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Fei Ren

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Photo By: PHILIP JARMAIN

With the new Netflix movie “Polar” being so stylized and visually enticing, actress Fei Ren had the freedom in making her character Hilde her own. Adopting a soft look with her makeup over one eye and a harder look with the other, the asymmetric approach not only fit into the aesthetic of the film, but allowed her to tap into her character’s backstory and discover the A-team assassin’s duality.

“It’s a great creative playground because I had the option to make the character larger than life and explore it artistically.”

We recently sat down with Ren to discuss Hilde’s spirit animal, the film’s on-set atmosphere, and how acting was never part of her original game plan.

TrunkSpace: “Polar” is based on the webcomic/graphic novel of the same name. Comics continue to be a well that Hollywood taps, both for film and television adaptation. As an actor, what is it like having that source material (and existing audience!) available to you, but at the same time, not having the pressure of stepping into a brand that the masses have been exposed to yet, like a Spider-Man or Batman?
Ren: Finding Hilde and her layers was almost no different to working on any other characters. I think that with “Polar” being such a stylized graphic novel without words, I had lots of room to fill in the blanks of her backstory. It’s rather freeing. In acting, there is a saying that the more specific you get, the more universal and relatable your character becomes. I imagine that no matter how large a fan base a character has, our job is still connected to the human core and to make it our own. Pressure from the public will always be there, but when you are creating art, you can’t do it to please everybody’s idea of the character. You have to make it your own and step into that skin and become it.

TrunkSpace: The original comic was very stylized as you mentioned, and what’s great about the film adaptation is that a lot of that is carried over in terms of how it’s shot and the use of color. Visually, what makes the work you did on this project unique in comparison to previous roles?
Ren: It’s highly stylized and very edgy. It’s a great creative playground because I had the option to make the character larger than life and explore it artistically. The makeup, hair and costume department did such an amazing job creating my look. And working together as a team, I ended up discovering some of the character’s history. For example, the different makeup on each eye. It started as we were doing testing makeup on different eyes, and the whole team ended up loving the asymmetric look. So, Hilde had one soft look on one eye, and a harder look on the other, which worked with the hair too! The look inspired me to discover Hilde’s duality. Hilde’s past being soft and feminine didn’t serve her well in that world. Hence, she becomes the hardcore, sleek, efficient killer you see now. She only lets down her guard in front of Blut. So, every day, her soft eye is a reminder to her to stay focused and her hard eye shows her determination. Overall, it was plenty of fun because we were given room to create and explore!

TrunkSpace: From the outside looking in, this was a physically demanding project to be a part of. How did you prepare to slip into the butt-kicking shoes of assassin Hilde?
Ren: I had a personal trainer for kickboxing and did yoga daily. The production also gave me thorough gun and safety training for an entire week, so the weapons became part of my body. Listening to hardcore heavy metal music also helped me slip into Hilde’s mental space!

TrunkSpace: When you learned that you had been cast as Hilde, what aspects of her were you most excited to bring to life and did that change the further into production that you got? Did you discover new things about her that you ended up enjoying more than you would have expected?
Ren: When I first got the role of Hilde, I loved the idea that she is cocky, masculine and savage. I imagined her spirit animal as an ape. Then the chemistry of the “A-team” being so playful and family-like, Hilde becomes a black panther. She is sleek and economical with movements when she is hunting. She is protective of the A-team, playful at times and holds them together when necessary. So, she is still intense, but has more colors and shape, which is more fun to play!

TrunkSpace: For the viewer, the most memorable part of a film or television series is the end product, but for those involved in it, we would imagine it’s the experience. For you, what aspects of working on “Polar” will you carry with you through the rest of your career and life?
Ren: The grounded passionate energy of the people in the film’s crew. Rumor has it that some Hollywood stars and directors are tricky to work with. I had an excellent first-hand experience! On the set of “Polar,” there were no egos and no games. Everyone is passionate about the work, and not taking themselves too seriously. During lunchtime, we all got together and joked around, ate, talked about the scenes, and we all come from different parts of the world, so we shared stories. The production was in the winter, and sometimes the days got long and freezing cold. Shooting a movie is not easy, so having a great ensemble makes a huge difference!

TrunkSpace: From what we understand, your career in the arts began after you started modeling. Did pursuing modeling ultimately inspire you to change direction with your life and take a path that you may not have walked otherwise?
Ren: Oh, totally! I was so nerdy before I started modeling. My world view was my parents’ vision: get a degree in accounting or finance, get married at 25 and have babies. I didn’t know what I wanted, let along dare to dream of pursuing arts. Growing up trained in dancing and painting, I always liked arts and performing, but to think this passion could turn into a career path was seemingly impossible. My family is made of scientists, engineers and professors. They appreciate art as leisure, but never considered it as a job. Getting into modeling, traveling and starting to discover different artistic expressions freed and empowered me in so many ways. It awakened parts of me that had been suppressed. In modeling, I learned to take control of my own destiny, follow my passion, persevere in learning, which becomes essential for building my acting career.

Photo By: PHILIP JARMAIN

TrunkSpace: You’ve been acting for about five years now. In that time, what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned either on set or in the midst of a job that you find yourself applying to all of your work moving forward now?
Ren: There is a balance in owning your character work and allowing it room to grow by collaborating with your team. You have to trust your instinct and allow yourself to play. I think filmmaking is such a collaborative art form. There is the initial audition, but once you’re on set, your role usually evolves and deepens or deviates quite a bit from your original idea. It’s important not to hold on to the idea of what you think your character should be, but get into the whole skin of it, get into the body, allow your body and instinct to play, allow yourself to be in the moment. It’s where the best work lives. On the other hand, though, you have to take ownership of your work. Sometimes people have inputs and ideas on what they think your character could be. It can be confusing if you take all the suggestions. So, you need to find a balance, trust what you’re bringing as long as you serve the true intention behind the story you are telling.

TrunkSpace: You’re also a director. Do you think having that perspective makes you a better actor and does knowing what an actor needs from a director make you a better director?
Ren: I believe they complement each other. When I am directing theater, I often use my own acting tools to help actors find the emotional truth of the characters and get very specific with relationships and intention in the story. Directing and coaching other actors can help me understand my own acting better. That said, I find it’s often still easier to bring other actors to do their best job than it is to direct yourself.

TrunkSpace: You have a passion for the theater. In terms of acting, does the stage give you a different experience personally than when you’re performing in front of the camera?
Ren: Very different in many ways. In theater, the effect of your work is immediate, there is an energy feeding back and forth from the audience. It’s electrifying. Especially in comedy, the laughter and energy of the audience become part of the play. Also, in theater, you live the character’s whole arc at once, without cut and reset. It feels more complete during performing. With film acting, lots of times there are hundreds of people around the set and when the director says action, it’s on. You’ll record a scene multiple times, from different angles. You experience the character in chunks and the challenge lies in staying focused, ready and keep discovering it moment to moment, takes after takes, with all that’s happening around you. Both are exciting and require you to show up and be present, put ego aside and serve the character and the story. And both are satisfying when you feel or see the impact and joy you brought to your audience at the end of the day.

TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
Ren: (Laughter) Maybe not! Life is magical, and I don’t want to know how the magic worked, and then watch the magic show. It would ruin the fun. I want to experience it moment to moment!

Polar” is available now on Netflix.

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Laugh It Up

Erin Maguire

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Name: Erin Maguire

Website: www.erinmaguire.com

Socials: Twitter/Facebook

Why We’re Laughing: Likable in a “she should spearhead her own sitcom” kind of way, Magure’s (sometimes) self-deprecating brand of humor brings the audience into the jokes as opposed to leaving them on the outside looking in.

TrunkSpace: Was comedy always in the cards? Were you a funny kid, even at an early age?
Maguire: Always. Ever since I played Van Itch in Dr. Seuss’s “The Bread and Butter Battles” and people laughed because my goggles were too big and kept sliding off my face, I realized that I was destined for a life of people laughing at me. Or just my face. I was always a ham.

TrunkSpace: When did you decide to pursue stand-up comedy as a career and did you make a plan for how long you would attack things?
Maguire: Well, here’s a funny thing I remembered recently… a recovered memory. Thank you, therapy! When I was in second grade, I told a group of my friends I was gonna be a stand-up when I was older. And my best friend at the time said, “There’s no money in that!” Boy was she… right. (Laughter) I showed her! So I guess I was ahead of my time in using “The Secret.” I called it in second grade. But for the majority of my life, I was a sketch/improv comic. I grew up in Boston doing sketch. I went to school for theatre and walked down that path while I also had a foot in sketch and improv in NYC. But I went full tilt into stand-up about five years ago. As far as giving myself some sort of “deadline,” the answer is no. At a certain point, I think you need to decide if you’re all-in but I never said, “I’m giving this a year and if I don’t have my own Netflix series by such-and-such a date, I’m out!” That’s not why you do it. Then you’re missing the thread. Or I’m just an emotional cutter. 😉

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a comic?
Maguire: I’m still figuring it out.

TrunkSpace: Is the approach you take now on stage different from the approach you took when you first started out? Is it one act that grew into itself or would you consider them two completely different acts?
Maguire: It is different – when I look back at tapes from when I first started to now, it’s wild. You don’t realize you’re growing when you’re in it. But I’m sure I’ll look back at videos of my sets now in about two years and say, “Well crap, that sucked.” It’s evolving. It’s not a totally different act. I like to think of it as Homer Simpson when he was on “The Tracy Ullman Show” to Homer Simpson now. You can tell the character is in there but it hasn’t reached maturation yet. That’s me. The Homer Simpson of comedy.

TrunkSpace: Is the neon “Open” sign in your brain always turned on, and by that we mean, are you always writing and on alert for new material?
Maguire: Much to my husband’s dismay, yes. It is always on. It’s always on the lookout. But really, stupid stuff just keeps happening to me. It’s hard to tell if it’s random or if my brain is creating scenarios at this point. It’s like the “Inception” of comedy.

TrunkSpace: How much work goes into a joke before it’s ready to be tested out in front of a new audience?
Maguire: It varies from joke to joke. Some things seem to come easier than others. I’ll try jokes that I’ve written hours before a show and they work. Some, I could spend days on and they still don’t feel like they’re there.

TrunkSpace: If a joke doesn’t seem to be working, how many chances do you give it in a live setting before you decide to rework it or move on from it altogether?
Maguire: It used to be if it didn’t work right out of the gate, I would cut and run. Now, I’m a lot more fearless and sometimes my jokes stay too long at the party. It’s almost like the pendulum has swung so far in the other direction and I’m digging my heels in a bit too long. It’s coming back down now. I’ll try something maybe five times now.

TrunkSpace: Is it possible to kill one night and bomb the next with essentially the same set, and if so, what do you chalk that up as?
Maguire: ABSOLUTELY. Audiences like different things and react differently. Also, my energy may vary from show to show. A lot of times, I find the second shows of the night to be the better ones, because I’m too tired to get in my own way. Over “efforting” and working too hard can be my Achilles’ heel sometimes. But energy and what a crowd chooses to connect with can vary wildly from night to night and show to show.

TrunkSpace: Does a receptive and willing audience fuel your fire of funny and help to put you on your game for the rest of your set?
Maguire: ANOTHER ABSOLUTELY. Comedy is a group participation sport. The more they react, the more I open up. There’s something to that whole collective consciousness thing.

TrunkSpace: What is your most memorable performance experience (good or bad!) that will stick with you for the rest of your career and why?
Maguire: The flops always teach you more than the wins. My first flop will stay with me forever. I was put on an All Stars show at Gotham when I was about two months into stand-up. I had five minutes. My first joke out of the gate landed with a thud and the remaining four minutes and 45 seconds lasted about 12 years. That’s what it felt like. These people looked like they wanted to skewer me. And I didn’t have enough in my arsenal at that point to pivot away. I had to step away from stand-up for about three months after that. But I came back stronger. I think the lesson is don’t let those moments stall you in your tracks. Now I have alligator skin and I don’t take the flops personally. I also never wore that same outfit on stage again because I am crazy superstitious. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: How do you handle hecklers? What approach do you take?
Maguire: Hecklers usually want to be part of the show. I acknowledge them (because ignoring them WILL NOT make them go away). I don’t say anything too harsh because that’s not my style. I talk to them just long enough to find a segue back into a bit and I never go back to them again. A lot of the times, clubs shut down the hecklers for you. So that’s a good thing. But if you’re not in a club, you need to be prepared to go to bat.

TrunkSpace: What are your thoughts on the stand-up landscape in 2018? Are you optimistic for the future of live comedy?
Maguire: I think the future looks bright for women! Thanks to the #metoo movement, I know a lot in the industry are turning their attention to female-driven comedies and voices. So that’s awesome. But by the same turn, I also feel like there’s a big comedy boom happening where everyone and their mom is getting a Netflix special. No really. I’m pretty sure my mother has one coming out this fall. So the landscape is getting oversaturated. I think it will level out. It’s like when someone lives in a town that the NY Times says is the “new Brooklyn,” then everyone moves out there and they build a crap ton of condos. The place gets overrun and people find a new place to hang. Everything ebbs and flows. And we’re kind of in a flood. But it will level out.

TrunkSpace: Finally, who do YOU find funny?
Maguire: I LOVE Patton Oswalt, Eddie Izzard, John Mulaney, Ryan Hamilton, and of course Carol Burnett. They’re all super smart comedians, totally left of center, and totally cool in their own skin.

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Laugh It Up

Brendan Krick

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Name: Brendan Krick

Website: www.brendankrick.com

Socials: Twitter

Why We’re Laughing: An everyman with a set that is as relatable as it is funny, Krick’s bits place the audience in the driver’s seat of the impending punchline to be, albeit with a slightly harder R rating than how most of us are probably used to living our lives.

TrunkSpace: Was comedy always in the cards? Were you a “funny” kid, even at an early age?
Krick: My parents would describe me less as a “funny” kid and more as having a “learning disability.” I made funny videos for the morning news as a teenager and wrote comedy sketches for the school talent show. Stand-up grew out of that.

TrunkSpace: When did you decide to pursue stand-up comedy as a career and did you make a plan for how you would attack things?
Krick: I realized stand-up was something anybody could attempt when I saw the movie “Funny People.” I found an open mic in Harrisburg, PA, then wasted four years performing about once a week with no plan. Once I moved to Philadelphia, I got more motivated and two years later I moved to LA.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a comic?
Krick: I’m definitely still finding it. I’m constantly throwing out old material and re-evaluating what kind of comic I am. (A good one, please book me.)

TrunkSpace: Is the approach you take now on stage different from the approach you took when you first started out? Is it one act that grew into itself or would you consider them two completely different acts?
Krick: When I started I would just kind of say a weird non sequitur to shock people. Now, I don’t want to shock people. I want people on board for whatever weird or dark thing is about to happen.

TrunkSpace: Is the neon “Open” sign in your brain always turned on, and by that we mean, are you always writing and on alert for new material?
Krick: I tweet a lot, so that helps stimulate my brain into a joke-writing space. Writing for The Hard Times has helped me feel comfortable forcing out rough material to polish later. I can produce on-demand reliably but there’s a lot of editing involved.

TrunkSpace: How much work goes into a joke before it’s ready to be tested out in front of a live audience?
Krick: Almost none. I won’t do new jokes for a paying crowd, but if I’m at an open mic I like to write on stage. If I spend too much time working out an idea in a notebook, I tend to spoil it.

TrunkSpace: If a joke doesn’t seem to be working, how many chances do you give it in a live setting before you decide to rework it or move on from it altogether?
Krick: Two or three times. If I can’t make the bit work after adding more context or framing it in a different way, I’ll drop it and pick it up again in a couple months. I have some bits I do all the time now that I had previously given up on.

TrunkSpace: Is it possible to kill one night and bomb the next with essentially the same set, and if so, what do you chalk that up as?
Krick: Definitely. This happened to me at a contest in Philadelphia. I advanced at the quarter finals with a dirty set. At the semi-finals, the crowd was not responding to dirty material and I failed to adapt to their response. To quote Bill Hicks, “There aren’t any bad crowds, just wrong choices.”

TrunkSpace: Does a receptive and willing audience fuel your fire of funny and help to put you on your game for the rest of your set?
Krick: If an audience is really feeling me, I’ll get excited and lean harder into my delivery. I can’t decide if that’s good or bad. Probably goes back to finding my voice.

TrunkSpace: What is your most memorable performance experience (good or bad!) that will stick with you for the rest of your career and why?
Krick: Last summer, I was going through a weird time in my life and I walked from one venue to another listening to “The Marshall Mathers LP” and I somehow wound up crying a little bit (very cool). I had the set of my life, and for that I will always thank Eminem, my spiritual king.

TrunkSpace: How do you handle hecklers? What approach do you take?
Krick: Hecklers want to be a part of the show, and I don’t like letting them. An epic heckler takedown will still give them that moment and possibly encourage them to keep interrupting.

TrunkSpace: What are your thoughts on the stand-up landscape in 2018? Are you optimistic for the future of live comedy?
Krick: I don’t like thinking about the stand-up landscape. I’m funnier than I was a year ago. That’s the only part of this I can control. Everyone who’s getting opportunities deserves them, and all the comedy coming out right now is great. I’m very agreeable. Please book me.

TrunkSpace: Finally, who do YOU find funny?
Krick: Shane Gillis. Look up Matt & Shane’s Secret Podcast.

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Laugh It Up

Kristen Lundberg

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Name: Kristen Lundberg

Website: www.kristensfunnyhair.com

Socials: Twitter/Instagram

Why We’re LaughingIf the acts of Judy Tenuta and Steven Wright got funky off stage, Lundberg’s classic approach with a contemporary delivery would arrive nine months later. It doesn’t require a two drink minimum to laugh yourself silly at one of her performances.

TrunkSpace: Was comedy always in the cards? Were you a “funny” kid, even at an early age?
Lundberg: My dad made an evil hissing noise when he laughed and it scared me, so I didn’t try and make him laugh, but yeah, I was a funny kid.

TrunkSpace: When did you decide to pursue stand-up comedy as a career and did you make a plan for how you would attack things?
Lundberg: I decided in late high school that I would be a comedian. I had a binder labeled “Plan A.” It was filled with all my sketch ideas that I would pursue as long as I didn’t get pregnant.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a comic?
Lundberg: It took me about two years of high school plus two years of Sinclair Community College and three more years at The Art Academy of Cincinnati to find and refine my voice.

TrunkSpace: Is the approach you take now on stage different from the approach you took when you first started out? Is it one act that grew into itself or would you consider them two completely different acts?
Lundberg: The act I was first doing got me kicked out of comedy clubs (and strip clubs). Now, sometimes they pay me! So yeah, they different.

TrunkSpace: Is the neon “Open” sign in your brain always turned on, and by that we mean, are you always writing and on alert for new material?
Lundberg: Yes, but I turn it off at bed time. At night my brain is cleaned like a host in “Westworld.”

TrunkSpace: How much work goes into a joke before it’s ready to be tested out in front of a live audience?
Lundberg: I write it about two or three times before doing an open mic.

TrunkSpace: If a joke doesn’t seem to be working, how many chances do you give it in a live setting before you decide to rework it or move on from it altogether?
Lundberg: It’s not really a matter of how many chances. It just depends if I feel there’s substance to the joke.

TrunkSpace: Is it possible to kill one night and bomb the next with essentially the same set, and if so, what do you chalk that up as?
Lundberg: I don’t worry unless the bombs begin to outnumber the kills. When that happens, I’ll usually cut my hair and buy a new vape or something.

TrunkSpace: Does a receptive and willing audience fuel your fire of funny and help to put you on your game for the rest of your set?
Lundberg: I hope the audience is willing….

TrunkSpace: What is your most memorable performance experience (good or bad!) that will stick with you for the rest of your career and why?
Lundberg: I had a fun set in Cincinnati where a crack head wandered on stage and took the microphone from me. They kicked him out. I had a good set.

TrunkSpace: How do you handle hecklers? What approach do you take?
Lundberg: It depends. If it’s an audition situation, I let the audience or house staff take care of it. If I’m just working a club somewhere, I’ll get to know them better by telling them to shut up.

TrunkSpace: What are your thoughts on the stand-up landscape in 2018? Are you optimistic for the future of live comedy?
Lundberg: Its a gold mine out here, bruh.

TrunkSpace: Finally, who do YOU find funny?
Lundberg: I think Eminem is funny.

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