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Wingman Wednesday

Rudy Martinez

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Photo By: Ryan West

Beneath his love for acting and a talent for puppeteering, Rudy Martinez is a storyteller at his core. Whether he is giving life to characters on screen or creating them from scratch with the written word, the California native is most at home when he’s entertaining. The “Jane the Virgin” alumni can currently be seen in Season 2 of “Dear White People,” available now on Netflix.

We recently sat down with Martinez to discuss the ways his “Dear White People” experience differed from previous jobs, how he was able to play up his character’s social awkwardness, and why he’d have no problem expressing love for a kitchen glass.

TrunkSpace: You’ve worked on a lot of television in the past. Has “Dear White People” been a different experience for you when you compare it to past roles and projects?
Martinez: Yeah, definitely. This was, I want to say, the biggest project I’ve done because my character had a whole story arc and I was featured in several episodes. I really feel like I played a big part on the show. It did change some things for me. I’ve been getting a lot of messages from fans who’ve reached out, especially since the show, because it deals with a lot of various issues – I would say first and foremost race and race tensions in America and also LGBT issues. I’ve been getting a lot of people who’ve been just letting me know what the character and what the show has meant to them and that’s meant a lot to me.

TrunkSpace: The show feels very timely in that messaging as well.
Martinez: Right. I totally agree and I think that Season 2 particularly, a large chunk of the show deals with the sort of… that because of the prevalence of social media these days, there’s these sort of anonymous racist Twitter trolls and Facebook trolls who are being given a bigger platform. Season 2 takes a critical look at that.

TrunkSpace: And what’s nice about Season 2 is that it steps out from the shadow of the film that it is based on and becomes its own entity.
Martinez: That’s right, and I really love seeing the backstory of a lot of the characters and getting more in depth with that. I really love that aspect of the show.

TrunkSpace: Now, your character, Wesley, he’s a bit socially awkward. Were you able to tap into that side of him and use it to make him as likable as he ultimately became?
Martinez: You know, I definitely think that I can be socially awkward sometimes, so I was definitely able to play myself in some instances. I really feel there was a lot of the part that was just so well written and the comedy was well written also, so it was an exercise for me and a little bit of a challenge to really nail that. I put a lot of work into it and ultimately, I was unsure how it would come off on screen. Then, when I watched it I was like, “Oh, thank God that played!” (Laughter) Yeah, the sort of awkwardness helped pump up the comedy a lot.

TrunkSpace: A personality trait like that must help you find the laughs within the performance and not just the dialogue, correct?
Martinez: Yeah, exactly, which is something that I love doing. I’m a theater guy, so I do a lot of physical theater and stuff. I studied clowning in college and things like that and so I was able to make the physical stuff work, too.

TrunkSpace: Your character is also dealing with a new love and discovering another human being, which everyone can relate to. When you’re in a story arc like that, where it’s so reliant on chemistry, how do you personally go about trying to establish that on screen? Is it all about homework beforehand with your co-star?
Martinez: There’s not a lot of interaction, actually, with my co-star before we start rehearsing and shooting. The rehearsals happen on this minutes before the actual shoot, so you don’t really get a lot of time. We did do a chemistry read together and I think that the director, Justin Simien, and the producers wanted to see who had natural chemistry together and I think that’s important, too.

In terms of portraying that sort of attraction, I was joking with friends and I was telling them that I love playing smitten and in love. It’s just my favorite emotion to play. I could pretend to be in love with anything. I could grab a glass from the kitchen and just pretend I’m doing a monologue and improvise a monologue and be in love with anything. It’s just, there’s something about it. I love using that emotion in my arsenal, so I was really just glad to be able to do that.

TrunkSpace: You’ve appeared on a number of great shows over the years, some of which ended their runs prematurely. Is there something nice about being able to be on a show where the entire season is both produced and seen without having to worry about it finding its audience so you can close out your arc?
Martinez: Yeah. That was actually really nice, and not only that, I think that the show has a lot of fans that have come from the original movie and from Season 1. It’s definitely something, doing a show that, first of all, you don’t know if it’s going to get picked up. There’s that whole thing. The nerves are in high during pilot season. And then it gets picked up, and then, ultimately if you’re on a show and it gets canceled, there’s that big letdown. For this, coming off of my experience with other shows, I kind of compartmentalized what my experience would be like on “Dear White People” and thought, this could be it, it could be just this chunk of episodes. Then, it comes out and the fans come with it and there’s a lot of support. It’s definitely a great feeling.

Photo By: Ryan West

TrunkSpace: Is that part of a defense mechanism as an actor, having to not look too far into the future with a particular character or project?
Martinez: Definitely. Definitely. I think actors face that every day, whether it’s in an audition where you feel like you really nailed it and then you don’t hear back… it’s always the ones where you think you didn’t really get it or you weren’t that enthusiastic about it and then you hear that you have a call back or you book it and it’s like, “Oh wow!” You, as an actor, you do have to do that a lot. Just going from past experiences, you have to let some things go.

TrunkSpace: How do you personally handle the heartbreak of a show not being picked up or learning that a series has been canceled?
Martinez: Friends, you know? There’s always something to celebrate or commiserate and I think that you give in to it. You let yourself do what you need to do and then you pick up and move on. Then, over time, that process becomes a lot quicker. I think that your first letdown in Hollywood, it can last months, but as it goes along, you grow a thick skin and you learn to move on.

TrunkSpace: You’re also a puppeteer. Which love came first, acting or puppeteering?
Martinez: They’re a little one and the same. Maybe my first performances were when I was a child acting out puppet shows for my family. I was obsessed with “The Muppets” so I would take socks and stuff and make fake Muppets and do little performances for my family, so I think that maybe that was my first love. Underneath that is my love for telling stories and improvising and pretending and just giving voices to characters that aren’t me. In that respect, they are one and the same.

Dear White People” is available now on Netflix.

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Wingman Wednesday

Kim Slate

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It’s usually every artist’s wish to be able to stay true to their own artistic vision while still being able to carve out a living. It’s a rare but much sought-after existence in the creative community. Kim Slate is doing just that, not only turning her work into a paycheck but also creating some of the most unique and expressive sculptures you’ll ever see.

We recently sat down to chat with Slate about her work with acclaimed animation studio Laika, her obsession with “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” and unicorns with shifty eyes.

TrunkSpace: What drove you to pursue a career in art and animation?
Slate: As a kid I was a huge Disney nerd and loved all things art related. In high school I attended a summer animation program where I learned some basics and got to make my own short film. After that I was totally hooked and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

TrunkSpace: How would you describe your work?
Slate: I like to create scenarios with characters who look like they’re up to no good. Every sculpture or painting is trying to tell a story in one pose. I want the viewer to be able to imagine what’s going to happen next. I like to make art that is just fun and isn’t trying to be too serious.

TrunkSpace: Was there a particular artist or title from your childhood that you remember being drawn to and inspired by?
Slate: I was totally obsessed with “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” That film is the reason I wanted to work at Laika in the first place. I also remember being really drawn to the artwork in the book “Where the Wild Things Are.” In high school I started looking at artists like Aubrey Beardsley, Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt.

TrunkSpace: Where do you find your inspiration for your work now?
Slate: I’m inspired by so many local artists here in Portland. There are a couple amazing galleries here that have incredible shows every month. I love getting to meet the artists and ask them about their process. I also have always been drawn to Mexican folk sculptures. I have a few of them on my desk to inspire me while I’m working.

TrunkSpace: You’ve been working with Laika Studios on movies like “Kubo and the Two Strings,” “Coraline,” “Box Trolls” and “ParaNorman.” All of the movies have been not only critically acclaimed, but they all seem to have found a very passionate fan base. What has your experience been like working with Laika?
Slate: Working at Laika was an incredible experience. I specialized in facial animation for more than 10 years starting with “Coraline” and finishing at the end of last year. It was my first job after art school. It was inspiring to work in the same building with so many amazingly talented people, and I feel lucky and proud to have worked on those films.

TrunkSpace: We love your sculptures immensely and how you imbue the animals with so much personality. Can you tell us a bit about your sculpture work and why you enjoy creating animals?
Slate: My process has evolved over the last eight years or so. I always start with a sketch, sometimes just a scratchy doodle and sometimes a detailed illustration. Then I create a wire armature and use Sculpey to build up the form, and finish it with gouache and acrylic paint. I think the theme of mischievous animals came from an old drawing I did years ago of a unicorn with shifty eyes and lots of little teeth. Since then I’ve really loved creating characters that make people smile. Animals are so appealing to me. They are incredibly expressive and they can be sinister and friendly at the same time.

TrunkSpace: What would you say is the greatest strength as an artist?
Slate: To create work that’s authentically yours whether it’s trendy or not. There is pressure to shift toward what’s getting attention on Instagram but I love it when artists just do their own thing.

TrunkSpace: How has technology changed your process of putting ideas/script to page? Do you use the classic paper/pencil approach at all anymore?
Slate: In my career at Laika, my job was always done digitally, though most of what you see on screen is done by hand. In my own work I almost always use a classical approach… drawing and painting on paper. I do rely heavily on Photoshop for editing and tweaking what I’ve created by hand, but I’ve never made the leap to full digital illustration. I like the fact that there is an “original” painting or drawing when it’s done by hand.

TrunkSpace: What advice would you give another young aspiring artist who is considering a career in the art realm?
Slate: I would encourage an aspiring artist to try a lot of different things to see what he or she likes. It’s easy to get locked into a job and miss out on seeing what else is out there. Right out of school it’s hard to know what you’re going to want 10 years down the road, so I think it’s good to be open to different experiences and not limit the opportunities too early on.

TrunkSpace: What else can fans of your work look forward to in the future?
Slate: I’m excited about continuing to create more sculptures and participating in more art shows coming up later in the year. Currently I’m working on designing a short film that will be completed sometime in the next few months. I’m also really hoping to collaborate with friends to animate my characters in the near future.

Follow Slate on Instagram here and at www.kimslate.com.

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Wingman Wednesday

CJ “Lana” Perry

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Photographer: Diana Ragland/Hair: Robert Steinken/Makeup: Brian Valentine/Wardrobe: Madison Guest

CJ “Lana” Perry is known as The Ravishing Russian in the ring, and while we find it impossible to discredit her ravishingness (yes, totally a made up word!), The Resilient Russian is just as suitable of a name. The WWE Superstar has been focused, hard working, and tireless in her quest to achieve a career in the squared circle, despite her lifelong struggles with learning disabilities. Passion for the craft and an unwillingness to listen to the naysayers has carried her forward however, and now she’s set to appear at Money in the Bank this Sunday on pay-per-view and the WWE Network, going boot to boot with some of the best and brightest in the women’s division ladder match.

We recently sat down with the ravishing AND resilient CJ “Lana” Perry to discuss her training focus for Money in the Bank, how she never lets go of the WWE butterflies, and why, like life, her career is a marathon and not a sprint.

TrunkSpace: You are gearing up for a very exciting weekend by the looks of it!
CJ “Lana” Perry: Yes, a very exciting weekend. I’m so excited that I don’t know what to do with myself.

TrunkSpace: Is it difficult to stay focused on Money in the Bank, but then also have to juggle everything else that’s going on with work, and life, and just sort of building towards the event?
CJ “Lana” Perry: There’s definitely a lot going on, that’s for sure. We’re filming “Total Divas” right now on top of everything, so it’s pretty much just go, go, go. I think I have 12 hours home today before I leave tomorrow. But my number one priority is Money in the Bank this Sunday, and training for that. I actually fly out to San Diego tomorrow to train with Daniel Bryan because, it’s not like he hasn’t had any ladder matches, right? He keeps on telling me to keep my feet on the ground. I’m like, “I can’t keep my feet on the ground. I have to climb a ladder!”

TrunkSpace: We get nervous just climbing a ladder to put up Christmas lights! Even when you plan for every possible outcome and scenario, there still has to be some nervousness, right? It’s so high!
CJ “Lana” Perry: Oh, it’s nuts. I’m not scared of heights, but I realize ladders… they’re so unstable, so it’s not just the height. It’s just insane to me. This is going to be Naomi’s third ladder match, so I was able to train some with Naomi. We were using basically an 8’ ladder, and they’re going to be 10’ and 12’ is the big one. It’s the 12’ one that you have to go up to actually grab the briefcase! It’s crazy. When we put the ladder in the ring, it’s even more unstable. Obviously they’re going to be trying to pull you down, and who knows what other shenanigans are going to be happening. So I’m just trying to prepare myself as much as possible for this – lifting a lot. It’s really heavy. People don’t realize how heavy these ladders are. That’s why I was training with Naomi. We went to a ring, she had me doing things outside in her backyard, because she’s insane. She’s the crazy cat lady. (Laughter) Then I’m training with Bryan tomorrow and Friday to prepare for this.

I have to get used to the fact that my feet will be coming off the ground.

TrunkSpace: We would have to imagine that a ladder match requires a different approach to training because, even just the art of falling… it takes on a new artistic point of view from 12’ up!
CJ “Lana” Perry: Oh, for sure. Definitely a completely different approach. Ladder matches are… the risks, the stakes, are so much higher. They’re so much more intense. We’re so much higher! You could fall 12’ at least, or maybe more, depending if the ladder falls onto the outside and you fall out of the ring. You just have to be really, really prepared. You have to be prepared physically, but also mentally. That’s the reason why the first ever ladder match happened a year ago for women, because the stakes are so high, and it is really intense. That’s the reason why this is the second ever Money in the Bank ladder match at the pay-per-view Money in the Bank, besides the rematch that they had on RAW last year, the following week after the pay-per-view. So it’s just… to be a part of a historic moment like this – and the talent in this match, the women, they’re all such incredible talents – so I’m really, really excited, and grateful to be in the ring with such talented women.

TrunkSpace: You’ve been working in this industry for a long time now, traveling the globe doing what you love. It’s a lifestyle that few people ever get to experience. Do you still experience that same excitement about what you do as you did early in your career?
CJ “Lana” Perry: Oh, of course! I get excitement all the time! I mean, I can’t even tell you how I’ll feel goosebumps. When we went to Santiago, Chile, and the fans were just exploding. It was electrifying. The energy there is just… I could feel it through my entire body. Then I went into the audience and had a hoodie on, and I watched the rest of the show once I finished, because it was just such… the energy was just so exciting. I just love what we do so much. I’m so grateful for what we do. I never lose the butterflies.

I love traveling. I love experiencing new things, new cultures, food, sights, and people, so it’s so exciting. I always try and get out in any of the cities that we are in if we have time. I always try and go sightseeing, eat the food, and just experience it because I’m so blessed to be able to do what I love for a living and travel the world. And I have my husband with me, so it’s really, really, really exciting.

Photo courtesy of WWE.

 

TrunkSpace: Yeah, that has to be a part of it that makes it even more unique – getting to experience it all with the person that you love?
CJ “Lana” Perry: Yes! I’m so grateful for it. We always talk about that, Rusev and I, how grateful we are that we get to travel the world doing what we love with the person that we love.

TrunkSpace: It was just last month that you won your very first singles match. Have things been altered for you at all – your approach to preparation or training – since that career changer?
CJ “Lana” Perry: I would say it’s been very encouraging, but I’ve been doing the same thing. I’ve been training. I say it’s the slow and the steady that’s going to win the race, and I am the slow, and I am the steady. I might not be the fastest, or the quickest learner, but I am passionate. I work hard. I am resilient and I work hard to persevere. It takes time to become good. It just takes time to be good at anything. I would say I’ve really only been wrestling on a weekly base for the last year – wrestling at live events every week has been only consistently for a year. It takes years to become great.

One thing is just getting in the ring and training. Another thing is that where you get good is having matches every week. Having matches at least several times a week is the way you become good, and so it’s just been the persevering of, “Okay, yeah I lose, but…” I lost a lot. I think my first win before my singles match was on Mixed Match Challenge. It was with Rusev, and I beat Bayley, which was just, I believe, a miracle, because she’s incredible. Incredible, incredible talent and in ring performer.

I had read – and my dad actually sent it to me because he likes to read the internet – he sent me that I had had 60 matches, and that I had lost 60 times on the main roster. This was my first win. It was 61, and it was on his birthday, and he was turning 61. So it was really cool for me.

I think my story is about persevering and working hard, and that reflects my life. I haven’t always been the best at anything, but I continue to work and persevere, and I will win the race.

TrunkSpace: Everybody needs a dad internet filter because the internet can be a scary place! (Laughter)
CJ “Lana” Perry: (Laughter) I know! It really, really is. It can be very, very scary.

Photo courtesy of WWE.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned how you’ve been performing in the ring regularly for the last year, but what was that very first moment like when you were standing behind the curtain, waiting for your music to play?
CJ “Lana” Perry: Well, last year was my singles debut at Money in the Bank actually, against Naomi for the title match. I was beyond nervous. I thought I was going to throw up. It was just so much pressure. I wanted to be in the Money in the Bank ladder match. Shane McMahon told me that I hadn’t proven myself yet. Then Naomi wanted to face me because she wanted a match for Money in the Bank, so I really, really, really lucked out that I was able to have my first singles match, and that it was a title match. I got really lucky, but at the same time, it’s like, “Am I ready for a title at Money in the Bank pay-per-view?” (Laughter)

I didn’t deserve that, but those were the cards that were handed to me. So it’s like, “Did I earn that yet?” No, I had one tag match on TV, and that was a year before Wrestlemania. But, life throws you some crazy cards, and you have to play the cards that are given to you. You have to make the most of it. I was so, so nervous. I was just like, “Okay, I know some people might think I do good, but I’m sure half the internet and Twitter trolls are going to eat me up and say I’m the worst wrestler of all time.” It just is what it is. You just have to make the most of it. I was so nervous, but when I walked through that curtain and, I can’t explain it. When I’m standing there, my heart is racing and I’m just trying to calm myself, but once I go through that curtain, it’s just like, “I’m born to do this.” I love it.

TrunkSpace: Like you mentioned, you’re currently filming the latest season of “Total Divas.” How does that fit into your day-to-day life? Is it something that you’re consciously aware of at all times, or does it just kind of exist as a part of your life, going along with you?
CJ “Lana” Perry: I just let it go along with me. I always wanted to do “Total Divas” because I felt like my journey was so unconventional, especially compared to all the other women – all the other WWE superstars. I really, really wanted to show my life, and to show my journey, because my journey to the WWE, and my in-ring journey reflects, really, my life journey. I have had a very, very unconventional life. I’m an American that grew up in Russia. I have Christian missionary parents. I have a lot of learning disabilities, and you’re going to see that in “Total Divas.” I knew I had learning disabilities, but I didn’t realize I had such severe learning disabilities. You’re going to see me deal with that. At one point I wasn’t on TV for 13 weeks and I was just so discouraged. I can get really, really, really discouraged. When you keep on working hard and you keep on trying, you keep on trying to get into storylines, and you just have to wait. It’s a patience game, and it’s about being resilient and persevering. I’m happy that I am able to show these ups and these downs on “Total Divas,” because life is that. If I can share anything with people, to girls and boys and people of all ages, it’s that life is a marathon. It’s not a sprint. My career is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and that applies to all areas of life.

TrunkSpace: Sharing the story of your struggles to overcome learning disabilities could help other young people feel not so alone in their own struggles.
CJ “Lana” Perry: Yes. That’s what I hope, to really encourage people. Even if you do have learning disabilities, and you do learn differently, that doesn’t mean that it can stop you from achieving your dreams, and achieving the things that you love. I think that when I realized that, when I saw all the disabilities that I have, I was like, “Wow, I went through college?” Holy freaking moly! I should never have. That’s the reason why I feel like I’m able to persevere in WWE, because it’s kind of like, even with the critics, even with people saying I shouldn’t be here or that I’m not the best or not good enough or not strong enough, it’s like, no, I am going to keep on being resilient and I’m going to keep on persevering.

TrunkSpace: Well, we think you should let your husband keep Rusev Day, and much like how we celebrate our birthday, you should adopt Lana Week!
CJ “Lana” Perry: (Laughter) I like that! Though I take a whole month for my birthday, so we can do Lana Week and Lana Month! (Laughter)

Money In The Bank airs Sunday on pay-per-view and on the WWE Network.

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Wingman Wednesday

Jennifer Bartels

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The new Paramount Network series “American Woman” may be marketed as a comedy, but there are plenty of dramatic moments throughout the course of the first season, which proved an exciting change of pace for star Jennifer Bartels. Although trained in theater and the Meisner technique (an approach to acting developed by Sanford Meisner that places emphasis on instinctive response), the North Carolina native became a familiar voice within the comedy scene, studying and performing at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater before being cast in a reboot of “In Living Color” and serving as writer, performer and executive producer of truTV’s sketch comedy series “Friends of the People.”

With “American Woman,” a period piece that also stars Alicia Silverstone and Mena Suvari, Bartels is getting to flex dormant muscles, and relishing in the fact that her character Diana travels so far from her starting point in the pilot to where she ends up in the season finale.

We recently sat down with Bartels to discuss the need for actors to create, how she’s settling her hustler nerves so that she can enjoy the “American Woman” ride, and why she’s eager to shape opportunities for other actors in the future.

TrunkSpace: It must be quite a whirlwind for you these last couple of weeks?
Bartels: Yeah, it’s been amazing. As an actor that started out in theater and doing comedy in New York, to have this show and all the fun and buzz behind it, it’s been really awesome – really great.

TrunkSpace: What is the experience like when you’re doing a project of this size and scope, from that moment when you first slip into the character to when it premieres? Is the wait excruciating… to get to share it with the world?
Bartels: Yeah. It was a wonderful experience. The thing is, from the conception of this show to now, it’s been, I believe, almost five years. So even when I booked the pilot and then from what that pilot was, and what Diana and these characters were, to where they are now when you see the final product… it was a really rich experience. But it’s also timely, everything we’re discussing now. It’s really nice because it’s been a work-in-the-making for years. And we wrapped in July, so it’s been really nice to finally see it take off and get promoted and have really great viewership.

TrunkSpace: When working in this business, especially before something is formally released, is it important for you to temper expectation knowing that so much of it is out of your control?
Bartels: Yeah, I feel like that’s been my personal journey creatively, which is why to me, it’s so important to be creating your own projects because at least you have control. There are a lot of actors who are actors, but I think in this climate, with social media and just with where we are, it’s great to be writing and creating and producing your own thing because it’s such a crap shoot. There’s so many elements outside of your control. From me going on an audition, to having a series go on to air 12 episodes, to a billboard on Sunset… it’s wonderful, but it’s a rarity. And then to see who’s going to like it? It’s a lot of holding your breath and a lot of ups and downs. It never goes away.

TrunkSpace: There must be something creatively satisfying knowing that you have those 12 episodes to build an audience with and not having to wait week-to-week to see if you’ll be moving forward with a storyline or particular arc?
Bartels: Yeah, that’s what is exciting right now, and I think as an actor sometimes we’re hard on ourselves and we’re always like, “What else? What are we doing?” We’re hustlers, but I think giving yourself a moment to sit in the satisfaction that it’s a solid female-driven show that, each week, will air, and that these characters really develop in a really surprising way, especially Diana, my character, from where you see her in the pilot to where she goes… it’s very wonderful and layered, so it’s exciting. Yeah, I have to check myself and go, “Jen, calm down, take a deep breath.” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: At what point can you let your guard down and just sort of say, “Okay, this is it. This is going to be my life for the next four or five years?”
Bartels: I think it’s always a struggle, if I’m being brutally honest. I think at this point everyone should be in therapy out here because it is a matter of what is enough and feeling that what you’re doing is enough creatively and professionally, because again, there’s so many cooks in the kitchen on any given project. So I’m trying to really celebrate and not let… sometimes you just have those voices in your head that… great, that’s going to make me sound totally insane… but you have those naysayers in your own head that try to get in your own way, and so it’s nice to remind yourself that if you hang with good family or friends, like, “Hey, you really accomplished something pretty rad.” So that’s what I’m trying to do.

TrunkSpace: In the current TV landscape where there is so much great television being produced, just finding an audience is a big accomplishment.
Bartels: Yeah, there really is so much competition because there’s so many avenues to watch programming, and solid programming, and so I think that’s what’s been really gratifying is, the fans, viewers. New fans, fans who love Kyle (Richards), fans who love John Wells, or Alicia and Mena… and then the ’70s. There’s just a lot of elements that different people can be drawn in by with this show, and so it’s really cool to see the first week, Twitter light up, and a lot of, especially women, but I think what’s been wonderful too is men and older folks too who really are taken back to the ’70s with this type of show… it’s been a nice array of viewership, so it is very cool.

TrunkSpace: For you personally, as a performer, was one of the draws in working on “American Woman” the fact that it was a little bit drama and a little bit comedy, and having the ability to sort of play with all of the emotions of a character?
Bartels: Yeah, I think that that’s always wonderful. I studied theater and Meisner technique in North Carolina and then I came to New York and I started doing comedy, and I think it’s a really nice thing when you have a project that allows you to flex different muscles. People are like, “So it’s a comedy?” And I’m like, “Well, it’s more of a dramedy.” There really is a lot of honest, serious social and personal issues and I think the comedy that you’re looking for when you’re like, “Oh, where’s that one liner?”, it’s more… there are funny, honest things, and to me, comedy is honesty. When you’re honest, that’s when it’s truth in comedy. So I feel like that’s what we play with, and that is finding the honesty and the comedy in real life situations and how they’ve changed to how they haven’t, then and now.

TrunkSpace: With traditional TV comedies, sitcoms, you don’t see a lot of growth and story arcs for characters, but that’s not the case with this show. You’re seeing them go through life and adjusting based on what they experience.
Bartels: Yeah, which I really actually enjoy, and like you said, it was a really nice thing to see as this story progressed and the writers were writing for us, that these characters did take very juicy steps in directions that we maybe didn’t foresee when we did the pilot. Because when you do the pilot, you think, “Oh, it’s a pilot…” You hope it gets picked up, and now I’m Episode 7 in and I’m like, “What am I about to do?” And it’s so rewarding and surprising and I think the viewers will like it as well.

TrunkSpace: You spoke about the chance to get to flex your acting muscles. Where do you feel you got to stretch the most by being a part of “American Woman?”
Bartels: I think it’s more on the serious side. I think a lot of my work in the past, my commercial work, has been… I had a sketch show and I booked “In Living Color,” so I was coming in hot with comedy. So to be given the trust with the writers and the producers to be seen as… not a serious actor, but I had more of a dramatic side to me… I think it was great and it came out in the writing as the show progressed. In Episode 3 there’s this pool scene where Diana kind of goes off the deep end, literally, and it allowed me to have some fun as I did this wonderful, rich monologue on a roof after partying a little too hard, and you start to see this different side of Diana. This not-so-buttoned-up side. And that reveals itself in like five different ways in the whole season, different ways that she starts to loosen those buttons. I think there was a lot that I was challenged with that I had never done before on-screen that was fun and wild and sexy and sad, and I’m really excited and proud of Diana. And it was so cool that people trusted me when they started seeing what I can do, and wrote more for me, so it was wonderful.

TrunkSpace: As a creative person who also works as a writer and producer, is a long-term journey with a character on-screen – going four, five, or even six years with a character – something that appeals to you?
Bartels: Well, I feel like there’s the idea of getting work to get work, or having as much as possible and seeing what sticks on a wall, but creatively for me, I prefer if it’s something fulfilling. And if Diana’s story or whomever I’m working with, playing whatever character, has a rich, fun road to walk down, I would definitely have allegiance to playing that role, truth be told. And I also think there is a lot of intense work. You shoot for three months nonstop and then you do have time allocated to creating other roles or projects. A big thing I want to do is continue to pitch and produce projects that I’m on the backend of – that I’m behind the scenes with – just to give more females and more underrepresented people roles because I feel like that still needs to happen. I feel like we branch out, but we still kind of use the same few people. There are just so many talented people I know that need that opportunity, that was in a way given to me, and so I think if I could help create and give back, that’s kind of what I want to do. But I think they can both go together. I can still be on the journey with Diana, or whomever else, and keep creating on the side.

Catch Jennifer Bartels’ journey with Diana in “American Woman” every Thursday on Paramount Network.

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Wingman Wednesday

Allen Maldonado

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Photographer: Photographed by Steven Gerlich at Aesthesia Studios/Wardrobe Stylist: Daralyn Carter/Groomer: Bethany Garita

Although acting is at the core of Allen Maldonado’s entertainment industry ambitions, he’s quickly climbing each branch of the overall tree. With his own record company, a writing career, a growing digital presence thanks to the app he launched in 2017, Everybody Digital, and a production arm with multiple projects in development, “The Last O.G.” star is on the verge of being the first name on everybody’s call list. Starting today he can be seen in the new film “SuperFly,” based on the 1972 classic.

We recently sat down with Maldonado to discuss his workhorse mentality, what fans can expect from Season 2 of the hottest comedy on television, and why he goes into “Inception” mode when he’s creating.

TrunkSpace: This must be a crazy exciting time for you with everything that has been popping the last few years. Have you been able to sit back and enjoy it or is it all coming at you fast and furious?
Maldonado: I mean, I’m a workhorse, man. I really find joy in the deal of it all, like closing the deal and the excitement of getting a new project. I don’t dwell on it as much. It’s ongoing, what is happening – it’s always the pursuit is what is exciting to me. So that is what I guess keeps me going at a rate that I’m going in the last couple of years. The excitement of going from one project to the next and continuing to build and continuing to grow my career, that’s what, really, I’ve been tracking. Everything else… I always get a bit surprised with people when they recognize me for my work because I keep my head down at work. I don’t really pay attention to all that.

TrunkSpace: They say that work begets work in this industry, but in a lot of ways, it kind of plays out like a video game. When you’re new, you start on the easiest level, and then work your way up to more and more difficult levels. Basically, as an actor, you work your way up in a very similar way.
Maldonado: Yes! I think it also adds equity in this business, being that we’re doing multimillion dollar projects where these investors have to have confidence to be investing millions in their particular talents that they have in their films or their TV shows. So I think a lot of it is that you build equity in their game, being able to show that you’re consistent with not just great work but good behavior, being on time, and just having good habits. All of these things equals to success in this business if you’re able to maintain that type of consistency.

TrunkSpace: Which is important when you’re spending 14 hour days together, all working towards the same end goal.
Maldonado: Yeah, the people who you know on set, you’re spending more time with these individuals than your family, or your wife, or your kids. So going back to what I said earlier, just having a good position on how to treat people and good energy, it all has an affect on those long hours and being able to work as a group towards one goal. We’re gearing up for the second season of “The Last O.G.” and we’re gonna be doing it for three and a half months, so to maintain that type of level of patience, consistency and good energy, it’s definitely work but it’s something that as a group we’re excited to do and we’re excited for the next season.

TrunkSpace: You said you enjoy the process of going out and finding the next project, but is it exciting when you get the second season order like you did with “The Last O.G.?” From an outside perspective it would seem more exciting because it validates that united “one goal” we were just talking about.
Maldonado: Of course! That’s growth. Definitely the evolution of the show is exciting. Knowing that we’re going into the second season – I’m also a writer for the show now – so just elevating on all fronts, being that now that we have our first season done and it’s aired, we kind of have all of the voices to the characters now. We’ve built a foundation. We’re now going into the second season and we could elaborate more. We can dig deeper because we’ve already introduced these characters and people are familiar with them so we can just dive a little deeper and explore and actually write towards our actors. When I signed on, the scripts were already done, so they didn’t write in my… they didn’t know they were going to cast me, nor Tiffany (Haddish), nor Cedric (the Entertainer). Going into this second season, we’re able to write towards the character and really hear their voices, and really be able to build on the foundation in Season 1. So that’s what’s exciting, just the evolution. Hopefully, God willing, we get our Season 3, Season 4, Season 5 – all those things – and we can continue to be excited.

TrunkSpace: And because of how successful the show was in its first season, it must be nice to have an extra layer of trust from the folks upstairs at the network?
Maldonado: Yes! I think us being the number one comedy on cable definitely gives us a great position in going forward with production is Season 2, and we’re already done with the writers room. So we start shooting in July, so the scripts are all turned in. They loved everything that we’re doing. I’m very excited. I feel that we’ve definitely stepped it up and tried to top ourselves for Season 2.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned that you’re a writer, but in addition to that, you’re also an entrepreneur and businessman. In this day and age, within this industry in particular, how important is it for someone to diversify themselves in as many different avenues as possible?
Maldonado: I think it’s very important to have multiple streams of income. Stemming from what your talent is or natural gift is, like acting is mine, everything kind of revolves around that. From my music company,  Get It Done Records, where we do music for TV and film placements, where that music is incorporated in film and television shows such as “Ray Donovan,” “House of Lies,” and “Acts of Violence” with Bruce Willis. To my kids foundation (Demo Nerds) where I teach acting and film to foster kids. Then there is my production company (Only Son Productions) where we’re producing, creating projects, and developing different shows for networks. And also, lastly, my app, Everybody Digital, where we’re creating short films and short-form platforms, and we’re creating original content, but also helping and adding more exposure to new filmmakers. All of these businesses and all of these things that I’m doing all revolve around acting, because acting is the sun and it energizes from there. Being able to diversify in the things that can bring in income for an actor… there’s seasons to all of this stuff… it gives you a little more room, a little more freedom, to be able to do the things you want rather than doing things you have to do to survive and pay your bills.

Maldonado with Tracy Morgan in “The Last O.G.”

TrunkSpace: And when you’re focused on just acting, you really hand over a big portion of your control because so much of your career fate winds up in the hands of casting directors, producers and executives.
Maldonado: Yes! I think that my biggest tip for all the actors that I run across that will ask the question is that you have to really look at yourself as a small business rather than a career. Acting is not a career, acting is a small business, being that you must invest in yourself, you must self-market and self-promote. You must work extra hours. That sounds closer to a small business rather than a career. In most careers you go work the eight hours and then you go home. You can leave it in the office. But in the small business, you’re working 20 hours out of the day and you’re constantly thinking how to elevate. As you continue to grow your small business, these studios or corporations begin to invest in you, so it’s your job as a small business to build your company up and build your brand enough that it can add the attention of these corporations and they feel confident in that art. “I request your services.” And that’s how I like to attack things and it just feels a little more direct and I have a clear target, rather than, I find a lot of actors just kind of throw a bunch stuff against the wall and hope it sticks.

TrunkSpace: So within those various creative and entrepreneurial avenues, does each one give you something different? Does your creative brain get something out of writing that it doesn’t from acting alone?
Maldonado: It’s all creative. I think my true gift is being able to create. My true love is that. It’s all different parts of the brain – in acting, in creating something that was on some paper or somebody’s idea, creating the actual person, and then there’s creating an entire world when it comes to writing. And then on the director’s side, being able to take those elements from the acting and the writing and be able to actually create a world visually. All these things stem from creating, and I find joy in that. And that’s the common denominator to everything that I do. So it all depends. It’s kind of like eating. It all depends if I feel like having a hamburger or a taco or Chinese. That’s how I feel about when it comes to being an artist with all the things that I do.

Photographer: Photographed by Steven Gerlich at Aesthesia Studios/Wardrobe Stylist: Daralyn Carter/Groomer: Bethany Garita

TrunkSpace: Do the parts of the brain ever crossover? When you’re writing, do you find yourself acting out a scene to see if it’s going to work?
Maldonado: Of course. Every time that I write I always envision the scene. I kind of see and I kind of act it out inside of my head. I play it out as clear as possible. That’s usually how I write. I write from a place of me really seeing it. I think that’s something that I really key in on when I’m writing, is that I really see everything. When I’m writing, I see the world, and that’s the best way for me to really execute it on paper, is that I really paint and kind of feel it. It’s just like in acting when it comes to auditioning. When you’re fully in the role, you have to create the world to really get the essence of what you’re feeling because the same thing you may say in a library may not have the same type of texture as it would as you’re saying it in an alley at two o’clock in the morning. So if you create these worlds, you can get that same type of feeling. And that’s what I do for writing. I kind of create the worlds, put myself in it, and then all of the words of the dialogue and the descriptions just fall right out.

TrunkSpace: Sounds like you have a director’s eye with everything you work on.
Maldonado: I call it “Inception.” That’s how I like to describe it, where I really put myself into this world and once I’m in there I can really dive in, whether it’s on the acting side, or it’s on the writing side, or it’s on the directing side – all those things. I like to try to put myself in “Inception” mode and see and really be in it.

TrunkSpace: We saw you refer to your new movie “SuperFly” as a remix rather than a remake. The original film has left such an impact, did you think it was important that this new version not be a straight remake and that it attempt to say something that the original did not?
Maldonado: I definitely think it was better for a remix because the original has had such a lasting affect on the culture of black cinema. I think if we tried to do it beat by beat, we couldn’t do it justice. And respecting, rather, the legend that “SuperFly” is, and being able to just branch off of it more than stand on the shoulders of the giant that “SuperFly” was and is, I think that was the best way and best angle to attack this particular project.

TrunkSpace: And what it could do is create it’s own audience, but then inspire those same people to go back and watch the original.
Maldonado: Exactly. It’s not in competition with the original. A lot of times remakes come in competition with the original and sometimes that can be difficult for all of the original fans of that particular project to kind of get over. But if you take it to another level, and again, just put a remix on it and make it inspired by, rather than beat by beat, I think you have a better shot at really satisfying both audiences – your new viewers and the people from the original.

“SuperFly” opens in theaters today.

Season 2 of “The Last O.G.” is currently in production.

For more information on Everybody Digital and to download the app, visit here.

Featured Image Credits
Photographer: Photographed by Steven Gerlich at Aesthesia Studios
Wardrobe Stylist: Daralyn Carter
Groomer: Bethany Garita

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Wingman Wednesday

Alan Ruck

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Ruck with Kieran Culkin in “Succession.” Photo by Craig Blankenhorn – © 2018 – HBO

No, we didn’t shirk our daily responsibilities and run off into the city with Alan Ruck to take in a Cubs game and be seated alongside the Sausage King of Chicago at a fancy lunch, but that didn’t make our chat any less exciting. The star of the iconic 80s comedy “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” has had an impressive career that has spanned four decades, but it is his most recent role as Connor Roy in the new HBO series “Succession” that has him giddy with excitement.

We recently sat down with Ruck to discuss the dramatic turn his character takes in an upcoming episode, the reason the show’s writers search for the comedy in every scene, and why he considers himself the cockroach of the acting world.

TrunkSpace: What struck us right away about “Succession” is that it’s story, character and performance, which seems to be a rarity in this super hero, everything-is-based-on-something else age.
Ruck: Yeah, it really is. It’s beautifully written. Jesse Armstrong and his gang of writers are really gifted. It’s also funny and… there’s a line in the show, I don’t know how many episodes you’ve seen, but in one of the episodes the character of Tom, played by Matthew Macfadyen, tells Greg, who’s played by Nick Braun, “Being rich is like being a super hero, only you get to wear a suit that’s designed by Armani.” In that way, I guess we are like super heroes… or maybe super villains. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: There’s certainly a lot of villainous twists and turns. From a performance standpoint, does that help to keep things interesting for you knowing that your arc could really go anywhere?
Ruck: Yeah, it’s exciting. When I auditioned for this, just the little description on the page sent to me from my manager said this character will evolve as the series progresses. In the pilot, and in the first three episodes, I really don’t do that much. And then in Episode 4, all of a sudden I was given a certain amount of responsibility at a sort of a corporate function, and things progressed from there. And then in the second season, and I think we will get a second season, Connor’s going to pursue some political aspirations, and it’s insane.

Clearly this guy, he suffers from delusional disorder, and we were kind of discovering things as we went along. I think maybe Jesse has known all along, and he’s allowing me to discover these things, but it could be that Connor is on the spectrum somewhere, in terms of maybe something like Aspergers. But he definitely suffers from delusional disorder, which I found out is on the same spectrum as schizophrenia. A schizophrenic will say, “I’m becoming a giraffe,” and you’ll say, “Okay,” and then a delusional personal will say, “I’m going to become President.” So technically it’s within the realm of possibility, but not very likely.

TrunkSpace: And the character’s personal journey within the family, being that he was the son from a previous marriage, makes for an interesting dynamic.
Ruck: Yeah. The old man is hard as nails, and probably the character that’s most like him is Siobhan (Sarah Snook), who’s our sister. She’s just as tough and smart as him, and ruthless. But the old man is not really heartless, and I actually think he feels a little bit guilty about Connor, because that marriage was a disaster, and then my parents got divorced, maybe when I was eight years old, so in a way I think maybe the old man thinks that he kind of abandoned me or stranded me. But for all of us, for all the kids, really the driving force is to win the old man’s approval. For Connor, here’s a guy in his 50s, and he still wants daddy’s approval. It’s sad.

TrunkSpace: Which brings me to our initial thought when we first heard about the series. “This is the really dark version of ‘Arrested Development’.”
Ruck: (Laughter) Absolutely.

TrunkSpace: As twisted as the relationship is with all of the kids in the “Arrested Development” fictional family, they also are all really just looking for some kind of validation or approval.
Ruck: Yeah. There was a movie that was made, I don’t know, 45 years ago or something – “I Never Sang for My Father,” with Gene Hackman and Melvyn Douglas. And even in that, there’s a line where he says, “Just because a person dies it doesn’t mean the relationship ends.” I think it is a life long challenge for many people to make peace with the relationship they have with their parents, or didn’t have – trying to figure that out or just get right with it.

TrunkSpace: And then you throw a business into the mix, and it becomes something else entirely.
Ruck: Yeah, and it’s fun, just because we’re talking about billions of dollars and the dynasty, and these people live in a way that most of us can’t even really imagine. So it kind of elevates it to the level of kings and emperors, and all that sort of nonsense, which makes it fun, because then it’s fabulous… in the true sense of the word, like once there was a king named Logan Roy.

It’s exciting to work on. Obviously Jesse Armstrong is such a steal for this world. He’s been fascinated by it for a while. He did write another thing about Murdoch, and then he decided to go in a more fictional vein, which I think is better, because then we can go absolutely anywhere.

Ruck with Kieran Culkin and Sarah Snook in “Succession.” Photo by Craig Blankenhorn – © 2018 – HBO

TrunkSpace: What we enjoyed about it as well is that while it’s familiar ground, it also has a very unique voice and tone.
Ruck: Yeah, and I think a lot of that is Jesse and Adam McKay, and we’ve had some terrific directors along the way. Mark Mylod and Adam Arkin and Miguel Arteta and a woman named S.J. Clarkson, and they were all on the same page. And I think Adam just set this thing up with, “Let’s mine every possible comedic moment – whatever we can find that’s even vaguely funny, lets focus on that and see if it works.” Because otherwise this would by a grim business, just really examining the life of these entitled assholes.

TrunkSpace: You can really hear your excitement for the series in the way you talk about it. Do you still get the same level of excitement stepping onto a set for the first time as you did when you started out in the business?
Ruck: Well, it goes up and down, it goes in and out, and I think a lot of it depends on the material and the people involved. This time I’ve kind of struck gold, because top-notch network… I mean, if there’s a network that everybody wants to work for, it’s HBO. So right away, because they support the show and you kind of have, in a way, carte blanche – there’s no sort of censorship or anything – you can just take it where you need to. Fantastic writers, fantastic directors and top-notch cast, so it’s, “Oh yeah, I can live here!”

And then another thing we do that’s very exciting is Jesse and his gang, they write this material, and it’s wonderful, and we do the scene as written, say three or four times, and then they can’t help themselves… they have all these alternative lines that they’ve come up with. Sometimes it’s just one or two and sometimes it’s like a page and they’ll come up and go, “What do you think about this? We want to try this. How about this for the button on that? How about in this exchange with her you try out this line.” So then we change it up in the middle, which is fun, and then we’ll do that for a few takes and then almost always, Adam McKay certainly, all of them would say, “Okay, free one, just do whatever.” And what’s exciting about that is, you’ve done the scene now six times or whatever, so it’s sort of the DNA of the scene is in your bones, right? So you know what the transactions are, you know what the structure is, and then you just go and you improvise, whatever comes out of your mouth, which is pretty similar to what they’ve written, but every now and then somebody throws a curve ball, right? So now what we get is jazz, and it’s just a blast to do, because it’s like you don’t know what’s going to happen because somebody might go off, and then you just hang on for the ride.

Ruck with Matthew Broderick and Mia Sara in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. © 1986 – Paramount Pictures

TrunkSpace: Based of what you know of how the industry operates nowadays, do you think it would be more difficult starting out in 2018 than it was for you when you kicked off your career in the early 80s?
Ruck: I think it would be impossible. Young people come up to me and they say, “Hey, how do you get started?” And of course some of them just want to know how you get on the red carpet or how you get to be famous or whatever, but other kids, that really want to know how do you get started as an actor. I feel like I don’t have anything to offer them, because I started out in Chicago, about 1980, and it was a different world. Chicago then was sort of like Toronto, at the top of the minor leagues, not New York or LA, but it was a place where thing were happening. A lot of theater was going on, they were shooting a lot of films there… it was a location city and that’s how I got started. You could walk into any talent agency in Chicago, back then on a Wednesday, and say, “Hi, I’m new, I’m 23 years old, please take my resume,” and they would sit down, and talk with you, and say, “Okay, leave a few pictures and put our stamp on them and if anything comes up for you we’ll give you a call.” And that was kind of like a golden age, and the door was open. And now that is gone. As far as I understand, it doesn’t exist anymore. So I don’t know what to tell young people. It’s definitely harder now.

TrunkSpace: If you take the business aspect out of the equation and just focus on the craft itself, have the roles become more interesting over the years because the projects themselves have gotten more sophisticated or is it because you have lived more life and now have more interesting parts available to you?
Ruck: I’m not exactly sure. It’s probably a combination of all that stuff. I’m a funny type. I’m basically a character actor without a lot of character, and I looked very young for a long time. I played an 18 year old when I was 29. It was just the way it was for me, and then I kind of fell into a bit of a trough, where I didn’t look young enough to do that stuff anymore, but nobody wanted to cast me as a lawyer, and so I just kind of made my way, I worked in some sitcoms, finally got a good one, with Michael J. Fox, 20 years ago, and I think in a way I’m just a survivor. (Laughter) I’m kind of like a cockroach of the acting business… try to kill me, but maybe you can’t.

Succession” airs Sundays on HBO.

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Wingman Wednesday

Madeline Zima

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Photo By: Vanessa Zima

The creative fulfillment Madeline Zima gains from being on a set is visible in the way she speaks so passionately about her craft, and it makes sense considering she has been working in front of the camera since she was a child. After spending most of the 1990s starring on the CBS sitcom “The Nanny,” the Connecticut native went on to build an impressive career through performance, including a memorable turn as Mia Lewis on the series “Californication” where her presence was felt in every single scene she appeared in. Now she’s making that presence known on the other side of the lens, writing and directing her first project, the short film “Warm Human Magic,” which is set to have its world premiere at the Dances With Films Festival in Los Angeles on June 14.

The film, which she calls very personal, stars her sister Yvonne Zima, Chasen Bauer and Adrienne Barbeau, with a score crafted by James Iha of The Smashing Pumpkins.

We recently sat down with Zima to discuss her connection to the film, why 99 percent of our digital imprints are not as they appear, and how pouring herself into “Warm Human Magic” for the last year has been a breath of creative fresh air.

TrunkSpace: The scene from your film that really resonated with us upon watching it is when Mary, played by your sister, is on her laptop and phone, but also talking with Siri. Within this crazy device-driven society we’re living in, she couldn’t even be present for Siri. That really struck us.
Zima: Thank you. There was some talk of maybe cutting those scenes, and I’m like, “No! The whole point is the TV is on in the background, she’s got her laptop, she’s also on her phone.” That’s one of the main points of where we’re at in society, and where we’re at personally in our lives, not being present to any part of our lives. We can’t even choose a screen to be present on.

TrunkSpace: And in a way, for the character, Siri becomes her only human connection, which is probably how most of us feel in our day to day now… sort of disconnected from each other.
Zima: Yeah. We have all these substitutes for real human connection, which is what we’re all searching for so desperately. I mean, I feel like pretty much anything in life has to do with wanting some kind of acceptance, connection, validation… that we seek that love, for lack of a better word. (Pause) I think it’s a perfect word. We seek that love on every level through every avenue. I certainly made this film hoping to connect with people, and hoping that some part of it would make people feel less alone and less crazy. And I had to finish it soon because I’m in my thirties now. I’m in my early thirties, but still, I don’t connect to it as much as I used to. This was definitely sort of a love letter to my twenties, and the way that I went about trying to connect to people was so wrong.

I would, in my early twenties, go to a bar or whatever because I didn’t have anywhere else to go because I didn’t have a community yet of people and places to gather. And so you go to a place that’s terribly dark, where you can’t hear anyone or see them, and try to have a conversation, and it doesn’t really work. Then we use substances to try to help us feel a little bit more freer to connect, and that doesn’t really work either. It takes us even further away as well from being present in our lives, which we’re getting less and less good at.

TrunkSpace: And nowadays it seems people are more in tune with seeing what other people are doing in their lives via social media instead of living their own lives.
Zima: Yeah, and chasing illusions because everybody who has any kind of digital image, knows that it’s 99 percent bullshit. You’re putting something out there that’s the best angle, the best version. And then there are people who are brave and confident enough to put less than perfect versions of themselves out there. I confess, I’m not one of those people. I very rarely put up a picture where I don’t have makeup on, and that’s… I wish I felt free and confident enough to put stuff out like that, but I still have a long way to go as a human being, so I’m very honest about those kinds of things. It’s a bizarre world that we live in.

TrunkSpace: Well, and being a creative person, you’re now in a position where this film is going out into the world and will also be judged. That must add a whole different layer to it, because now you’re sort of exposed in a different way?
Zima: Yeah. I’m so excited about that though, because although it’s my first time writing anything or directing, I’m very proud of this as a first effort. I’m very proud of the work that everybody put in – that everybody worked for free basically, except for one or two people, crew and sound. But the actors and the composer, and everybody else, did it for free, and just empowered me creatively to try to make the best version of this story I could make. And I’m actually really so happy to share it. My sister is in it and she’s fabulous. And Chasen Bauer, the lead actor, is fabulous. And Adrian Barbeau, I worked with her on a film while I was doing post on my short, and I just asked her on a lunch break if she would do the voiceover, and she so graciously, again, also worked for free, and just offered her talents and her incredible voice to that beginning scene, which is really important. I was just so grateful of the generosity of people to help out with this, and to support me as a first time writer / director.

Yvonne Zima as “Mary” in “Warm Human Magic”

TrunkSpace: Did you find that writing and directing fueled an aspect of your creative brain that acting do…
Zima: Yes! (Laughter) I don’t even need you to finish the question. Yes! Yes! Yes! I feel like for the first time ever in my 30 years of being an actor that I was actually empowered creatively. I mean, there was probably one or two other films where I felt, as an actor, empowered, but very few directors give you that. Very few combinations of different energies, and actors, and you know… very few combinations will allow you to feel the kind of creative freedom you should feel, and this was the first time. I put up my own money. I did everything myself. I was my own PA, running gear around town.

I actually had somebody offer me to make the film for about 10 times as much money as we actually ended up making it for, but their company wanted to own it. They would have paid for festivals, and everything like that, which would have been fabulous, but I wouldn’t feel the same creative freedom that I felt having complete ownership of what I wanted the story to be about, which is a combination of different things for me. It’s hard to sort of pin down exactly what it’s about. When people ask me… “Well, it’s about a girl trying to get laid. It’s about being lonely. It’s about depression. It’s our disappearing humanity in the digital age.” It’s about a lot of things to me, but I hope each person gets a little something different out of it. You’re the first person to say that scene with all the screens was something that stuck with you because, I mean, it was there for a reason, but you never know if it’s all coming across or not.

TrunkSpace: With this being your first foray into writing and directing, did you go into it with nerves?
Zima: All I know is I wrote it, so I felt some ownership of the story, and I felt like I knew what I wanted to do. I definitely spent time doing sort of a sped up version of storyboarding with my DP, and that was really valuable. I spent time on my shot list. I watched a lot of films beforehand. I still didn’t get all the shots that I would have liked to. I think I had a 65 or 66 shot list, and I think we got 50 something of them.

TrunkSpace: Time is one those commodities you can never really plan for on a film set.
Zima: Yeah. We shot seven pages a day. We shot for two days, and that was all we had to cover a lot of ground. Just to scope it, to put it into context, a half-hour pilot that will be about twice as long, just about twice as long, they’ll have seven or eight days to shoot – or five at least. We made really good time considering all the ground we covered with the dialogue and the different locations, but it was also super contained, which was important just to be able to make it an achievable goal. I understand the way a set works more than I understand pretty much anything in life, just because I’ve been on sets so much and over the span of so many years, and I’ve had time as well off of sets to reflect on how it could be done better. I have a respect for all the moving parts of it. My aunt is a Teamster, so I have respect for each part of it, and I always have as an actor.

I think that’s one of the things that helps buoy some of your confidence and lift you up a little bit, but I was nervous. I was nervous that it was not going to cut together. I wanted to cover all of my bases and just prove to myself and to others that I was competent as a director. I always had an inkling that I could direct, and I wanted to direct. When I was a kid, I directed my sisters in films with our little tape recorder, and I had to rewind, and then you stop, and then you record over something, and that’s how you do editing. (Laughter) You edit all the day. It’s been always a part of the dream. Even doing interviews, I’ve always said that I would like to direct, and I’m very proud that I finally have done it, and have not waited for anyone to give me the opportunity. I had to create it myself. I knew that nobody was going to say, “Oh, hey, that actress who was in so and so, or this and that, she might have something to say,” or, “She might be competent enough to direct something.” I know a lot of my male counterparts who are actors had no problem transitioning into directing, and for me people gave me a bit of a hard time about it.

Yvonne Zima and Chasen Bauer in “Warm Human Magic”

TrunkSpace: Did you consider putting yourself in the film at any point during the process?
Zima: At first I was gonna actually put myself in it, but I respected the process of directing, and wanted to just explore that unto itself. At one point people were like, “Oh, you wrote it? Oh, and you’re gonna direct it? Well, who is gonna be in it? You’re gonna do all of those things?” I’m like, “Well, Charlie Chaplin did it.” It’s actually kind of a natural thing. And the next piece that I do, I don’t know if I’m going to give myself the lead role or anything, but there’s one that I’m working on now and it is something that I’m considering putting myself in, even if just in a Hitchcock, in-the-background way.

TrunkSpace: Now that the film is complete and you did it in the way that you wanted to, do you hope that your peers and people within the industry will see you in a different light?
Zima: I hope so. I hope that people will see that I have more value than I feel like I’ve been given – more value than I feel like people reflect back to me. I surprised myself and I hope to surprise other people with my ability as a director, and my care. It’s obviously a very personal story, and it’s a version of several nights I’ve had with people over the course of my twenties, so I hope to share that in hopes that people go, “Oh, you know what? She could direct this. She might be good to bring on board this…”

I just felt like it was actually like taking a breath for the first time in a long time, and that I had become something that I always wanted to be, which is a very beautiful feeling. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt that. Certainly, you feel creatively satisfying moments as an actor, but they are moments. They’re not this complete process that has gone on for the last year.

For more information on the “Warm Human Magic” screening at Dances With Films, visit here.

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Wingman Wednesday

Danny Nucci

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Freeform/Craig Sjodin

After five seasons of heartwarming storytelling, the beloved family drama series “The Fosters” is saying good-bye to fans with a three-day season finale event, which concludes tonight on Freeform. Star Danny Nucci, who plays Mike Foster, feels strongly that the viewers have come along with the cast throughout the storytelling process, growing as their characters have, and he relishes in the symbiotic relationship that has made his time on the show the most fan-centric project of his career thus far.

We recently sat down with Nucci to discuss the possibility of returning as Mike Foster in the future, why his time on the series was an eye opener, and where he is expanding on his career within the industry.

TrunkSpace: With the “The Fosters” coming to an end, you’ve had to say good-bye to your on-set family, but in a way, does it also feel like you’re saying good-bye to the fans? They have come with you on this journey since 2013 – are they part of the equation with it now signing off?
Nucci: Not at all. It’s more of a resounding “Thank you!” for your support through the years. Many of them are now interested in what’s next and seem to feel like part of an “ongoing” family. It’s almost as if we’ve all gone through these stories together and come out on the other side closer and more connected.

TrunkSpace: You spent over 90 episodes playing Mike Foster, which as we discussed last time you stopped by TrunkSpace, is the longest you have spent with a single character. Now that the job is officially done, is it easy to walk away from Mike knowing that you probably won’t be slipping into his skin ever again?
Nucci: There is a spinoff, so I can’t say that’s true as of yet. But it’s a feeling of gratitude that I’m left with – that I got to explore a character for that long.

TrunkSpace: Have you been surprised at how passionate and loyal the fans have been with “The Fosters” and have you ever directly experienced a group of viewers who were so invested in a project?
Nucci: I’ve never been part of any project with such a social media tie in and “exchange” so it’s all been a revelation of the affect being part of a show that people respond to can be.

TrunkSpace: Outside of starring on the show, you also had the opportunity to direct an episode of “The Fosters.” Was getting to step behind the camera an unintended side effect of your time on the series or was it always your hope to call “Action!”?
Nucci: The first time we all got together for a hang with the producers I made my pitch and they were very clear that it would be a few seasons in before I’d get the opportunity, but they made good on their promise and now I’ve got a new addiction.

TrunkSpace: Obviously you have such familiarity with the cast and crew. Does that make your job as director easier or more difficult? Do you think you would have had a different experience if you came to set not knowing anybody?
Nucci: Oh, I’m sure it would be completely different. The cast knows I’m one of them so there was an inherent trust. And the crew was rooting for me to do well and went the extra mile for me to make our day. And the execs felt like I had a great understanding of the time, story and characters, so there was an automatic trust factor.

TrunkSpace: Did the process of directing an episode of “The Fosters” give you a different perspective on your own character at all? Did it alter your own POV in terms of performance?
Nucci: No. Different mind set completely. Perhaps it would’ve been different if I had to direct myself.

TrunkSpace: We know you can’t really go into details, but you’ve been spending time developing a new series that you have been involved with on the writing side of things. Is that an area that you hope to spend more time focusing on in your career? Are the behind-the-scenes aspects becoming more interesting to you as you get older?
Nucci: As an actor, by the time I add my input most of the work has been done or prepped by the writers, producers or directors. The opportunity to be at the beginning of the storytelling process and make choices that impact the entire project is something I am really enjoying. I love exploring choices that are more “actable” and are “easier to accept” for an audience. Frankly, it’s thrilling. When we come up with a great line of dialogue or particular setting or motivation for a given character it’s as exciting as finding a great moment as an actor.

Nucci directing an episode of “The Fosters.” Freeform/Ron Tom

TrunkSpace: Have you ever been at a crossroads where you considered walking away from acting? Do you still get the same thrill walking on a set for the first time as you did when you started out in the industry?
Nucci: I always get a thrill from walking on a set I’m working on. It’s always that feeling of, “I snuck in – no one noticed and I’m in!” I love the challenge of acting. It’s always a risk/reward thing. I look forward to more experiences where I’m asked to have a creative voice. Sometimes, “Stand there, say these lines, thank you…” feels like a profession I have a modicum of skill to complete. It’s still a great job though.

TrunkSpace: If you could sit down and have a conversation with your 15-year-old self, what would he have to say about how your career has played out? What aspect of your life would surprise him the most?
Nucci: “Duuuuuuude,why aren’t you super famous??? C’mon!!”

I guess he’d be surprised that I’m not driven by a need to be adored or approved of, but a desire to feel all the things my characters have to feel so that the audience can just observe and relate or be entertained or in an ideal moment have their perspective altered in a positive way. And being the best I can be to suspend belief for the time I’m on screen or on stage.

TrunkSpace: Finally, as fans gear up to say good-bye to “The Fosters” for the last time, what do you want to say to them about the journey and how their loyalty to the show has impacted you over the course of its run? How have they made this a fulfilling chapter in your own life?
Nucci: I would just like to say that I appreciate the interaction, the kind words and encouragement that I’ve received. I have felt an added sense of responsibility to make Mike Foster a real person who suffers, struggles and celebrates life and love like the rest of us humans.

“The Fosters” series finale three-night event concludes tonight on Freeform.

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Wingman Wednesday

Hayden Byerly

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Freeform/Craig Sjodin

After five seasons of heartwarming storytelling, the beloved family drama series “The Fosters” is saying good-bye to fans with a three-day season finale event, which continues tonight on Freeform. Star Hayden Byerly, who plays Jude Adams Foster, grew up on the show alongside of his character and is both excited for what the future holds, but appreciative for what came before – namely, the family and fans that supported him throughout his “The Fosters” journey.

We recently sat down with Byerly to discuss the wonderful surprises that the series brought into his life, why he feels he never fully understood Jude, and how his ideal career involves working nonstop.

TrunkSpace: Is saying good-bye to “The Fosters” a bit of a mixed bag, as in, you’re excited for the future and the next chapter of your life, but at the same time, sad to see this chapter close?
Byerly: Of course. As to be expected. It’s always one of the bittersweet moments of life – moving forward and hoping for the best and wondering what the future holds, but making sure to remember and being appreciative of the past.

TrunkSpace: You have to say good-bye to your on-set family, but does it also feel like you’re saying good-bye to the fans as well?
Byerly: I would say in a way. I know for a fact that “The Fosters” fans, the people who have been so supportive of the show from the start, is such a great community. They are very kind people who have really made a change in the world and made a difference and allowed this show to continue for so long. I think it is definitely a goodbye in a way, but I can only hope that “The Fosters” fans see not only me, but everyone else in the cast moving forward in our careers and continue to support us in many other things that exist in the world.

TrunkSpace: One of the things that we noticed was just how positive and supportive “The Fosters” fan base is. Was it a surprise to see how invested they became?
Byerly: It was. I was certainly taken aback, especially at a young age for so much positivity – not only that they were super interactive but people were so supportive as well. It was definitely surprising but in a wonderful way. I think it’s always beautiful when you have a show like this and so many people back it up and so many people love it and love what you do. It feels good to have that and it makes you happy to know that you’re doing something that changes the lives of so many people in such a great way.

TrunkSpace: You shot over 100 episodes as Jude. What was that long-term character journey like for you, especially not having spent that much time with a character before?
Byerly: It’s pretty remarkable because the interesting thing about it is that Jude and myself grew up together. I started the show when I was about 11 or 12 years old, as Jude was about the same age, and so he was learning a lot of things in life and growing up and going through a lot of the things that I had gone through or was also going through. And there was also many differences between the two of us. He was living a life that was very different from mine. A lot of the challenges he faced and that he had to overcome I personally did not. I was not only growing up and living my own life and trying to understand who I was, I was also going through all the trials and tribulations of Jude and all the things that he had to explore and understand about himself.

It was really wild. I never felt like I fully understood Jude because he was always growing and learning and that was something that I loved. I felt as though I was learning with him and that we were together on this ride to figure out who he was and these final three are a little… there’s a time jump, so Jude’s older. He’s got some more stuff figured out, but of course we all have pinnacle moments in our lives in which something else goes wrong or there’s a bump in the road and so Jude is still going through his own things in life – his own problems. It’s remarkable that even five years later he’s going through things that I won’t go through and that I won’t have to worry about. I’m very lucky and fortunate to live two lives and two kids who are so different.

TrunkSpace: Does it keep it fresh for you as an actor to show up and find Jude on a new path? Does that continuous growth in the character make your own journey with him more exciting?
Byerly: I feel like no actor can ever say that they fully know the character that they are, in my personal opinion. I think that there’s always so many things to learn and to understand about someone, because we are the same way. I know myself better than anyone else on this planet knows me and there’s still a lot of things that I don’t know about myself. There’s a lot of things that I question or have to figure out, and so for someone to say they completely understand a character, I don’t think that’s a possibility because we are constantly growing and changing, just as these characters are.

Freeform/Eric McCandless

TrunkSpace: After spending so much time and headspace with Jude, are you in a position within your own personal journey as an actor to sign on and play another character for that long? Is that something you’d be interested in coming off “The Fosters” at this stage in your career or are you more interested in going out and trying on as many new skins as possible?
Byerly: I think all of it. I would love to do everything. I would love to spend another 100 episodes as someone else. I would love to spend a couple months, a couple years, a few moments. I think that’s the beautiful thing about this industry is that you can be so many different people in such a long or short amount of time. You can choose to really dive and divulge in a particular person as little or as much as you’d like. You can walk onto the set of a commercial and just be some suburban white kid with an adopted family and just wander around driving trucks or something, and you don’t even have a name. And then you can walk on a show and spend 100 episodes being a young foster kid and going through someone else’s entire life story. There are so many things you can do and experience in this world and I think that’s the beautiful part is that I’m fortunate and lucky enough to understand and live the lives of many people.

TrunkSpace: The future holds so many question marks for everybody, but if you could pave your own path and write your own way, what would it look like? What’s the ideal career moving forward?
Byerly: I think the ideal career moving forward for me would be getting to continue to work nonstop. That’s the one thing I love. That’s the one thing I’m passionate about, is being on set. Everything else falls into place in life when you get to do what you love and when you’re passionate about what you do. And I don’t really have a particular set thing I want to do. I would love to knock it all out. I would love to do a huge movie, move onto another show. I did some motion capture for a video game a long time ago. I’d love to do more animated things. I’d love to do everything because it’s all so different and it’s all so incredible. I’ve got a hunger to do everything. I’ve got a drive to do it all.

The industry is constantly changing and evolving and if you don’t adapt and keep up with it you’re going to fall behind, so making sure that you stay up to date and try as hard as you can and continue to push and give 100 percent is the most important thing. I talked to my dialogue coach, who is a wonderful actor and was on “The Fosters” for a long time as the dialogue coach. I value him immensely as a person and as a friend and he was talking to me a lot about a couple of different auditions and he always helps me and he was saying that it’s a competitive industry and you can’t just walk around expecting anything to be yours. No one can ever expect something to be for you. Even if you’re the perfect fit for a character, even if a character is written for you, you still have to try as if it wasn’t. You still have to give it so much effort and care and attention and that’s what determines a good actor from a great actor is that it’s someone who never stops – it’s someone who always puts in more work than seems necessary to do better.

The Fosters” series finale three-night event continues tonight on Freeform.

 

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Wingman Wednesday

Sherri Saum

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Photo: Photo Credit: Freeform/Craig Sjodin

After five seasons of heartwarming storytelling, the beloved family drama series “The Fosters” is saying good-bye to fans with a three-day season finale event beginning tonight on Freeform. Star Sherri Saum, who plays Lena Adams Foster, is still in awe of the impact that the show has had on viewers, but she’s even more enamored by the impact that the viewers have had on her.

We recently sat down with Saum to discuss what she learned in her journey as Lena, how she will always compare future jobs to her time on “The Fosters,” and why she’d be extra motivated to solve mysteries on a full stomach.

TrunkSpace: With “The Fosters” coming to an end, you’ve had to say good-bye to your on-set family, but in a way, does it also feel like you’re saying good-bye to the fans? They have come with you on this journey since 2013 – are they part of the equation with it now signing off?
Saum: I feel I have forged a connection with the cast and the supporters of our show that will transcend the end of the series.

TrunkSpace: Over 100 episodes is a long time to spend in another person’s skin. It’s not your longest span with a character, but was Lena different? Did her journey affect you differently as an actress than that of previous jobs, and if so, why?
Saum: I’ve learned more on “The Fosters” than I’ve learned on any other show. Things that informed me not only as an actor but also as a person and especially as a mother. I’ll take these lessons with me for a lifetime.

TrunkSpace: How much did Lena grow and change from the first time you read for her to where she is in the final three episodes set to start airing tonight on Freeform? Within that span, what were some of the biggest character shifts or storylines that you didn’t see coming?
Saum: Lena began as a definite momma bear, the soft heart of the family. And while she was fierce in her role as momma and protector of her kids, she wasn’t always as good at fighting for what she deserved in her career. She became a fighter over the seasons – probably influenced by Stef – and in the end of the series we finally see Lena stepping up and owning her full power as a woman, a mother, and a community leader.

TrunkSpace: It’s so hard to tell what will connect with people and what won’t when it comes to television. Was it a surprise just how invested viewers became in not only the series but in your character as well?
Saum: I think part of me is still in awe of the impact but the other part totally gets it. We gave much needed validation and visibility to families and people. It had been so sorely lacking in the landscape of TV.

TrunkSpace: What is something that you are going to take from your experience on “The Fosters” that you will apply to your professional life moving forward?
Saum: Being part of such a special project has set the bar high for me as an actor. I’m not so naïve to think I won’t have to take on some projects in the future for practical reasons – but I’m always going to have a sense of wanting to do more – to be part of telling better stories because of my experience with “The Fosters.”

TrunkSpace: What about personally? Where has the series impacted your life the most and what will you look back on in 20 years and think of fondly?
Saum: Personally I’ve been able to meet people and hear stories about the impact “The Fosters” has had on them. Stories that humble me beyond belief. I’ll never forget how it feels to make people feel included and loved. People all over the globe. It’s astonishing.

TrunkSpace: You posted a picture on Twitter about a month ago, drinking coffee (we assume that was just coffee!) while watching “Scooby-Doo,” referencing it as living your best life. So, we have to ask, if dropped into a real-life mystery complete with “jinkies” moments, which “Scooby-Doo” character’s mystery-solving skills would yours most resemble and why?
Saum: I’d be Scooby-Doo or Shaggy for sure. Always extra motivated to solve a mystery if I’m well fed!

TrunkSpace: Continuing with the idea of living your best life, as you look forward, what does your best professional life look like? If you could write your own future, how would you script your career moving forward?
Saum: In my perfect world I’d be a serial series monogamist. And some of my roles would include physical bad-assery. In some superhero way.

Photo: Freeform/Gilles Mingasson

TrunkSpace: You’ve guested on some great shows over the course of your career. Is there a character who was particularly interesting to you that you wished you got to explore further?
Saum: To be honest, I’m still in a love bubble stupor over “The Fosters.” It’s eclipsing anything I’ve done previously. I can’t recall ever being so emotionally and creatively fulfilled in my work as I have been with “The Fosters.”

TrunkSpace: Finally, as fans gear up to say good-bye to “The Fosters” for the last time, what do you want to say to them about the journey and how their loyalty to the show has impacted you over the course of its run? How have they made this a fulfilling chapter in your own life?
Saum: I just want fans of the show to know that their support and love of the show has elevated the experience into something I will never, ever let go of. And I will always remember how hard they fought to keep it going.

The Fosters” series finale three-night event kicks off tonight on Freeform.

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