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July 2017

Wingman Wednesday

Michael Adamthwaite

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Filmmaking has come such a long way since the days of the original “Planet of the Apes.” In 1968, the primate costumes that populated the film were more than enough to captivate an entire generation of science fiction fans, but compare them against the range of performance and realism of the current cast from the blockbuster “War for the Planet of the Apes” and you instantly understand why a swirl of Oscar buzz has already begun for the finale of the trilogy.

We recently sat down with Michael Adamthwaite who plays Luca, Caesar’s gorilla lieutenant in the film, to discuss how playing a primate is not about playing it human, why backstory was so important, and how he had to take everything off in order to inhabit the mind of an ape.

TrunkSpace: How important was it that the actors involved in the film take a very human approach to the performance aspects of the primates and has that helped lead to the franchise’s overall success?
Adamthwaite: You know, I would definitely say yes. The only sticking point where I would change is that it’s not about apes or primates being human. Quite the contrary, I would like to think that the evolution of the simian virus itself, it didn’t make apes more human… it just gave them a new level of consciousness and a new level of awareness. I mean, we’re all sentient beings with or without the awareness of ourselves in biology. Apes and other animals, they’re not guests the way we are. They’re total in their biology. They’re total in their bodies. And they have an awareness that we don’t really have.

There’s a squirrel, sitting on a limb, thinking, “Oh, I wish my tail was puffier.” Well guess what, he gets snatched up by the eagle. Distraction… you’re dead.

They’re very, very present.

But yeah, no, it’s not about apes being human. This is about them, after so much time, discovering that they’re so much more. It’s a weird and wonderful world.

TrunkSpace: So with that in mind, from a performance standpoint, do you still look to discover Luca’s backstory for yourself?
Adamthwaite: Oh, absolutely. I mean, think about his beginning and that was really where I had to start. Obviously he was established in “Dawn,” the second film of the trilogy. All the apes were victims of this circumstance where they, through no fault of their own, were at the same installation with Caesar when he purposefully released the virus and brought intelligence to that one group. But through the simian virus passing through humans, other groups of apes became infected and discovered through no fault of consequence, or even awareness of their own, that they were getting smarter.

So these other groups were popping up and Luca was one of the apes who lead the real gorilla push in “Dawn” for the security and that real battle at the bridge. So it was connecting from the first moment, realizing who he is and what his role is in the community. Everybody has a job. You have a purpose. You have something to do every day in an ape community. So, the apes have their own, I guess, hierarchy. And of course, we know from the history of the franchise that the gorillas, given their size, are kind of like the heavy artillery. They’re the muscle, so there’s always been a militant component to their role in the community.

And Luca is no different. He’s the trusted lieutenant. He’s loyal. He’s serving not only the first family, Caesar and his wife and children, but he’s also in charge of the whole guard for the entire community where they live in this beautiful hidden fortress. So he very much has a clean and defined purpose.

And that for me was really easy to gravitate towards because from very early in my life to about my late teens I was involved with the PPCLI (Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry) as a cadet. I have a long record of cadet service so I knew instantly how to be militant, how to be big, how to be intimidating, and how to be loyal. That was well-ingrained in me from very early stages. I feel like I was meant to play this character in a way. I know actors say that but sometimes, you just go, “Yeah! It’s true!”

TrunkSpace: And in way it is true because you audition for the character and put yourself in the best position to be seen as him.
Adamthwaite: Yeah, I think so many times as an actor you just have to cross your fingers. But then you start to do the math and you think, “How many people must have read for this?” Or, “How many could have read for this?” And then you eventually just start to say, very humbly, “Well, I’d like to now just step into that place where I know that I was made for this role and that this role was made for me.”

It’s a pretty humbling realization.

TrunkSpace: In terms of the process itself, it’s so complicated to pull off and yet it’s still so grounded in the roots of acting. Did that process force you to look at the idea of performance differently?
Adamthwaite: Oh, absolutely. And I mean, Andy Serkis has said it from the very moment that he started getting the attention that he so richly deserves. It’s not any different than acting. People say, “Should there be an Oscars category for motion capture?” And the answer is, no. They’re actors. We’re actors. We’re performers. The technology is brilliant… it’s mind-blowing. Every layer of code, and shade, and hair, and skin, and moisture… it’s absolutely breath-taking. My brain was fighting itself the whole time seeing the movie. This is real. This is not a visual. This is not a trick. These are real. And I myself, just as a fan, as an audience member, was able top go to a completely different place. But working in it is no different than being on stage.

There’s been an interesting request for this on Twitter that I’ve noticed in a lot of feeds where people would love to see a cut of the film without the ape renderings. “What are they really gonna look like?” And the answer is, guys, it’s gonna look exactly the same except it’ll be as if the actors didn’t have their makeup on. They didn’t have their wardrobe.

And they dress us. There’s a department and they put our makeup on. It just happens to be, they use computers. That’s it. It’s very much like any other job I’ve ever had, but the intensity level is so off the charts. Andy has, again, set the bar so high. It’s been a huge whirlwind rush to be a part of this whole process.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned wardrobe. Actors often say that they were able to inhabit their character’s headspace once they put on X, Y, or Z. With not having a physical wardrobe to meld with, did the motion capture stuff sort of become your wardrobe?
Adamthwaite: In a way, we were very much naked from the beginning. And I don’t use that in a sort of comedic way and I’m not trying to taboo. Terry Notary’s role, not only as Rocket but as the movement director/coordinator, was to put us all through ape school and his job was very simple. “Bring nothing. Come as you are. You are not trying to become an ape. You’re trying to become a sentient being in a body.”

It might sound crude, but we’re all just made of meat. We’re all just organic engines, whether you have a consciousness that’s evolved or not. So really, for Terry, it was all about stripping all of us down. Because we wear masks, we wear walls. We put things up, we hold people at bay. We have our motivations. We have our ego. All those things that we have to protect ourselves because society has become what it is. We don’t really need that as apes. Our family is our family. This is a group that’s evolved from grooming each other and sleeping together. They have no clothes. They have no possessions. All they have is each other and that requires that nakedness. It requires that vulnerability. It requires that complete and total commitment.

We spent hours in the woods on our arm extensions running and jumping, climbing things, sitting, and just being in nature listening to the creek. And it was just… it was amazing to connect. There wasn’t really putting anything on, it was taking everything off.

“War for the Planet of the Apes” is in theaters now.

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Wingman Wednesday

Kari Wahlgren

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Photo Credit: Michael Becker, Styled by Lauren Bernard, Makeup and Hair by Maxine Christians

Kari Wahlgren has been giving life to animated characters for decades. As a sought-after voiceover actress, the Kansas native has lived within the worlds of such diverse shows as “Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness,” “Gravity Falls,” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” to name but a small sampling. She can currently be heard as Dorothy in “Dorothy and The Wizard of Oz” for Boomerang, as Amanda in “Bunsen is a Beast” for Nickelodeon, and will soon arrive in theaters as a part of “The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature.”

We recently sat down with Wahlgren to discuss how her theater background helped shape her career, nailing the voice of a character right out of the creative gates, and whose lips she’d like to speak from in the future.

TrunkSpace: We know that you studied theater in college. Did that prepare you at all for a career as a voice actress in terms of not only how to use your voice, but how to project it in a particular way?
Wahlgren. Absolutely. Not everybody comes from a theater background, but I know, for me, that it really helped with the voiceover side of things. I had a chance to do some children’s shows while I was there and it was very much exploring that heightened characterization and some of the funnier dialects and things like that. I took a number of dialects classes while I was there. I feel like so much of what I did there, even right down to Shakespeare classes, really prepped me for the voiceover world in ways that I really didn’t expect or realize until I started working in the industry.

TrunkSpace: Actors often talk about how they need to change their approach when they go from the stage to the worlds of film and/or television. What about going from all of those various mediums to the world of voiceover? Does that require another change in approach?
Wahlgren: It sounds obvious, but the thing to remember in voiceover is that you’re communicating everything through the voice. You can’t rely on a facial expression or body language or any of these other tools that you use in stage work or film and TV work. The best example of this I can think of is a story that happened to me very early on in my career. I was doing a line and the director said, “Okay, great. Do it again, but angrier.” I did the line again, and he said, “Okay, your face looked angrier, but your voice sounded exactly the same.” (Laughter) It was a good learning moment for me. “Oh, I have to convey that just through what I’m doing vocally. I can’t supplement it with what’s going on with my face.”

TrunkSpace: Does that mean it’s a more difficult form of acting given that you’re only using one tool from your toolbox?
Wahlgren: It can be trickier. There’s definitely a technique to it. I’ve been in certain sessions where there are people that are not used to doing voiceover work, and they will hit the mic stand or they’ll wear really loud jackets. They’ll wear a leather jacket, which gives off a lot of noise in front of the microphone. There’s a technique side to it that is distinctly special to voiceover. Now that some of these movies are getting much more cinematic, the acting style can be much more subtle, and that’s where you hope that you’ve got a really good director that’s going to say, “You know what? You don’t have to give us that much on that line because, visually, this and this and this is going to happen in the animation.” It really is becoming more collaborative and cinematic in that way.

TrunkSpace: We’re children of the 80s, an era where cartoons were nowhere near as sophisticated as they are today. Kids and parents can both watch a show like your new series “Bunsen is a Beast,” for example, and enjoy it or laugh at it for different reasons.
Wahlgren: And that’s great, although being a cusp child of the 80s and 90s as I was, I loved a lot of those shows, too, and there’s something nostalgic about going back and watching them, even though they weren’t very sophisticated. There was just something about them that was just so cheesy fun! (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Cheesy doesn’t really seem to fly these days. In many ways, the animated shows being produced now come off like scripted live action series.
Wahlgren: It’s really going in that direction. They are just making some beautiful shows. I’m doing a Netflix series called “Spirit Riding Free” and it’s so cinematic. It’s this beautiful 3D animation. The writing and the storytelling is some of the most poignant that I’ve run across in a cartoon for quite some time. It’s really evolved since we were kids.

Amanda from “Bunsen is a Beast”

TrunkSpace: It must be inspiring to work on a project every day when you know that the end product is not only going to be great in terms of the storytelling, but also be visually captivating at the same time?
Wahlgren: It’s fantastic. I’m such a fan of artwork and animation that whenever I get to start seeing the character designs and what the city or the town that the cartoon is taking place in is going to look like, I find all of that incredibly magical. It doesn’t get old for me.

TrunkSpace: When it comes to finding who a character is in the world of animation, are you provided with those character designs before you start working?
Wahlgren: It depends on the project. When we audition, sometimes we will have a picture, sometimes we will have a description of the character, sometimes we will have almost nothing to go on. In that case, you use your imagination and you create the story in your head and flesh out the character. Once you get the job and you start working, hopefully, at that point, you’ve got a little bit more of the working artwork, the tone, and style of the show. For instance, something that you watch on Cartoon Network may have a very different style than something that you’re going to watch on Disney.

You basically pull clues from whatever you’re given. If there’s source material, if it’s something that’s based on a graphic novel or a comic book or something, I’ll definitely read those. You just use whatever you can to help you come up with your characterization and then you go into the studio and it turns into a little bit of a collaborative process. Sometimes you go in and you knock it out of the park right away, and they say, “That’s exactly what we thought the character would sound like,” which was the case with Amanda in “Bunsen is a Beast.” She didn’t really change much at all from the audition. They said, “You came in and that’s exactly what we had envisioned her sounding like.”

Then there are other times where you go in and you end up doing something completely different than what you auditioned with and it just evolves over time.

TrunkSpace: How does that differ from when you’re working on an existing character, especially these big brands where the character you’ll be playing has been around for ages in various platforms and iterations? Is it more challenging to create something from scratch or to find the voice of a character who has already existed in some form or another?
Wahlgren: That’s a great question. In some ways, I think it makes it easier because if you’re doing Mary Poppins or something like that and you have an idea of iterations of that character that have happened in the past or you’re doing a superhero and it’s been pretty clearly defined in one or two movie roles, and they say, “Yeah, we’re gonna kind of go with that same sort of feel,” in some ways, that makes your job easier. In other ways, it gets a little trickier because people are always going to prefer one person’s interpretation over another person’s interpretation. Or, there are constantly reboots happening, so sometimes they’re trying to steer away from something, but they don’t really know exactly how, so it comes with its own unique challenges while also sometimes being a little bit easier.

TrunkSpace: We read that your inner nerd rejoices when you get to play comic book characters. Is there a character that you have yet to play that the inner nerd would cheer the hardest for?
Wahlgren: I did Black Canary once for a couple of little shorts, but I would love to do her again because I’m a big “Birds of Prey” fan. That’s one that I read a lot. I would love to play her again. For a while there, I was thinking Power Girl. I thought Power Girl would be a fun one and Squirrel Girl. She’s the hip, cool, little character now. That would be fun to play.

TrunkSpace: What’s cool about the way your career has played out is that you’ve been able to play big characters from both DC and Marvel.
Wahlgren: It is one of the awesome benefits of voiceover, but it’s funny… whenever I have a day where I do a DC job in the morning and a Marvel job in the afternoon, I always vaguely feel like I’m cheating somehow, like I’m slinking off and cheating on my boyfriend. (Laughter)

The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature” arrives in theaters August 11.

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Wingman Wednesday

Andrew Hall

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In the world that “Blood Drive” inhabits, Andrew Hall’s character, The Gentleman, is about as chivalrous and honorable as you will find, which is to say, he’s not very. When not feeding innocent people into his car, he is toying with the fragile emotions of his racing companion The Scholar, played brilliantly by Darren Kent. And while on the surface The Gentleman seems pretty cut and dry in his self-centered importance, there is a hidden layer to the sophisticated egomaniac that Hall teases within the shadows of the character’s psyche that plays masterfully like a comic book villain’s secret identity performing on Broadway.

We recently sat down with Hall to discuss the visual treat that is “Blood Drive,” why the series’ unique POV makes it so special, and how he achieved every actors’ dream upon learning of The Gentleman’s wardrobe accessories.

TrunkSpace: We remember seeing the “Blood Drive” trailer for the first time and going, “How can they get away with this stuff?” And then we saw the series itself and realized that you guys get away with SO much more than we initially thought you would. (Laughter)
Hall: It is extraordinary. I think what’s so brilliant from the point of view of James Roland, the creator, and all the writers on it, is the way in which they’ve managed to combine both the completely out there stuff with grindhouse, but at the same time, the referencing back to some other movies… some great movies. And then at the same time to have the kind of subtleties and intricacies of the plot running underneath and the comment on how the world works and so on… I think they’ve pulled something pretty special off. I have to say, it’s quite an achievement. To get it on air in the first place, but also to get it on air with that kind of complexity.

TrunkSpace: Which is a great way to transition into the question we’ve been asking all of your costars. (Laughter) As you looked at the scripts and got an idea of what you were about to shoot, was there ever any point where you went, “There’s no way this is ever going to see the light of day?”
Hall: (Laughter) Yeah, that was pretty much it when I read the script the first time, but certainly with episode two, which already aired. Some of the scenes between The Gentleman and The Scholar? You kind of read those and go, “What?” (Laughter) And those also changed. The first draft I saw of them there was a bit of pecking. We’ve certainly moved on a long way from there. (Laughter)

And I know for a lot of people it was very much a question of, “Really? If we do this is it going to get on air? And if it does get on air, is it a good idea?” (Laughter) I think it’s just paid off for people because I think apart from anything else, it’s the sheer quality of the end product. Yaron Levy, the cinematographer, the work he’s done on it has been absolutely outstanding.

TrunkSpace: It really is incredible what he’s been able to do and how each episode has its own feel and visual tone. It’s become part of the fun, tuning in each week to see how each new episode looks.
Hall: Yeah. I think that’s it! And yet there’s a consistent luminosity to it, if that’s the right word. And the set pieces… that beautiful setting when Slink is in the waiting room about to beat the guy to death with a briefcase. The sparsity of that setup, in terms of the kind of visuals of it and the framing of it, it’s just gorgeous. And then also to have the luxury of some really, really good stunt people. I’d say the process of filming in South Africa was a joy from start to finish. It is a really lovely team out there. Lovely people.

TrunkSpace: Keeping with the visuals, we are reminded of that great scene in episode 2, “Welcome to Pixie Swallow,” where the cook is carving the Elvis character and the door keeps opening and closing and revealing different aspects of the butchery. It felt like you were watching a really great visual indie as opposed to a TV series.
Hall: I think that sums it up, absolutely, because another way would have been that you’re in close on a knife doing all of the dismemberment and all of those things, and it’s a kind of a gorefest from that point of view. And now, you’ve got somebody who’s got the imagination to go, “And you know what? Let’s shoot this where every time the door swings, there’s a different bit of the body missing.”

In that same episode as well there’s the beautiful tracking shot following the waitress through the bar, necking her lover, out into the kitchen, past the chef, and then it’s only at the end of that where you see the human leg being fed into the mincer. And what a great performance from Roxy in that. I mean, it’s just terrific.

TrunkSpace: Had the show went in that direction, with an in-tight, straightforward look at the gore, it would have completely changed the tone of the show. And in a lot of ways, the characters are handled in the very same way. They could have been very one-dimensional, but they are not that way at all.
Hall: I think that is a tribute to the writing, and also to the casting, Nancy Bishop CSA… just watching everybody else work and watching the way in which everybody else brought an added dimension to their character and watching everybody give the script the respect it demanded. If the script wasn’t good in the first place then what tends to happen is, it’s quite easy to go into a sort of autopilot mode or to feel that you’ve got to make up for a deficiency or whatever it might be. But I think what people got very quickly was on the one hand, the script itself and the situation demands a heightened style when you’re approaching it as an actor, but that heightened style only works if it’s anchored on something complex going on underneath. I guess some of the, in theatrical terms, the farce… if you’re doing farce as a genre, you are putting ordinary people in extraordinary situations and they keep making the wrong choices and that’s what makes farce funny. But if people go into a farce going, “I’m going to be funny… I’m going to be in a farce,” it dies on its knees. It’s the very fact that the characters themselves take the situation seriously that feeds it.

And I think right from the beginning people just got that, that you needed to just put the amp up to 11 a little bit, but then have it rooted in something… a kind of true inner life story. And for me, what’s also going to be a joy is just watching the way in which the scenes between Thomas Dominique (Christopher) and Marama Corlett (AKI) unfold, because the journey through that story, I think, is a very surprising one as well.

TrunkSpace: Your character The Gentleman seems like a pretty complicated guy. On the surface it seems like he is what he is, especially when we see by way of what Grace and Arthur see, but then there’s that side that The Scholar sees. And that’s a point of view that, as a viewer, hasn’t been revealed yet.
Hall: Yeah, I think that you’ve got it. I think approaching The Gentleman… he’s a pretty vile character, it has to be said, but the vileness in everybody comes out of something that’s happening underneath. So the cruelty to The Scholar, there’s something happening inside The Gentleman that generates that. Whatever it might be. Ultimately that front has to be hiding something damaged, insecure, desperate… all of those things.

But again, it’s part of the journey, I guess, with the characters, in that you have to find the engine running underneath that provides that desperation. So obviously in the Grace character then the desperation is about her sister, which then leads her to do things, which amazingly, Christina pulls off. She’s happily feeding people into engines and you’re kind of feeling sympathetic. (Laughter) How does that work really? And that first scene where you’ve got two pretty nasty people who are intent on molestation, you’re kind of rooting for her, but if you step back and say, “Hang on a sec, she cuts peoples’ arms off and puts them into her engine? Really?” (Laughter)

I have to say, the other thing about that as well was Danielle Knox, the costumer designer from the South African end of things. Such high quality. I walked in and there was this array of stuff laid out for me to try on, virtually the day I landed. Already it’s starting to build the anchor for the character, somebody for whom appearance is so important. And I have to say, to get the sword stick, it’s every actors’ dream, for God’s sake. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: When you hear about a project built around man-eating cars, normally it’s the kind of project where there is no costume designer and they say, “Can you bring a couple of outfit options to wear?” (Laughter)
Hall: (Laughter) “Do you happen to have a camcorder we could borrow?”

Obviously we knew that NBC/Universal were involved, but it’s the quality of the end product. Certainly I remember when I landed in Cape Town not being absolutely sure of what was waiting and then to find this fantastic operation and the whole building of the studio in the city center building in Cape Town and everything that went into that as well.

TrunkSpace: We’ve been speaking to many of the “Blood Drive” cast members and everyone genuinely seems like they had a wonderful experience shooting the series and that they were all-in on it from the start, which seems rare?
Hall: Yeah, it is rare. And again, collectively everybody took a deep breath and went into the deep end. I think everybody kind of got that. Because it is something so genuinely different from anything else that you see out there. It’s one of those those things where everybody on board just takes a deep breath, closes their eyes and goes, “Geronimo!”

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Next Up

Penny Middleton

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Photo By: Lauren Toub/Makeup Artist: Brad Laskey

Name: Penny Middleton

Hometown: Lansdale, PA

Current Location: New York

TrunkSpace: When did you know that you wanted to act for a living?
Middleton: I’ve always been a storyteller. As a kid, I was constantly finding ways to tell stories. In elementary I convinced my friends to play “Saved by the Bell” at lunch (casting myself as Lisa Turtle). Why they agreed to do it I’ll never know! At home, I created routines for “Star Search” and wrote characters for myself to play in shows like “Punky Brewster.” In high school I auditioned for my first play. I got a “callback” and thought I had been cast! I remember telling my friend who had theater experience, “I’m in the play!” She looked at me puzzled. She informed me that I didn’t have the part, not just yet. In the moment my heart sank. I never wanted to have that feeling again; it was like mourning a death. That’s a bit dramatic, but this was high school… everything was high stakes! I realized that what I had so causally chalked up to be a quirk, my constant need to tell stories, was much more. The energy around creating became precious. I was (thankfully) cast in the show and I haven’t stopped acting since.

TrunkSpace: Was there a particular performance or actor/actress from your childhood that you remember being drawn to and inspired by?
Middleton: As mentioned, I just really loved creating stories as a kid but the idea that I was acting never dawned on me. All that changed when I was 7. I finally connected the dots. This “thing” I did had a name. Acting. “The Witches,” a children’s fantasy novel by the British writer Roald Dahl was adapted into a film starring Anjelica Huston. There is a particular scene in the film where Huston’s character, the “Grand High Witch,” addresses her fellow witches in a ballroom. I remember watching Huston and thinking, “What ever that is… I want to do it.” Huston was so magical to me. The way she spoke, her physicality, her eyes – all of it. My little 7-year-old self was here for all of it.

TrunkSpace: How did you decide to approach your career as an actor? Did you formulate a plan of how you wanted to attack what is known for being a hard industry to crack?
Middleton: I didn’t start with a plan; I just tried to make space for acting. That was important for me. I was really lucky because my introduction to acting occurred in a space that practiced blind casting. In other words, I didn’t know that I couldn’t play any part. That was my mentality when I decided to pursue acting professionally. As a woman of color, expectations did not match reality. I realized that I did have to have a plan…and that plan involved a lot of hard work. That plan meant becoming a writer and a producer. Creating my own work is what keeps me in the industry. More than half of the work I do as an actor is self-produced, a fact that I resented for a long time. Now, I embrace being a writer and producer. I also embrace the reality of this business but I reject the box in which it wants to place me in. I audition when I can and continue to carve out a nook for myself with my own self-produced work.

TrunkSpace: When did you decide to move away from your home and pursue acting as a career? How old were you at the time?
Middleton: After paying for college out of pocket I (finally) graduated cum laude from the University of Central Florida in 2010. I started working in advertising. A few years passed and I was still acting when I could, but really I was just trying to keep my head above water. I was barely making enough money to get by. I got a promotion and with it I asked for a raise. I was told that would not be happening. When I initially had the conversation with my boss, I didn’t plan on quitting, but when I was told that I wasn’t going to receive a raise my gut instinct was to utter, “Okay, then I have to put in my two weeks notice.” I went to my car and cried! I had no idea what I was going to do. Then, I realized that I had always wanted to move to New York to pursue acting. A month later, I packed up my car and drove up. I maybe had $1000.00 in my account, no job lined up, but all the passion in the world.

TrunkSpace: Was that move an easy transition for you initially? How long did it take you to feel at home and find a good support group of friends and peers?
Middleton: On the drive up from Orlando, it was pouring. I was crying and just so terrified. I called my friend Angie who told me that I had to stop for the night and get some rest. She said, “You can’t drive into New York with this energy.” She was right. The next morning the sun was shining and I finally arrived in New York. I was excited… nervous, but excited. I was lucky because my college roommate’s mom (who is really like my mom) let me live with her until I got on my feet. I had been in New York for a few weeks and I got my first production assistant job with Staci Levine. I met Staci in Orlando so I reached out when I got to New York. At the time Staci was producing a show at the Barrymore Theatre called “An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin.” That was my first job in New York. I got to stand on the Barrymore stage and I got to see two Broadway legends perform (for free). I realized very quickly that this city is magic. Three months later I got an email from a friend, Joshua Conkel, asking if I wanted to be in a play his theater company was producing (“Your Boyfriend May Be Imaginary” by Larry Kunofsky). I could not have been more grateful for that production because I made so many friends. I immediately felt at home here. A lot of the jobs I get are based on referrals, something that I do not take for granted. It’s hard for people who don’t live here to understand this, but New York is incredibly intimate. It’s a really small bubble. It’s all love. I don’t know, it seems cheesy but everyone supports each other. It’s simple that way.

TrunkSpace: What has been been your biggest break in terms of a particular role or project thus far?
Middleton: This is a hard question! I always think that what I deem as success or a “big break” may look different to someone else. I’m proud of the work I’ve done in New York but I think I’ve just now entered a groove. I believe in manifesting and setting clear intentions for what you want. I also know that it never shows up exactly the way you want it to! I don’t want to block anything that may be coming my way… so let’s table this one and ask me again later!

TrunkSpace: Is there a specific type of role you’d like to take on or a specific genre that you feel more at home in?
Middleton: I love, LOVE dark comedy. It’s what I tend to focus on when I’m writing. I studied classical humanities and philosophy in undergrad so there’s always this part of me that wants to explore the social upheaval of humans, but in a funny way. Women of color don’t often get the chance to explore these types of roles. Which can be frustrating but that’s why I write!

TrunkSpace: What would you say is the greatest strength an actor/actress can have outside of acting ability itself?
Middleton: This is going to sound so “Afterschool Special” but just having a good sense of self is important. On the most basic level, I can’t expect to bring life to a character (make them tangible and fixed in the world) if I don’t fully know who “Penny” is. It also rings true to have a good sense of self-humor. That is to have the ability to laugh at yourself. I think it helps with taking direction because if you can laugh at yourself then you open yourself up to realization that you’re not perfect (perfection is boring!). There’s a great deal of evidence that suggests laughing improves both our mental and physical health! I love laughing even though I look like a Muppet when I do it.

TrunkSpace: What is your ultimate dream when it comes to your acting career? Where would you like your path to lead?
Middleton: I want to have a production company. When I moved to New York, I started freelancing in production. I wanted to know every aspect of what goes into creating a project. Obviously I want to be in front of the camera, but I also want to create a space for those on the margins. I believe in the beauty of our collective story, but I also know that representation matters. Having a production company would provide a space for voices/stories that would otherwise go unheard. I will call it Adventures in PennyLand and it will be paperless! Production uses a lot of paper.

TrunkSpace: What advice would you give another young aspiring actor/actress who is considering moving away from home to pursue their dream?
Middleton: If there is anything else you think you can do that will make you happy, do that. This is not easy. If acting is a part of you, the fiber of who you are then you have to honor that. Give it a fair shot, give yourself a fair shot… and remember, never allow anyone to place their limitations on you. Trust that if you are clear with your intentions and you put in the work, the universe will provide for you… in the meantime there are always credit cards! Kidding. Kind of.

TrunkSpace: Where can people (and casting directors) learn more about you?
Middleton: Please visit my website, pennymiddleton.com. You can also follow me on Instagram, Penny_Middleton & Twitter @Penny_Middleton. Also, my IMDB page is here.

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Wingman Wednesday

Thomas Dominique

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Photo By: Khris Modeste

In a world filled with maniacs, lunatics, and sex-starved zombies, Thomas Dominique’s Christopher is the straight man of SyFy’s “Blood Drive.” Often seen buck naked, strapped to a table, and systematically tortured by the terrifyingly mesmerizing AKI (played by Marama Corlett), the West London-native is a pensive and patient actor, some scenes would go well with actual pornographic scenes like Terrie Hawkes naked on Babestation for example. On screen he and Corlett are the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers of psychosexual suffering, a dance they perform that is equal parts spellbinding and cringe-worthy.

We recently sat down with Dominique to discuss how the series was even more brutal on the page, what it’s like working with a wardrobe that is added in post production, and how he would navigate the fictional “Blood Drive” world if it were our reality.

TrunkSpace: We have been asking this of every “Blood Drive” cast member we speak with because, well, it just seems like an obvious first question. (Laughter) Did you ever wonder if the material you were working on in “Blood Drive” would ever make it to air?
Dominique: (Laughter) Of course! There were more than a few times after a take where I’d think to myself, “They might not show this part. Is this too much for cable TV?” But 99 percent of the stuff we shot made it in. After that I knew the execs were going all out on this one.

TrunkSpace: How did “Blood Drive” come into your life and where has it changed your life most since you landed the part?
Dominique: My agent sent me the script and casting brief. I remember reading the first episode and thinking, “This is a TV show? How is this ever going to get made?” And then feeling nervous about the role because this was totally new ground and out of my comfort zone. The stuff that happens to Christopher is insane! Also the script was a lot more brutal. They actually toned it down when they shot it. But, I knew to grow as an actor you have to throw yourself into roles, so I just went for it.

I’d forgotten about the audition because I was recalled for something else, so three weeks later my agent said they wanted to see me again for the role of Christopher. I went in for the recall and two days later my agent came to me with an offer.

At this point, it hasn’t really changed my life, apart from a lot more people interviewing me and wanting to talk about the project. But my lifestyle and everything else is exactly the same.

TrunkSpace: To many of us here in the States, “Blood Drive” is our first introduction to you and your acting abilities. Do you feel pressure taking the reigns of the series as a lead in the US when most of your previous work was shot and seen in the UK?
Dominique: Oh yeah! At first it was daunting. I’m playing a lead in one of the craziest shows on TV! For most actors coming up in the UK that want to do screen work, the US is like the gold standard of TV and film, so I felt overwhelming pressure to deliver. But I had a Skype conversation with James Roland before I flew out to South Africa where we discussed the character and project in depth and all the pressure and reservations just went away.

TrunkSpace: With what we have seen of the series thus far, much of your wardrobe is added in post because much of your wardrobe has been little more than a censor bar. How does one find his comfort zone while strapped naked to a table? Was there a lot anxious scene shooting in the early going?
Dominique: (Laughter) Just before the first take, when your lying there naked and they’re doing the final checks around you, you feel really exposed. Then you do the first take and you totally forget that you’re naked. Sometimes I would get so in the moment, I’d only remember I was naked when I’d see someone from costume running in with a dressing gown after each take. So you find your comfort zone, over time.

TrunkSpace: We see Christopher go through a lot of different emotions throughout the course of his capture and porn-like torture (pornture?) but what scene stretched you most as an actor? Where did you go that you didn’t think you could?
Dominique: (Laughter) “Pornture!” I like that. I mean the word, not the act. Errrrm…

I think I would have to say the hand insertion scene and tear collection scene. I didn’t know if I could go there, but Marama was giving me so much to work with, and we had the amazing James Roday directing us, so I managed to go to places I didn’t think I could.

TrunkSpace: Most of your scenes thus far have been opposite Marama’s AKI. How long did it take for you two to establish that great chemistry together?
Dominique: The chemistry grew quite naturally. The second day after we arrived in Cape Town, Marama called me and asked if I wanted to get a drink and talk about the show and our scenes. We met and clicked straight away. After that we were together most of the time along with some of the other cast.

TrunkSpace: We read in a previous interview where you stated that Marama was the best actress you have ever worked with. What was it about Marama that brought you to that conclusion and would your performance as Christopher have been as strong if they were shot with a different scene partner?
Dominique: She’s amazing! She brought so much to her character that was not in the script. I was blown away. Marama has no ego, she listens to ideas, and has amazing instincts and input. She wants to make the scene and the overall project the best it possibly can be. To work with an actress like that is an unbelievable blessing, and I honestly don’t think I would’ve had the same outcome with a different scene partner.

TrunkSpace: Christopher is one of a small handful of characters in “Blood Drive” who isn’t a psychopath, moral-free maniac, and yet, he’s not a goody-goody either. Is it easier or more difficult playing the straight man in a world where so many of the characters are on the completely opposite end of the spectrum?
Dominique: I had a meeting with David Straiton, one of the show’s executive producers and overall series director, before we started shooting. He said, “Just play it straight.” And I agreed with him. At times it was difficult. I would find myself trying to heighten my performance to fit in with the insanity of the show. But there’s so much going on, playing it straight adds to the insanity because you relate with the character more and you’re as confused as he is.

TrunkSpace: “Blood Drive” is so very unlike anything else on television. That statement is said a lot about a great number of shows, but usually it’s just said for the sake of saying it. It truly is the case with your show. Does that make being involved with it feel all the more special?
Dominique: It’s funny, I was having this very same conversation recently, and even spoke about it in another interview. You guys at TrunkSpace are the first to actually speak on that directly! (Laughter) I’ve even used it when previously promoting a show, because there were aspects of that show that the UK public hadn’t seen before. But this!?!? 1000 percent there is no show like this, or has there been. We are definitely not crying wolf on this one. The wolf is here and it’s eating people, ferociously!

TrunkSpace: The series takes place in an alternative version of 1999. What were you doing in 1999? Anything interesting?
Dominique: 1999? I had a job at a Go-Karting track. (Laughter) It was rubbish. You had to stand around an indoor track waiting to pull people out of barriers if they crashed, breathing in exhaust fumes for 8 to 10 hours a shift. Nice!

When I wasn’t there, I was with my boys running around the streets of West London, causing mischief and waiting for the Y2K bug to end the world.

TrunkSpace: If Thomas Dominique was living in the alternate timeline that “Blood Drive” takes place in, how would he navigate that world. Would you be a racer? Would he be a viewer?
Dominique: I think Thomas Dominique would be dead quite quickly in this world, to be honest with you. I like to think I would be as strong as Christopher, but he’s super human to survive the stuff he has.

Okay, I love driving, so I definitely think I would be a racer. But I would probably get killed by one of the many jacked up creatures around the country, or over some gasoline or water dispute before I even got to the “Blood Drive.” There are six million and one ways to die in this world.

TrunkSpace: When you look at your career moving forward, what would you like to accomplish? Do you have bucket list items you want to check off in your career?
Dominique: There are so many things I would like to accomplish in my career. There are lots of different characters and projects I’d like to work on, so many people I want to work with, and so many people I’d like to work with again. My bucket list is endless. Fortunately I’ve been able to tick off a few items from some of the shows I’ve worked on, but I have a hell of a lot more to do.

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Trunk Bubbles

Ed Luce

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Name: Ed Luce

Website: www.wuvableoaf.com

Favorite Comic Book Character Growing Up: Wow…this is a hard one! Difficult to narrow it down. I think I’ll go with Wolverine, as drawn by John Byrne in Uncanny X-Men. He was very… textural… in his rendering. Lots of hair, which was very influential on my own drawing.

Favorite Comic Book Character NowAgh! How do I pick one?! At the moment, I’ll say Jim Rugg’s Street Angel. It’s a series of mini comics about a 12 year old girl who is “a dangerous martial artist… and the world’s greatest homeless skateboarder.” Image Comics has been releasing deluxe hardcover editions of her recent adventures and they are beautiful.

Latest Work: Wuvable Oaf: Blood & Metal from Fantagraphics, released just this past winter. And I just self-published Wuvable Oaf #5, which continues the story from the first Oaf Fantagraphics collection.

TrunkSpace: How would you describe your art style?
Luce: I’ve been very influenced by 19th century illustrator Aubrey Beardsley, the Hernandez Brothers and Erik Larsen…so I’d say a combination of all those guys!

TrunkSpace: How important were comic books in your life growing up and is that where you discovered your love and inspiration for drawing?
Luce: My folks were largely responsible for my love of drawing. They put a pencil in my hand as soon as I could hold it and kept it there throughout my formative years. Comics entered the picture in a more serious way around puberty. At that age it wasn’t cool to buy toys anymore, so I switched to comics rather than becoming interested in girls. They were there to entertain me as I was figuring out my sexuality.

TrunkSpace: Was there a particular artist or title from your childhood that you remember being drawn to and inspired by?
Luce: Certainly the Chris Claremont/John Byrne Uncanny X-men years. There was so much character diversity in that title and the art was some of Byrne’s best. Those stories got me to love and appreciate continuity, long form storytelling and character arcs.

TrunkSpace: How did you decide to approach your career in comics? Did you formulate a plan of how you wanted to attack what is known for being a hard industry to crack?
Luce: I really fell ass backwards into comics. I’d moved to San Francisco and suddenly didn’t have a lot of space to make art (I was a fine arts painter at the time). After a few months of living there, I’d met several cartoonists and decided to pursue that medium because I could work small, on a desk top. My paintings had become increasingly cartoony anyway, so making a comic based on one of my art pieces made sense to me.

Beyond that, I always had a multimedia approach to crafting an expanded comics world. Early on, I released shirts, records, scratch & sniff cards… even figures (with the help of Phoenix-based sculptor Erik Erspamer), all spinning out of the main Wuvable Oaf book. This helped demonstrate I had a vision and brand, which definitely attracted the attention of publishers. To this day I think that approach led me to working with Fantagraphics.

TrunkSpace: What was your biggest break in terms of a job that opened more doors for you?
Luce: Releasing the first Oaf collection with Fantagraphics opened the most doors. That book got me illustrating for VICE, Slate, Grant Morrison’s Heavy Metal, a slew of variant covers for Image and Oni Press. Currently I’m in talks to sell the TV rights for Wuvable Oaf. I can directly trace all that back to the Fantagraphics debut.

TrunkSpace: A lot of people say that breaking into comics is the hardest part of working in comics. How long did it take you before you started to see your comic book dreams become a reality?
Luce: I’d been releasing comics for about six years before signing the first book contract with Fantagraphics. Touring hard and publishing several books a year, along with producing the aforementioned merch, was a big part of my business plan during that period. I feel like I paid my dues, even though I was a latecomer to the genre.

TrunkSpace: Is there a particular character or universe you always find yourself returning to when you’re sketching or doing warm-ups?
Luce: I rarely sketch or warm up. It takes me a long time to draw, so I usually jump right into work!

TrunkSpace: Is there a specific title or character that you’d like to work on in the future and why?
Luce: I’m very committed to working exclusively on Wuvable Oaf for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love to do some variant covers or short stories. I tend to have very weird tastes in mainstream comics. Puck (from Marvel’s Alpha Flight) and Flex Mentallo (from DC’s Doom Patrol) are my two favorite superheroes, but I doubt either will be getting their own series any time soon. Maybe that would be the main reason to work on them?!

Image’s new series Shirtless Bear-Fighter would certainly be fun to take on, too.

TrunkSpace: What is your ultimate dream when it comes to your career in comics? Where would you like your path to lead?
Luce: Nothing has been finalized on the development side, but if it does and Wuvable Oaf is brought to animated series, that would be the ultimate path. If it’s successful, I could keep releasing comics well into old age, which would be a charmed existence, for sure.

TrunkSpace: What would you say is the greatest strength as an artist?
Luce: I feel like I have a good character design sensibility. It’s always my goal to make memorable, diverse-looking characters. It’s my favorite phase of creation, even if it can be the most challenging.

TrunkSpace: How has technology changed your process of putting ideas/script to page? Do you use the classic paper/pencil approach at all anymore?
Luce: I shifted to a Cintq screen a few years back, to get faster with color. But in the last year, I’ve gone back to paper, coloring it in Photoshop after scanning. I can’t say I have a preference for either process, usually it has more to do with my deadlines than anything.

TrunkSpace: What advice would you give another young aspiring artist who is considering a career in the comic industry?
Luce: Remember that the world owes you absolutely nothing. You have to work hard, even if you think you’re the most amazing artist around. Don’t fall into a trap of entitlement or narcissism. Be nice to everyone around you, because it’s a very small comics world out there. Getting a publisher won’t solve all your problems… it’ll just create new ones (but definitely still get a publisher, with a good PR person). Don’t read the comments section.

TrunkSpace: Making appearances at conventions: Love it, leave it, or a combination of both?
Luce: I do enjoy conventions quite a bit! I spend so much time alone in a room drawing, it’s often the only interaction I get with the audience and other creators. Internet interaction isn’t particularly satisfying for me, I prefer to see and actually talk with people. Some shows are definitely easier than others (San Diego Comic-Con is the highest level of difficulty) but ultimately all the stress and exhaustion gets washed away after you hit the floor and chatting. Conventions recharge my creative batteries and remind me why I do what I do.

TrunkSpace: What is the craziest/oddest thing you’ve ever been asked to draw as a commission?
Luce: I’m not a big commissions guy, mostly because mainstream characters and portraits are outside my wheelhouse. I did draw Yoda once, in bikini underwear, for Mike Baehr. That might be the oddest…

TrunkSpace: What else can fans of your work look forward to for the rest of 2017 and into the new year?
Luce: My next show is the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, MD, September16-17. All the stuff I’ve been working on for that last few months will be available there, including my variant covers for GI Joe, Redneck and Deadly Class, a story I did for the Judas Priest tribute comic Metal Gods, as well as an uncensored, self-published version of the comic I did for Heavy Metal. Most of that will be available on my site too, wuvableoaf.com.

My new Fantagraphics book, which will focus on the pro wrestling aspects of the Wuvable Oaf comic, will be coming out in summer of 2018. So I’ll be laying pretty low for the rest of the year, trying to get that done!

Feature Image By: Christopher Ferreria

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Musical Mondaze

A.J. Croce

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Photo By: Karan Simpson

For some, mastering an instrument is their calling. For others, it is a part of their legacy. For singer/songwriter A.J. Croce, his pull towards music is a complex concoction of both. As the son of folk icon Jim Croce, it’s easy to suggest that music is a genetic carryover, but the talented pianist and multi-instrumentalist is more apt to suggest that it was a musician’s work ethic, the desire to perfect the art of becoming an accomplished songwriter, that was ultimately passed down to him.

We recently sat down with Croce for a frank discussion about his new album “Just Like Medicine,” how the collection of songs represented him at the time, and why he almost walked away from music.

TrunkSpace: What kind of headspace do you find yourself in when you’re writing and putting together a new album? Is it something where it becomes sort of all encompassing for you or do you find yourself having to step away and put some distance between the music?
Croce: I’ve done a lot of them now and they all kind of happen in different ways. Sometimes I write over a period of time of a couple years and then pull from that stuff. I find when writing a bunch of music, I might have a few different kinds of songs going, but there’s a similarity between certain kinds of songs… similar chord changes or certain things are being used just because my head’s in that space, and so I need to do it over a period of time where I can process different ideas and be a little more creative in that regard.

And then the recording process is a totally different thing. I kind of look at 18 months or two years worth of songs that I’ve written. And there could be 100 songs, 20 songs, or it could be any number of tunes that I pull from to make an album. And they’re not even always mine. It might be someone else’s song that I like. And I kind of go, “Okay, what am I trying to do? What’s the story behind this?” And as an independent artist for so many years, since I left BMG in the mid 90s, you really need to have a story. You need more than just, “Here’s my music.” You really need to have something that has something interesting behind it, and so that’s been a big part of the process with this record is, what is this about?

TrunkSpace: So with that in mind, what was “Just Like Medicine” about?
Croce: There were a lot of challenging things that happened in the last few years. My kids are grown, my wife and I have moved from California to Nashville again (it’s our second time living there), and all kinds of good stuff and all kinds of hard stuff. Selling my house. I was broke. I had tax problems. I had all kinds of psychological problems with a million different things going on, and meanwhile, touring and trying to keep a career. Trying to do a million things at once. I put all of that into this record and it starts right where I wanted it to. I had to get out of my head. I had to change my perspective.

TrunkSpace: It sounds like putting the album together was a therapeutic process for you?
Croce: Yeah, it was just like medicine. Not to be corny, but I think that that was…

“Cures Just Like Medicine” was the last song written and it was one of the first recorded. And I think it was that I had this feeling about it, like, “This really sums up this album.” I feel like I’ve lost all these relationships and I’ve kept these other ones, and I’ve found the people that mean the most in my life. I think as you get older, you kind of make your own families, not just literally with having kids and seeing them grow up, but with the people that you don’t have anything in common with. Even if you grew up with them and you love the memories of everything you’ve shared with them, you don’t necessarily have anything in common any longer.

TrunkSpace: And it starts to feel like you’re trying to push a square peg through a round hole just to carry on the relationship.
Croce: Exactly, and then you find yourself really living in the past, you know what I mean?

TrunkSpace: Absolutely.
Croce: Because that’s the only thing you really have in common is that past experience. So, that became really clear in that song, and I sort of understood where I was at in a way. “Move On” and “Gotta Get Outta My Head” and “The Other Side Of Love” and all of these things… they were telling the same story, but I don’t think any as potently, for me, as that one. And so it became the title track. Whether it becomes the single or not is irrelevant in a way, but for me, it sums up the content, at least where my head was.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned going through some challenges throughout the period of writing the material for this album. Do you find that you’re a more prolific songwriter during those emotionally challenging times for that reason, because it is a lot like medicine?
Croce: It can vary. Sometimes having no emotional attachment to something allows me to write more fluidly but less convincingly. In my life, I’ve been a writer for years at a time, where I didn’t have a record come out. I was doing cowrites. I was writing for Warner/Chappell Publishing, or I was writing for EMI or BMG or whatever it was. And I’ve been with so many different ones over the years as a writer, as a songwriter, and I think it was like… there were times when I was writing for other people and I was just doing five cowrites a week in Nashville, and there was a compromise with everything. And you get really, really good at a technically good piece of work, but creatively it’s less improvisational. Or less original.

TrunkSpace: And you must get used to working within deadlines in that circumstance.
Croce: Yeah, you’re writing a specific song for… it could be anyone. It could be George Strait. At the time I remember every single writer was writing for a George Strait record. It was only going to be 12 songs, but there was 350 or 400 writers that were all competing to get songs cut on that record. Just an example. There were hundreds of records like that, and it’s like, “He needs an up-tempo thing like his last hit,” or, “Wynonna needs this thing,” or “Reba needs this thing.” And then things started to change a little bit in Nashville and I left, and when I did, during that time, the business changed a lot. Producers started being the writer, and during that period of time when I was away from that, I had no compromise in my writing and a ton flew out of me because I was just like, “Wow.” There’s no one saying, “Oh, that’s not commercial.”

TrunkSpace: It must be freeing to no longer have your creative POV focusing within certain parameters?
Croce: And it’s funny moving back to Nashville. I find it’s really an interesting time there, because it’s like a friend of mine was saying… it’s like the new Greenwich Village. All the guys that I wrote with or worked with in my teens and 20s in Nashville, if they’re still there or still alive, then they’re doing stuff in a very original fashion. They’re not constrained either, and for the first time in their lives, they’re not constrained because they’re not necessarily going to get a song on a Taylor Swift record, and if they do, it’s because they’re writing with her. And that’s the way songwriting works now, the artists are cowriting their stuff. Some are great writers and some of them are new to it.

TrunkSpace: Was there ever a moment where you said, “You know what? Maybe music isn’t my path? Maybe this isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing?”
Croce: Yes. Oh, yeah. First time that happened was… I remember I was at a subsidiary of RCA and everyone got fired. The whole label got kind of folded into another BMG company. I got a call from the head of the label and he just said, “I wanted to let you know…” And this was right when my second record came out, so it couldn’t have been worse timing. Just as I was promoting it. It was a challenging thing. I had a good manager and I got my masters back at that time. He arranged it. And then I had another manager for a period of time and he was just burning bridges. It was a challenging period.

Photo By: Sebastian Smith

The same day that I heard about the label getting folded into another label, I got a call from a German blues label that was distributed by Virgin in the United States, so they had great distribution. And they said, “Do you want to make a record?” And I said, “Yeah.” And they said, “Well, would you make something that’s kind of blues influenced that’s like a rock ‘n’ roll record or whatever you choose to do?” And I said, “Well, the roots of what I’ve always done is in that vein. Soul music is part of what I do, and a little blues, and jazz piano was the roots of what I did.”

So, when I got there, it was with a totally different budget and we were not traveling on buses anymore and we were not flying first class. All of a sudden, my whole perspective of music changed because I went from having huge record budgets and travel budgets and tour support to being on an indie out of Germany. Even though it was distributed by a big company out of England, it was just totally different. And at that time, that was kind of like… doing that was kind of like a career ender.

So yeah, there’s been a lot of times where I felt like, “This is it, I’m done for and I can’t make a living anymore.” So there was a period where, a couple of times, I quit. I just quit touring. I was like, “I can’t do it. I miss my kids. I miss my wife. I committed to these relationships and I’m not even a part of them.”

TrunkSpace: You hope to control the music, but in doing so, you can lose control of other aspects of your life.
Croce: Right. Exactly. So now I’m on tour. I’m in Columbus, Ohio, in a hotel and my wife and I travel together almost everywhere, and it’s a different world. It’s a different kind of thing. When she decides she wants to come out, she does. And that’s most of the time. And then when she doesn’t want to, she doesn’t. And that’s really cool for us, because I have a life that was really hard to have before.

“Just Like Medicine” is available August 11 from Compass Records.

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Opening Act

Milo in the Doldrums

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Artist/Band: Milo in the Doldrums

Members: Rob Mays (guitar and vox), Richard Smith (guitar and vox), Ryan Wisgerhof (tour bass), Reis Debruyne (studio bass), Ryan Burke (tour drums), Daniel Ortiz (studio drums)

Website: www.milointhedoldrums.com

Hometown: Arlington, VA

Latest Album/Release: Richard’s Glasses

Influences: Radiohead, Of Montreal, The Beatles, Andrew Bird, and Nirvana

TrunkSpace: How do you describe your music?
Mays: Our music is an attempt to mash together a nostalgia for 90s pop and some of the harmonic weirdness of the modern indie casserole.

TrunkSpace: What we love about your band is that you guys call yourselves a rock band. That’s a real rarity these days because everything has a sub genre attached to it. When did it become so complicated for bands to define their sound? (We know this is a contradiction to the previous question we just asked!)
Mays: I guess that the dawn of the internet age allowed for easier access to the underground music scene than had ever been available before. Now it’s easier to get a band together, record/release some tunes, and gain an internet following at least. That along with the ever present need for humans to organize the chaos surrounding them into manageable orderly groups and categories.

TrunkSpace: Your latest album “Richard’s Glasses” was released in April. What did you guys hope to accomplish with the album and do you feel like you met those goals?
Mays: We wanted to make a live and raw recording to tape and to not over do it on the overdubs. I think we did well and now it’s time to move on to newer frontiers.

TrunkSpace: The cover art for “Richard’s Glasses” is a visual tweet, we mean, treat. Where did the concept come from and did the image go through various versions before you settled on the final product?
Mays: It came from our buddy Jon Flanders, aka Mammoth_Wall on Facebook. The original image was just the bird without the glasses, and so we asked him to draw Richard’s special sunglasses onto it for the cover.

TrunkSpace: The band is set to hit the road at the end of the summer. Where are you the most excited to play and why?
Mays: I’m most excited for the Asheville show. We loved playing and hangin’ with the guys in Mr. Mange last time at the Odditorium and we are very excited to play with them again at New Mountain AVL on Tuesday, August 8th. We also get a day off in Asheville the next day and it’s the best place I can think of for exploring.

TrunkSpace: So much of spreading the word about a band is just hitting the pavement (in this case the road) and playing in front of as many faces as possible. It seems like a lot of bands have traded that hard work in for social media outreach, which while effective to some degree, also seems kind of fleeting. How important is gigging out and hitting the road to Milo in the Doldrums?
Mays: We feel like touring is a way to make your band tighter, to get other areas and scenes into your music, and to pay your dues. We will hopefully continue to do it every six to nine months.

TrunkSpace: In the heyday of rock, a band’s “look” was almost as important as their sound. Does that visual branding still matter these days and where do you see it making the biggest difference?
Mays: I think some people are fashion sensed and sexy enough to pull off some sort of iconic look that helps people become interested in their music, but as a pale chubby guy I’m gonna focus on anything but an image and hope to God it doesn’t matter anymore.

TrunkSpace: As far as the mainstream is concerned, rock seems to be missing in action. Is rock as a genre dead on a mainstream level and if so, do you think it will ever see a revival?
Mays: Who knows. I think there’s so much good music from every genre these days, and people are going to keep enjoying ear worms of all shapes and sizes. If a rock band makes something honest and earthy enough to attract the indie kids, but catchy and simple enough to appeal to the masses, then maybe as a genre rock will dominate the top 40 again. Who knows.

TrunkSpace: If Milo in the Doldrums was on the forefront of the rock revival and became the next Nirvana or Radiohead in terms of widespread, international appeal, would you be comfortable with that sort of all-encompassing attention?
Mays: No, I wouldn’t want a lot of attention, and as a member of the upper echelon of the epsilon, I doubt I’ll ever write something that memorable and life altering. I’m hoping Milo can at least help us make a decent living in the future. Hopefully I won’t have to wash dishes and teach guitar forever.

TrunkSpace: What do you hope people take from your music?
Mays: I honestly just hope they enjoy it and make the music and the lyrics fit their own life and experience. If they like it, hopefully we will see them at the show, and if they hate it, hopefully they leave some creative comments on YouTube.

TrunkSpace: What else can fans of Milo in the Doldrums look forward to for the rest of 2017 and into the new year?
Mays: Besides our upcoming tour with Kid Brother in August, we are currently working on a new EP, tentatively titled, “A Widows Peak and a Pack of Smokes” off of which a new single, “Built For No One” will be ready for release sometime this fall.

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Wingman Wednesday

Reid Miller

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Photo By: Jacob Jonas

Growing up isn’t easy, especially once you hit adolescence. It’s a subject that has been explored in countless film and television projects throughout the years, many of which have inspired new generations of content creators to take their own stab at their awkward childhood. The most recent foray into this genre is Go90’s “Play By Play”, a coming of age comedy that follows an ESPN sportscaster as he gives a play-by-play of his early years. The thing that sets the show apart from other cinematic trips down memory lane is the performance by the talented young actor at the center of it all, Reid Miller.

We recently sat down with Miller to discuss his closeness to the character Pete, how he felt about being the lead in the series, and why he wants to play a superhero.

TrunkSpace: Did you feel any pressure going into “Play By Play” knowing that you were going to be the lead and carrying the project?
Miller: Definitely, it was more of a happy nervous because I was just incredibly excited to have the opportunity to be in such a great project, let alone headline it. But I do think there was a large level of nervousness because I did know that I would be carrying the show, but luckily I was working with some amazing people and they really helped me do that.

TrunkSpace: We know comedy can be really hard, just to find those perfect beats and the right timing. Did that side of the performance come easy to you?
Miller: Yeah, I think it definitely gave me some comfort because I love comedy, especially smart comedy. I definitely feel like all of my previous comedy gigs were preparing me for this.

TrunkSpace: What’s great about “Play By Play” is that the comedy is so grounded in reality and it feels like something that anybody can relate to, whether they’re going through it now or went through it in their adolescence.
Miller: Absolutely, and that’s what really drew me to the project to begin with. I read it, and I’m only 17, but even though it’s set in the 90s, I feel that Pete isn’t even like a character that I play and that I just play myself, you know? That also really helped guide my performance because I’ve been through everything he’s been through.

TrunkSpace: And you mentioned it’s set in the 90s, but the experiences Pete goes through are timeless.
Miller: Absolutely, I totally agree with that.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned that you felt like, in a lot of ways, you’re just sort of playing yourself, but does that mean that you knew who Pete was right away?
Miller: The moment I started reading the pilot, I kinda knew right off the bat who he was. Not only because he was written so well, but just because as I said, I relate to him. He’s the small guy. He kinda gets messed with because of his height and everyone looks down on him because of it. They don’t believe he can be a successful athlete, but he doesn’t really care. He has such a vision of who he wants to be and that allows him to really push forward and not let that affect him and I’m the same way. Being as small and as young looking as I am, I think it has hindered me in certain departments. I was bullied when I was younger, so just kind of that in and of itself, I totally bonded with him and I knew who he was.

TrunkSpace: With that said, did “Play By Play” allow you to go places with the character that you hadn’t before with other characters?
Miller: Absolutely, I totally feel that. In the pilot for instance, when he’s dealing with his struggles with the fact that the girl he likes is with someone else, I’ve been through that. But there was something about portraying that that almost opened up these other smaller doorways in me that I never knew were there that made me have to take a second and think about my own life. Pete really helped me grow.

TrunkSpace: That must be hard in front of an entire crew because you’re basically dissecting your own struggles at the same time as dealing with them as Pete?
Miller: Yeah, because it’s like, Pete’s only just a little younger than me and I feel like I’m going through all of these things as he is and yeah, you’re right, I think it was definitely tough at first having to kind of become vulnerable with the fact that I’m dealing with everything I had already dealt with all over again except now in front of a crew and with people that maybe I didn’t know quite as well. I believe that doing that actually helped me bond with my castmates even better and now we’re great friends because of it.

TrunkSpace: It seems like one of the most difficult things is for adult writers (or writers’ rooms filled with adults) to write kids in a realistic way. It seems like they are not always successful capturing the voice of kids, but with “Play By Play” they seem to have really done that.
Miller: I know, it really blew my mind when I read it because I totally agree with you. There are just sometimes, like some scripts that I’ve gotten, where they don’t really know how to write like kids. It’s almost as if they don’t understand how they act these days or how they acted… as if they forgot what it means to be a kid. But Kevin Jakubowski is such a great writer and he managed to really capture not only what it means to be a kid, but the struggles and how it feels to be a kid.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned that you were bullied growing up, has somebody else come to you and said, “Wow, what you’re portraying here… I get it and I relate to it.”
Miller: I have. Like when I went to the premiere for instance. The moment the pilot ended, I had tons of people… adults, younger adults, teens… coming to me and saying that this show, yes it’s incredibly relatable and I totally feel like this is what I went through, but it touched them in a way that no other show like that had in a very long time. For me that was a big moment because as an actor and just being in this industry in general, you only want to make content that people can relate to and connect with and the fact that I, and along with everyone else on the show, managed to do that definitely is incredibly rewarding.

TrunkSpace: Knowing that the project is near and dear to you and that the performance is something that you’re very proud of, in this day and age where there’s so many different platforms, is the biggest struggle just getting people to know where they can see “Play By Play?”
Miller: Absolutely. It’s a definite struggle I think because, as you said, there are so many new platforms and it can get confusing. YouTube now has YouTube Red where they’re doing their own scripted content. I just recently saw something about another upcoming digital platform.

Go90 has so much potential and I think that the shows are getting so much better. I hope that that “Play By Play” will help put it more on the map than it may be right now.

Photo By: Jacob Jonas

TrunkSpace: We saw something interesting that you wrote on your Twitter page, which was, “You can’t wait for things to happen, you go after what you want.” What is it that you want with your career and are you going after it?
Miller: Yeah, I think for me, I do have a very clear picture of who I want to be and what I want to be doing in this career and in this industry. For instance, one of my biggest dreams is to play a superhero.

TrunkSpace: Well, you’re living in a good time period for that. (Laughter)
Miller: I know. (Laughter) I think companies are more open to younger actors playing these roles. Like Shazam! They’re making a Shazam movie. I want to do it. I’ve been shopping myself around for Shazam for two years now. If you go on my Instagram you’ll see where people have made fan castings of Shazam with me and it’s so cool to see that. I definitely think that “Play By Play” will help me in that regard in the sense that my character is so wholesome and he is quite innocent but we see how he evolves as a character.

TrunkSpace: He is sort of Peter Parker before the super powers.
Miller: He really is Peter Parker before powers! He’s innocent. He just wants to get the girl and have that kind of fairytale-ish ending. I definitely think that this project and my other projects that I’m working on will help me, hopefully, towards playing the other roles that I want to play such as a superhero.

New episodes of “Play By Play” premiere Tuesdays at Go90.

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Musical Mondaze

Peter Himmelman

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People have been enjoying the music of Peter Himmelman for decades, some without ever having realized it. As a successful composer for Hollywood film and television projects like “Bones” and “Judging Amy,” the Minnesota-native’s work has trickled into our subconscious and has been hummed from our lips, but it is his moving and thought-provoking solo work that stays with you on an emotional level. His latest album “There Is No Calamity” would be a page turner if it were a book, each track representing a chapter in a story that becomes more clear the deeper you dive into the context.

We recently sat down with Himmelman to discuss how his albums are journal-like records of his life, how he views his legacy, and why some people don’t make their dreams a reality.

TrunkSpace: Your discography features dozens of albums, both solo and as a member of bands. As you look back over those albums, how do you view them in terms of your life? Do they define specific periods in time for you?
Himmelman: It’s a good question. It has a little bit of meat on it for me, which I like to dive into. I started doing a little thinking about my catalog lately. I think because for reasons, good or ill, I never made an album with the intention of like, “I’m going to just get a single here” or never was I prodded by any record label to do so. It seems as though I was always given a lot of license just to write things that I was interested in, reflections of what I was thinking at the time or snippets of conversation.

Into that extent, you’re absolutely right. They leave a very journal-like record of exactly where I was at the time. My oldest son, who’s 27 now, he says for him, he remembers all those records when he was a kid and what they meant to him then and now. It’s almost the same way I remember when he was going to school and he was playing with trucks or something when he was four. They all have an impact.

I think they’re drawn from very personal observations and what meanings that were gleaned from those observations as opposed to a calculated look at songwriting. I’m not deriding that. After my first solo record, which was called “This Father’s Day” and it was based around a song that I had written for my dad when he was dying of lymphoma, that was really the change for me from tactical writing, which I still can do and sometimes do some of. I never feel, especially now, compelled to put those on my records. Especially now since making records has become just more of a personal passion than a means to deriving an income.

TrunkSpace: From a listener standpoint, putting on a song can instantly trigger of a memory. Same thing with smells. You smell a certain dish, you’re reminded of your childhood. To be involved in the creative aspect of those songs, there must be a different level of that memory trigger?
Himmelman: Yeah. Your question now sparked something in me. Some of the songs that I am most connected to, and you have to understand that I write when I go through these periods of writing a lot. The most connected songs, at least for me, they were always born out of some kind of mystery. I was in a mood, and this just sounds like an old thing that people say, but they just pour out. In that sense, what I’m trying to get at is that they are often as mysterious to me as to a listener. Those are the kind of songs that I like in general. They’re fairly oblique. People can bring their own story to the song and it gives me a hint as to what was going on subconsciously in my life during those periods… periods of struggle, periods of joy, periods of youthful lust, or whatever. It’s all in there. Look, whereas I never had a giant hit or anything, I’m always scanning the horizon for, “So what is fulfilling about this?”

There’s something deeply fulfilling about looking back and seeing what I consider for myself a rich treasure trove or legacies.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned your son. Being able to have that recorded history, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be music… it could be anything… it’s a great thing to pass down to your kids because so many people don’t ever really get to KNOW their parents.
Himmelman: I was going to actually finish that sentence and I thought better of it. Maybe that’s too… but you took it.

Yeah, the legacy piece is something I never thought about. Maybe I was just too young to think about it. The more we know about our parents and their history, it’s always fascinating of course because we derive from them. So much of what they went through is a part of us, whether experimentally or genetically… however these things pass down.

Yeah, I think of the legacy not so much for the public, but for people close to me. Furthermore, when I write songs, the audience for them, at least in my mind who am I writing for, it’s usually just one person or a couple people. It’s not a mass. It’s a note to my wife or a couple musician friends of mine that I’d like them to hear or some person I think I’ll never get to talk to. It’s always a very small group. My kids are always in there, too. There’s certain things, probably certain things I won’t say in a song.

TrunkSpace: Knowing that those people you’re speaking to in the songs are listening?
Himmelman: Yeah. There’s a lot of restrictions on my candor in general. I realize it’s going into a public forum. While I am free to write and try to purvey myself as somebody who writes from the heart and so on, let’s be honest, I’m always circumspect about exactly what I’m going to say. That would be disingenuous to say I’m just writing everything my id suggests I write. Just like I’m not going to say anything in real life that would cause great offense or consternation to somebody.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned that the songs are representative of those periods of struggle or joy. Is songwriting almost a bit of a therapy? Is it a therapeutic practice to be able to get those emotions out?
Himmelman: Yeah, I think it is. It’s like when I’m in the kind of fecund zone of writing where things are just popping out like a hamster giving birth to a litter of 20 hamsters. They just come out. Contrasting with right now, I have zero desire to sit down on my piano, which is right in front of me.

TrunkSpace: Is the creative something that you can’t force?
Himmelman: I could force it. If somebody said to me, and this sounds crass, but anyone that writes for a living, you know how this works. If somebody said, “Look, I’m going to pay you X amount of money and I need a song by Tuesday” and that amount of money was meaningful to me, I would place myself in a position that that song would come out. In other words, I would force myself into the mood and what resulted from the mood most likely would be totally real and good. It used to be like that when I was on a label and you had to adhere to a schedule. There’s something really great about that because I need the advance check to pay the rent and then I’d be in the position to do it.

Now getting back to your premise as songs being therapeutic, yeah, once I’m in that mode, things start to emerge. I start to understand a lot about myself when some of these songs come out.

TrunkSpace: With that in mind, did you discover or learn anything about yourself in making “There Is No Calamity”?
Himmelman: Yeah. I think this is… I remember a story about Prince. He went with his wife at the time up to Northern Minnesota and looked at a lake. It’s a story I heard from a journalist who has this giant trove of unpublished Prince stuff. So they’re at the lake and it’s just so placid and cold. He was there for 10 minutes and he was like, “I got to get back to my studio. I got to write.”

Sometimes I feel that way, that the world in my head is sometimes more interesting than the world around me. That’s kind of a sad thing to say. There is something very engaging about one’s own thoughts and one’s own meanings of expression. It’s so fulfilling that sometimes it’s hard for other experiences to compete with that.

TrunkSpace: In a lot of ways, that goes back to what we talked about earlier about our parents. When you’re a kid, how you view your parents is sort of superhero-like in your head. The more you learn about them, you start to realize that they’re human. A lot of times what’s in our head is almost more interesting in a way. More fictional.
Himmelman: Yeah, and more perfect. When things come out into the open, if you want to just use songs as that metaphor, for some people, and I talk about this a lot in my book and so on… for some people, making and manifesting the fruits of their imagination is a dangerous thing. I have a friend of mine who is about as good a musician as you’d ever want to find and is really a fine songwriter/producer. I met him when he was pretty young and he, of course, wanted to make a record. That record has yet to come out and he’s no longer young. I believe that having something orbiting in your head where it is in a pristine state certainly is not subject to judgment, one’s own or other people’s judgment. It lends a very pallid sense of fulfillment. That is to say that it doesn’t lend no fulfillment. It’s like, “If I were ever to make a record, it would be amazing.” But if it comes out and it’s less than amazing and people criticize it, it could, in some people’s mind, it could kill them. Bringing things out into the world, it has its risks. It has, I guess, its dangers. I just find it’s fulfilling to not only dream up things, but to make them manifest. I suppose that’s why there’s so much material out there that I put out.

TrunkSpace: Humans are complicated beings.
Himmelman: Yeah, we’re so complicated. You’re so right, and the layers. If you keep this stuff to yourself… I have a thing where I’ll play stuff for a very select group of people. Maybe it’s one or two. I get excited about it. I’ll play and I’ll share something with somebody, get some feedback, get the fire going with some tinder or some kindling. Then, oh yeah, I’m using that to get over these hurdles of my own about my own fears. I have my own little techniques to push me, which is to say that it’s not as though I don’t have these same fears.

TrunkSpace: So often artists put all their creative eggs into one basket. They find their baby and they can’t focus on doing anything else. What’s so fascinating is that you have so many different creative outlets, even helping other creative people find their own outlets. Is it hard for you to shut down your brain and step away from that creative mindset?
Himmelman: I think so. I have had a couple of personality tests done that people have run on me. There’s certain people, I guess this is where I fit in, that thrive on a degree of adversity. Maybe that’s universal. In other words, getting something to be a simple habit or rote behavior that you just easily process over and over. It would seem like an agreeable thing. “Yeah, let’s just do that. Churn out some money.”

A lot of people would do that so that they could make money so that they could do something like touch a whale shark in the South China Sea or something. It isn’t the work that they do that they love so much, it’s the money that they earn that will allow them to do what they love. For me, the manifestation of these creative things is what I love and the challenges they present and the little hurdles.

That said, I wonder if I’d have had a huge hit, let’s say one of my albums, “Flown This Acid World”, had just been a massive hit and I had a ton of money from that, it’s possible that I wouldn’t be doing all these different things. You could say the reason I do it is just because I felt I had to. I had to keep moving and then there would definitely be truth in that, too. Then again, going back to my dad, he was the type of person who always was reinventing himself, always in an entrepreneurial sense.

Some of the stuff I’ll tell you sounds funny. We’re from Minnesota. He was the first guy to bring in Japanese motorcycles to Minnesota. Suzukis. At that time, it seemed like, well, whatever. A motorcycle was a Harley Davidson or a BMW. You didn’t have a Japanese motorcycle, which was synonymous with shit made in Japan. He brought that in. He had the first 8-track tape store in Minneapolis. That sounds like a joke, but…

TrunkSpace: Not at all. It’s part of the equation. You don’t get to cassette, you don’t get to CD, you don’t get to digital without the 8-track.
Himmelman: Right. That was a huge, huge step that you could have the music of your choice in a great sounding stereo or in your car. I would watch him as a kid. He had a security camera business that got later bought out by Honeywell way too early. I mean way before we made any money on it, but all these different things. For me, that was just natural. This idea of reinvention. This idea of just taking the fruits of your imagination and making them manifest.

“There Is No Calamity” (Himmasongs/Six Degrees) is available now for digital download and will hit stores August 11.

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