Above the Line

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Octavia Spencer’s journey has been anything but overnight. Born in Montgomery, Alabama, the Academy Award winner saw her first film sets in her home state while working in production, first in extras casting and then as a production assistant. In 1995, she worked on the film that made Matthew McConaughey a star, A Time to Kill, which was shot in Mississippi. In it, she made her screen debut. Fifteen years later, Spencer returned to the Southern state to shoot The Help, the film that would earn her an Oscar.

In The Help, Spencer brings to life Minny, a maid in 1960s Mississippi. Outspoken and brash, Minny is the emotional center of the much lauded film, bringing a sense of mirth that balances out the painful truths portrayed.

Spencer has since appeared in Diablo Cody’s Paradise, Get on Up and Fruitvale Station, which she also executive produced. She starred in the television series Red Band Society and Mom. She appeared in the Bong Joon-Ho dystopian thriller Snowpiercer and also starred opposite Kevin Costner in the New Orleans shot drama Black or White, which opened the 2014 New Orleans Film Festival. In that film she co-starred with New Orleans native Anthony Mackie, whom she befriended during filming. And this year, she joined the cast of The Divergent Series, portraying Johanna in Divergent.

Now a personality widely beloved, Spencer is just hitting her stride on both the big and small screen, her best performances still to come.

Octavia spoke with me over the phone from Los Angeles.

MH: We’re based down in New Orleans. Anthony Mackie has been great to us. He was kind enough to do an interview with us right as The Hurt Locker was winning the Oscar as best picture and he’s just been a great supporter.
OS: Aw, he’s a great guy. A really great guy.

MH: And such a terrific actor. I have so enjoyed watching his career explode over the last five years.
OS: Yes, it really has. He’s pretty fantastic. I’ve known of him, but we have just really fermented a friendship when we worked together on Black or White.

MH: Let my pull my fancy questions.
OS: Alright. (laughs)

MH: They’re not that fancy.
OS: Well, the answers won’t be fancy either. (laughs)

MH: So first of all, you were absolutely hilarious at the Oscars this year. I thought that bit with the predictions was so funny.
OS: Well, thank you.

MH: Early in your career, you worked in production. Is that right?
OS: I did. I was an intern in the extras casting department, then became a PA in the casting department and then a set PA. That was pretty fun.

MH: Many actors never see that side of the filmmaking process. How did that pay dividends into your acting career? Did it help your process in any way?
OS: Honestly, I don’t know that it helped me as an actress. It definitely helped me as a person. And also how to conduct myself in this industry, because we all see movies as this glamorous thing. But it’s a business. It’s a job. It’s just like working at a bank. You wanna be on time. You wanna do your job. Whatever it is that you do – whatever field in the entertainment industry that you’re in – you just wanna conduct yourself professionally. It was great in that regard. It was also great meeting people and just kind of demystifying the whole movie conundrum for a person from Montgomery, Alabama.

I can’t say that it helped me as an actor, but it definitely gave me opportunities. The directors’ were always saying how animated I was and I’d hear, “You just have this personality.” They wanted me to read for stuff but I was ill prepared because I was not a person who had studied at that time.

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MH: You’re a native of Montgomery, Alabama. Acting isn’t exactly a common professional there. What made you want to become an actor?
OS: I had always wanted to be an actor. From my earliest memory of seeing a Steven Spielberg movie, I though, “What is it that they’re doing?” I didn’t even know what it was called but they were in movies. My mom was a very practical woman, and so I didn’t think that pursuing acting was practical. She always wanted us to have jobs or careers where we could basically have fulfilling lives, but also be able to take care of ourselves. So, acting was always a dream that I had since I was a child.

MH: After you began your training as an actor, and began to embark upon your career, what was your biggest fear?
OS: I don’t know that I had any fears. I mean, I’m fearful and neurotic of bugs and things like that. But I wasn’t fearful in the way of thinking, “What’s life going to be as an actor?” I never really had any of that fear. You can’t take that kind of stuff on. I was always a very hopeful person and opportunities always seemed to present themselves.

We all have the fear of “Am I going to be able to make enough money to take care of myself?” But I don’t know that I was ever worried that it wouldn’t happen. That I wouldn’t get to act.

Success is measured in different ways. For some people, it’s being on covers of magazines. And for other people, it’s, “Hey I’m working at a dinner theater making good money, supporting myself and doing great plays.” Do you know what I mean? Getting to do what you love is measured differently.

MH: Your success hasn’t been overnight. You’ve built it brick by brick. Did you have a low point? Did you ever consider giving up on acting?
OS: No, no, no! I had a wonderful support group of friends and we were all starting out at the same time. We just kept each other motivated and when jobs weren’t happening all the time, you just did what you needed to do to pick up the slack until you got that next audition. Or you borrowed $500. My group of friends borrowed and repaid the same $500 to each other several times over. I’m not even kidding!

MH: I’ve been there! I don’t think you’ve really worked in the film industry unless you have that story to tell.
OS: No. Unless you’re a child born with silver spoon in hand, not understanding the opportunity that’s being given. But I just had a very wonderful, ambitious group of friends and we were all there. There are low points where you’re thinking, “Ugh, when’s the next job gonna come?” But quitting was never an option. It was never even anything I thought about.

MH: What were you doing right before the audition that really changed your life?
OS: I worked at a market research company because there had been a writers’ strike. Jobs were coming back online. The studios and everyone were getting back to work after the writers’ strike but it was slow. So I did several things. But the one that I did most regularly was, I worked at a market research company.

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MH: And what was that audition?
OS: It was The Help.

MH: What a great film. One I revisit frequently. You are wonderful in it!
OS: Thank you!

MH: I was fortunate to meet director Tate Taylor when he premiered Get On Up in Jackson, Mississippi. He was such a sweetheart.
OS: He is indeed. He loves Mississippi and he always takes whatever projects he’s working on to bring economic growth to the state. I think that’s really beautiful for a favorite son of the state. That’s really great of him. He’s pretty fantastic.

MH: Your performance in The Help just looks so effortless. In fact, many of your performances just seem so naturally effortless! I know they’re not, but that’s my impression.
OS: (big laugh) Well, thank you! That makes me smile because, whew, that’s the job. You have to make it seem as if you’re not searching for it. Thank you, I appreciate that.

MH: You really do that. Even watching a drama like Black or White, You look so comfortable in your own skin. Are you really comfortable on set? How do you do that?!
OS: (laughs) By being the most neurotic person on the planet! Honestly, it comes from all of the preparation that you do, trusting in your process and the director and other filmmakers’ process. But definitely the director: you are in a partnership. And then your scene partner. But for me…I just don’t know! I’m really neurotic. If they don’t ever say, “We have it,” then we’ll keep going until I feel like they have it.

You can ask me, “What do you think of your performance in this?” And I’m going to say, “I could have done better. I could have done something different.” I’m always wanting to keep exploring the path of whatever character I’m playing. You only know yourself. When you’re trying to bring another person to life – to give them authenticity and find their humanity – it takes a lot of detective work. Sometimes you solve the mystery and sometimes you don’t. One thing that you must do is make people feel that they know you. That they identify your character as a real human being. So when you say, “Oh, you make it look easy. You make it look effortless,” that is a huge compliment. Thank you! Because that’s one of the things that it’s our job to do.

MH: You are welcome and it’s a well-deserved compliment. I’ve heard that, long prior to working with him on Black or White, you were a huge Kevin Costner fan.
OS: I am, indeed.

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MH: How do you prepare to work with someone like that? Someone who has been a part of film for so long and that you have watched for so long?OS: With someone like Kevin, you have to do your homework. You have to be prepared. You have to be ready because he is. Knowing that he paid for this movie out of his pocket, you just want to do your due diligence and you just have to be prepared. And I loved working with him. He’s just a joy.

MH: He’s amazing. I can’t wait to watch this phase of his career.
OS: Yeah, I know.

MH: So some of my favorite scenes in Black or White are with you and Andre Holland, who is an extraordinary talent.
OS: Yes!

MH: He is so good. I had just finished watching The Knick, Soderberg’s new Cinemax show, and he is incredible.
OS: I haven’t seen it yet, but he is a brilliant actor. He’s a force of nature. He’s very grounded and authentic. There’s this depth that he always has with every character. He’s just very deep as an actor. I love him.

MH: In the scene where you, as Rowena, catch Reggie (Andre Holland) smoking, why do you think she slaps him more than once?
OS: I think she does because it’s the disbelief that she had been blinded that entire time. Sometimes love is blind. That someone would chance throwing everything away for that fleeing moment of instant gratification. Nobody wants to see anyone throw their life away or an opportunity away.

It was also for the granddaughter. She gives that whole monologue about how precious each and everyone is. She feels like he had to do his part because it’s not his decision to make, now that he has a child. He has someone else that he has to be responsible for. When you have someone else that’s a minor depending on you, then you gotta man up. It was all of those things combined, I think.

MH: Interesting. I found Rowena very sympathetic until, I would say, the third slap. The first and second, she’s obviously doing the best she can to protect her babies. But with the third slap, I was suspicious that she may have been mildly abusive with Reggie as a child.
OS: She’s not an abusive person. She honestly was upset. It’s a disappointment and how dare he throw his opportunity away? Rather than going to court to fight for this child, he is getting high? So no, she wasn’t an abusive parent. Not at all. She was too much of a doting parent, in my opinion.

MH: That answer makes my day. You also appeared recently in Snowpiercer and I was so delighted to see that you were in it. In fact, I have been able to convince several people to watch it because you are in it.
OS: Oh boy! That’s interesting.

MH: I think you are a great piece of the casting puzzle. Captain American himself Chris Evans will certainly bring some people to the theater. And Bong Joon-Ho has a following for his Korean films. But because you are in it, I can recommend it to anyone who’s a fan of The Help.
OS: That’s great!

Snowpiercer-1-webMH: What was that set like? It looks absolutely uninhabitable.
OS: It was. We filmed in Prague at one of their studios. It was all on stage so it was a very controlled environment. It was really one the most diverse groups of people I’d worked with. We had a Korean crew and we also had the Czech crew and the English speaking crew. The English speaking crew were pretty much the Americans and the Brits. Director Bong is really a cinophile and he loves American movies but he has his own unique voice. It was just wonderful working with him because you could tell when he delighted in a take. He was just diffusive with the way he said “Cut!”

It was also very different in the way he worked. We were all given a little book with the storyboards. That was our script. We had a regular script but we all had a storyboard book. It was a little comic book. What I learned very early on is that if it wasn’t in the story board, then it wasn’t going to be shot. He showed us exactly how he was shooting the movie. With an American movie, at least in the way I’ve worked with American directors, they shoot a scene and then they cover it. Bong knew exactly what pieces he wanted covered from the scene. So, there was not always a master and then coverage. There might have only been the master and might have only been coverage from different angles so it was very unique experience. I really enjoyed working with Director Bong.

MH: Were you familiar with his work beforehand?
OS: Oh yes. I’d seen The Host and two other of his movies. They were amazing.

MH: Snowpiercer was great. And you know what else was great about that movie? The fact that it actually did well in theaters!
OS: Yeah, it did huge all over the world but they never reported that over on our side. It had already made like $80 million before it was released here. I think in its first couple of months, Snowpiercer made so much money. It made its budget back. It was great. And Chris Evans is amazing in it. I love him as the anti-hero. It was a great cast and a great project to be a part of.

MH: I worked on a movie with Chris about five or six years ago and one of my memories of him was just how studied he was. He was very devoted to the sides and took it seriously, like a stage actor.
OS: Well, you can’t come to work ill prepared. Chris is the constant professional and you want your number one leading man to be ready to work. To be ready to be in scenes with you. You want to be able to do your part and that definitely is Chris Evans. It was such an enjoyable experience because he was always ready to work. But watching him do stunts so effortlessly was amazing, too.

MH: Thank you for speaking with me, Octavia. It is been an honor.
OS: Thank you honey!

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One conversation with the veteran actor reveals Sebastian Roché to be a polished raconteur, a welcomed throwback to the transatlantic affectations that permeated film in the early twentieth century. Although still a young man, Roché is a member of the old guard. Classically trained, he has shared the stage with Al Pacino in Salome and worked with director Julie Taymor on The Green Bird and Titus Andronicus.

In film, he has collaborated with director Steven Spielberg on The Adventures of Tintin, Michael Mann on The Last of the Mohicans and Robert Zemeckis on Beowulf. And on television, Roché has cultivated a large fanbase on Fringe as Thomas Jerome Newton, on the long-running Supernatural as Balthazar, on General Hospital as terrorist Jerry Jacks and on The Vampire Diaries as Mikael.

In 2013, a spinoff of The Vampire Diaries debuted set in the world of Mikael. Called The Originals, the new CW series focused on the original family of vampires that would eventually begat the biters at the center of the soapy Vampire Diaries. And Mikael is their patriarch, the powerful primogenitor of the world’s most beautiful brood.

Sebastian spoke with me over the phone from the set of The Originals, which is set in New Orleans and filmed on location in Georgia and Louisiana. The show’s second season finale aired on April 20.

MH: Whether it’s politics or bad movies, your Twitter feed is very bold, sir.
SR:
Haha. Yes, it is!

MH: Is that your stream of consciousness or do you take to Twitter with a purpose?
SR: I believe in being opinionated. I like to engage in a discussion with the people that actually follow and maybe look up to you and maybe are interested. I don’t only want to post selfies of me or photos of my chest when I’m working out. To me, politics is something that I’m passionate about. It started in my early childhood in France, and I continue to be involved in politics and the things that I care about. The environment, women’s rights and how loathsome something like ISIS is. How dangerous ideologies are all over the world.

I like big ideas. And people can write me back and tell me that I’m an jerk and that’s fine. And actually, some of my followers get a bit of their news from my Twitter feed. Some people get their news from Jon Stewart. I’m not saying I’m Jon Stewart, but I like to have a little more consciousness in my little realm of social media.

MH: I think a lot of people in the entertainment industry stay away from politics for business purposes. But at the end of the day, I think most people who have a passion for politics really have a passion for people. That’s really their concern that is shining through.
SR: Yes, absolutely. And I just don’t believe in shutting your mouth. I can’t. It’s something that is just not in my DNA. I just don’t subscribe to that kind of thought. I’m not criticizing anyone for not doing it. I just think we love the art of debate. People hate to have an opinion, but I think that’s how we evolve as a human species. There’s nothing wrong with voicing your opinion. However bad it is!

MH: And how uninformed it is sometimes!
SR: Haha! And uninformed, yes!

MH: We’ve lost the ability to debate as gentlemen. Everybody goes for the jugular right from the beginning.
SR: I used to love that growing up as a child. The French loved to debate the Brits and there were really interesting conversation going on. People would sometimes scream at each other, and at the end of the night, they’d go, “Oh wonderful, that was a great discussion. Let’s go have a drink.” Now, it’s a much more divisive society, especially in American politics. I think Congress has contributed largely in doing that. The extreme sides of the parties contributed to a total lack of dialogue and a regressive mentality. Only eight percent of Americans like our elective body. We basically hate their guts and yet we continue to elect them. It’s a sad state of society, it really is.

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MH: Well, we can’t give up what we enjoy complaining about everyday.
SR: Exactly! Ha! It would be nice to do a clean sweep and get the money out of politics. Then we’d start to see the people who actually do something, instead of worrying about their re-election and who’s going to fund and support them.

MH: Plus, we also must have good characters to parody on Saturday Night Live. That’s the thing we really need as Americans.
SR: That’s true! You’re right. But that will always be there. From the days of Punch and Judy to the great caricatures from the 19th century to now. It’s always easy to parody someone. I can parody most of my fellow actors so easily.  I’m sure there’s someone out there parodying  me! In fact, I know there is! My best friend. He basically makes fun of me on a daily basis.

MH: On the television series The Vampire Diaries and The Originals, you play a vampire. And vampire’s are, of course, immortal.
SR: Yes, I play one of the oldest vampires that exists.

MH: In real life, you really take great care of yourself. What is the key to looking thirty years old forever?
SR: Hahaha! The key is diet and exercise. If I was responding seriously, without humor, I would say living a very active lifestyle. Eating responsibly. Seeing the benefits of eating fresh food and limiting animal fat (although that’s for different reasons). If you eat too much processed foods you will get sick. It’s very important to lead a healthy life and get enough of sleep. Meditation. It’s not that easy. I live a blessed lifestyle. It’s not an easy thing to do at times. When you’re working eight-to-six and you’ve got five kids and you’re not making enough money, it’s very hard. Hopefully, we can bring consciousness to people and encourage them to live by these rules, and they’ll lead a much happier and healthier lifestyle.

MH: You’re in Georgia shooting The Originals right now. How was set today?
SR: It was really good. We finished doing this extremely intense episode. It is very rewarding when the roles are so well written. Huge stakes. There’s a lot of scenes with the stars, including Joseph Morgan. He’s a wonderful actor. He’s pretty fabulous.

MH: I can tell that you’re a very intellectually engaged actor.
SR: Yes, I am. I’m intellectually engaged. I’m also very passionately, emotionally engaged. Very much so. You fall in love with acting. You fall in love with it, and it’s a love story that will last until the day you die. There are two types of actors: those who want to be famous and those who are passionately in love with the craft.

MH: I can tell that you are engaged with the character you are playing and the character that others are playing. But there are also some actors who I feel are really unconcerned with the particular character. The fun for them is engaging purely with the other actor or purely with the director.
SR: That is also a lot of fun! Acting is reacting. Whatever your partner in the scene does will affect your performance. And also, the director can make your performance better. He can freeze you up, but most of the time they can make your performance better. They can say, “It’s too much, bring it down a bit.” It’s a very collaborative art form. That’s what makes it so fascinating.

MH: I love that The Vampire Diaries and now The Originals have come into this genre space that was already well trodden, and they have just done their own thing. They have their own mythology that’s really compelling.
SR:
It really is. It really stands on its own. It’s very emotionally complex family dynamic. It’s a fascinating series. It takes place in New Orleans, actually, which is a really interesting place to set the series. With all its history and heritage with voodoo and magic. They are part of the cultural heritage.

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MH: If vampires were real, they would definitely live in New Orleans.
SR: They would definitely live in New Orleans. I’m sure if it. But to tell you the truth, I have to admit I’ve never been to New Orleans. It’s a town that I’ve always wanted to go to, being of French origin. I’m a huge foodie. I’m half French. I should’ve gone to New Orleans, but I’ve still never been. I’m sure I’ll be there in the near future.

MH: It really is the only European city in America.
SR: I really would love to experience that. I know the amazing Jazz Festival that I might be coming to. I think I might be coming to Jazz Fest if my schedule can permit it.

MH: I’ve got some questions for the fans of The Vampire Diaries and The Originals. Mikael has a really messy history with his children. Klaus especially. Why has your hatred for him lasted so long?
SR: Knowing the history of the family, it started pretty early. Even before Mikael found out that he was a bastard son, I think there was something about the boy that rubbed Mikael wrong. There was maybe a degree of competition. Not with the other sons. There was something about Klaus that he instinctively knew that he was not of his own blood. And I think that was a very interesting point in the flashbacks. When he found out that he was a bastard son, then his suspicions were proven true. He truly took on a new dimension in hating his bastard son.

The crazy thing is that he taught him everything he knew. He was not the son that he expected because he was not as much of a warrior. As soon as he grew of age, I think Mikael taught him how to become the monster that he was himself. It’s funny because he’s not Mikael’s son but he’s the most like Mikael. And the dynamic of the show is interesting. The hatred grew even more when Klaus decided to kill his wife and make Mikael take the blame for it. Therefore, creating a thousand year old antagonistic relationship with the whole family. He lost basically everything. Not only did he lose his wife, he lost the rest of his brood, his bloodline.

For a thousand years, he was a hunter trying to hunt down Klaus. Over that period of revenge and hatred, he turned it into a true art form. It’s a fascinating hypothesis: how do you live for a thousand years with the knowledge that you accumulate and hatred that grows? You do not age and yet you “age.” You go through heartbreaks, you still have this vengeful hatred in your heart. Which comes from pain. I truly believe that Mikael’s bloodlust comes from pain. Deep within him.

MH: That reminds me of the saying, “Hate is injured love.”
SR:
Absolutely. Before Klaus was born, Freya, the daughter that he loved before everything went awry, died at the age of three. And it created a true sadness within Mikael. She was the apple of his eye. His first daughter. His first child. He loved her and he felt responsible for her death. She was never found again. You’ll see what happens in the episodes to come. It’s really intense. It’s a pretty intense dynamic with what happens to her. He’s a wounded übermensch. He’s got a thousand years of experience within his tortured brain. A fascinating character, really.

MH: He’s a really unique guy. With some issues. Why do you think that Mikael drinks vampire blood?
SR: Mikael drinks from vampire blood because he has no respect for other vampires other than himself. I think that he considers himself above. I think it’s a way for him to gather the strength, experience and knowledge. Like warriors who would eat the brains of the enemy to gain their strength. There’s a bit of a medieval warrior, a Viking warrior, in Mikael. It’s a sense of domination. He is the alpha vampire. Therefore, anyone under him deserves to die. He’s a very ruthless character. A lot have died within his path.

MH: They’ve definitely got you doing some gruesome stuff on this show as Mikael!
SR: There’s more to come! It’s gruesome, but that’s his way of defending himself. It’s his life. That’s what he’s been living for a thousand years. He’s a warrior. He’s the alpha warrior-vampire of all. Nobody should stand in his way.

MH: Is that how they pitched the character to you? If I was an actor, and somebody gave me a pitch like that, I’d be like, “Where do I sign??”
SR: Oh yeah, believe me! They told me he was a vampire hunter. They did tell me that he was the father. And I thought, “What a great role to play!” We had gone into the Viking stuff. I knew about that. I thought, “What an extraordinary character to play.” He’s really a truly exhausting character to play, and I mean that in a good way. He carries with him so much energy. The fiery ruthlessness that he carries with him is exhausting to play. His potential is intensity. It’s like doing gymnastics for hours. Gymnastics of the mind. You feel that his eyes are on fire. He looks the part.

MH: He’s a really brutal guy. The rumors are that there will plenty of flashbacks with the family. In the near future, or maybe in the distant future, do you think we might get a glimpse of the softer side?
SR: You will! That’s all I can say, really. I don’t want to divulge too much. There will be a softer side. In his own way, of course! It’s always got to be in his own way.

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MH: Are we gonna see a softer side of Sebastian when you play King Stephen in Once Upon a Time?
SR: Maybe. Ha!

MH: I think anything is softer than Mikael.
SR:Yes, anything is softer than Mikael. This is a character that is still evolving. I’m interested to see what will happen in the coming weeks.

MH: Are you familiar with the novels that the show is based on?
SR: I’m not, actually. The show is based on the Vampire Diaries novels.

MH: You should put in a bid to read the audio books. I think you’d be a pretty good read. It also makes so much sense because Mikael is the patriarch.
SR: I would love that. You know, you’re right. That’s actually a really good idea! Cause they did release the books. An Originals book. That’d be a good idea!

MH: You’re on this other show, Supernatural. The fan base is absolutely crazy with enthusiasm.
SR: It’s unbelievable. It’s the most formidable fan base I’ve ever seen. I’m sure Star Trek actors go through the same thing. But I think this is the closest to Trekkies there is. I think the fan base is actually even bigger now. I don’t know, exactly. But the Supernatural fan base is incredible, and it’s been such an amazing ride. And I was on season six or seven for six episodes. My character was actually one of these characters who they wrote so well. He was an angel who was sort of debonair and decadent. I think he left an indelible mark on the fandom.

MH: It’s huge! That show has legions and legions of fans. And has been on the air for eleven or twelve years now?
SR: Yeah for twelve years. They’re amazing. We love our Supernatural fans. I love my Originals and Vampire Diaries fans as well but there’s a lot of crossover. It’s fabulous. And doing those Supernatural conventions is a way of seeing those fans again. Seeing them and thanking them for supporting us. That’s why I love doing those events. Most of the Supernatural actors and guest actors have become gracious friends. We love just having this wonderful travelling theatrical troupe. It’s truly like a brotherhood on Supernatural. All these actors are really interesting people. Good people. It’s a great group. It’s been amazing. We’ve travelled the world spreading the Supernatural love. It’s been really fabulous. I’m still amazed to this day.

MH: Is there any chance that Balthazar will make a comeback on Supernatural?
SR: Aww, man I would love to. I’m gonna have to call the producers and say, “Hey, guys how bout it?” That would be phenomenal. I would do it in a second.

MH: The fans are really what are holding the show together.
SR:
Absolutely. The show is going into its twelfth season!

MH: Daytime dramas shoot incredibly fast and are very demanding on the actor. How did your work on General Hospital pay dividends into your skillset as an actor?
SR: First, I didn’t do it at the beginning of my career. I did it a little

when I was younger, but I didn’t understand the process. I was too green at the time. When I had the second opportunity of doing it, I wasn’t sure about it. But I took the job and it was one of the best decisions I made in my life. It completely changed my life.

I was in New York and I was going through a difficult time. I went to do the job on General Hospital and they welcomed me with open arms and treated me so beautifully. They gave me basically carte blanche to play this pretty incredible character, who was a mastermind of evil. Because that’s what I do, it seems! Ha! But he was a great character who took the whole cast hostage. I did forty episodes and it went so well. I had so much fun on it.

It is extremely rigorous in the sense that you have to learn about thirty pages of dialogue. In this case, I had to shoot nearly all monologues. It was amazing in the sense that I felt very free. I thought to myself, I’m gonna use this to experiment. To relax as an actor. It was like doing theater because it was going so fast. And it does go very, very fast. You have to be very well prepared! It was an absolute joy.

It didn’t last very long, but it completely regenerated me as an actor. It’s funny and it’s really interesting: I had grown a little disillusioned and I started having so much fun again. They gave me so much license with my character. And they trusted me. I had so much fun and I explored. I overdid it at times. Then, I underdid it. I experimented and it was great!

So, I understand what Bryan Cranston says when you have to work fast, and you have to suss out a scene very quickly. You are basically working that acting muscle. Then you find something that shoots slower and it’s a luxury to you. It’s fantastic. It was a great experience. I couldn’t be more thankful. They’re so nice. Every year they bring me back for a tiny little stint and they’re so gracious to me. They’ve been really wonderful. I’m very thankful for that.

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MH: There’s something good about the artistic mind being pushed to produce a great amount of volume. Who knows what Charles Dickens’ career would have looked like if he wasn’t pushed to stretch out his stories in the papers. If he had been too precious about his art form, he would have ended up only producing one or two books that weren’t as voluminous.
SR: It’s the same with Alexandre Dumas, the French author who wrote Three Musketeers and other truly wonderful masterpieces of literature. And they were not considered masterpieces at the time, but they are. He wrote volumes of books, too. It depends. I also think that in an actor’s career, there’s one defining role that will define you all your life. Well, maybe not always. Meryl Streep is a total genius and everything she does is flabbergastingly good. Art in great volume can be wonderful. It can be amazing. I mean, look at Van Gogh. He produced a tremendous amount of volume as well. Picasso, too.

MH: You had a role in one of my favorite movies of all time, The Last of the Mohicans. What are your memories of being on Michael Mann’s set?
SR: It was great. It was one of my first jobs. It was so amazing to me to be on such a massive movie set. I adored Michael Mann and I still adore him as a filmmaker. He’s one of these really honest, frank filmmakers and I think he’s a genius filmmaker. The Insider is one of my favorite films ever! For me, it’s one of the most perfect films ever made, along with Heat. It was an honor to be on that movie. I experienced it for six weeks but I was cut from the movie. I loved the way he worked with us.

He loves actors. He trusts them. He was very gracious with me even during the audition process. I love the man. The Last of the Mohicans was a massive enterprise, shooting in Asheville, North Carolina.

MH: In many ways, it was one of the last films that would shoot on that scale until CG came in and really changed the way movies are made.
SR: I love that about it! There’s no CG. There are movies where CG is used beautifully and you need it. But I’m excited that I heard that the new Star Wars will not use as much CG. It’ll go back to the classic Star Wars and I’m so happy about that. I think that CG can de-nature a movie. It turns into cartoon. I’m more of an indie type of viewer. Anything that’s independent, foreign. Gimme subtitles galore. I love it. My favorite movies of this year were Whiplash, Leviathan, the Russian movie. Ida, the Polish movie. There’s so much good stuff. I’m a huge movie buff. I’ve realized I’ve seen a lot of stuff. Some obscure stuff. But even Guardians of the Galaxy, I loved. One of the best superhero movies I’ve seen in a long time. It reminded me of the first time I saw Star Wars.

Sebastian Roché is a supporter of Room to Read, which works in collaboration with communities and local governments across Asia and Africa to develop literacy and other life skills. Find out more at roomtoread.org.

Micah Haley is an author and filmmaker and a partner in Scene Magazine. His recent projects include two short horror thrillers, The Angel and The Red Ribbon. Both are now available on Amazon. You can find more of his work at micahhaley.com, on Twitter at @MicahHaley and on Instagram at @itsMicahHaley.

(Some photos by Odessy Barbu and some courtesy of AMC)

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Lively

by Micah Haley on April 24, 2015

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This exclusive interview with Blake Lively first ran in the Jan/Feb 2014 issue of Scene Magazine.

The daughter of actor/director Ernie and talent manager Elaine Lively, Blake Lively was born to be a star. After an early role in the hit The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, she was cast in Gossip Girl as Serena van der Woodsen, a role she would inhabit for six seasons on The CW network. All the while, she balanced her small screen success with roles in the feature films New York, I Love You, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, actor/director Ben Affleck’s triumphant actioner The Town and the comic book blockbuster Green Lantern, which was filmed in New Orleans. Now the new face of L’Oreal, she’s also established herself as a fashion icon in the classic sense: a big screen ingénue impeccably styled, equally adored by both men and women.

I met Lively at the opening of H&M’s New Orleans location. The Swedish retailer’s expansion across North American has been swift, since their first store opened on Fifth Avenue in New York. Known for fast-fashion, H&M is the third largest clothing retailer in the world.

The store’s opening on Decatur Street in the French Quarter was grand. On a muggy night, hundreds of H&M fans stood in line to get in. Security was tight, but we were ushered into the store hours before the opening. Inside, the pristine store was accented by staff in masquerade, each stationed to accommodate an awaiting New Orleans crowd. And of course, a few special visitors.

With the first few customers allowed in, familiar faces from the cast of American Horror Story: Coven arrived. Emma Roberts hit the step & repeat first, soon followed by camera flashes and her Coven co-stars Lily Rabe and Sarah Paulsen, who also stars in 12 Years a Slave, the Louisiana-shot historical drama currently in theaters.

Blake Lively appeared fashionably late, surrounded by a buoyant but unusual entourage: the Sunshine Kids. The group gathered close on the red carpet in front of the H&M step and repeat. After smiling for photos that would soon appear across the internet – and in the glossy pages of Scene Magazine – Lively and company made their way through the large, now-crowded store.

The star of Savages made her way to the VIP reception area just outside of the store. She stood in front of an all-red faux candy storefront, the evening’s Willy Wonka of fast fashion. Extra and other national media outlets surrounded her with cameras and questions.

Lively smiled for the cameras. “Somebody asked me at the airport, ‘Are you here for work or pleasure?’And I said, ‘Isn’t it always pleasure in New Orleans?’”

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“I’m here to celebrate the opening of H&M in New Orleans, which is so cool!” said Lively. “It’s great because I’ve got the best dates, the Sunshine Kids, here with me.” The Sunshine Kids is a national non-profit dedicated to children with cancer. For thirty years, it has provided positive group activities and emotional support for young cancer patients.

“We’re all all dressed up in our H&M,” said Lively with her arms around the kids. “We were the first people to shop here today. There’s a huge line of shoppers out there, but these were the first.” Although some of the kids wore fashionable hats, others had already regrown their hair, which had been professionally styled earlier in the evening.

“I keep talking about this Isabel Marant for H&M collection,” said Lively. “That I love! I think that is so cool! Isabel Marant is one of my favorite fashion designers, and the fact that she did a line for H&M that is a sixteenth of the price [of her other lines] is so cool.”

After the newly minted A-lister finished speaking with the national media outlets, she spoke exclusively with Scene.

“When you come back to New Orleans, what’s the one thing you look forward to the most?” I asked. Lively spent the better part of 2010 in New Orleans while filming Green Lantern, a titanic-sized comic book superhero actioner. She portrayed Carol Ferris, a test pilot and the romantic interest of Hal Jordan, a human destined to become a green lantern. While in town, Lively was frequently spotted shopping around the Crescent City.

“The Reuben at Stein’s Deli!” she laughed. “I always talk about food. Have you been to Stein’s?”

“Yes!” I said. “It’s right down the road from Second Line Stages, where my office is.” In 2010, Second Line housed the majority of Green Lantern’s galaxy-sized sets, which Lively called home for months.

“Ahh, it’s so good! The Rachel is actually what I order,” she said. The Rachel is a twist on the classic reuben sandwich, substituting hot pastrami for the standard corned beef, but keeping the swiss, sauerkraut and Russian dressing on rye. Stein’s Deli is perhaps the best sandwich shop in the city. It’s also a great place to get hard-to-find craft beers. I asked her if she’d found anything good to go with the Rachel, but her response was…responsible.

“I don’t drink,” she said.

“Your hair looks great, as always,” I said. “When you’re out in New Orleans on a night like tonight, how do you deal with the humidity?”

“Humidity is never really so cute for hair,” she said. “Maybe I wear my hair up more. Or maybe, I just walk around with my hair not looking as great!” Perhaps hit with a touch self consciousness, she laughed it off, instantly replacing it with self-confidence. “I don’t know! I don’t look in the mirror much when I’m here. I eat too much to look in the mirror when I’m in New Orleans!”

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I laughed. “It is such a great town, and you’ve been kind enough to say so many great things about it. That means a lot to a city that’s been through so much adversity.” While I spoke, Lively broke her gaze with me, looking down intently. Doing an interview while standing up is somewhat strange. Rather than setting down your recording device on a table next to a cup of coffee – my preferred method of interview – you’re holding the recorder up in their face. Or more accurately, right at chest level.

I followed Lively’s gaze down. She was staring at my hands. Palms up, my fingers were wiggling, as if to say, ‘Gimme what ya got!’ She was clearly amused. “This is my thing, by the way,” I said with a grin.

She grabbed my hands. “I know, you’re like a magician over here!” she laughed. “Chris Angel has nothing on you.”

“When you come down here and you want to shop, what’s your thought process? Do you wander with an open mind? Are you a hunter with specific items in mind?”

“What I always look for is a mix. New Orleans has really cool vintage shopping, but what’s neat about having an H&M here is that you get all of these really on trend pieces for an affordable price,” Lively said. “That’s the thing that sucks: when there’s a craze. You don’t want to spend a bunch of money on something that’s trendy. You can splurge more on your key pieces, mix that with some vintage, and then come to this store, which is amazing. I was planning on doing my interviews and then I was like, ‘Can I shop right now. Is that allowed??’

“Plus, you’re right here in the middle of the French Quarter,” I added.

“Yeah, right by Café du Monde!” she said.

“I know! Beignets! Are you a fan? Do you partake?” I asked, betting she’d indulged more than once. If you’re here for more than a day, it’s hard to resist. If you’re here for only a day, it’s practically required. If New Orleans were a cathedral, the fried dough-and-sugar treat would be the host.

“I partake,” she said with a smile. She grabbed my hands again, and I laughed, realizing I was still silently telling Blake to gimme what she’s got.

“I’m not gonna let that go!” she laughed.

“Everyone I know is used to it, apparently,” I said.

“It’s like a little beignet fondle!” she said, still laughing.

“That’s what I do. I love fondling beignets,” I said. Somehow this didn’t seem inappropriate at the time. We had a good laugh, and it was honestly nice to see Lively actually enjoying herself, surrounded by the Sunshine Kids. “Blake, it’s so great to have you here.”

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“Do you have any upcoming projects you can talk about?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, pulling it together. “I have a movie that I’m about to shoot in the spring. It’s exciting because it takes place in the 1900s to now, so the fashion opportunity in that film is really cool.”

“That’s awesome. Are you going to play a character that spans that time period?” I asked.

“Yes, I am!” she exclaimed. She brought her hands up and began imitating mine. “Fondle the decades!”

“I’m so self-conscious about this now!” I laughed, wiggling my hands for her.

“Don’t be self-conscious about it,” she smiled. “I think it’s cool.”

That film’s working title is The Age of Adaline. Lively is set to play a young woman born at the turn of the twentieth century who is rendered ageless after a near-fatal accident. After she goes on an epic but isolated journey across the world, she meets a man who might be worth the loss of immortality. Oscar winner Ellyn Burstyn will co-star in the film, which will be directed by Lee Toland Krieger.

“Tell me about these kids!” I said, turning to the dozen or so children surrounding her. “Have you enjoyed hanging out with them?”

“Yes! They can tell you about it,” she said.

“What do you guys like about H&M? And what do you guys like about Ms. Lively?”

“They have really good deals,” said one girl. “And I love that I can shop there. Like, this shirt was ten dollars.”

“Wow,” said Lively. “Ten dollars! That’s awesome!”

Although most of the kids were shy, their smiles spoke volumes. They loved the attention and were just having a great time. After speaking with them, we bid our farewells. “Thank you guys for coming out, and it was so nice to meet all of you.”

“Nice to meet you!” Lively said.

In the film industry, there’s some who say the biggest stars are really the most down to earth. In Blake Lively’s case, I can confirm that. The night’s event was clearly commercial, but it was more than that. It was a shining example of how commerce, celebrity and a truly noble cause can fit together flawlessly.
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Micah Haley is an author and filmmaker and a partner in Scene Magazine. His recent projects include two short horror thrillers, The Angel and The Red Ribbon. Both are now available on Amazon. You can find more of his work at micahhaley.com, on Twitter at @MicahHaley and on Instagram at @itsMicahHaley.

(Some photos by Odessy Barbu and some courtesy of AMC)

Micah Haley is an author and filmmaker and a partner in Scene Magazine. His recent projects include two short horror thrillers, The Angel and The Red Ribbon. Both are now available on Amazon. You can find more of his work at micahhaley.com, on Twitter at @MicahHaley and on Instagram at @itsMicahHaley.

(Some photos by Odessy Barbu and some courtesy of AMC)

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Omar Benson Miller: On the Homefront

by Micah Haley on November 4, 2013

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Actor Omar Benson Miller’s break came right out of college, cast alongside Eminem in director Curtis Hanson’s landmark music film 8 Mile. After appearances in Things We Lost in the Fire and Transformers, Miller landed a lead in director Spike Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna. The sprawling WWII era drama follows four Buffalo Soldiers as they march through occupied Italy. Miller portrayed Private First Class Sam Train, who discovers an Italian boy named Angelo, orphaned by conflict, and takes him under his wing. Next, Miller starred in director Gary Fleder’s The Express, which tells the story of Syracuse alum Ernie Davis, the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy.

After a three-year stint on CSI: Miami as Walter Simmons, a character from Louisiana who’s fluent in French, Miller was in New Orleans last fall to film Homefront, a new action thriller from Runaway Jury director Gary Fleder. The actioner is written by Sylvester Stallone and also stars Jason Statham, James Franco, Kate Bosworth and Rachelle Lefevre. We spoke over the phone about Spike Lee’s gorgeous war epic, reuniting with director Gary Fleder and working in New Orleans.

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Kevin Costner: The American

by Micah Haley on September 3, 2013

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Rather than rest on the weekends while filming in New Orleans, Oscar winner Kevin Costner decided to keep performing. Taking to the stage at the Texas Club in Baton Rouge, the multi-talented actor, director and producer put on his cowboy boots, picked up his guitar and saddled up alongside his band Modern West. A full house awaited him.

“I grew up in a very blue-collar family,” said Costner to an audience clad in plaid and denim. “When I said, ‘I’m going to be an actor,’ I think my dad had a conniption fit. He struggled with it. Not because he didn’t want me to, but he didn’t want me to not get there, and he didn’t know how to help me. There’s probably no more helpless a feeling for a man than not knowing how to help his children.”

“I remember later on telling him that I thought that I would direct,” Costner continued. “He thought that was a terrible idea because the acting was going so good. And so it was with music. I didn’t tell my dad that I was going to do this. But in life, you do the things you want to do. And sometimes the people that love you, they catch up with you ninety miles down the road and they’re really happy for you. This is called ‘Ninety Miles an Hour.’ It’s a metaphor for my life.”

Though a face internationally known, Costner still comes across in person as an everyman: an American, through and through, vested with the drive to explore new frontiers. Ever the entrepreneur, Costner long ago expanded beyond the entertainment industry, eager to use his personal resources to protect our natural resources. All the while, he continues to impress in front of the camera, recently winning an Emmy for his role in the mini-series Hatfields & McCoys and starring in this summer’s blockbuster superhero hit Man of Steel.

On a hot Thursday in August, I was invited to the set of Black & White in New Orleans. The film, which stars Costner opposite fellow Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, was shooting in the heart of New Orleans’ central business district. While relaxing after lunch in his trailer, we discussed his music, his movies and his company’s oil spill mitigation technology.

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