Nemesis Dame12 Aug 2014, Posted by in ARTICLES & INTERVIEWS
by Onfilm Magazine
Onfilm, November 1, 2003So hi there, how’s everything going?I can’t complain Nick, as the Yanks would say; “its all good”!
Am I right in thinking you’re based in LA for the most part? What are you up to at the moment?
Yes, I am based in Los Angeles, and my husband is here. However, I spend big chunks of time traveling, to do location work, Star Wars Conventions, Public Speaking, or for family reasons. I’m based in LA not only to be available for acting work but to also learn the craft of film making, which is what I have always seen as a part of my future, to write and direct for the screen. There is no denying that LA is the capital of the film making world, and it is a brilliant learning center. Its all on your door step. Every day, I can step out for a screening and listen to the director discuss his craft, endless courses and events are constantly available. I am currently assisting a director on an independent feature as my first step into focusing on the craft of directing. And I will be doing a directors course here next year. I see LA as an “occupational hazard”, I’m here with a purpose, but NZ is, and will always be Home.
Do you make it home to NZ much?
Yes I do, for work or family matters. On average, I usually get home about twice a year
What was it that attracted you to the part of Emily Gray in “Nemesis Game”?
I had been longing to play a “baddie”, as dark, psychologically ugly characters make for a challenging, juicy, acting journey. And along came Emily, as dark as they get. I can’t say I enjoyed playing her, going home each night feeling like a monster, ain’t much fun, but doing Emily has now prepared me for my next psycho! And how could I say “No” to Jesse and Matthew, whom through diligence, perseverance and an enormous amount of hard work got to make their first feature film? A feat that I was in awe of, and incredibly proud of!
Of course, you appeared in writer/director Jesse Warn’s first short – what is it that you enjoy about working with him?
I recognized a major talent when I read his first short film. He is an incredibly clever writer with an original voice. In person Jessie is pure sunshine and an endless source of creativity. I wanted to support his talent and dreams, and I continue to support young film makers and actors as it gives me much satisfaction to invest into the journey of another artist. Its also a way of giving back and acknowledging the many people that invested in me along my path. I believe in Jessie, he is a joy to work with, and he brings a much needed child like enthusiasm and spirit onto his sets.
Given that you appeared in Warn’s first short, he really had to cast you in his first feature, right? As a good luck charm? (Taking your talent as a given, of course…)
No. There was no sense of obligation for Jessie to have to cast me. He had the freedom to choose. Its an unwritten understanding I have with Directors I’ve worked with, including Lee Tamahori, I would never ask or pressure them into casting me. They will cast me if I am right for the role. Directors will more then often work with the same actors if they are right for the character, because you already have an artistic connection and a working relationship. I was ripe to play Emily, and as a Kiwi Actor, I fulfilled the co-production brief. There is no denying that my earlier generosity towards Jessie and Matthew with their first short films, returned to me, and no doubt, featured in their decision making.
I had no knowledge of their project until the role was offered to me. The older I get, the more I realize this industry is about team work and working with talented people whom you connect with, trust, believe in and respect. There are endless examples of directors who work with the same technicians and actors when they can, which makes total sense to the creative process. But hey, I do like the idea of being thought of as “a lucky charm”!!
How long did the “Nemesis” shoot involve for you?
Being a cameo role, and a low budget short shoot, I was done with pre production needs and shoot days in under two weeks
What was the best aspect of being involved with “Nemesis” for you?
Working with Jessie and Matthew again. Acting opposite Ian McShane, Toronto is a fabulous shooting location, and I learned and grew as an actor playing the dark, disturbed Emily Gray.
Do you have a particular process you use when creating a role for film or TV, or do you take a more ad hoc approach, depending on what the role demands? If the former, could you briefly outline your process? And if the latter, could you give a couple of examples (from “Nemesis” and “The Water Giant” perhaps) of how you’ve found your characters?
I could write a book based on this question! I definitely have a process. The most important work happens in your preparation, and pre production period, so by the time you get to set, it is purely a matter of execution, surrender and allowing the character to do their thing. But you have to be fully prepared in order to let go. Knowing and being the character, understanding their world and their function in telling the story, is the job of the Actor. How well rooted you are in a character and their world, thats how good your going to be. So how do I get there? A character’s life does not begin at the beginning of a film or a stage play. Their lives begin in the womb. I pay particular attention to my character’s childhood, for there is alot of truth in the saying; “Show me the child, and I’ll show you the Man”. Childhood has the major part in formulating the adult they become. How a character talks, behaves, what they believe in etc etc. As an actor I ask myself the question with each character; “Who am I and how did I get to be this way”.
For Beth Heke, my main resource was the Novel, and a brilliant screenplay from which I garnered the bulk of information I needed in composing Beth. I wrote her life story in detail, down to her first encounter with Jake. And I spoke with one woman whom had a life like Beth’s. I had not been married or had children, but I could use my own experience of addiction to understand Beth’s attachment to Jake. Despite intellectually knowing something is not good for you, on an emotional level, Beth was totally addicted to Jake. I had no life experiences in common with Emily, so I researched her through reading alot of profiles/books on woman like her. At the time, we also had a well publicized story of a woman who had killed her children, so I drew alot on that. A character like “Crazy Norma”, I had more imaginative license with, as she was considered “eccentric” but from my actors eyes, she was the most sane of them all. She was only called crazy by the village, because not only did she believe in the Water Giant, she feed him every day! To play an Alien in Starwars Episode II, I totally worked off the writer/directors, George’s vision of these beings to portray her.
At the end of all the preparation, research and rehearsals, within creative moments, I aim to let go, get out of the way, and to always trust my instincts.
I was recently reading an article (in The Listener) that quoted Lindsay Shelton as saying it was always a regret of his that the industry never developed a vehicle for you, to capitalize on your post-“Once Were Warriors” profile. And it’s a good point – other than reprising the character of Beth in “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted”, your lead role as Katie Keen in “When Love Comes”, and a walk-on in “I’ll Make You Happy”, you’ve been conspicuously absent from NZ screens. What’s up with that then? Do you think the local industry was resistant to the idea of creating “stars” for instance?
What’s up with that?? Indeed, as per the sentiment of Lindsay Shelton, it comes down to a lack of opportunities. Our local industry is incredibly small, and under funded, as you know, and on average we make one to maximum three films per year. Limited opportunities for all New Zealand actors, but even more so for Maori actors. Unfortunately in NZ, I am only considered for Maori roles, but I am fortunate that on an international platform, I can play anything. Only two films since Once Were Warriors was made, have provided Maori actors with vehicles, Brokenhearted and Whale Rider in a 10 year period (Correct me if I’m wrong)
If Warriors had been done here in the States, all the cast would have had more acting opportunities. Particularly Mamaengaro who played Grace with brilliance, what a wasted talent! Having said that, I am confident that our industry will grow and be more prolific, and with more Maori film makers putting themselves into the driving seat, more opportunities will, and have arisen for Maori talent, particularly in television. I myself am currently producing the development phase for a Maori feature film which is totally pre colonial and will be done in the Maori language. I also like to believe that the enormous success of Lord of the Rings has helped us to be less reluctant about “Kiwi Stars”.
I know you’ve filmed an ep of the “Aroha” series in the past year or two, but that has yet to screen… Have you done any other NZ-based work recently that we’ll hopefully be seeing in the near future?
No. The only other thing I was offered back home was a short film called; “Family Tree” written and directed by Luke Mayes. (A happy investment into another talent I believe in)
So how was the whole experience of voicing the character of alien Taun We in “Attack of the Clones” for you?
I had a ball playing Taun We, Working with George Lucas, Ewan McGregor and Temuera Morrison, and learning about the world of special effects. I didn’t just do voice. They shot me doing all the scenes, walking and talking, and then went away and computerized her look. Same as the Gollum process for Lord of the Rings. Having recently completed working on Star Wars Episode 111, as a Senator, I can definitely say, I had more fun playing an Alien then a human!
When I did Episode 11, I really had no idea of the world I was entering, not being a Star Wars or big time Sci-Fi fan. I remember going with my husband to the Premiere of Episode 11 here in Hollywood, 2 years after the shoot, and at the end of the film, I looked at him and said, “This is abit of a big deal isn’t it dear”! Then you do a Star Wars convention, and oh my God, you realize then, the world you have become of a part of for LIFE. I now realize how privileged I am to be a part of one of the biggest cinematic legacies of all time. And it was definitely a major coup going from doing Episode 11 with George Lucas straight onto doing a role for Steven Spielberg’s A.I.
Now, I know it’s probably not wise for an actress to diss George Lucas but, based on the evidence of his last three films, his real talent seems to be for getting really crap performances out of really good actors (eg, Liam Neeson, Ewen McGregor, Natalie Portman etc) … Can/will you shed any light on that? (Absolutely sweet if you’d prefer not to go into that…)
I found George to be a very efficient easy going Director who is very clear about what he wants. As an actor you do adjust your performances according to the genre, Star Wars is a very specific genre. In the 21st century, the actor fits into the special effects, as opposed to the backdrop working around the actor. Personally I think what is seen as bad acting in the last few Star Wars, is more a reflection of what the films have grown into, because if you look at the earlier chapters, you got strong characters with good performances. These days it seems to be more about the effects. I felt Matrix 2 suffered a similar fate with the film been dominated by clever effects at the expense of character, relationship, and a clear story line, that you could care about at the end of the film. I think George did a great job of American Graffiti, and I would love to see him return to a similar genre. We cannot deny, the Man is a Visionary who has created a world that means “everything” to millions of people around the globe.
And now you’re on the convention circuit I understand, mixing it up with those nutty Star Wars fanatics… That must be kinda weird and wonderful…?
I only do the odd one around the States, so I find them enjoyable, as opposed to some who do them as a way of life. I’ve learnt about the whole Star Wars history through fans, and fortunately, only once in a blue moon do you get a real “nutter”. Most fans are heavily into the Sci-Fi world, computers and technology, which I find fascinating given I’m not of the techno era. I’ve also had the pleasure of doing conventions with some amazing talent. And I cannot complain about the financial rewards. There is only two other films in history, that actors can base a convention career on, traveling the world signing autographs; earning their bread and butter; Star Trek, Lord of the Rings has now entered that realm, and Star Wars has always been a given.
So, have you got any projects looming on the horizon that you can tell us about? Oh go on
. I am currently attached, along with Christopher Plummer and James Cromwell, to a big budget futuristic feature, to be shot next year. I’m also attached to an Independent edgy rock film to be shot early next year in Minnesota, and I am very excited to be attached, along with Rachel Griffiths, to Anna Kokkinos (Head On) next feature to be shot in Melbourne. But as I have learnt Nick, you can only take one day at a time in our game. Projects do fall over or get delayed and sometimes don’t happen at all, and then projects can also come out of the blue! My NZ Maori feature project will continue to consume me between acting gigs. And along with the general demands of a self employed life and now been a wife, I can’t ever say I don’t have anything to do!
Early in your career you wrote a couple of well-received stage plays – are you still writing? If yes, what?
By the end of this year, I will have written my first short film which I will direct next year. I see an enormous amount of writing in my future via screenplays, stage plays and I’ll write the novels, and memoirs when I’m retired!
Well, I think I’m pretty much done – is there anything else you’d like to mention?
The ultimate Star Wars compliment. At a New York Sci-Fi Convention, a very sincere fan said to me after purchasing his signed photo.
Fan; “Taun We is a first for me”. Rena; “What do you mean by a first?”. Fan; “Its the first time I’ve ever wanted to have sex with an Alien”.!!
I should also mention that I am currently honored to be a subject in an Exhibition on at the Academy called; “Imaging and Imagining”, the Film World of Pat York. A stunning display of celebrity photography spanning the 1960s to the present day. I’m in her present day section right next to Anthony Hopkins, not bad for a little Maori girl from the sticks eh?!
Do you still have people who fancy themselves as really funny telling you to cook them some eggs? If yes, how do you react?
Yes, I even get that line here in the USA! One can only be complimented by it, but I never hesitate to tell them to; “Cook your only bloody eggs!”, in gest of course. Much like the joke that went around in NZ in the 90s; “How many Beth Hekes does it take to change a lightbulb…..How many?…..Change your own f**ken lightbulb!” It is part of the privilege and price of been in a hit film. Would I do it again, absolutely!
Rena Owen, thank you very much for your time!