Interview with Actors Stephen Tracey & Erica Anderson (PREY)

PREY played to rave reviews at the August 2018 Female Film Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Taking a quote from the director, Vivien Endicott- Douglas, who says it best:

“As women, we are predominantly conditioned to believe that we must sacrifice our own happiness and comfort for the sake of staying in a relationship. The relationship is paramount. It takes a great deal of will to be able to free ourselves from this reality and shift the paradigm. Prey is the beginning of one woman’s journey to come home to herself. We were inspired to document that first step, the realization that she cannot have the full life she wants, be the whole person that she knows she is capable of being if she is in attachment with either of the men she’s between.”

We wanted to show that moment of discovery, and the struggle leading up to it. Because this is a timely discussion and an important one. Especially as young women learn to navigate relationships as well as building their identity. And that sometimes the ones we feel we love the most are actually the ones holding us back from where we want to be.

We also wanted to make a film about a woman, written by a women and made by women. There’s such a need for female representation beyond the camera and we wanted to help promote young Canadian female film makers.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

The light bulb went on sometime during February of 2017. That’s when script meetings and the team building process began. We didn’t shoot until the beginning of June 2017. Which was an incredibly long night shoot. Started at 4:00pm and went all the way until 6:00 am. Don’t worry, craft was bountiful. And then post went on until about March 2018. So just over a year.

Many of our crew (pre and post production) are young film makers, and finding the time to access these budding artists with a lower budget provides obstacles because not only are they working on other projects but they also have non industry jobs to keep food on the table. So we had to find flexibility with our timeline. Which is just the reality of establishing artists.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

The audience at the Female Festival had such a colourful conversation/commentary about the piece that for us to pin hole it might be a disservice to the viewing experience. Part of our story telling was an emphasis on ambiguity and challenging of expectations.

But here are some themes to think about:

Personal awakening
Self discovery
Gentle empowerment

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

It for sure goes back to that earlier comment about people’s schedules. Had we a giant juicy budget, schedules would’ve made themselves more readily available but because of our circumstances there was more rigidity. And that had pushed our expected dates further.

All a learning experience as we continue to grow. The beauty is in seeing the completion of the project. From idea to product is pretty magical.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

It was really incredible to hear the audience react and be in the theatre to experience it firsthand. It was great to hear that so many people felt compelled to speak about the film and that it brought up conflicting opinions and discussion. It was especially encouraging to hear the women in the audience who immediately recognized the internal conflict within our protagonist.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

Prey was originally a full length theatrical play, written by Britney Tangedal for the 2014 graduating class of the National Theatre School of Canada. Both Erica Anderson and Stephen Tracey (the two leads) were also in that first production.

This particular scene comes near the end of the play and was always a highlight. There’s such a weight to it that is so universal and so human. It also had just the right amount of information to be a stand alone story giving it the ability to transfer from stage to screen.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

Erica- Under the Tuscan Sun. Guilty pleasure movie all the way. After watching it as a kid I painted a mural of sunflowers on my bedroom wall (thanks to my artistic mom for being so cool!) I think I’ve always been attracted to stories of women who do what they want. One day I’ll run away and renovate an old house surrounded by sunflowers. And also, Sandra Oh! She brings depth and humour to everything. She’s brilliant.

Stephen – Gone With The Wind. Grew up watching this movie over and over. Funny enough, it’s also about a woman caught between two men and more importantly about how this fiery woman steps outside of social norms into traditional male roles to save herself, her home and her family. In that order. It’s Scarlett O’Hara after all.

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

It’s an easy and efficient way to submit to festivals already known to you and to learn about festivals you hadn’t of before. Giving your film the optimal amount of opportunity for your project to be seen.

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

Erica- Again, in the not-so-gulty pleasures, anything Shania Twain. She practically raised me and i still break her out on a bad day. Currently though I have I Know A Place by Muna on repeat daily. I think the acoustic version is stunning.

Stephen- Unintentionally Brown Eyed Girl – because of any sort of family get together. I swear, it’s like they own nothing else. It’s their entire I tunes playlist. Intentionally, Nina Simone, all day every day.

10. What is next for you? A new film?

Erica- Catch her on screen in upcoming seasons of The Baroness Von Sketch Show (CBC) & Murdoch Mysteries (CBC). On stage at the GCTC in Lo (or Dear Mr. Wells) by Rose Napoli. And future personal films are in the dream and scheme phase but she’s excited to lift them off the page soon.

Stephen- Can be seen on CBC’s/Netflix’s Anne With An E season 2 coming September 23rd. He’s also in the process of writing his first feature.

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Interview with actress Linette Beaumont (THE PROWLER)

linette Beaumont 1.jpgLinette Beaumont was the winner of “Best Performance” in her short film THE PROWLER at the April 2017 Horror/Thriller Film Festival. It was an honor to chat with her about her role and what’s next for the talented actress:

Matthew Toffolo: Describe your character? How was the process in executing this performance?

Linette Beaumont: Eva is a tormented character, who is struggling with heart break after her husband has had an affair and left her. Eva is unable to let go and finds herself in a very dark place, manipulating her daughter into being instrumental in something that will change their lives forever.

As an actor I believe I have a responsibility to the character that I am playing, it’s my job to tell my characters story without judgement.

I tried to do that, and to be as honest to Eva (my character) as I could, and act exactly what was on the page.

How did you become attached to this project?

Tim Kent ( the director ) and I had worked together beforehand at Pinewood Studios. We discussed the possibility of doing a film together.

Tim introduced me to Daniella Gonella (our wonderful producer) at DG Productions. We then all had a meeting in Soho London with the very talented writer Matthew Arlidge, who had worked in television for many years and had written for one of my favorite BBC drama series Silent Witness. Matthew had also recently launched his bestselling crime debut Eeny Meeny. He agreed to write a short film specifically for me which I was delighted about and very flattered.

We then worked extremely hard to make it happen.

Coincidentally, James Friend BSC, (director of photography) BAFTA award winning, Rillington Place, who had just shot Matthew’s episodes of Silent Witness agreed to shoot the film.
An amazing team.

How would you describe your short film in two words!

Psychological thriller!

What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

Time restraints were challenging. We used very high-end cameras and lens from Movitech at Pinewood Studios. The end result is fantastic, but when you use such high-end equipment things move very slowly. It takes 3-4 people to move everything. Also the interiors were shot in a cottage, so it was very tight for space.

Also Christmas! Kate Plantin CDG (casting director) who was amazing, was phoning agents to confirm actors when they had closed for Christmas, it was crazy.

And Budget, you never have enough money!

What were your initial reactions when watching the Toronto audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

Of course as an actor, I was very happy to hear they liked the acting! I smiled at the comment regarding the ‘leaves on the trees’ we shot the film during winter, just after Christmas, and we did have leaves on the trees!

Feedback is great, and it’s important. I think it is always very interesting to hear feedback from people, industry and non industry professionals.

I think film is an observer of life. Everybody loves to watch a film. But we all feel so differently about what we see when we watch a film. It was interesting listening to what they had to say, how an idea resonated, or how the film made them feel. For me film making is magic, full of twists and turns, highs and lows, to quote the film director Danny Boyle, ‘to be a filmmaker, you have to be relentless. You have to be psychotic in your desire to do something and keep working. People always like the easy route. You can’t, you have to push very hard to get something unusual, something different to stand out.’

WATCH the Audience FEEDBACK Video of THE PROWLER:

What film have you seen the most in your life?

Very difficult question as I have films for different moods! But I would say these films are in my top ten of most watched.

The Godfather and Deer Hunter, Star Wars. Street Car Named Desire and Annie Hall, Some Like It Hot, Singing in the rain. Cinderella, and the Fox and the Hound.

What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

Clair de Lune- Debussy its the first thing I learnt on the piano, and reminds me of so much. But I also love Stevie Wonder.

What is next for you? A new film?

Yes I’m working with writer-director Daniel Yost (co-writer Drugstore Cowboy) co-writing and playing the lead role in Melody’s Tune, a project where I will play both the negligent mother of a homeless nine-year-old and the girl’s imaginary good mother. “ I can’t wait!

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 2 times a month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Veteran Actor Michael Flynn (The Actors Workshop)

Michael_Flynn.jpgActing was Michael Flynn’s second choice. Playing second base for the NY Yankees was his first. He soon learned that the Yankees would never come calling – then came the acting bug. An active Mormon, Michael served his mission in France with Mitt Romney of all people!

It was a pleasure chatting with Michael about his acting career and his new job as an acting teacher.

Matthew Toffolo: Tell us about the The Actors Workshop http://www.theactorsworkshop.biz/?

Michael Flynn: I started the Actors Workshop a few years ago because I enjoy working with actors. It was also my impression that a lot of actors with whom I was working we’re making some fundamental mistakes. Again, just my impression.

As I started working with actors I got a great deal of positive feedback. So I took my workshop to the next level and opened my own studio in Salt Lake City.

MT: What makes a great acting teacher?

MF: Wow. A great acting teacher? I think that is akin to asking what makes a great painter? A great teacher? Great singer?

I suppose, In my opinion, passion plays into it. Let me say upfront that I would never classify myself as a great acting teacher. I have my own methods. I am very passionate about the process. But I also believe that each actor should find his or her own mentor. His or her own teacher.

I don’t believe that there is one great acting teaching method out there. There are many methods that work for many actors. But through it all, I do believe that a great acting teacher needs to have passion for the process, have a great deal of appreciation and affection for the actors who join him or her in the studio.

MT: What should an actor look for in an acting teacher?

MF: Find a teacher or mentor who inspires them. Who is honest with them. Someone who understands the business on a profound level. Someone who can discuss agents, Unions, and someone who has a very specific approach to working with actors.

An actor should find a teacher who is willing to be brutally honest with him. I think one of the advantages of having an acting coach or mentor is that through the process of working with the coach an actor can determine if he or she is really cut out for this business.

It is important to remember that the entertainment business does not need you. It does not need me. Movies will be made regardless of any one person’s involvement. The movie business does not need us. It is doing just fine without us. Speaking on an individual basis of course.

So then the question becomes does the individual actor need the movie business? And is that particular actor qualified to work in the movie business? Does he or she have the talent to compete? A lot of these questions can be answered by finding the right acting teacher.

MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most in your life?

MF: I must say that I don’t watch a lot of movies over and over again. I have of course seen quite a few films many, many times. I think the film that I most enjoy going back and watching again and again is William Goldman’s The Lion in Winter. I believe it came out in 1968. Starring Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn. It is one of Anthony Hopkins earliest films. A brilliant script. Brilliant acting. Great story based somewhat loosely on history. O’Toole and Hepburn were up for Oscars. Hepburn won. Check it out.

MT: What has been your most favorite role that you have played?

MF: My favorite role. Well… I come from a stage background and I must say that my favorite roles have been on stage. I have been very fortunate to play some iconic rules in musical theater. Arthur in Camelot. John Adams in 1776. Harold Hill in The Music Man. Those are some of my favorites. In film, as I look back, the first film I did left an impression. Footloose. Enjoyed working with Kevin Bacon, but I especially loved working with the fabulous director Herb Ross. Funny story from Footloose. I played a cop and was accompanied by another cop in a scene where we pulled Bacon out of his VW Bug and gave him a bad time. The other cop, Russ McGinn, was about 6’ 7”. I’m only 5’ 8”. Herb kept getting our names mixed up. Finally started calling us by our correct name. During a break I saw two strips of white tape on the side of the camera. “Russ – tall”. “Michael – less tall”. I got a kick out of that.

MT: What type of role would you like to play that you haven’t played in yet?

MF: For some reason, that I cannot quite understand, I would like to play a general or commanding officer in a war film. I was scheduled to play the role of George Patton in a film. The film was put on hold and has never come to fruition. I loved the script and the story and character. That would’ve been a blast. Another role on my bucket list is to conduct a fabulous orchestra/choir.

MT: I direct screenplay table readings every single week and meet and work with over 300-400 actors every given year. I’ve learned a lot about actors and I feel that the great ones have learned how to stay in their lane. What I mean by that is any successful actor is good at doing one or two things and they keep doing the same roles over and over – but the camera lens, makeup, genre, and story tones just change. So it appears to the audience that they are doing something distinctly different, but in reality they are just staying in their lane. The ones who try to have too much range, eventually fail. Overall, would you agree or disagree with my assessment? Especially for young actors? Get better at what you’re really good at and stop trying to be/do something you’re not.

MF: Yes, for the most part I really agree with that. I’m a firm believer, and I teach this in my workshop, that every role we are asked to play is inside of us somewhere. So, we draw on our own personal experiences for any role that we are asked to play.

I also tell actors that they are going to be hired to be them. I look them square in the eyes and say you are going to be hired to be you. Not someone else. You simply need to find the character inside of you. And let the character out. Let that aspect of you come to the surface.

I remind actors that we have all said, after doing something that seemed completely out of character for us, that whatever you did that you did not like, whatever you did that seemed hurtful to someone, hurtful to yourself, whatever negative thing you did about which you are really embarrassed or sorry – you have to understand that that is you. We sometimes say after doing something really stupid or hurtful or mean “Wow that’s not me”. Actually, it is you. You did it. Nobody forced you to do it. You did it. It was your choice.

I love the word “choice”. I use it all the time when working with actors. I will often say make a different choice. But I think it’s important to understand that all of our choices come from within us. So yes, I believe that an actor should really understand his or her own talents. Who he or she really is. I like the quote of Ryan Gosling: “All my characters are me… I relate to these characters because aspects of their personality are like me. And I just turn up the part of myself that are them and turn down the parts that aren’t”.

MT: What advice do you have for an actor who has out grown their agent and must try to seek new representation?

MF: I recently switched agents. I had been with my previous agent for quite a long time. I was very good friends with my agent. But, I felt that I needed to be handled by someone else. So I went to an agency that I thought was more professional. One that would further my career. I would say if you feel like you have outgrown your agent just be honest about it. Be upfront about it. It would probably be helpful to have the confidence that you can actually get another agent before you leave your current agent; sort of like having another job lined up before you quit your current job.

MT: What advice do you have for an actor who is just starting out? Do as much work as you can no matter how low-budget or sketchy it seems?

MF: Sure, I tell actors go do a play. Go do a low budget independent film. Do a student film. Do whatever you can to hone your skills. But I also tell actors who are just starting out, make sure this is the business for you! Because this business is not for everybody.

And there are many, many talented actors who will never work in this business. For a variety of reasons. Maybe they don’t know how to audition. Maybe they’re really good but just not good enough. So when an actor is just starting out I always tell them the first thing you should figure out is if you like this business and does this business like you?

The entertainment field is like anything else. It looks different from the inside than it does from the outside. And once you jump in the pool and get a good look at it from the inside you may discover that it’s not really for you. And of course, it is better to find that out early on rather than later on.

MT: What is your secret to being a working actor for so many years?

MF: My secret? Persistence. I never gave up. And I am not saying in any way shape or form that I have realized all my dreams and aspirations in the entertainment field. No. There’re still many things I hope to accomplish. And I do not feel like I have had some sort of stellar career. I have managed to support myself and enjoy the bumpy, up-and-down ride.

It hasn’t always been easy. But, I think the real secret is you have to be passionate about it. And you flat out cannot give up. Some actors go into it with a ”backup plan”. My philosophy has always been that if you have a backup plan your backup plan will end up being your life. If there’s something on which you can fall back eventually you will fall back.

But if you don’t have a backup plan, if you just throw yourself in the deep end you have to learn to swim. And remember if you don’t have talent, if you don’t have the gift, the magic, the drive, you probably won’t make it in this business. And that’s okay. Like I said earlier, this business does not need you. It will do just fine without you. The real question is, do you need this business?

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Stunt Performer/Actress Kayla Adams (Deadpool, Oblivion)

It was fun to chat with Kayla Adams, a definite artist on the rise. She gives us the insight on being a female stunt performer on Hollywood productions and moving to working as an actress (who can also do her own stunts!)

Go to www.kaylaadams.co and follow her on twitter @sugarKAYne

kayla_photo.jpgMatthew Toffolo: Oblivion was your first credited film? Quite the introduction: working on a large budget Hollywood film. How did you get initially hired to work on that film? How was the Tom Cruise experience?

Kayla Adams: Oblivion was my first experience on a feature film. I had booked commercials prior to Oblivion, but this was my first time working on a feature for the run of the show. I was like a sponge, soaking everything up. Initially I was hired as the Stunt Department Assistant which provided me with so much inside knowledge of the filmmaking process. As the project went on, the Stunt Coordinators, Robert Alonzo and Joe Box, knew I was very athletic and trained in acting so they threw me into a stunt performing spot that I was physically capable doing. It was a week in New Orleans in an old, leaky, basically condemned power plant. We had to shut down one day due to flooding! And that’s how I got my SAG card! Working with Tom is like being greatly inspired and challenged all at once. His level of dedication, professionalism and creativity is infectious and can only drive you to be the same. The film sets are some of the tightest run sets I’ve worked on, simply because efficiency is the only option when working with Tom. Outside of all the work, he’s truly a kind, welcoming man. Each time I’ve seen him since Oblivion he always welcomes me with a big hug and expresses genuine interest in you. I hope for the day to work on set as an actor with Tom.

PHOTO: Kayla with Tom Cruise, and Stunt Coordinator Robert Alonzo:

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Matthew: How did you get into the stunt game? Did you take an extensive course(s)? How much time do you spend weekly working on your craft?

Kayla: I got into stunts through Oblivion. I grew up doing gymnastics, so strength and flexibility has been in my body since I was a kid. I didn’t pursue stunts as much as I pursued acting; However sometimes the universe gives you a path that you don’t plan for. I train in Martial Arts with Richard Alonzo who is a 3rd degree black belt and is an amazing teacher. Since my last stunt performing gig on Deadpool I have decided to pour my energies back into acting. Trying to excel in stunts and acting is nearly impossible as both crafts require a large amount time. That’s not to say I don’t stay physically fit and prepared for stunt roles, I just don’t actively pursue it as much anymore.

Matthew: As of this interview, the film “Deadpool” is out in theaters. The first blockbuster of 2016. How was that experience? Was it a hush-hush set?

Kayla: Deadpool. That was one heck of an experience. I am so grateful to be apart of that project. There was so many moments when I had to hold back laughter between the banter with TJ Miller and Ryan Reynolds characters. The bar fight scene where I played the waitress, Kelly, was one of those moments. TJ kept improving new lines and I was trying my hardest not to crack up each time. Working with the director, Tim Miller, and the writers, Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, was an honour. They are so talented and dedicated to their work, yet stay so humble and make coming to work each day a pleasure.

Again, I worked on it for the run of the show so the amount of time and passion put into this film was huge. Being apart of the cast and crew for that many months developments a bond and comfortability that you just don’t get when you walk on as a day player. The set etiquette with privacy and keeping things quiet was similar to many big budget films I’ve worked on. However there was one particular paparazzi that continually followed us around snapping photos of Ryan in the red suit. But I hate to break it to the paps, it was most likely our stunt double in the same suit!

PHOTO: Kayla on set on Deadpool:

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Matthew: You are also an actor (without the stunts). Is acting where you see your future in Hollywood?

Kayla:  I can say a line or two 😉 Yes acting is definitely where my future is. I just finished shooting a feature film called HEX where I play a character who is a super talented skydiver about to stumble into a stream of bad luck. Keep your eyes open for that project! Over the past few years, my passion and love for the craft and the business has really developed and become my main focus.

Matthew: What’s it like being a female in the “boys” club of the stunt performers on set?

Kayla: Haha…well… Speaking only for myself, I love it! I’m a bit of a tomboy myself so it can be fun hanging out with a bunch of guys all day. I think sometimes they are shocked when they hear me crack jokes with them, but in reality I’ve been very lucky to work with some of the best stunt performers in the business and they are all very respectful and kind hearted people. I am lucky to be apart of the boys club 🙂

Matthew: We are seeing a lot more female driven action/thriller films being produced in Hollywood. One would assume that is good for you because they obviously need female stunt performers. Is the future bright for female stunt performers like yourself?

Kayla: There’s a bright future for myself being the Female lead in these action thriller films! That would be my dream role. I love strong, badass female characters with heart. And the bonus is I could do most of my own stunts. Thats if the studio lets me 😉

Matthew: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most in your life?

Kayla: It tends to vary depending on what I’m feeling at that time in my life. The movies I gravitate towards generally mirror something I’m going through or needing to see. Generally speaking, I love the film “It’s Complicated” with Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin.

Matthew: “The Woods” is another film you worked on that is also coming out in 2016. Can you give us a sneak peak of what to expect? What was your role on that film?

Kayla: The Woods was a super creepy set! They built the cabin inside a sound stage and it felt so real. The stunt coordinator, Loyd Bateman, called me in to double the lead actress. It was a sequence in the cabin and involved a lot of blood! I don’t think I can say much else, other than IT’S GOING TO BE SCARY!!

Matthew: Have you had any minor or major injuries working as a stunt performer?

Kayla: Thankfully no.

Matthew: What’s the biggest high risk stunt you’ve performed to date?

Kayla: Oddly enough, some of the smallest stunts can become high risk. Not to minimize the risk of any stunt at any level, but there is always a large amount of risk involved. I haven’t had to perform something where I felt it was out of my ability that could be deemed as “high risk.” I’ve been selective with that as acting is my main focus now and that plays a huge part when taking stunt jobs.

Matthew: Do you have a stunt that you love to perform in a movie that you haven’t performed yet?

Kayla: DRIVING/CAR CHASE SEQUENCE!

PHOTO: Kayla performing Stunts on set:

kayla_stunts

 

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Actor James Wallis (Shakespeare BASH’d)

I first met James Wallis 5 years ago when he performed at one of our Screenplay Festival events when we were working at the National Film Board of Canada. Right away you could tell he was an actor on the rise as he always served the story he was performing in while also bringing an original and unique take. That is something that is very rare to see in an actor.

I was happy to sit down with James as he’s preparing to play Hamlet at the Monarch Tavern in downtown Toronto, Canada from February 2-7 2016. Go to http://www.shakespearebashd.com/hamlet.html for more information.

James also serves as the Artistic Director for the successful theatre company Shakespeare BASH’d.

shakespeare_basdh Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you and your team to start the Shakespeare BASH’d company?

James Wallis: For me I was interested in doing Shakespeare’s plays very simply, with a bare bones approach to the work and making sure that the plays are accessible, fun, and clear. I also felt that I knew a ton of great actors who were not getting the opportunity to do great work with Shakespeare and I wanted to give them that chance.

It’s grown over the years, of course, but it’s always been about the work. The plays and the text and the actor. It’s a simple relationship that the stage highlights very well.

Matthew: You’re set to play HAMLET in your upcoming production. The who’s who of actors have performed the role. The list is too long to name. What makes you want to tackle this iconic role?

James: It’s a great chance, especially with the company that I have with me on this Hamlet. It’s a generous part, by that I mean it gives you a lot of text to experience and play with. He’s a hard character, of course, because of the depth of his emotional life but also because Shakespeare has made the character very ambiguous. He doesn’t give you a clear answer to any question, which is lovely and an amazing opportunity for any actor.

Matthew: How do you make your performance of HAMLET unique?

James: I’m striving for clarity. What is Hamlet saying? And what is he trying to do to the other characters in the play and/or the audience?

Also I don’t think that many short, stout, funny men have played Hamlet and I wonder why. At times, he’s very funny and at times he’s very emotional. Regardless, he’s working through everything. Trying to decide what to do. I don’t think he wants to hurt anyone but circumstances don’t allow him to be passive.

Matthew: What actor(s) would you love to perform with as you move forward in your career?

I would love to work with Graham Abbey or Jonathan Goad. I have admired their work for many years. They are fantastic Shakespeare actors. Also, I would love to work with Maev Beatty again, she’s amazing.

In a dream world, probably somebody like Gary Oldman or Ian McKellen.

Matthew: You’ve performed at our screenplay festival a few times and there was an exchange between the two of us way back in 2011 that I’ll always remember. You performed in a supporting role in a TV Pilot reading and the actor assigned to the lead role had a lot of trouble. It was a tough role and I was chatting with you, your agent, and the rest of the cast afterwards about it. I was in mid-sentence and all of a sudden you interrupted me and stated “I would of nailed that role without an issue!” I was taken aback because you weren’t arrogant or cocky about it, but just confident and so assured of your ability. I believed you right away. I told myself that I should keep an eye on this guy James Wallis. Do you remember this exchange? And as an actor what’s the difference between confidence and arrogance?

James: I don’t remember that specifically, but I wouldn’t put that past me ever to do that. I always say that as artists (whatever your discipline) you need a thick skin. As an actor, you are constantly rejected and that’s part of the business. You need that thick skin to know that you have the ability to do whatever is asked of you. That’s very important, emotionally, it will keep you rolling.

To me, confidence is knowing that you can do it. Arrogance is thinking you’re entitled to it. There’s a difference and it’s about what you bring to the table. You can be confident and collaborative. Arrogance is something about you and only you.

Matthew: What movie have you seen the most in your life?

James: That’s a tough one. Shawshank Redemption probably. Or Father of the Bride, the Steve Martin version. I love that freakin’ movie.

Matthew: What’s the key difference between working on stage to working on film/TV?

James: Theatre is more about the rehearsal period. Your building something very specific that needs to be alive every night. Film is more immediate and you need to be ready to go at the drop of a hat. Film is also more technical. Eye line, movement of head and such.

Of course, film is much smaller but with that comes a determined specificity.

Both are fun. I’ve done more theatre but film is always a treat.

Matthew: Do you have an acting mentor?

James: I love working with Ian Watson, he’s a Shakespeare teacher. He’s taught me a lot about everything to do with Shakespeare.

Matthew: Where did you grow up and why did you decide to become an actor?

James: I grew up in Newmarket. It started simply: I liked this girl who was in the musical, so I decided to join up to spend more time with her. From there I just fell in love with the theatre. I liked the people, I liked how hard the work was and I liked what theatre could accomplish.

Matthew: Besides acting, what else are you passionate about?

James: Theatre in general. I also am very interested in reading and non fiction books. Plus documentaries. I would love to do one one day. I also love and am very passionate about beer.

Matthew: What is the next Shakespeare role/play that you will tackle?

James: I’m going to be assistant directing Macbeth at the Stratford Festival this coming season, so that’s where I’m off to after Hamlet. Shakespeare BASH’d is also beginning our next season with our final production at the Toronto Fringe Festival at the Victory Café. We are doing The Comedy of Errors, which will be in July. I will have a small role in that but from there we have a lot of thoughts about what is next. I would say that I want to play Richard III at some point.

Matthew: What have you learned the most being an Artistic Director for your Theatre company?

James: It takes hard work and endless patience. You need to love what you do and know why you are doing it. Plus, you need people who will work hard with you. I have an amazing group of people who help me, especially my wife Julia, who works harder than I do.

Matthew: Where do you see your company growing in the next 5 years?

James: I hope to start doing plays from Shakespeare’s contemporaries. I would love to do repertory, with two plays by Shakespeare at once. I would also like to be doing Shakespeare in schools, teaching kids the possibilities of Shakespeare on stage..

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you and your team to start the Shakespeare BASH’d company?

James Wallis: For me I was interested in doing Shakespeare’s plays very simply, with a bare bones approach to the work and making sure that the plays are accessible, fun, and clear. I also felt that I knew a ton of great actors who were not getting the opportunity to do great work with Shakespeare and I wanted to give them that chance.

It’s grown over the years, of course, but it’s always been about the work. The plays and the text and the actor. It’s a simple relationship that the stage highlights very well.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Fesival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with actor Charley Scalies (The Wire, The Sopranos)

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I recently chatted with veteran actor Charley Scalies on his career and where he’s headed next. Trivia question: How many actors have appeared in both The Wire and The Sopranos? (answer at bottom of interview)

Matthew Toffolo: You have acted on two iconic shows – The Wire and The Sopranos. How does it feel to know that your performances will be watched for generations to come?

Charlie Scalies: Humbling, very humbling. But the thing that really makes me smile is knowing my great grandkids, and beyond, will get to see what Poppi looked and sounded like.

Matthew: You worked on Season 2 of The Wire. A terrific season about the world of Unions and the decline of the middle-class in our society. It’s personally my favorite season. Did you expect The Wire to be so iconic even 13 years after you filmed your season?

Charlie: During filming, we hoped it would be nominated for an Emmy, especially when one reviewer said he couldn’t catch any of us acting. Highest praise. As for the “stevedores”, we had no doubt since we all hung out together just like a brotherhood on the docks. But David Simon, the show’s creator, felt its ratings were not high enough to even be considered. Of course, he was right.

Not until later, when the show was called out as being one of the ten best written TV shows of all time, did we came to realize that we might have been a part of a show that would not only be watched, over and over, but studied.

In 2014, I received an invitation from my alma mater, St. Joseph’s University, to speak to members of the Richard Johnson Center for Anti-Violence about my experiences on the series. I was gob-smacked to learn they were studying “The Wire” for its sociological implications!

Matthew: The Sopranos was already established as one of the greatest TV shows of all-time when you appeared in Tony’s dream in season 5 as Coach Molinaro. I’ve talked to a few actors who’ve appeared on the show and all of them have said how intense the set was, albeit in a good way. How many days did you work on the show and what do you remember most about those days?

Charlie: I appeared in only one scene in the “Test Dream” episode. It was just James (Jim) Gandolfini and me. The finished version lasts about 3 ½ minutes. We began at noon and wrapped at midnight. I believe there were around 8 to 10 different set-ups which, alone, would account for 5 to 6 hours. (Acting for film/TV is about 85% waiting, 14% eating and 1% working.) I wouldn’t describe the set as intense but it was very business-like, as is the norm based on my experience.

When Jim arrived on set, we ran lines. Usually, actors simply recite them; they don’t act them. I do not. I try to give it the same read as I do when cameras are rolling. Since I had the first line, I bellowed “I know you’re there Soprano! Well come on! You’re gonna do it, do it!” Jim was a bit startled but then smiled. If there was any tension or doubt in his mind, it must have been dispelled.

We didn’t read the whole scene. I don’t recall why. I approached him privately and asked if he had the opportunity to read all of it. He had not. Without comment, I pointed to his final line which, in my opinion, was beyond lame. He thanked me and had it changed. (I don’t think I am permitted to tell you what it was.)
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When we were finished, I asked for a photo and he graciously consented.

That smile is the real guy. I like to believe that his last thought was one of sadness that his young son had to witness his father’s death.

Matthew: What is your best memory of working with James Gandolfini?

Charlie: First a little background. The Coach was Tony’s high school football coach: the only man, beside his father, that Tony both feared and respected. In the dream, the Coach represents Tony’s conscience and he is coming to silence it.

Though this may be trite, I don’t know how to put it any better. He gave me everything I needed and I tried to do the same. When he first appeared in my doorway, it was Tony Soprano, not Jim Gandolfini. And I wasn’t Charley Scalies, I was Coach Molinaro. I spoke to him as I would my own son and he answered accordingly. At no time did I feel either of us was acting. It was that easy. He was a pro and I like to think I am, too.

As an aside, I did learn a valuable lesson, much to my embarrassment.

I had a line “You had all the perquisites to be a leader on the field of sport.” What I should have done –other than keep my trap shut – was to point to the word “perquisites” and asked “Is that right?” No. Mr. English Major had to show off his language acumen with, “That’s not the right word. It should be “prerequisites”. The response came back, “The word is correct. Remember whose dream this is.”

Tail between the legs moments are quite effective at bowing one’s head.

Matthew: You jumped back into the acting world 20 years after working a “regular job”. What regular job did you work?

Charlie: I was Director of Sales and Contracts Management covering several divisions of a conglomerate and left to form my own consulting firm.

Matthew: What motivated you to get back into the acting world after so long?

Charlie: During my high school and college years, while South Philly was producing the likes of Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, Chubby Checker and Fabian, a friend and I formed the stand-up comedy act and played every Beef and Beer we could find. Like every other comedy duo of the time, we patterned our act after Martin and Lewis. Dr. Stephen R. Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People”, would call that “Benchmarking Best Practices”. Einstein would call it research. We called it stealing.

I also got involved in some high school and college productions until, between sophomore and junior years at St. Joes, I was struck by lightning.

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I met Angeline, a dark haired beauty from North Philly and, within a matter of weeks, the nesting instinct kicked in. Shortly after graduation, I took a “real job”, married my Angeline, and together we set out to happily create and raise five children. In the meantime, the spot went out and the curtain came down on my acting “career”. At the time, I didn’t know it was only Act One.

Act Two. Fast forward to 1991. Because I purposefully limited the range of my consulting to my immediate area, I was no longer required to travel so I was home every night: not a long trip – my office was adjacent to the family room. The extra time allowed me to go back to some theater work. It ranged from parish shows to community theater to dinner theater. I was Nicely Johnson in Guys and Dolls, Billy Flynn in Chicago and my favorite, The Cowardly Lion in Wizard of Oz, where we got to perform the original movie score before 400 Hispanic children, between the ages of 5 and 9, none of whom could speak English. It was the greatest, most responsive audience of my life. After the show, we went among them – in costume – and they squealed and climbed all over us. The Tin Man said, “If I die now, I’d be fulfilled” I said, “Me too, but I hope God isn’t listening.”

I also got to bring my Angeline on stage where we performed a two person, one act play called, “American Coffee” by Victor Bumbalo. She was petrified but did a marvelous job!

How did I get her to consent? Simple, I said “I have changed hundreds of diapers, the least you can do is act with me.” I learned guilt from my mother.

Act Three. Tony Scipione was a high school and college classmate and a groom at our wedding. Tony was an even bigger Broadway “freak” than I. Shortly after Tony married Dianne, they decided to move to New York so he could pursue an acting career. Almost thirty years later they returned to Philly where Tony and a partner, Rodney Robb, founded “The Actor’s Center”. When I visited, I told him about my community theater dalliances. What followed was pretty much like this.

“Why don’t you turn pro?”

“I don’t know how to do that.”

”I’ll cast you in a few of our shows. Rodney’s wife, Edie, is a Talent Manager. She’ll see you, she’ll love you, she’ll send you on additions.”

And that is how it began.

Matthew: You have 5 kids. What’s the secret to being a good father?

Charlie: 1. Love their mother.

2. Spend as much time with them as you possibly can. Your work may come first but your hobbies come last.

3. Teach them to respect themselves and others and to work hard for what they want.

4. Listen to them. Don’t be their judge or their critic, be their teacher. Loudly applaud every success. Correct them quietly and privately. Hug them – a lot.

5. Your job as a father is to ultimately make them self-sufficient, i.e. not need you. When you hear, “Don’t worry about this Pop, I got it” and you believe them, you can be pretty sure your job is over.

Matthew: What haven’t you accomplished yet that you need to accomplish in the TV/movie world?

Charlie: I have written the story that I wanted to write. When I read it, and I often do, it makes me remember, smile and laugh – yes at my own jokes. That one is for me, my soul. If it doesn’t get produced, that’s OK. Joe Stefano knows I did it.

From a business perspective, I would like someone with expertise in the business and with adequate funds to turn it into a producible film. One of those folks might spark to the story and decide it needs wholesale changes. I am a business person at heart and I always bow to the one who puts his/her money on the line.

Matthew: If you could work with one director that you haven’t worked with yet, who would that be?

Charlie: That’s tough. I had the privilege of working with Terry Gilliam, who gave me the best direction I ever received. “I want you to act strange, but I don’t know that that means.”

And working with Barry Levinson was akin to getting a PhD in comedic acting.

Since you probably guessed I love comedy and larger than life characters who get to say outrageous things, I’d have to go with Danny DeVito (or Penny Marshall as a very close second)

Matthew: Who is your personal favorite actor of all-time?

Charlie: That’s like asking, “Who is your favorite child?” While I tell each of my five children that he/she is my favorite, you’re probably not going to let me get away with that here.

As a movie/TV fan I have many. But as an actor, there is only one: an actor who can read a line in ways I could never imagine. Christopher Walken. And I never caught him acting.

Matthew: What advice do you have for actors trying to make it in the industry?

Don’t expect that what happened to me will also happen to you.

Charlie: Treat it like your job, your business. Full time. No screwing around. Otherwise, it’s just a hobby.

Plan. Do. Check, Adjust.

· Make a plan with financial needs, goals and a timetable (with the help of your manager or agent).

· Follow the plan (Do it)- Toughen your skin. You are going to hear NO a lot more than YES

· Check/measure your progress against your timetable

· Adjust your Plan if you are not on target to achieve your goals

Break a leg

Trivia question answer: 6 (actors John Doman, Michael K. Williams, J.D. Williams, Brian Anthony Wilson, Joey Perillo, and CHARLEY SCALIES)