June Spotlight: Bri Smith

Posted on June 4, 2021 in Spotlight
Bri giving sass, around age 4

Can you tell us about your childhood and where you grew up?
I was born in a small suburb of Alabama and lived there until I was about 8. I thought my childhood was pretty normal until I moved to California and discovered most kids didn’t go to a horse camp every summer where the kids fell off their horses so regularly that the camp owner had turned it into a drinking game. When someone fell, he’d chug a beer and stick the empty can onto a nearby branch to the point where the property looked like a forest of Bud Light trees. Needless to say, when we moved to Mission Viejo, it was a different kind of a vibe. My accent began to fade, but I was still this outgoing class clown who dreamed of being on the big screen.

What made you want to get into acting?
When I was growing up, watching movies were a huge part of my life. I’d spend hours fantasizing about being apart of something so cool. My favorites were “Indiana Jones” and “Airplane!” because I was excited by adventure but also loved absurd comedies. I always performed in plays as a kid and even wrote one that was put on at my middle school. I continued taking acting classes throughout high school, so when I went to college, I knew this was my passion and what I was going to pursue.

Goofing off in the ball pit as a kid

What were some of your first experiences in performance?
In the 4th grade I remember really wanting to be apart of my school’s talent show. I didn’t know what to do for the audition though, so I sang an Avril Lavigne song and… it didn’t go well. Basically, I’m not a singer. I blame Avril. The next year in the 5th grade, I got asked to host the show! Which was exciting, but I still wasn’t an act in the show itself. Finally, in the 6th grade, my last year of elementary school, I wrote a comedy skit and asked my friends to be in it with me. It was about popular girls getting beat out by nerdy girls at their school’s cheerleader tryouts (how original, Bri). The skit was the show’s closer though and ended up being a huge success – the audience thought it was hilarious! Suffice to say I knew I found something I was good at.

How did you land the Production Assistant jobs on Lethal Weapon and Switched at Birth?
When I moved to LA, I basically had zero connections. The phrase “it’s all about who you know” didn’t really make sense to me until I was in the heat of everything. What they don’t tell you is that connections don’t always have to mean something strictly transactional, and they can just be the friends you make along the way. That’s how I landed my first PA gig. Granted, I went to film school for a bit and had a resume with related experience, but you get the idea. From there, I continued to make connections on TV shows I worked on which allowed me to get even more work, even as an actor!

One of the middle school plays Bri was in, circa 2008

Were those beneficial experiences as an actor?
Absolutely. You can take all the acting classes in the world, but if you don’t know how a set operates, who’s who, or that you have marks on the ground you have to hit, you could fall flat on your face when you get there. Or potentially piss a lot of people off. Those experiences gave me a huge advantage on set because I knew the lingo, and I could read between the lines and hit my marks when it mattered most. It gave me confidence and familiarity, so all I had left to do was act.

Bri’s first major role on a show produced by Khloe Kardashian

What was your first major acting gig?
My first major acting gig was a role on an Investigation Discovery show called “Twisted Sisters” which was Executive Produced by Khloe Kardashian. I played an evil husband-killing sister and got to spend a couple of days filming out on a beautiful property near Disney Ranch. It was on cable TV, so it counts!

Tell us about Louey & Bri. How did this project come to be?
I actually met Luis Guzman when I was working on the set of Code Black. We quickly became friends, going salsa dancing on weekends and having potlucks. Luis had brought up the idea of doing a show together a couple of times, but I didn’t take him seriously because we were always joking around. Then one day we were driving back from a friend’s house and he brought it up again and I realized he actually was being serious. Thus “Louey & Bri TV” was born! We really wanted to stay true to the type of comedy we both liked and knew a web series would be a perfect format for it. We’d chat about ideas, I’d go off and write the scripts, then we’d meet up over lunch and he’d give me notes as we discussed even more ideas. The whole experience was exciting and I’m so happy with the way the show turned out.

Still from Louey & Bri TV
On the set of Code Black with Luis Guzman

What sort of doors has this project opened up for you?
“Louey & Bri TV” did really well at festivals and won a handful of awards, like Best Web Series at the Irvine International Film Festival, Mexico City International Film Festival, and the Austin Comedy Film Festival. I’ve never done a festival circuit before, so it’s been awesome to meet other filmmakers and watch projects from up-and-comers in the industry. Just generally, “Louey & Bri TV” has gotten the attention of more casting offices, which has helped me get more auditions and book more roles.

You had a role on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Tell us about that day on set.
Oh man, that was a fun one! We filmed at Tiato in Santa Monica and I just remember being unable to believe that I was actually on Curb in a scene with Larry David, Jeff Garlin, and Nick Kroll. I mean, holy shit! Everyone was super nice and it felt good to be there. I’m just grateful for the opportunity (and for those improv classes!).

Scene in Curb Your Enthusiasm
On the set of Curb Your Enthusiasm

You wrote, directed, and produced a short called Falling Through the Cracks. Can you tell us about that project.
This was a project close to home for me. It was based on a true story about my brother Jay who has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of Autism. He’s struggled his whole life with maintaining a job, not because he doesn’t want to work, but because he’s misunderstood and often labeled as difficult. Social Security Disability doesn’t recognize those in his situation though, so I wanted to create something that shone a light on that and how it affected my brother and my mom. The hope was that others with similar stories could relate, while more awareness would be brought to something that many struggle with.

Falling Through the Cracks poster

Do you see yourself writing and directing more projects down the line?
Definitely. I’m in the process of writing a half hour comedy pilot that I’m really excited about. I think when you come up with a good idea, you have to just go for it. I’d also love to direct something I haven’t written just to help bring someone else’s words to life. I love a good challenge and collaborating with other like-minded filmmakers.

On the radio show “A Climb to the Top” with Chuck Garcia

What has been one of the most rewarding memories you have working in Hollywood so far?
My former college professor asked if I could come on his radio show to share my story about working in the film industry and being an actor. I didn’t realize the full impact this would have on listeners, but someone reached out to me afterwards and said it was really helpful to them. I think it’s important to be open about your journey so someone else can learn from it, and to give back by sharing whatever knowledge you have.

At a fashion show

What have you been doing to keep yourself busy and creative this past year?
Basically anything that would distract me from the pandemic. I did a lot of puzzles, which was fine, but the real joy came from destroying them as soon as I finished. A lot more satisfying than you would think. I also read as many books as I could, wrote, went hiking, caught up on Drag Race, and finally learned my mail delivery person’s name… Greg?

What’s up next for you?
Push, push, push. We’re in a tough industry, and it’s easy to get jaded, but I’m playing the long game. I find the fun or beauty in a script I read or a project I’m apart of no matter how small, and I think it’s important to always keep perspective. I also make sure to take time for myself and enjoy something as simple as a bird hanging outside my window even WITH it’s incessant squawking. I’ll find you, you vindictive canary bird.

But really, I’ll keep writing, auditioning, making content with friends, and feeling lucky that I get to do this shit for a living.

Photoshoot from college in NYC

June Spotlight: Dusty Sorg

Posted on June 2, 2021 in Spotlight

Can you tell us about your childhood growing up in rural Minnesota?
I grew up in a dome home, dad built with his pals, on the other side of the tracks of a small town named Hugo, MN. My dad ran a Welding Shop in nearby Centerville and mom stayed home with myself and my two older sisters Jessica and Lynnea. We had a lot of fun, dancing, singing around the house, putting on shows, recording home videos, lip-syncing 50’s and 60’s music, dressing up, clowning around. Was a real hoot! I love my Mama Sue’ ~ good times!

What made you want to get into acting?
True story: I watched Die Hard when I was about 12 years old and I had an epiphany! I realized that was his (Bruce Willis’) job, climbing down elevator shafts, crawling through air ducts, cursing. I immediately started smoking cigarettes and blowing sh*t up! Me and my cousin Ryan literally started smoking my parents cigs and actually lit my garage on fire. Accidentally. We put it out fast enough. No one was injured.

“Yippie Kie Yay, Mother F**ker..”

When did you first move to Los Angeles and what prompted the decision?
I moved to Dinky Town (a UMN campus town) right after High School, with a pal. I was working in Minneapolis as a waiter at TGIFriday’s, as well as a buss-boy at Prince’s, then nightclub “The Quest” while also studying Meisner/Method acting under Sandra K Horner at the Hennepin Center of the Arts, where I met my close friend Bridget Walsh. Bridget was the one who had prompted the decision to take the trip to LA, she had a friend, Amber, living in Valley Village and wished for me to drive with her there. **queue epic road trip mixed-tape** ..twas the summer of 99’ (sigh).

A Barclay Bank Commercial where I met close friend, Bill Moseley, playing Money Tree Farmers (2005)

Tell us about some of your first jobs.
Being an “Actor” I really wasn’t dreaming of TV commercials, as a source of my creative expression, but after getting representation with the Jana Luker Agency, soon after arriving to Los Angeles, I seemed to audition for nothing but commercials. I booked my first on-camera acting gig in a national McDonalds commercial playing a drive-thru employee doing a Tarzan Yelp, for a Disney’s Tarzan Movie Promo. I slayed it! “

“So that’s two salad’s and two… AhhhhYaaaYaaaYaaaAhhhhh!!!”

Ironically, my first ‘day job’ was also McDonalds. (age 16)

It’s funny, no matter how many TV shows or Movies you do, friends back home still only go crazy over the TV commercial appearances. Strange.

Humping Richie Sambora’s Leg in a Dog Suit, mid-concert for Jon Bon Jovi’s “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” Music Video (2005)
Dusty in his first commercial for McDonald’s

You worked a coveted job at The Comedy Store, what was that experience like?
I loved it. A wonderful chapter in my younger years. I worked for Mitzi Shore as a phone receptionist during the day, and a doorman wearing my sunglasses at night, while doing a few minutes of awkward stand-up comedy on the weekends only as a requirement for employment.

I really thought it was my calling at the time, stand-up comedy. I remember talking on the phone to my mom, telling her “This is it! This is what I was meant to do!” But like every creative outlet, stand-up comedy is it’s own art form, and in the end it really wasn’t for me. I wasn’t working on my act and would never do the same act twice. I never wanted to audition for Mitzi to become a paid regular or do any other sets like the other comics. I was often compared to Andy Kaufman, never telling a joke or talking much at all, clutching my guitar and sometimes my teddy bear on stage, I would use music and odd energy to create a mood, confusing the audience and usually bombing was my forte’ ~ until it wasn’t

Lot of great memories there’

6. Freeway Killer Poster (2010)

You starred in the 2010 cult horror film, Freeway Killer. What was it like to star in your first feature?
Amazing! Terrifying! Exciting.

I was initially cast and directed by Daniel Stamm who eventually dropped out to shoot The Last Exorcism, due to filming set backs and scheduling. So all the excitement we were creating along with Daniel, abruptly got sidelined and handed off to the direction of John Murlowski. Who did a great job with such short notice, enjoyed working with him, but was rather upset we weren’t able to continue the magic Daniel had summoned out of us.

I really enjoyed playing Vernon Butts, such a sad, multi-layered, interesting, troubled individual. I did a lot of research when playing him, went to his home in Downey, read court transcripts DTLA, was a real trip! Such a tragic story. Many victims families are still suffering today throughout the LA Area, over the actions of William Bonin and his accomplices.

Have fond memories working with Michael Rooker, Scott Leet, Cole Williams and CRM’s own, Eileen Dietz. Great actors!

Dusty in John Carter (2012)

You worked on the 2012 film, John Carter. What was it like working on such a mega budget film?
The time of my life!

Such an incredible experience. Disney bought Page, AZ – Kanab, UT locations, working alongside Bryan Cranston, under the direction of Andrew Stanton (Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Wall-E). Was literally a dream come true. I’ve been a Walt Disney fan since I could walk and talk and am now officially a ‘Disney Character.. “Twitchy Corporal”

The cast and crew were the best. I handed off a copy of the book John Carter of Mars to the JC team and Andrew himself sent it back to me, a few months after wrapping the film, signed by him and the entire cast, personally to me. A true prized possession.

No joke, was such a memorable time. My favorite filming experience to date.

You’ve made some TV appearances on some incredible shows like Heroes, Westworld, and Lucifer. Do you have a favorite TV show that you worked on?
Westworld, was a phenomenal job to be apart of. Especially working on it so early on, before anyone really had any mind as to what it was or what a massive hit it would be. Certainly a delight working with Evan Rachel Wood and James Marsden.

Criminal Minds, working with CRM’s very own Courtney Gains.

I also really enjoyed working on the pilot for ABC’s Stumptown. That was awesome! The pilot was the actual Greg Rucka comic brought to life, by Cobie Smulders (Dex), Joe Pingue (Whale) and myself (Dill). Working on location in Vancouver and Portland, OR.

Having such a brilliant stunt team in JJ Perry and my own stuntman Efka Kvaracirjus, (the Lithuanian John Hawkes). So much fun. JoJo Pingue and Efka both continue to be very close friends. Grateful.

Too bad the show didn’t get picked up a second season.

Dusty in Westworld
Dusty in Westworld – The Stray
Dusty in Stumptown 2019

You often play characters that are sketchy, irrational, and dangerous. What are the unique challenges of playing these types of characters?
I’m very comfortable playing offbeat, darker characters. The more complicated, unpredictable and disheveled, the better.

I actually find it more challenging to play the straight, calm and collected characters. I’d certainly like to challenge myself more in the future, practice holding myself together in a role, or maybe even being a parent or a teacher.

I’m actually a really funny guy, I’ve been told.

Universal Studios Hollywood Commercial (2019)

What character have you portrayed from film or TV that you are the most proud of?
Vernon Butts, being my first starring role, my work in Stumptown really sticks out, working with such an outstanding stunt, choreography team. Westworld, John Carter.

I feel I’m still coming into my own. Still chasing the role of a lifetime.

Bloodline Premiere

What are some character types that you would like to play in the future?
Batman. Jus kidding, maybe a proud parent, or a cop.i love period projects. Westerns all day.

I’d like to challenge myself, be more vulnerable.
I do enjoy playing bad guys. Somebody’s got to be the bad guy.

The scarier the job the better. If it’s not scary it’s hardly worth it.
I’m excited for what’s to come. I’ve been so fortunate so far. I’m a lucky guy!

The great thing about acting is not knowing what’s next. Becoming. Growing. Discovering. I’m open to whatever. Jus happy to be here.

Still from Stalker

What is one of your most memorable experiences working in Hollywood?
They’re all uniquely memorable. So many. There’s really nothing like working in Hollywood. It’s a dream come true.

What’s up next for you?
We’ll see.

May Spotlight: Emmy Newman

Posted on May 12, 2021 in Spotlight

1. You grew up in the Bay Area. Where specifically?
I grew up in the Silicon Valley. Mountain View, specifically.

2. Did you think you wanted to be involved in performance arts when you were a kid?
UM, YES. When I was a little girl, I would lock myself in my room for HOURS and sing and dance until my voice hurt (which I now know was due to my terrible technique at the time. Oof. Thank God for voice lessons). I would be SO embarrassed if anyone in the house could hear me, but of course they could. I started dancing ballet when I was 4, I think. Started doing musicals when I was 9. And started taking acting seriously in college.

Premiere of the feature film “Low Low” directed by Nick Richey.

3. You studied Psychology and Theater at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. What plays and characters did you all perform?
So many. I did Queen Marguerite in an adaption of Ionesco’s Exit the King, Olivia in Twelfth Night, Nan in Three Days of Rain, the Adult Woman in Spring Awakening, and Janice in Italian American Reconciliation.

4. You received a vocal scholarship to study singing while in school. How has this training stayed with you?
Singing is just something I do for my soul. I had some incredible teachers who helped me understand how the voice works and how to use it properly. My sister is also a great singer and she plays guitar. I actually got to give her a voice lesson last month!

5. What was the final moment when you decided you wanted to pursue acting more than singing?
I never really wanted to pursue singing professionally. Too hard and scary. I always knew I wanted to do acting, and then singing would come in handy.

SYML’s “You Knew It Was Me” music video series directed by Gavin Michael Booth.

6. How long have you now been living in LA? What are the major changes you’ve felt this far down the coast?
I’ve been living in LA for about five years. I like it here a lot. This is such a boring answer, but traffic is the biggest thing that’s challenging about living down here.

7. Tell us a bit about some of the first jobs you’ve booked?
Oh boy. I did MANY student films and low budget shorts (upwards of about 40). A lot of unusable footage, and some usable. I’ve definitely learned a lot over the last five years.

BTS from SYML’s “You Knew It Was Me” music video series directed by Gavin Michael Booth.

8. Your short “Life is Horrible” ended up winning Best Comedy at the United International Film Festival.
Funny story there — I was just IN that short, I didn’t direct it. So it definitely wasn’t mine. It was this wonderful director Rachel Zhou’s, who I have worked with on a couple of projects. She’s brilliant.

9. What’s been some of your favorite projects to have worked on?
The SYML music video that I did during the pandemic is something that I am particularly proud of. It was directed by the amazing Gavin Michael Booth and the songs were gorgeous. I’m also really proud of the short that I directed called “Interdiction.” It’s so far from perfect, but it was incredibly ambitious and we did it with hardly ANY money. When I go back and watch that, it reminds me that I have what it takes to direct. I also loved working on the horror short “325 Sycamore Lane” back in 2017. I had so much fun with that character and got featured on a website called EvilBabes or something like that, which gave me a chuckle.

Emmy looking at a photo of her Great Uncle Paul at the Chinese Theater, where one of her shorts played at the Golden State Film Festival

10. Can you tell us a moment from set that you’ll never forget?
Actually, yes. I was helping a friend out with a student film project. It was an interview style production and they had a bunch of photos of famous people on the walls. Elizabeth Taylor, etc., and one of the headshots was of Uncle Paul. And in between takes, his picture FELL OFF the wall. It was so wild. None of the other portraits did that. And I don’t know, but it kind of made me feel like his spirit was there in some way. He was a big prankster, so he probably thought it was very funny.

11. Are you still getting the opportunity to sing a lot now?
Yes, it comes in handy every now and then! I am taking a VoiceOver class now, and we’re about to a do class with singing! I also get singing and musical auditions every now and then.

12. Besides acting, you’ve done some writing and directing on projects.
What prepared you for those experiences? Directing is hugely one of my passions. It lights me on fire! I just love everything about it. I love working with actors and the DP and the art department and the editors, just everything. Doing SO many shorts and a couple of features prepared me to direct. Watching and observing, just being around it all for so long.

Emmy with her DP and good friend Pablo Azanza on the set of the short “Interdiction.”
The beautiful cast of my short film “The Charade” – Joe Almani and Hannah Palazzi, and myself.

13. How does it feel to be related to one of Hollywood’s greatest actors? Does this lineage inspire you?
It’s such a wild thing. It absolutely inspires me. I feel a connection to this industry so deeply. It brings a great sense of comfort and peace to my bones. But I’ll be honest, sometimes it also intimidates the shit out of me.

14. How have you been staying creative over the last year with the pandemic going on?
I’ve been making funny videos and singing videos on Instagram and TikTok. It’s been keeping me sane honestly. I’m also working on my first feature, which I have been developing for the past two years. I’m REALLY excited about it. I’ve been working on drafts, getting feedback, honing the script, and submitting it to various programs.

“V Is For” Co-directed by Hunter Thomas and Jacqueline Davis. Shot in New Orleans.

15. Tell us about V Is For.
V Is For was so fun. I got to travel to New Orleans and work with a great team. It was truly a blast. Such a great memory.

16. What is up next for you?
I had a small part in the film Mark, Mary & Some Other People which just got into the Tribeca Film Festival! I’m so excited and hopefully I’ll be going to New York for the festival. Also, getting my feature developed and made is high on my priority list. It’s a psychological horror film about processing grief that I have been working on the past couple of years. And there are a couple of acting projects coming down the pipeline that I am really excited about. I really am in an amazing part of my career. For the past five years, I’ve done the whole “do whatever you can get your hands on” thing and learned SO MUCH doing that. Now I’m entering a new phase where I’m being more selective in the projects I take (because burn out is real and self care is important). And this new chapter is REALLY exciting to me.

May Spotlight: James Healy

Posted on April 28, 2021 in Spotlight
James with his family, age 2
James with his family, age 2

1. What was it like growing up in Texas? How has the culture you were surrounded by impacted you throughout your life?
Yes, I know how to ride a horse and no, we didn’t live on a farm. We had friends who had a farm. A short 20-to-30-minute drive and you were in the country. As for culture, I grew up in the Dallas/Ft Worth area. We had a lot of culture including museums and live Theatre. For some reason the perception is we all live on 100 acres and drive Cadillac’s. Obviously being in a large metropolitan area helped. Because there are parts of the state that are exactly like that. Flat, dry open ranges where Friday Night Football and the Dairy Queen are a big deal. We also had a huge influx of people from Michigan, NY and CA with several industries moving their home offices to TX. I think the biggest issue for me was my first year in Theatre I had to learn to say JUST and GET and not JEST and GIT. My Drama Director made me write those words 500 times each. Now, I have to “put on” my TX accent to make it that thick. I still have an accent, but I can get rid of it or use other dialects when necessary.

James with best friend, Craig, in 1979
James with best friend, Craig, in 1979

2. What was the film community like in Texas during these years?
In the 80’s and 90’s TX was much like NM or GA is now. We had several episodics filming in TX as well a ton of Movie of the Week, made for Television. But by the mid 90’s production discovered Canada and a lot of production moved north. Obviously, there is still a lot there. Wishing I had a Canadian Visa right now. So, TX created the tax rebate program and brought work back home, but by that time I was living in LA.

3. Your father was the owner of a Sales-Rep company. Was there anything from growing up around sales culture that inspired you to want to get into acting?
No, in fact if it were up to my father, I would have been a professional Soccer player or even a Pro Bowler. I played sports and was pretty good. By the age of 13 I carried a 185 average. And I was one of the few players who could kick left footed.

Rookie cop in 1983

4. You started performing in plays at 15. Do you remember any performances specifically?
My first play was “The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail.” I played the Farmer and a few other small characters. I had one line in the dream sequence that I recall to this day. “Why doesn’t this man have a gun?” I loved the entire process. Rehearsals, blocking, building a character and back story, etc. My theatre director was a man named Don Blankenship. We lost Don just a month ago. I am fortunate that I stayed in contact with him over the years. I loved this man for believing in me and showing me what true passion for your craft really meant. By the end of my first year, I was performing really great roles and had several wonderful years of performances with him and my theatre friends. Don would take us to see films and theatre as a group and exposed me to a world I knew very little about. I remember going to see the film FAME and knew I wanted to be those kids. Then a Touring Company of A Chorus Line was performing at the Dallas Summer Musicals. I sat mesmerized at what I was seeing and thought I would spend the rest of my life doing what I love.

James’ wife, Claire, performing in Nunsense

5. Tell us about booking “Crisis at Central High” with Joanne Woodward
Not much to tell, I was 17 or 18 and went in to read for this role, set in the 50’s. I slicked back my hair and rolled up my jeans. I read the one line and was called back a week later. Now, I would feel stupid driving all the way to Dallas to read one line due to self-taping, but back then I was thrilled. By the time the film came out, there was so much noise going on in the hallway of the school with lockers being slammed shut, you couldn’t even hear my one line. I learned then and again from the “who shot Jr” episode of Dallas that even though you booked a job, you may not be seen or heard. I was embarrassed that I had told my friends. Basically end up looking like I was an extra. Lesson Learned!

6. You starting working for the police force in 1984. What made you want to become a cop?
The short answer is “a woman.” I fell in love my with College Sweetheart. Claire, my wife now 37 years, was a music major and I was a Theatre major, and the two groups got together to do Fiddler on the Roof. I played Perchik, she was Golde. The next show came around and she read for it. I didn’t know she liked me; I am pretty clueless that way. But she was cast as an understudy and actually showed up, which no one ever does in college. That was Death Trap. Claire even signed up for an acting class and by the time we were doing The Man from La Mancha, we were dating and then engaged during Taming of the Shrew. The joke I tell is “we both said those three magic words; I said I LOVE YOU and she said, GET A JOB!” Two of my best friends were cops, so I thought what the heck, I can do this for a few years. Little did I know that I would do about 31.

James' photoshoot in 1995
James’ photoshoot in 1995

7. You worked as a Detective and on the SWAT Team. How has this incredible experience stuck with you as you ventured further into acting?
Basically, it helped me be a better actor when it came to playing cop roles. I knew how they would act and instead of acting like a cop, I would just “BE.” This helped me in my acting for all my auditions after that. I learned that acting was not acting, it was being and being in the moment. That less is truly more. I read for shows in my early years as a cop and would not be cast because the producers didn’t think I looked like a cop. What the hell did that mean? Once they found out I was the real thing I started booking more work. I even took some of my SWAT team to set to work on a film. They hired me to deliver the lines and I brought a team with the manpower and equipment. Saved them money in the end.

James with Guy Pearce
James with Guy Pearce

8. What was the decision-making process behind moving to LA in 1998?
We actually moved in December of 1995. I had come out to LA for a few weeks and did very well meeting with CDs, Producers and Agents. I landed a local agent by lying and telling them I had moved already. Based on the response from others, I just felt it was time to make the move. We moved into our first Apartment in December of 1995 just off of Laurel and Ventura in Studio City. Within two months I landed my first job. It was one of those after school specials and I played the father of the family that was getting divorced. Joey Paul was casting and Sean McNamara directing. This led to a lifelong friendship with Joey and Sean and his BME production partner David Brookwell. We moved back home in September of 1997 because I was afraid that I was going to miss my chance to go back to work at my Police Dept. (you could be gone up to two years and still come back without going thru a lengthy process). It was a mistake to go back, when I left, I was a patrol Sgt. Having been through patrol, Detective and SWAT then a supervisor. It was hard to go back to being a rookie patrol officer with no seniority. And I wasn’t happy I was working, I was booking jobs and so many people told me, that the ones who make it, Stick it out! So, I left the PD a second time and we went back to LA where we lived until 2002. Claire wasn’t happy living back in LA, so we once again moved home to TX and I went back to work but for a different agency this time.

James in Afghanistan
James in Afghanistan

9. You got some great roles including Guest Roles on Will & Grace, Judging Amy, and a Recurring on Evan Stevens with Shia LeBeouf. Can you talk about a fond memory from one of these sets?
The recurring role on Even Stevens came from Joey, David and Sean. But my favorite role came on Will and Grace. I had a couple of scenes, one with Megan Mullally and the other with Eric McCormack. I played an FBI agent who arrested Megan’s husband for tax fraud. I had this long paragraph and Eric was tickling me because he thought I was an actor that Karen Walker sent to bother him. I had an idea to get a laugh and told Eric. He loved the idea but told me to just do it, not to tell anyone during the rehearsal. I was a bit nervous since the writer/creator Max and David were there along with the legendary Jim Burrows directing. I laughed while he was tickling me, and I let out this high-pitched squeal, then took control of myself again…they loved the idea and it made it into the show. It was really cool that a star of the show was open to the idea and allowed me to get a laugh on his hit show. I will always remember Eric fondling for that.

James as Police Academy Director
James as Police Academy Director

10. Did you enjoy living in LA?
Yes and no, when we first moved there it was after the Northridge earthquake, so rent was very reasonable. Now it is just so expensive. Claire wasn’t happy there although we both loved walking the hills and going up Fryman. But now that I am retired, we have a house in TX, (so I can keep my wife and kid somewhere they love to live and great schools) and I have places that I rent in Burbank, Atlanta and NY (Brooklyn). This allows me to travel and be where I need to be (pre covid). Basically, I can go where I need to go for work. I then can stay there and self-tape my auditions while I work on set and then I stay there until I book the next job. If I go a long time without a booking or there is a holiday. At that point I go home and inflect as much torture on my family by them having to put up with me.

11. In 2006 you went to Afghanistan and were hired to train Afghan police for after the war. That sounds like a real-life movie you were experiencing. How did this experience change you?
I don’t know that it did. I had already been a cop for a long time. I had seen things and been involved in situation that most people will never experience. I was hired by the Dept of State to go over and help set up and train Afghan Police Officers and Command staff after the war. Although my first time in college was a theatre major, I went back and got my degree in Criminal Justice and then a master’s degree. I learned a lot about what makes the Afghan people the way they are and my perception of them as a culture changed for the better. I trained command staff who had no idea what life was like without corruption and privilege, and I watched as the police officers went through training, knowing that many of them would either flee from their posts or be killed by overwhelming forces. Mainly because they were understaffed and poorly equipped to do the job properly. I came home after my first year and I was supposed to go back for 6 more months, but just couldn’t bring myself to do it. It was a very sad situation. It makes me appreciate more than you can imagine being in the U.S. and having a life, as hard as it may be sometimes, that offers you a chance to make something of yourself.

James on set with Mariska Hargitay in Law and Order: SVU
James on set with Mariska Hargitay in Law and Order: SVU

12. Since retiring in 2015 as the Chief of Police for the Godley Tx. Police Department you’ve been focusing on acting full time. How much easier is it to focus on your craft without having an additional job responsibility.
I have been acting since I was 15 doing theatre, film, commercials, Industrials and of course TV. I worked the midnight shift most of my career so I could go to auditions in the day after I took a nap and theatre in the evening after taking another nap as needed. It was only during my time overseas or as the chief of police that I had to basically quit acting. Since retiring the biggest difference for me is it has allowed me to travel and stay in one of my apartments as needed. This of course means my wife gets to have some quality alone time, which she enjoys.

13. You’ve been getting some great Episodics such as Dynasty, Law & Order: SVU, and Manhunt. Does it feel good to be working steadily again?
Ha, it is never enough. I have been fortunate over the last three years booking approximately 29 jobs. But when you are only working a day or two or the occasional week, it isn’t enough to pay the bills alone. I am lucky that I have a pension and a wife that still works and supports this choice 100%. In fact, it was her idea that I get back into acting full time after I retired. I love it but I had been away so long that I didn’t miss it at the time. Only after getting back into acting and booking work did I realize how much I really love and missed acting. I just looked at my Health and Pension plan through SAG today, I seriously would not be able to do this if it were not for the love and support of my wife and our daughter, Jenny. Acting is an expensive career choice.

James on set with Bill Forsythe
James on set with Bill Forsythe

14. What kind of projects are particularly interesting to you now?
I take them as they come. Being a character actor, I am not in a position to pick my projects, but I will reject them. I have no interest in playing the racist cop. I spent my whole life working against that stereotype, so I will turn down those auditions. If it were up to me, I would spend the next 10 to 12 years as a series regular on a sitcom (I think I’m funny, I used to do stand up in LA, so there’s that). But ultimately not being a lead actor, I would probably choose, if it were up to me, to be a series regular on a cop drama. Playing the supervisor over the two leads. I would be in every episode, with steady work, doing something I love and can relate to and at the same time, I don’t have to carry the success of the show on my shoulders

James with Ed Zwick

15. You bounce around between Los Angeles, New York, Texas, Atlanta, and anywhere else duty calls. Do you enjoy being on the road?
LOL, I have a lot of conversations with myself and even answer myself sometimes. I will call friends and catch up as well. But there are some long periods where it just gets a lonely and boring. I can relate to my dad being a travelling salesman when I was younger, I know he spent a lot of time on the road and in rooms by himself. But if I have to choose to fly or drive, I choose to drive so I have my car. That is everywhere but NY. I love not having to have a car and worry about traffic.

James on set with Noah Wylie

16. What’s been the most memorable director to work with in the past few years?
I have been very lucky to work with some great directors over the years. The standout of course is James Burrows. But working several times with my friend Sean McNamara or having Ed Zwick (Glory, Courage Under Fire, etc.) come up to me and ask my opinion on a police scene. He knew about my past because of our mutual friend, (name drop) Lou Diamond Phillips. But he actually asked, listened and we did the scene the way I suggested. But recently I worked on a new episode for Leverage starring Noah Wylie and Christian Kane. Kane was very nice, and Noah and I had met before and had a great time on set. But the director was Jonathan Frakes, who played Will Ryker or Number 1 on Star Trek Next Generation. He came up to introduce himself to me. He commented about how much he liked my audition and as time went on, he would talk about my police background and how it really helps the scene, “doing it like a real cop.” But the best moment was when I was wrapped, he came over and from behind his Covid mask you could see a big smile and he said to me., “I am so glad I hired you.” That one little statement made me feel so appreciate, I am sure I blushed.

James with wife and Lou Diamond Phillips
James with wife and Lou Diamond Phillips

17. Tell us a bit about what is up next for you.
Audition, Audition, Audition. I am lucky to have great representation. I just had a great call back in NY and I just wrapped a film in Atlanta. I have agents in multiple markets and my Manager, Chris Roe submits me across the country for roles since he knows I can and will travel. And that I have places to live just about everywhere. I am supposed to film in Oklahoma this May or June, but we are waiting on final word that the project is a go. It is with the same people that I just worked with in February. They have asked me (if all goes as planned) to come back and do another role in their next big budget project. I think it depends on if they can get the big star name in the lead they are in negotiations with. Fingers Crossed!

April Spotlight: Ryan Lambert

Posted on April 8, 2021 in Spotlight

Ryan started his acting career at a young age and rose to fame on theTV show Kids Incorporated, followed by a cult classic film, The Monster Squad where Ryan played the rebellious Rudy. At 20,  Ryan stepped away from acting to pursue music professionally. He now plays in a Rock Band called Killed Moi which is about to release a new album as well as some new films lined up. 

Ryan on set
Ryan on set

1. You were born in Cleveland, Ohio. Did you get your acting start there/when did you relocate to Los Angeles? 
I moved to Los Angeles at age 4. I started acting professionally at age 13 after spending time in a musical comedy troupe, “On Stage Kids.”  

2. You started out on Kids Incorporated.  Can you tell us what that was like being a series regular on a show that also showcased your musical talents?
Being on Kids Inc was a dream come true. It was my first audition and my first professional gig. To have the show feature music as well only heightened the experience. Learning how to be on set, take direction and have a blast in the process really helped me in understanding what it means to be a working actor in this business.

Kids Incorporated
Kids Incorporated
Kids Incorporated
Kids Incorporated

3. You are an actor as well as a musician.  What can you play?  Have you performed at any special venues/events?
I can play guitar, piano/keyboard (novice) and sing. In our time of quarantine I’ve taught myself the Irish tin whistle, ukulele and honing my skills on harmonica. My dream is to play jazz trumpet and get better at drumming. 

Ryan the Rebel

4. You have been in show business for quite a long time.  Do you have any fun auditions/stories that stand put through the years?
I auditioned for a Jessica Lange film in the 80’s. The scene called for the character to jump outta bed when he was caught by his mother (Lange) with an older woman (Joan Cusack). I secretly removed my pants in front of the casting directors desk without him knowing. During the scene I jumped up and started putting them on frantically, finished the scene and walked out without coming back in. The part went to Chris O’Donnell. I was a stupid kid. Maybe a rebel?

5. Have you always been a working actor, or did you take time off to concentrate on music? Family?
I decided to pursue music professionally when I turned 20 and quit acting. It’s always been in my heart and after a long hiatus I got the bug big time again and decided it was time to get back to work. Thankfully I now have an incredible team to work with and hope I make them proud of my commitment to the craft.

6. The Monster Squad has become a cult classic with quite a devoted following.  How has the film changed your life?

The film tanked when released in 1987. We all moved on to other projects with a heavy heart. In 2006 we realized it had snowballed since its release on VHS and laserdisc and the fan following grew to cult status throughout the years. Since 2006 the cast has been traveling the globe meeting fans and screening the film. It’s such a trip to be a part of something people love and cherish. We made a documentary about the fans and their passion for the film called Wolfman’s Got Nards (if ya know, ya know ).

Ryan in Monster Squad
Ryan playing Rudy in Monster Squad
Ryan Lambert taking down The Wolfman and Vampire Brides

7. The documentary on the impact of The Monster Squad, “Wolfman’s Got Nards, reached #1 on Amazon (documentaries and horror) upon its release.  Congratulations!  How did it feel revisiting the Squad?
It’s been such a wild ride. I never dreamed a billion years something I was a part of as a child actor would come back to haunt me (in the best possible way) years after it’s release. It’s truly a gift that many do not get to experience. The gift that keeps on giving. Not counting the 40 bucks I get in residuals ever quarter. 

Ryan on It’s Garry Shandling’s Show
Ryan on It’s Garry Shandling’s Show

8. What is one of the most memorable moments on set for you?
The end sequence of Squad was a blast to shoot. We spent about two weeks on the Warner back lot as if it was home away from home. The scene where my character, Rudy takes down the wolfman and three vampire brides is still a highlight of my career.

9. When you’re not acting and performing, what do you like to get up to?
I’m an avid reader and watcher of film and television. They’ve always been my escape and my school, constantly learning and taking everything in to learn more about the craft and the art of it all. I enjoy cooking and trying new and different cuisines of the world. I cant wait to travel again hoping to get back to Ireland soon. I’m kind of obsessed with crossword puzzles and anything that keeps the mind alive and fascinated.

Wrecker 2020 film
Wrecker 2020 film

10. Tell us about Wrecker.
Wrecker is an independent action/revenge piece I was involved in while living in SF before moving back to LA. It was the first project I was involved in acting wise since I was a kid. I play a drugged out priest (gross but fun).

11. What’s up next for you?
Music wise I have a new album about to be released (dropped as the kids say) with my band Kill Moi from SF. Been a challenge getting it done during our global pandemic but I believe it was well worth and can’t wait for ever single person on Earth to blast in their ear holes.

Self-taping for roles and about to work for Spielberg. JK. A boy can dream, can’t he?

Ryan with his band Kill Moi

March Spotlight: Jody Jaress

Posted on March 20, 2021 in Spotlight

Jody is a true multi hyphenate. She’s an actress, director, writer, dancer, and jazz and blues singer. She’s gone coast to coast acting on the stage, in television and in movies. She’s opened for performers such as Harry Belafonte and Louis Armstrong and has received prestigious honors for her singing career. Jody has recently appeared in award winning films and shorts and is working on even more new projects right now. Here, she looks back at her long, distinguished career and talks about what’s next.

1. You were born in Ottawa, Illinois. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood? When did you know that you wanted to act?
My family migrated to America from Germany and Whales circa 1800s landing in New York. The adventurous Schafer’s and the humble Richards, who were renamed Jones once they crossed the US border, eventually gravitated to Illinois. Most became pillars of their communities with a few interesting rogues mixed in (thank goodness)!  Generations down the line, a lovely, spit-fire of a young woman met this handsome John Wayne type young man, they fell in love, married and voila’ created me.  Almost immediately after my birth, my dad was called to serve in WWII and joined the Navy Seabees. Once he returned home from the war, my family along with some other of our relatives relocated to Ferndale, Michigan next door to Detroit.

Jody aka JoEllen Schafer (5) Monte Carlo Studios
Jody aka JoEllen Schafer (5) Monte Carlo Studios

The story I’ve always been told by my parents, is that by age five, I wanted to sing, dance and be an actress like the kids in costumes I saw in the Sunday newspapers, magazines and on television. We were a typical middle American family, just getting by financially, but my parents were always supportive of my dreams, so they set aside monies to afford the training I would need in the arts. In Detroit, not too far from our home in Ferndale, was the Monte Carlo Studio, where at least once a week I took lessons in acting, singing and dancing.  I have to chuckle when I think about it now: While driving me to and from class on those nights, my mother would always take the short-cut through the huge, winding roads in the park that connected/divided Ferndale and Detroit, and every single time she would get lost — every single time!  I do laugh about it now, but it was so very stressful at the time. It certainly took some of the joy out of it, but my mother persisted in order to help me reach my dream. 

So, it seems that it really is true that at that early age I already knew that I wanted to be an actress.  I never have envisioned being anything else for as long as I can remember, although I absolutely loved singing and dancing too.  My desire was to study drama and become an actress who could sing and dance.

Jody instructed by Teresa Way Merrill of Will-O-Way Playhouse.
Jody instructed by Teresa Way Merrill of Will-O-Way Playhouse.

As I attained the ripe old age of twelve (and I promise you I’m not going to break-down my childhood much longer, so keep reading please) …. anyway, it was around this time that I was introduced to a fabulous theatre company, Will-O-Way Playhouse in Bloomfield Hills, run by several generations of the most wonderful, and truly theatrical family. Think old-world: Shakespeare, the Barrymores.  I wanted to submerge myself in their culture and soak up all the knowledge they afforded me… I practically lived there!

I truly became family… and felt so privileged and honored. Eventually I advanced to an apprenticeship and used all the skills I was taught (performance, makeup, lighting, scenery, etc) to perform in, and/or assist many of their professional productions presented at the Will-O-Way Apprentice Theatre and Repertory Company which included working with acting genius George C. Scott early on in his career. That was a great experience. Even after my family and I moved out to horse country in Rochester, Michigan, I continued my apprenticeship at Will-O-Way.

2. You started your career in Michigan with a variety of appearances on stage, film, tv radio, etc. Which medium did you enjoy the most at the time?
Oh my, that’s really difficult for me to answer.  As long as I was creating and working, I was enjoying myself, just like now. I have always loved the challenges of each medium.  But I absolutely love the collaboration when working in film or television. There’s such trust between the different talents to produce the director’s and/or producer’s vision, which is so awe-inspiring and so dang exciting. That was my goal as a young aspiring actress for sure to be on the screen. At my young age, as blessed as my life sounds in these answers, I had already lived and was still living a heavy life. I wanted to now live up there on the screen and make you, the audience laugh, cry, be afraid, etc. and of course enjoy my own release of emotions.

Once, the acclaimed, Sir Basil Rathbone (Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes), requested a command performance of “Taming of the Shrew”, at the Will-O-Way Playhouse, specifically to see me as Kate. I swear, my feet didn’t touch the ground for many, many months, it was such an unbelievable honor.

Whether doing live theatre or singing on stage, the adrenaline I feel/felt from a live audience is addictive and exciting!  Different, of course, from the intriguing magic felt on a film or television set. How does one compare them?  Oh and then there’s radio which was and is so much fun… no-one can see you!  And it oft times can be so spontaneous!  That’s thrilling! Voice Over work falls right in there too! I LOVE doing voice overs! One of my very favorites is “I, My Me Strawberry Eggs” I was referred to the production company from one of their other vo actors. I was so happy that they wanted a gruff voice for this fun character Ruru the short, grumpy landlord, because we recorded first thing in the morning for most of the 13 episodes… thus my morning voice was perfect for this lead!  I enjoyed doing a spoken word CD with Jack Donner (Star Trek, Stigmata): Hearts on Fire an original written by Jack regarding the state of Man (today), how we got there/here and how we can extricate ourselves from this mess. I was fortunate to work with Jack on several films/television: “So This Is Love”, “2Bedroom 1Bath”, “Screech”, and “Chinaman’s Chance: America’s Other Slaves.”

Jack Donner and Jody partnered as writers on "So This Is Love" for television and then was made into a short film.
Jack Donner and Jody partnered as writers on “So This Is Love” for television and then was made into a short film.
Jody, second lead as Ruru, the gruff landlord, on “I, MY, ME STRAWBERRY EGGS” a popular anime’ television series and DVD box set.
Jody, second lead as Ruru, the gruff landlord, on “I, MY, ME STRAWBERRY EGGS” a popular anime’ television series and DVD box set.

Okay, here’s the short answer: I enjoyed whichever venue/medium I was participating in at the time!  That’s a bit corny maybe, but true…

3. You worked in theater a lot in the beginning, what was your favorite production?
When I moved to California, married, had my two precious children, and divorced, I attempted to schedule one play a year. Theatre helps me refocus, concentrate. I’m not good at making choices for just about anything in my life, so here are my first initial responses: The Ira Levin (Rosemary’s Baby) play, “Veronica’s Room”, may have been the deepest I’ve gone into a character in theatre, for such a long run.  My role had several extreme personalities with different accents (Boston, Irish). This spine-chilling thriller was pretty heavily engrained in my spirit… so much so, that when the run ended, I had difficulty separating myself from the character and was worried that Veronica (me), would be locked in her room forever…. because I (Jody aka Veronica) would not be there the next night to let her out. (You may need to read/see/know the play to understand my reference, sorry)  Something meaty like that, is an actors dream role. Thank goodness, that I had to earn a living at the time which helped bring me back to reality sooner! (tee-tee) I was administrator at Ilona of Hungary Spa and Skin Health in Palm Springs, but I did go in and out of a really bad Irish accent for quite awhile!

Ilona of Hungary Spa with Jody Jaress, spa manager.
Ilona of Hungary Spa with Jody Jaress, spa manager.

Actually, I think a production becomes a favorite mostly because of the people you’re fortunate to work with. The Desert Theatre League in Palm Springs honored me more than once with a Best Supporting Actress nomination, and this time it was as Hester Salomon, the magistrate in the haunting production, “Equus”. This was thrilling of course, but what made this production magical was being directed by the fabulous award winning actress/director, Judith Chapman (Young and the Restless, 4 other soaps, 28 Days), and working with Best Actor winner, West Holden (yes, Bill Holden’s son). We developed beautiful and lasting friendships during that time also.

Oh golly, now you’ve got me reminiscing and I’m coming up with all sorts of “favorite productions.” Of course “Taming Of The Shrew”, and I had a blast as Irene Livingston, in Moss Hart’s comedy, “Light Up The Sky”.  Very weird for me to be cast, but a privilege to be Mrs. Popov in Chekhov’s, “The Brute”, performed for and in honor of the Russian Dignitaries visiting Palm Springs.

4. You began your film career as a roller skater in Skatetown, USA with Patrick Swayze in his feature debut. What was that experience like?
Oh my… well, Patrick was gorgeous… and untouchable with all the skating going on. Plus there were tons of comedians and comic actors in this film. It’s a wonder anything got done! But it was fun… and of course, I fell. Not badly, but down. I learned the power of an editor from working in this film. I was so certain that it was going to be a really funny, good film. I was wrong.

Jody’s first feature film The Hunting Season remastered as Deadly Daphne’s Revenge.
Jody’s first feature film The Hunting Season remastered as Deadly Daphne’s Revenge.

Actually, my first film with dialog and a necessary character, was “The Bigot” aka “The Hunting Season” and now remastered and distributed by Troma Entertainment, aka “Deadly Daphne’s Revenge”. It’s one of those movies that could become a cult film, or are so (bad) that calling them camp might be a stretch! I had never seen the film and hadn’t thought about it for decades. Out of the blue (30-40 years later), I get called by a representative from Vinegar Syndrome (digital restoration company) requesting an interview. Who? For what? I’d love to… when? They sent me an old copy to watch before getting together to film my interview which was to be used as an Extra Bonus on the upcoming Blu-ray, and DVD. You could probably hear me laughing a block away as I watched the movie… and believe me, it’s far from a comedy. Oh dear, what can I say during my Q&A taping? It appeared that I was the only person still alive to speak with them about the filming experience and they were delighted to find me — plus I didn’t charge them an arm and a leg for my time and image usage. I finally concluded near the end of taping, that I liked being connected to a cult-like film – kind of campy! All the new DVDs and Blu-rays have been sold with sadly, no plans to press more. I have two… I think.

5. What prompted you to move out to Los Angeles?
The simple, uncomplicated story is that, my parents allowed me to take my college money and instead of Carnegie Tech (before merging with Mellon), go to New York for awhile to make the “rounds”, making appointments with agents, recording managers, etc.  I had made arrangements to spend an afternoon with Lee Strasberg and family at their home. I had hopes of joining the Actors Studio, but I was too young at seventeen (17). Lee was genuinely sincere suggesting I return the following year to meet again. I never did. So, after lots of fun and frustration, disappointments in NYC (and too many really great stories to write about here), I returned home to Michigan.

Jody on the NY waterfront after meeting with Lee Strasberg
Jody on the NY waterfront after meeting with Lee Strasberg
Found a great young photographer in NY living near the docks who taught Jody how to make German pancakes!

Okay, so here’s the turning point:  I learned that William Castle (Tingler, etc), the iconic, eccentric horror film director, was holed up in an office at one of Detroit’s most majestic movie theaters prior to screening his 3-D film, “13 Ghosts” (I think it was that one.)  I snuck into the theater, climbed the gorgeous carpeted, winding staircase… and boldly entered “the” office.  Thank goodness, Mr. Castle liked my gumption and didn’t throw me to the wolves!  We had a very brief bit of dialog and then he assured me that if I ever move to California, he would take a meeting with me. He then handed over his contact info and said to bring one of my parents with me. Then he escorted me to a seat in the theater to watch his film!  Well, to Castle’s surprise, I did call for a meeting, for indeed, we did sell our home, horses, business, and move to California for me to be in pictures… oh, and also because my mother liked the idea of living in sunny California. The meeting didn’t give much hope to this young aspiring actress. My determination to be an actress continued anyway. I wasn’t looking for the fame that Castle was talking about. I just wanted the opportunity to work often at what feeds my passion.

Jody thanking famed blues singer Linda “The kid” Hopkins for attending yet another one of her gigs.

6. You are also a jazz and blues singer. Were you trained? How did you get into it?
I really have no formal training.  I took some lessons in learning to sing certain songs. I made a stab at learning to play the piano and guitar to accompany myself to absolutely no avail. My mother was the one wishing I would choose to be a singer over an actor. She was always playing music. I definitely enjoyed working as a singer, although I had a habit of not picking up my pay checks. I felt like: “I’m doing something I love and expressing myself… and I get paid too? Wow, what a concept!”

I received most of my training by doing. I started out as a country singer following headliners like Hank Williams Jr., performing at fairs, night clubs with Eddie Jackson and The Swingsters, at horse shows/rodeos and various city events, wherever I could get a gig. I was booked to be a regular singer (don’t laugh) on Cal Worthington’s Country Music Time television show, but didn’t last very long. I was let go because I wasn’t country enough. I think my last appearance was with Sheb Wooley (“The Purple People Eater”) — go figure. But I enjoyed it all like: while working in Vegas, I had an open invitation to pop over to the New Frontier and jam with the Ink Spots but of course it wasn’t country! It was great songs from the 30’s and 40’s. I didn’t realize my forte would be more in the line of free-styling like with jazz. 

In 1998 I lost my precious Michele, my daughter and needed to find solace somewhere. I began listening to the soothing music of Anya, and oddly enough I then discovered the haunting melodies and familiar pain in the voices of Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. They resonated deep within me… thus I slowly entered blues… and jazz. I don’t consider myself either style, but the world wants a label. I just tell stories…

7. You’ve opened for artists like Louis Armstrong and Harry Belafonte. Wow, what an experience. Can you tell us a good story from your time performing at these shows?
I absolutely can, and such a ridiculous, heartwarming story too about when Harry saved me from getting fired.  We were working at the Riviera Hotel, in Las Vegas and it was nearing show time. Earlier in the day, a few friends and I had gone horseback riding and encountered many mishaps; broken saddle straps, getting lost, and then being deserted by the guy with the car! That left two of us hitch-hiking back to town and finally getting a ride on the back of a pickup truck. I don’t know how the Vegas Entertainment newspaper got hold of our antics, but they did with a little blurb about us being bruised and dirty on the back of a truck, etc. I managed to get to my apartment, clean up, and backstage just in time to sashay on to the stage…I thought… But, I guess not! The stage manager would not allow me to go on! He also docked me for the second show! Well, guess who started to weep as she walked away? Bless his heart… seeing me upset, Harry came to my rescue and guided me to his dressing room to get my story. I was even more upset by then because, as I told Harry, “my mother said I would never make it, because I’m always late.” Yes, sweet, handsome Harry spoke with the manager and all was well again. Harry gave me his personal contact info to use should anyone give me a problem after his engagement is over… And… that they had better extend my contract as he suggested. Oh wow! What a blessing.  Side note: It’s a small world too, because a few years ago, here in California, unbeknownst to me at the time, I was singing with Harry’s bass player John Cartwright who remembered me from Vegas!  What a treat… we (John and I) teamed up another time at a jazz jam and we call one another once in a blue moon.

Harry Belafonte’s bass player, John Cartwright and Jody.

Yes, Louis Armstrong did indeed smoke two (2) cigarettes at once most of the time. He definitely sweats up a storm, and always carried a white handkerchief because of it. We talked about his sweating and he shared that it’s mainly because he gets so nervous right before going on stage. He mentioned that he feels blessed with those nerves, stating that they help him push towards a better performance, and that if he doesn’t feel nervous, he would rather not go on. He would feel the show was going to be boring and not worthy of an audience. An amazing man.

8. In 2015 you were named a “Jazz and Blues Living Legend” and inducted into the foundation by the Duke Ellington Society of LA. Tell us about receiving that honor.
I simply received an unexpected phone call one day… and afterwards I wasn’t sure just who I was anymore. I thought:  They must have made a mistake, thinking I was someone else. It does happen. So, I called back to Linda Morgan (founder of JazZabration) and graciously said:, “How lovely of you to ask me if I would accept this very precious honor, but I’m certain there’s been an error. I’ve never met you… and you don’t know me, do you?” Well… evidently, I got talked about often enough that the word spread around and reached a few of these societies. They became intrigued enough to so some research about me… and that’s how they know me. I still felt very uncomfortable and in disbelief. I said that I didn’t have a great voice, had only been singing in LA a few years. And please, don’t take offense from my reaction, but I am very confused. I then asked the big question: “Could you tell me WHY I’m being considered to receive this honor?” Here’s what she said, “You are a song stylist. A soulful singer of stories for over 25 years. But even more than that, and what has touched us mostly, is that you inspire other’s to never give up on themselves or their passions. We would like to recognize you for that.” So, that was acceptable to me, a reason that I could wear fairly comfortably.

Whisper Low

The next thing I knew, I’m being scheduled to headline at one of the official events to celebrate “International Jazz Day 2015” created by the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), and held annually since 2011 around the globe in more than 200 countries. Besides the Duke Ellington Society of Los Angeles, I received commendations from the City of Los Angeles, NAACP Beverly Hills and Hollywood, JazZabration, and of course Jazz and Blues Living Legend Foundation. Truthfully, I’m still numb.

OH! And Ms. Morgan also said to make sure I bring plenty of my CD’s to sell or give away at my show, but bring enough. OMG! I never recorded a CD! Ding! Ding! Ding! Within three (3) weeks I rehearsed, recorded, mastered, and dropped a CD with 12 tracks! And I created artwork for the CD sleeve and disc! Thank goodness for my talented family of musicians who joined me on this crazy endeavor and rescued me by playing, while other friends offered up their expertise and for a very small fee, a recording studio. Just in time, WHISPER LOW was delivered!  Never again…!

I realize that I have written way too much already, and I say I don’t like to toot my own horn, or name drop, but the most precious honor I ever received was being awarded the prestigious USO pin for my dedication and years of entertaining our armed forces at military camps and US Naval ships. Now that honor touches my very soul.

Jody performing on the USS Topeka Naval ship.

9. Are you still singing?
Yes and No.  Due to the Covid-19, I haven’t accepted any gigs even though some venues are starting to open and book talent. I have been invited and I have done a couple of guest singer spots on Zoom shows. There certainly are virtual shows that can be somewhat successful for those used to working, but the money is really weird. But who sings for money in LA, right? Har-Har…So many of us miss doing even our charity gigs to help rape victims, abused women/children, Aids research, suicide prevention. Eventually I’ll get back in the swing of music again. I only hope my favorite venues are able to reopen: The Gardenia, Vitello’s and Catalina’s Jazz Club. For now, once in awhile I’ll stop by a Zoom jam session and sing. It’s so sad what’s happening to all creatives during this time. I used to sing with major musicians who toured with Sinatra, Streisand, Etta James, Chet Baker, Santana, Dionne Warwick, Smokey Robinson. Musicians like: Tony Dumas (bass), Ralph Penland (jazz drummer), Tod Hunter (pianist/composer).  We all miss the personal contact. The live energies. Even miss the technical glitches… but for now, virtual performances I suppose, are better than none at all.

“Jazz for Justice” at CBS Studios for One Billion Rising to raise awareness globally to end violence against women and children.

10. What has been your favorite film or tv show that you’ve worked on?
Again, it’s not usually the project, it’s the people… My most favorite I would have to say (and it may always be–who knows) is the gritty, award winning indie feature written, directed, and produced by Dylan Reynolds titled, “Chain Link”. Dylan created earthy characters caught up in devastating believable cycles. The frosting on the cake is that a good many of us have become active friends since filming years ago. 

Working with Adrien Brody on “Hollywoodland”, directed by Allen Coulter was enlightening. Adrien had Coulter embellish my small role and film it, which we did, but of course the extra footage wasn’t necessary to the story so it didn’t make the cut.

Jody with Adrien Brody in Allen Coulter’s “Hollywoodland”

Many, many life-times ago, I worked as a stand-in for all the lead actresses who were guests on “Michael Nesmith’s Television Parts”. I had fun every day for months! Different comedic scenarios with different comedians daily, a variety of super directors and great camaraderie.  Frequently I’d have dialog, but mainly I played-out all of the female comedy situations from a hooker, to a circus performer, to a 1950’s high school student and more hilarity. What a life, eh?

You know, it would be much easier to write about the very few films or TV show(s) that weren’t my favorite(s). Would be very rare animals indeed, because I find there’s usually something unique, or a special someone in every project I’ve worked on that endears it to me. Nailing a one take plus security take on “Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles” was pretty cool. Being directed by Mike Nichols for a couple of weeks on “Charlie Wilson’s War”with Tom Hanks was a treat. So you see, all productions are favorites in their own unique way.

Jody using her reflection in the camera to fix her hair during filming “Michale Nesmith Television Parts”… blowing bubble gum.
Jody and Lance Henriksen take a very needed break from filming “Fragile Storm”

11. Tell us about Fragile Storm.
Right off the bat when I got word of this production, I wanted in on it because of Lance Henriksen (Alien, Millennium).  I figured if Lance was on board, it must be a gritty kind of story with substance, and I would be playing his wife, which wouldn’t be too shabby either.

The script had me in tears by the end, with a twisted, deceiving approach to this devastating ailment… Alzheimers. Just like when I auditioned for “Chain Link”, this role fit me like a glove. During our filming, this fabulous, creative, award winning director/co-writer, Dawn Fields shared some history regarding the difficulties experienced to get “Fragile Storm” to this point. It seems, she had cast the film more than a year earlier and filming had begun. Dawn’s very specific vision was not developing, not even close. The actors were talented, but just weren’t working out and neither were some of the key crew members. She felt the vibe were all wrong. So, gutsy Dawn stopped production, let everyone go except the young female actress Mackenzie Mason, and cut her losses. She set it aside for a year and focused on getting Lance Henriksen to accept the role of Norman. Now only one actor remained to cast with her new shooting schedule less than a week away. Timing is everything. Two (2) days later we are all on a sound stage outside of Los Angele s. It’s deserving and insane how many awards ”Fragile Storm” has won. It’s more than worth the ten (10) minutes it takes to watch it. What a ride! It’s now part of an award winning collection of short stories “Her Mind In Pieces” each story directed by women, about women struggling with various mental and emotional issues. If I’m not mistaken, I believe Ros Gentle is in one of the stories.

Jody portrays Bill Hoversten’s real life mother in “Mother’s Day Memories”

12. Your film Mother’s Day Memories has gotten some really great reviews. What was that experience like?
I must admit it puts a huge smile on my face when a film, tv, or stage show that I’ve been involved with, gets positive recognition. Absolutely delightful.

As in ”Fragile Storm”, I’m a victim of the ugly Alzheimer’s disease, only in “Mother’s Day Memories”, I’m in earlier stages of illness. It was an honor to be chosen for this touching homage which Bill Hoversten wrote/produced and played himself based on the real life tragedy experienced with his Mother.  Much of my dialog was the exact verbiage spoken by Bill’s mother during those extremely sensitive moments. Bill’s ability to relive them with me, was remarkable. I did my best to do justice to the memory of his mother. It was a very daunting experience yet so beautifully full of compassion and love all around.  In the film there is information learned that was not part of the real life story, but certainly added a twist near the end. Sadly, the truth is, Alzheimer’s disease tragically plays out this painful scenario in too many homes across the world. Bill honored not only his mother in his story, but all families afflicted, and was courageous enough to share it… thus letting others know that they are not alone in their pain.

13. What’s up next for you?
I’m deep in rewrites and loving it, on an Action/Fantasy/Romance feature film; “Return Of The Sacred”. I’m obsessed with tightening up the story and sub-text, etc. This film will take a chunk of money to produce due to the special effects needed. Wish me luck!

At the moment I have two different National commercial spots airing… thank goodness. I have a feature “Blood Born” and three shorts in post, one of which is a stretch for me as an old woman who is a younger Queen in another dimension who is actually a white horse in “Mykonos Blue”a tweens fantasy series, and two productions “Life Goes On” and “Born in his Body” waiting for the pandemic to allow their productions to safely go (back) to work.

“Mykonos Blue” a fantasy short. Jody portrays an old grandma, who is a Queen, who is actually a while horse!

My directing debut garnered awards for my psychological short “Traces Of Memory” and since then I’ve been wanting to direct a short again. I learned so much that first go at it… I would love to see what difference my additional knowledge would make this next time around. For now I’ll satisfy that desire and keep busy directing/taping/editing my actor clients with their self-tape auditions and demo reels.

Since the pandemic, like so many others, I teach acting on Zoom. Zoom has become our go-to tool…!

Hmmmm, maybe I’ll finally clean house, do my taxes, cut my hair…

February Spotlight: Duane Whitaker

Posted on February 5, 2021 in Spotlight

Duane has spent the last 30 years in Hollywood playing iconic roles such as Maynard in Pulp Fiction. He has also written projects such as From Dawn to Dusk 2 and Eddie Presley. Here, Duane looks back on his long career.

1. You grew up in Abilene, Texas. What was your childhood like?
I was actually only in Abilene for a couple of years, so my memory is a little sketchy on it. I grew up in Lubbock, Texas which was a pretty good size town – over two hundred thousand. It never really felt like a city but it was a pretty big town. I played a lot of sports growing up. That was my main thing for years. After my sophomore year in High School I pretty much stopped that, partied a bit, got in some trouble here and there, nothing too serious. I had always been interested in movies. I made a few super eight movies when I was pretty young and then started doing it again in high school and got interested in theater. I got some encouragement from a drama teacher and a visiting drama teacher and that gave me the idea that maybe I had some talent and could do it. So about the time I graduated, I started doing all the theater I could, community theater, a touring melodrama in the park, a show at the University.

2. How did you get into acting? When did you decide to come to LA?
I got a job at a dinner theater when I was seventeen doing a pre-show and waiting on tables between acts. That was actually a great experience. I considered myself a professional actor at that point. They paid me. Very very little, but still I got paid for my work. When I was twenty, I decided to make the move to L.A. and give it a shot.

3. What were some of your first experiences acting in LA on those early projects?
My early Hollywood experiences were pretty tough. I didn’t know one person here. Lived in my car for a while. Ended up getting a graveyard security guard job working for Merv Griffin which turned out well because I could do plays and have my days open for auditions.

I struggled for a long time trying to break into T.V. and film. Just kept doing theater, a lot of really interesting theater – got in over my head more than once, but I learned a lot. I finally started getting film and T.V. roles around 1986. My first real part on network television was probably Sledge Hammer.

Duane in Eddie Presley

4. In 1992 you had a film, Eddie Presley that you starred in and wrote. What was that experience like?
Eddie Presley was originally a one man play I wrote around 1990. It was sort of a metaphor about my life at the time. I was feeling really stuck. Day-playing mostly, still doing a lot of theater for free. It was about a homeless Elvis impersonator attempting a come back after suffering a nervous breakdown. It was an idea I had been kicking around for a long time and when I figured it out, I sat down and wrote the play in one night while I was working a guard job for a record company. My friend, Jeff Burr, was looking around for something to direct. He had a not so great experience on his last film and was looking to go back to a smaller indie type film. So we got together and adapted it into a screenplay and went out and raised the money and made the movie. It was like a small miracle. We played some festivals and sold it to the Sundance Channel and several years later a loaded DVD came out. It has a small, rabid following which is great.

5. How did you get the part of Maynard in Pulp Fiction? What was it like working with Quentin Tarantino? Any cool stories from the set?
Pulp Fiction… Well, this guy, Quentin Tarantino, came in and did a day on Eddie Presley. We had fun, talked about Lawrence Tierney mostly. He had shot Dogs about the same time we were shooting Eddie. I ran into him a while later and we talked and he said, “Hey, I’m doing this movie. There’s a part you’re kind of right for. I’ll have them call you.” It’s just almost that stupid. It was a long and painful process getting the role but it worked out. An amazing experience.

Duane in Pulp Fiction
Duane in Pulp Fiction
Duane in From Dawn Till Dusk 2

6. Next up for you was Tales from the Hood. Were you attracted to the horror genre? Could you see horror being a significant part of your future?
I knew Darrin and Rusty from Tales From The Hood through Jeff Burr. Pulp wasn’t out yet but there were rumblings. They had cast the role in Tales and the guy dropped out or something. Darren called Jeff Burr and asked him if he thought I could play an asshole. Jeff said, “Are you kidding? Talk to him for five minutes.” So they brought me in and gave me the job. Pretty good flick. I mean, the horror genre is a big part of my career. I co-wrote and co-starred in From Dusk Till Dawn 2, co-starred in Feast which turned out well and was a Project Greenlight movie. I believe I am part of 7 different horror franchises — at least that is what I was told.

7. Tell us about Stripteaser. How did you come up with the idea?
Stripteaser was an idea that came out of the blue. I remember writing on a legal pad: Blind guy walks into a strip bar. A friend called and asked if I had a low budget script. He had some people looking to make something. I lied and said it was written and then stalled the guy and sat down and wrote it in like seven days. I had no idea where it was going but it sort of wrote itself. He gave it to them and they hated it. So I stuck it in a drawer and it sat for a while and then a director I had worked with asked me if I had something (Roger) Corman might want to make. And yes I did. They were shooting the film about ten days later. It was crazy. I was doing Tales From The Hood at the same time so it was pretty cool having two films going simultaneously. The original title was Zipper’s Clown Palace, which I loved but Roger didn’t.

8. In the 2000’s you started working with Rob Zombie on Devil’s Rejects in 2005 and Halloween II in 2009. Is Rob someone you enjoy working with?
I met Rob Zombie, Mr. Zombie I call him, through Dan Roebuck. We were putting a script idea together. Again, some guy dropped out of Rejects and he brought me in to read and hired me. It was a lot of fun doing this bit with Roebuck. It’s barely in the movie but we shot the whole talk show which is in the extras. A while later he called and offered Halloween 2 which was a nice little role. I also did a role in Three From Hell but didn’t make the cut. I really like working with Rob. He gives you a lot of room. He expects you to show up with something, I think, and when you do, he’s good with that.

9. You were honored by American Cinematheque hosting a screening of your films Eddie Presley and Together and Alone at the Egyptian Theater. What was that experience like?
Together and Alone was a tiny little movie I wrote and directed sometime after Tales. It was a very personal movie that I just felt compelled to make. It was self financed from acting and writing jobs and I didn’t have to answer to anyone, but the budget was not too much. I had an amazing cast that made me look way better than I am. Very proud of the film. It sat for a long time but then a programmer at the American Cinnematheque discovered it because they were showing Eddie and wanted something to
show with it. It’s actually played there twice. The last time with a film I co-star in called Dead Letters. It came out on Blu- Ray recently with a bunch of extras.

Together and Alone

10. You’ve been in over 40 films and many television shows. What are 2 of the top projects you worked on and why?
I think I’m close to 60 features now and a bunch of T.V. things. I would say the top two would probably be first Pulp, just because the odds of being in something that special that catches a critical and popular wave like that are pretty long. I don’t think there’s a top 100 list it’s not on. And with good reason. Pretty amazing. And I would say the second would be Together and Alone for all the obvious reasons I talked about.

11. You’ve taught an acting class in Los Angeles for many years. What are the rewarding aspects of teaching?
Teaching was something I never really planned on doing but fell into. I found out what all teachers do; when you teach, you learn. I really enjoy it.

Getting Grace

12. What’s up next for you?
As far as projects in the can, I finished a film that Dan Roebuck and his daughter wrote and directed this summer which I think is going to be great, called Lucky Louie. I also have a film about to come out called Edge Of Town which I like a lot. Small film I shot in Georgia. Several other things hovering around. As far as what’s next, who knows? That’s the thing about this business; you never know. I’ve gone through periods where I thought, well, I guess this is over… but then something comes up. Bob Crane said, “Hope springs eternal for the actor…” a little while later he was bludgeoned to death with a tripod so we never know. Hopefully I’ll continue to get new creative opportunities. I’ve been very fortunate to consistently work for the number of years I have.

February Spotlight: Kristina Miller

Posted on February 3, 2021 in Spotlight

Kristina Miller-Weston is a true multi-hyphenate. From acting, dancing, singing in Musical Theater shows, to performing in comedy shorts to producing her own content and being a live performer for Universal Parks, Kristina has been playing iconic characters and creating new ones for some time now.  

1. Where did you grow up? Can you tell us a bit about your childhood?
I grew up in Scottsdale Arizona with my amazing parents and a lot of dogs. Most of my childhood was spent in a dance studio or singing in church. By the time I was in middle school I was training 30-40 hours a week as a dancer. Growing up an only child meant I became really good at creating a world of adventure in my room or the backyard. I also fancied myself a producer and creative at a young age. I would create shows with my friends and charge my parents the couch change to come see them. Made tickets and everything. I had a lot of gumption at that age even though I was told by my singing teacher that I was tone deaf. But my mom always said, “You can do anything you set your mind to, little missy.” I very much took that to heart and never stopped training, never stopped reaching for the stars.

2. What made you want to get into acting/performing?
Growing up, my dad exposed me to all the classic Movie Musicals. Everything about them made me want to be a part of that world. But it wasn’t until I was eleven and we took a trip to London that I decided I was going to be an actor. My dad had seen Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap when he was in London in his twenties. Agatha’s books were some of the only books that interested me as a kid, so my dad insisted we go see Mousetrap while we were there. I remember it vividly. When we got to the theater that night it just felt magical. The theatre was old and had a lovely musty smell to it. If those walls could talk… The place was packed. They had the sign in the lobby showing the counter for how long the show had been running and of course in my eleven year old brain I thought “these actors have been doing this show for 50 years! That’s amazing!” I was on the edge of my seat the entire show, which says a lot considering how uncomfortable those seats were. But there was magic that night and I walked out of the theater thinking “That’s what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.”

Cast of Nice Work if You Can Get It

3. You have BFA from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. Tell us about the training involved to get this degree.
My time at AMDA was a whirlwind. I was first admitted to the two-year conservatory program which was very intensive. Including rehearsals and classes I was spending about 60-70 hours a week training. I loved every second of it. I had never been afforded the time to just focus solely on this thing I wanted so desperately to make my life. Like I said before, people thought I was tone deaf but when I found the right teacher at AMDA everything changed. Turned out I just had to big of a voice that I didn’t have the right tools to control. As I was finishing my two years there the school added the BFA program and offered me a scholarship to be a part of the inaugural class. It would only be an additional year and a half of credits, so I figured why not. It was crazy! Because we were the first, we got a lot of one-on-one time with some amazing teachers. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything. We even did the school’s first book musical production, “Little Shop of Horrors”, in which I played Audrey.

4. What has been some of the most special musical theater productions you’ve been a part of?
Oh man this one is tough. I have had the privilege of working on some crazy stuff and with some amazing people. Some stand outs are working with Dick Van Dyke on Cabaret, Swinging for Jersey Boys, playing Mrs. Wormwood in Matilda and working with Sally Struthers was a blast. But there are two roles that have changed my world. Teresa in the International Tour of Barbie, Live the Musical and Queenie in Andrew Lippa’s Wild Party. Yes, they are polar opposites, but I think that kind of defines who I am as an actor. I’m Carol Burnett meets a wild blonde who will gut you if you cross her. But in all seriousness Barbie was an adventure of a lifetime. I traveled to 12 countries, did press, and performed in stadiums with 10,000 people in the stands. Not to mention I got to make kids laugh on the daily. Queenie was exhilarating in a different way. The Wild Party was in a hole in the wall theatre in Hollywood with max 60 people a night. But she was glorious to step into six times a week. Her story is tragic but important and one I think most woman can relate to in some compacity or another. It was an honor to tell her story.

Playing Teresa in The International Tour of Barbie
Playing Mrs. Wormwood in Matilda

5. What are some of your favorite Broadway shows in general?
The Wild Party, Come From Away, Hamilton (Saw the original Broadway cast and it was life changing), Cabaret (Sally is a bucket list), and 42nd St (First professional job I ever had).

Playing Queenie in The Wild Party
Playing Queenie in The Wild Party

6. What made you want to enter into the film space?
Working in Film/TV has always been a goal, but Theatre opportunities just presented themselves first. Both mediums offer unique storytelling abilities and I want to do all of it. Let me be Queenie in a whole in the wall theatre and the newest member of the Marvel Universe! Acting is acting, doesn’t matter where you do it. Tell a story and move people, that’s my job.

7. Tell us about The Ryzza Mae Show.
That was one of the silliest things I’ve ever done. When we were in Manila for Barbie, we did a ton of press, including singing on Manila Idol. But Ryzza was so much fun. She was an eight- year-old talk show/game show host. We went on her show to promote Barbie and she had to speak English, she normally spoke Tagalog on her show, but because we were American, she wanted to speak English. When we were backstage, she was practicing with us and at one point she yelled “Nosebleed” both Chelsea (Who played Barbie) and I panicked and thought something was wrong, turns out that is slang for “It’s all too much! I don’t know what they are saying!” She had more gumption and bravery than I have seen in most adults.

In the Closet comedy short

8. What has been your favorite film or TV project you’ve worked on so far?
In the Closet has to be my favorite. It stemmed from my husband writing me a scene I could film to have on my reel, but the concept was too good not to just make it into a full-fledged short. In the Closet is a hilarious comedy short about two women and what can happen when you find yourself in a closet after an unfortunate night. It was so much fun to make. I produced and Stephen directed. We built a walk-in closet in our living room from some old theater flats and some doors we found at the dump. We shot the whole 10 minute short in one day. It was crazy, exhausting but so much fun. So many of our talented friends worked on it with us. Tyler Milliron did all the editing in NYC, James Gallagher wrote the original score, Micah Zarlow was the director of photography and Craig McEldowney was there on the day to help with sound. We ended up finalizing at 7 festivals both domestic and international. If you would like to watch it here is the link.

9. You’ve started producing work as well. What insight has producing projects given you about this artform?

Producing your own work is a journey. It’s like a chose your own adventure book. You think you have a plan but inevitably a curve ball is thrown. It’s what I love about the process. I also love the comradery of it all. No matter what medium you’re producing in, it takes a village.

Playing the dead version of herself on Murder Among Friends

10. Any stories from set you can share?
When I was on Murder Among Friends, I had to play the dead version of myself on an autopsy table. I had crazy burn make up all over me and I had to be on a real autopsy table which is the coldest most uncomfortable place to be when you’re wearing next to nothing. Of course, they needed me to be completely still, but I could not stop shivering. Oddly, one of the most challenging scenes I’ve ever shot. But what was really funny was when I got home. So, I shot Murder Among Friends the week before my wedding. Which meant all my in-laws from England were staying in our one-bedroom apartment for a couple of nights before we went up to Monterey. After I was done shooting this scene, which remember included a lot of FX burn make-up, I had to drive home with it on. So, I open the door and my sister in-law gets up to greet me only to find a bloody burned face. It was hilarious! Well, maybe you had to be there…

I have been a swing for four shows in my life. Each time there has been a moment of being thrown in the deep end. The first show I ever swung was a show called Boomermania and I covered all three women in the show. One night I got a call 3 hours to curtain saying one of the girl’s lost their voice and wouldn’t be going on that night. I had yet to have any sort of proper rehearsal for this show nor did I have my own costumes. So I shows up at the theatre with a script and suitcase full of clothes and got to work. I was rehearsing the big monologue in the first act with the directors while our stage manager followed me with needle and thread sewing me in the other actress costume. That night I lost my pants, bra and wig on stage. It was the most freeing experience of my life. I ended up in the track for about three weeks in the end.

Cast of Warren Carlyle’s Havana

I also was a swing for Warren Carlyle’s Havana. Again, I understudied all the females. And again, the lead triple threat had to call out with a couple hours’ notice. This show was big and involved a lot of dance lifts, falls and Brazilian rope dancing. So while I was being refitted into someone else’ costumes and doing a run through I just prayed I wouldn’t fall on my face. The show went off without a hitch. All of my castmates shoved with love that night and I could not have been more grateful.

Working Grinchmas at Universal Studios Hollywood

11. Last year you were performing for Universal Studios Hollywood Park. What was that experience like?
I’ve actually had the pleasure of working Grinchmas at Universal Studios Hollywood three years running. Except last year of course. My first two years I was one of the Singing Martha May’s which was an absolute blast! And then in 2019 the creatives decided to change things up and discontinue the Martha May show. So, I went in and auditioned for a regular Who but as luck would have it, they were adding a couple of new characters that year. Sibling Whos, who were DJs. Yup I got to live my best life as a who DJ with a shaved head and mohawk. Dazzle J Who, was a blast! I got to lead dance parties and joke around with guests and not wear heels and a corset! Most people ask how I breathe in the nose and the truth is you don’t. Yes, for those who don’t know we spend an hour in the make-up chair every day for Grinchmas to have prosthetics applied to our faces, so we look like the Whos from Jim Carey’s the Grinch. It is the best seasonal job because the cast is always full of joy and the guests light up when they enter Whoville.

My last year on the snowflake as Dazzle J Who I was also two months pregnant and just trying to not vomit while they put my nose on every morning.
Hopefully 2021 we will be able to bring some Christmas Joy to the masses again.

12. How have you been dealing with COVID as an actress, performer, and producer?
It has been sad really. But I know it’s all for the greater good. I was lucky to land a fun day job casting Audiobooks back at the beginning of 2020 which has enabled me to keep working in some creative capacity. I also had a baby in July and bought a house. Why not try to do all the things during the apocalypse. I’ve been spending the downtime I have in classes trying to stay sharp but still needed another creative outlet which led to me starting a Podcast with one of my dearest friends, Bobby Traversa. My Favorite Flop is a podcast all about Broadway’s musical misfits and fabulous failures. It has been a wonderful outlet to geek out and seems to be bringing some real joy to theatre actors and fans alike. You can find us where ever you get your podcasts or at

13. What’s up next for you?
I’m not sure! My Favorite Flop is taking off so that is where a lot of my focus has been right now. I’ve also been writing and exploring that creative side. I’m hoping that when the world opens back up again, I can reproduce my one woman show “OUT LOUD!” This was a cabaret show I wrote and produced at The Rockwell Table and Stage in the fall of 2019. The plan was to then bring it to the Fringe Festival and some other venues, but COVID. If you want to see some songs from the show, they are on my YouTube channel. This includes a wonderful one-woman rendition of One Day More where I play all the characters…

Chris also has the pitch deck if anyone is interested.

January Spotlight: Rayford Sewell

Posted on January 14, 2021 in Spotlight

Born in Houston, Rayford grew up playing guitar and singing with a passion. After taking his musical talent to legendary venues like The Viper Room and Austin’s SXSW, Rayford has gone on to act in many hit shows including Hawaii Five-0, Body of Proof, The Longmire, and the Deuce.

1. You grew up in Houston, Texas. What was it like growing up there?
H-town will always have a special place in my heart. I lived off Shepherds Ridge in a subdivision a little outside the city. I remember always taking trips to the creek where my friends and I would check out turtles, ducks, and jump in and out of leaves. I was always competing in sports. Swimming and football was something I did every year. I would be in our backyard pool almost everyday. My dad taught me how to hunt and my mom how to cook. I was always out in nature no matter how hot it was. 

Rayford with his acoustic guitar
Rayford with his acoustic guitar

2. You started out playing music and singing, what inspired you to get into that?
Old 70’s tunes and the grunge era really sparked my interest. Bands like Nirvana, Bush, Creedence Clearwater, and Neil Young inspired me. I bought my first guitar and an old Fender amp off of a guy that played in Wednesday night church. From there I never put it down.

3. You’ve played at Austin’s South by Southwest Festival and in venues like the infamous Viper Room on Sunset Boulevard. How does it feel to rock a crowd at these legendary venues and festivals?
Explosive. When you play live there’s a lot of energy and electricity flowing through the air. Playing a venue like the Viper or SXSW, there’s a lot of history and great vibes on those stages. Hearing the crowd sing with me on one of my songs is one of the best feelings ever.

Rayford performing at The Viper Room

4. What made you transition to acting?
I was going to Southwest Texas State University at the time as an Advertising major. I needed 3 years of Spanish, even though I completed them in High School. I asked the counselor, “How do I get out of taking Spanish classes?” He replied, “You can get into Theatre.” “Sign me up” I said. From there I learned so much from taking on camera courses and learning about so many inspiring plays. The rest is history.

5. You’ve performed on stage in plays like Peter Pan and Harvey. What tools has working on the stage given you that have stayed with you?
Plays are brilliant. So much fun. Dedication, memorization, and everlasting friendships have helped me as an actor today.

6. In 2008 you had your first Television appearance in Heroes: Destiny. Describe that feeling of being on a set like that for the first time.

A Closeup of Rayford for Hawaii Five-0
A Closeup of Rayford for Hawaii Five-0

7. You’ve also made appearances in shows like Body of Proof, Matador, Longmire, and Hawaii Five-O. What are some of your fondest memories from those sets?

Body of Proof was shot in an alleyway in downtown LA. They blocked off the street and people were standing behind barricades to see what was being filmed. This was new to me at the time. As for Matador I always wanted to work with Robert Rodriguez and it happened. On Longmire it would have to be when I had a conversation with the producer about how they wanted to throw pottery vases at me in the scene. “Just make sure to cover up your money maker when they throw it.” As for Hawaii Five-0, it was one of the most chill vibes I’ve ever been to on set. Very island like but what can you expect, it’s Hawaii! This was the first time I drove a car in a scene. The director Carlos Bernard told me, “Ok just go about 15mph while saying your lines and stop up there.” I was like, “Ok lets do this.” Haha!

Rayford on the Set of Body of Proof
Rayford on the Set of Body of Proof

8. You recently played Roy on The Deuce in 2019. Any differences working on a premier HBO show that competes in the awards season?
I’ve been a big fan of the show since Season 1 came out. The 70’s era has always been one of my favs because of the way people talked, walked, and dressed. The set didn’t feel any different from any other show I’ve been on, other than the amount of nudity that was constantly around.

Rayford’s Action shot from Longmire
Rayford’s Action shot from Longmire

9. I’m sure you’ve made some great friends along the way, any interesting people you can tell us about?
I meet interesting people everyday. LA is such an eclectic and vibrant city. I’ve met the most crazy and interesting characters just walking my dog.

Rayford on Paramount’s Sound Stage
Rayford on Paramount’s Sound Stage

10. How long have you been living in LA for? What about being a working actor living in this town is the most satisfying and rewarding?
I’ve been living in LA for 12 years now. The freedom of living life and having people acknowledge my work on television and film is the most satisfying and rewarding.

11. You’re a very fit person, what’s been the biggest motivation/secret/ life hack you employ to keep up a dedicated workout regime?
No bread. Haha, only on occasion. Dedication, dedication, dedication. I’ve also had abs since I was a baby

12. What’s up next for you? Any projects you’re working on?
Creating some new songs for my first release on my new album. Always praising God everyday and helping our world through charities like Toys for Tots. My dream would be to work with directors like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and Quentin Tarantino. After working on networks like HBO, CBS, and ABC, to name a few, it’s been an incredible journey. As for the future, I’m really looking forward to meeting both new and old directors, producers, and casting directors that I will work with on my upcoming roles.

January Spotlight: Judy Geeson

Posted on January 10, 2021 in Spotlight

Judy Geeson is an English film, stage, and television actress. She started her career learning ballet. At the age of 18, Judy starred in To Sir, With Love opposite Sidney Poitier. Throughout the years she has worked with actors such as John Wayne, David Niven, Joan Crawford, and Helen Hunt and worked with creatives like Rob Zombie on his latest films. Here she answers some questions about growing up in the flower generation, hanging out with rock stars, and making Los Angeles her home away from England. 

To Sir, With Love with Sidney Poitier
Lords of Salem

1. What was your childhood like growing up in Sussex in the post-war generation?
I lived in the English country side. Our family life was quiet. My father had a vegetable garden. My mother cooked every meal. My fathers new job placed him in London and so we moved. My parents decided to put my sister Sally and I in a theatrical school for one term while they found a more suitable school for us. We walked a mile to the bus stop  .. often alone … I am so glad I had that experience .. I loved walking alone with an ice lolly in my hand .. the streets were pretty and totally residential .. not a shop  in sight … occasionally I would see someone I knew .. but knew only as a passer by .. I think it gave me confidence to face life alone.

2. You were enrolled in the Corona Academy to learn ballet. Had you considered being an actress when you were a child?
No I wanted to be a ballet dancer but had trouble with one hip which gave me headaches so I put all my energy into acting and found that I loved it and still do until this day.

To Sir, With Love with Sidney Poitier

3. In 1967 you were 18 and landed your first major role opposite Sidney Poitier in To Sir, with Love. Can you tell us about that experience working alongside one of the greats at such a young age?
Sidney was wonderful .. so easy going … so wanting to make us feel comfortable …. looking back I realize it was a special time.

4. Being a young adult in the late 60’s and early 70’s was already pretty wild, to be famous on top of that must have been an incredibly interesting experience. What are some of your fondest memories of being young in such an exciting era.
It was an easy time .. flower power .. restaurants that many of us went to …  where you could see Michael Cain … Mick Jagger .. no cameras waiting outside .. always somewhere to park … San Lorenzos … always someone you knew was there. 

5. Did you party with any British rock stars?
I spent a little bit of time around Eric Clapton .. I always liked him .. gentle kind man … I first met him in Nassau at Kevin Mc Clory’s house .. Patti Boyd was with him .. .. I used to make a Japanese dish called Sukyaki … it involved cooking vegetables in a vegetable broth broth over a small fire and then adding very thin strips of beef  .. one evening Eric and Patty arrived and saw me cooking and Eric said what you doing girl .. you making an Irish stew. 

Judy in her Berserk costume
Judy playing Angela Rivers in Berserk with Joan Crawford

6. In 1967 you worked with Joan Crawford in the horror thriller, Berserk.  What was Joan Crawford like to work with?  
Joan Crawford was always professional .. never a diva .. I was aware that she found her face and her hands distracting … they had aged .. she wore white gloves when ever possible and had small stickers stuck to the side of her face to lift her face up. I liked her.

Fear in the Night, with Peter Cushing

7. 1972 found you working with the late, great Peter Cushing and Joan Collins in in the horror/thriller Fear in the Night.  What was that experience like?
I liked Peter Cushing very much .. he was an intensely private man. He wore white cotton clothes to read the papers in the morning so his hands didn’t get covered in print. He was always right with you in every scene you played . He and his wife who by this time had died .. used to visit a cockatoo in the London zoo and when he heard that I had a cockatoo he asked if I would bring mine in .. their meeting gave him great joy.

Mad About You

8. You’ve been in so many television shows over the years. What was your favorite show to be a part of? What made it so special?
I was involved with the British series Danger UXB … it was  a new series by John Hawksworth … the scripts were so good and  the actors all so good. I loved Mad about You .. because the cast were lovely and the crew and over the years you become a sort of family. 

9. You’ve worked with many Oscar-winning actors including Sidney Poitier, John Wayne, David Niven, Joan Crawford, and Helen Hunt. In what ways is it rewarding to work with such great actors?
I have always enjoyed working with Joan .. she is a professional through and through. Working with good actors make you better … all you have to do is react .

Judy Geeson with Garrett Wang in Star Trek: Voyager
Judy Geeson with Garrett Wang in Star Trek: Voyager

10. Do you have a fun story you can share from set working with any of these actors?
I have been lucky over the years to have remained in contact with Sidney through mutual friends. One day we were talking about To Sir With Love and he told me that he and James Clavell had wanted to make this film for some time but no studio would back them so they went to Columbia and said we want to make this film and we will take a token fee and our expenses and a share of the profits . Sidney said that this film had educated his children and his grandchildren and it still goes on and on.

Working with good actors make you better … all you have to do is react .

 11. You moved to California in 1984. You’ve volunteered teaching Shakespeare alongside fellow British actors at a school in Watts. You also owned an antique store in Los Angeles for 10 years. Do you consider California and Los Angeles home?
I have lived here in Los Angles longer than I have lived any where else .. I consider Los Angles my home.

Judy with Richard Attenborough and John Hurt in 10 Rillington Place
Judy with Richard Attenborough and John Hurt in 10 Rillington Place

12. 10 Rillington Place is based on a real-life case of the British serial killer John Christie.  You worked with two actors who would go on to make their mark in the motion picture industry, Richard Attenborough and John Hurt.  What was that experience like? 
I was already friends with John and Richard so that made things easy … I loved Richard Fliescher .. although the subject was dark we still had a few laughs  …. I have great respect for Ludovic Kennedy.

13. In 1975 you worked with The Duke, John Wayne in Brannigan.  Was he a gentle giant to work with?
I was very fond of John Wayne … I knew of course he was a major American movie star .. the all time cowboy .. but after working with him for a few days he became John .. I didn’t call him Duke because I didn’t know that was what he liked to be called … we talked about it and he decided he liked being called John.

14. You have worked in stage, film and television throughout your career.  Do you have a preference?
I don’t think there is much difference between the cinema and TV … both involve the camera and either the camera likes you or it doesn’t  … TV I think is more demanding …. more lines and moving a lot faster.

Judy Geeson attending Brit Week

15. Do you have a favorite theatre production you’ve been a part of?  And do you see yourself ever returning to the theatre?
I did a production of Brain Friel’s Faith Healer in Dublin with Donal Mc Cann .. that was special.

16. In recent years you have worked with rocker Rob Zombie on two of his films; 2012’s The Lords of Salem, and 31 in 2016.  What is Rob like as a director?  You worked with some greats on those two films; Malcolm McDowell, Bruce Davison, Meg Foster and Patricia Quinn.
I love Rob and Malcolm and Bruce and Meg … I loved working with them.

Judy on the set of Lords of Salem with Rob Zombie
Judy on the set of Lords of Salem with Rob Zombie
Judy playing Sister Dragon in Rob Zombie’s 31