. I did a play up in Seattle called “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” by Martin McDonagh. Great play. While I was up there, I got hired to do “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” because Garret Dillahunt pulled out, I think to do “Deadwood.” He’s a good friend of mine now, but Garret pulled out and I got short notice to go do “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” at A.C.T. in San Francisco. The Geary Theater. So “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” is obviously a classic, iconic, huge American play to have to climb. It was everything that I had been trained to do, that kind of big play, so I walked into the theater because I wanted to see The Geary. I was curious about this intimate play in a big space. I don’t know what the seat number is, but it’s got to be like 1000, and it’s three tiers and I walked in and I looked up and I just started crying because I thought, “Whoa. How am I going to do this?” And then, “I’m ready to do this.”

The other two theaters that come to mind… I did a play in the West End by Lanford Wilson, which I think is a beautiful play called “Serenading Louis.” Lanford Wilson wrote “Burn This,” which is the major play of his that people remember, but “Serenading Louis” is a tremendous play that gets shortchanged. People call it sentimental in that modern, misappropriated redefinition of melodramatic. And that’s not true. Anyway, the Donmar Warehouse is an incredibly intimate space, audience on three sides and a balcony, but the balcony is maybe at 12 feet so it’s very… it’s like an old-fashioned observing laboratory.

The last theater that I’m going to mention is one that was built and it was incredible. I did this Mike Bartlett play. I do a lot of American premieres of English and Irish plays for some reason, which I love. So it was this Mike Bartlett play called “Cock” after a cock fight, and interestingly enough, in America, the New York Times wouldn’t even print the title “Cock.” We had to call it “The Cock Fight Play.” But anyway, the set designer built a raw plywood stage in the round… a fully immersive experience for the audience. It was incredible.

What I love the most about live theater is every night is its own organism and dialogue, so you have to be incredibly alive and you are hopefully fed by the audience’s reaction, and if not, you’re working towards making them conscious and communal.

TrunkSpace: And it’s something that is only shared with those in attendance. It can’t be tweeted or forwarded or passed on.
Harner: Yeah, not to get too arty-farty about it, but I do think on some cellular level as human beings, we crave a communal experience. I love all of my devices and I love watching various storytelling through various mediums, but sometimes now you have to get tricked into having that communal experience because it’s not a part of our routine. Then when you get there, you appreciate it. Sometimes it’s like going to a wedding, a family commitment, or a church service or whatever where you think, “Oh God, I have to go…” and some of it is just about navigating how to deal with it and lots of people you don’t know. And then inevitably when you get there you have some type of experience with people around you where you are collectively witnessing or processing something. I don’t know what happens, I just know that something happens, and I appreciate that. Somehow it’s reassuring. There’s a sense of humanity, which right now, just as a side note, I am so interested in any storytelling that we can offer or create that’s encouraging humanity and compassion. It can be messy, it can be bloody, it can be a lot of things, but ultimately I feel like we have a slight responsibility in storytelling towards flexing those muscles, reminding those muscles that humanity and compassion exist right now because I feel things are getting a little disparate, you know?

“Ozark” premieres July 21 on Netflix.

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Wingman Wednesday

Sarah Minnich

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Photo By: Lesley Bryce

It appears to be more about creative fate than coincidence that Sarah Minnich can be seen starring in a string of period pieces. As a child, the California-born actress who first drew attention for her run as Brenda on “Better Call Saul,” always found herself playfully portraying characters living in the past.

I used to literally play dress up all day long in period costume type stuff because it’s just what I wanted to do,” she said in a recent phone interview.

Years later, that imaginative playtime is paying off for Minnich. She can currently be seen in the buzzy western series “Godless” for Netflix and in the ripped-from-the-headlines six part mini-series “Waco,” set to premiere January 24 on Paramount Network.

 

We recently sat down with Minnich to discuss the pull of history on her career, how she approaches playing non-fictional characters in a semi-fictionalized story, and why the future of filmmaking is looking so bright.

TrunkSpace: In addition to you working on a string of period pieces, we have also noticed that a number of your recent projects, from “At the End of the Santa Fe Trail” to “Waco,” are based on true events.
Minnich: And you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’ll tell you something interesting… when I was in high school and middle school, I was terrible at history. I always screwed my GPA up because of history classes, but now, in the past five years or so, I’ve started listening to audiobooks, and specifically historical fiction audiobooks. For some reason, I’ve become much more attracted to and interested in learning about history and historical events. It sort of fits right in like a puzzle with my love for doing period piece type of work and trying to explore the character and mindset of folks that used to live in the past.

TrunkSpace: Does playing someone who actually existed or portraying a fictional person who existed within an actual moment of history force you to approach finding a character differently?
Minnich: Typically, my homework before I go for an audition is pretty extensive in terms of researching. Obviously the homework is fairly extensive for any piece that you go in for, but for period pieces, you want to look at the era. You want to look at personal accounts from people that lived in that era. For roles that are based on actual people, that becomes even more difficult because it sort of becomes a process of trying to actually capture that person’s essence, which is friggin’ hard! Then, you run into issues of, “Well, what if you don’t capture it right, and they don’t like that?” It’s kind of this game of guess and you do your best to base it on what you’ve learned and what you can find.

That’s another thing… you can’t always find information on the people that you’re attempting to portray, so you sort of just got to put your best foot forward and go with what the director asks from you, and rely on your instincts, but at the same time, rely on the direction you’re being given.

TrunkSpace: When you’re working on a project that is based on real events, does the vibe on set take on a different feel?
Minnich: When you’re portraying actual folks, it becomes more of a legal concern because they want to do their best to portray the facts, but at the same time, there’s a certain amount of liberty taken when writing about historical events because you weren’t there. I wasn’t there. I can’t say exactly what happened. So on the production that I recently worked on with “Waco,” we had to be really sort of careful in how we portrayed things because you don’t want to step on people’s toes and you don’t want to portray it incorrectly.

TrunkSpace: “Godless” is really turning heads and seems to be quickly becoming the latest water cooler Netflix series that everyone is talking about. For a lot of people, westerns are more of a brand than a genre. If they dig westerns, they are willing to give a new one a try, much in the same way that science fiction fans are. When you were doing something like “Godless,” did it feel like you were working on a series that was automatically going to have a built-in audience?
Minnich: Well, because I was working with Jeff Daniels, and because the show was a Netflix show… right there is your built-in audience. Yes, it’s a western, genre-wise, so yes there’s a mass group of people, just like you said with sci-fi, or just like maybe with romance or heavy drama or dramedy, of a built-in audience, people who are attracted to those kind of shows. What was so great about “Godless” was that it kind of flipped it. Westerns are typically male-driven. Yeah, you have Jeff Daniels as one of the main leads, so there’s a strong male figure in that production, but then you have quite a few females who are playing strong, independent, stubborn-minded type folks, and that’s sort of flipping it on its head. So some people who are normally attracted to westerns are like, “Whoa, what is this?” Some people who aren’t normally attracted to westerns are like, “Whoa, what is this?” It’s nice to walk into something that is both a norm, a norm for a genre, and at the same time flipping a genre on its head.

TrunkSpace: And you touched on this a bit, but when you’re going into a project with that caliber of talent both on screen and behind the camera, while also being a Netflix show, you’re going to get eyeballs on it right out of the gates.
Minnich: Netflix isn’t playing around. If you’ve seen some of their new projects, some of their newer stuff, they are bringing it to the table. Netflix used to be more of this sort of thing where you’d go, “Oh, you know, I’m bored, I’ll stick this on. There’s gotta be something on it.” Now, they’re competing. They’re putting out projects that are literally competing on a bigger scale that are gaining an audience. Like “Ozark?” Holy moly, that was an epic show, and who expected that to come out of Netflix?

Photo By: Lesley Bryce

TrunkSpace: People keep calling this the Golden Age of Television. For someone working within this time period, is it exciting to see television taking this dramatic, character-driven turn?
Minnich: It really is. It’s interesting and sort of surreal for me to sit back from it and be like, “Whoa, this is an era. I’m living in an era because looking back on this time period in 20 years, in 30 years, we’re gonna be like, ‘Oh, that’s when TV sort of was turned and we started to see diverse-driven projects. We started to see female-driven projects.’” And then we have the whole legal stuff that’s going on right now in the industry. This is an interesting time. Although our country is going through some major changes in terms of administration, it’s going through a different sort of renaissance in the film and television industry.

I’m really glad to see shows bringing on leads who are of different, sort of the non-heteronormative, non-stereotypical skinny, white female or strong, tough white male. You’re not just seeing those as the leads. You’re not just seeing these typical type of stories. You’re starting to see the perspectives of other types of folks, of the non-represented, people who haven’t been represented in the past 50 years in filmmaking. So in that sense, that’s beautiful, and it’s great in the film industry because it opens up so many doors and now we can represent those experiences and start to explore those and talk about educating the masses. What I did my master’s thesis on had to do with entertainment based education. I looked at how we could educate people using entertainment, using film and television. Look at what we’re doing now. We’re starting to pull out non-normative experiences… well, what they consider normative… non-normative or considered normative experiences and bringing them out into the light. That’s how we educate the masses in this day and age, so I think it’s great.

TrunkSpace: And while it’s exciting to see it happening now, the real impact will probably be felt in the work of the filmmakers of the future who gr0w up in this particular media age.
Minnich: Oh yeah, I can’t even fathom it. Sometimes I just have to not even imagine things because I don’t even know where that can go. We look at the generations who are younger than us, and we’re like, “Wow, dude, you’re gonna be tapping into stuff that I don’t even conceptualize at this stage.” Just like my parents or your parents who can’t really understand how to set up their Apple TV and they have to call us and have us do it for them – imagine what our kids are going to be doing?

TrunkSpace: It seems the mediums have flipped as well. Earlier generations looked towards film as the true art form, but now it seems like television is becoming that, while film becomes a mostly popcorn-driven media.
Minnich: The demand for content is so insane. The whole concept of binge watching was not around 10 years ago. That was not around 20 years ago. And so now all of a sudden there’s a demand for content, but not only that, there’s a demand for good content. So like I was saying, Netflix is rising to the occasion. That’s just going to continue to move forward. I think the whole TV concept, the episodic concept, people like that because then they have something to look forward to. They’re like, “Oh okay, I watched this episode, and now I can sort of mull this over in my mind for the next week until the next one comes out.” I think for some reason, that’s really attractive to people. They like to have stuff to sort of chew on during their work week.

TrunkSpace: When you look back at your career thus far, what was the turning point for you in terms of more doors opening and more opportunities presenting themselves?
Minnich: I think it might have been “Better Call Saul.” I don’t have a massive role on “Better Call Saul,” I have a recurring small role, but there is something to be said about having a show like that on your resume. So that got doors opened for me that would not have been opened. It’s like this trickle effect – one big thing, which really isn’t that big in terms of what you’re doing, but it’s a big name, and one big name opens a door for you, and then all of a sudden, you get to do this other thing. You do this other thing, and that opens a door. You do this other thing, and that opens a door. So, even doing these teeny little things on big movies or big television sets have opened doors so that finally I’m doing supporting roles, and finally I’m reading for lead roles. In the past 12 months, I’m finally auditioning for lead roles, which is like, “Hallelujah!” So, I can’t pinpoint an exact turning point for you, but I can say that one thing has led to another in a very step-by-step kind of way.

Season 1 of “Godless” is available now on Netflix.

Waco” premieres January 24 on Paramount Network.

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