Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Hollywood in your backyard: interview with actor Sari Gagnon

Over the past 10 or so years, a number of major Hollywood films were shot in Connecticut, including Her Life Before Her Eyes starring Uma Thurman and Revolutionary Road starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, placing the Nutmeg state on the proverbial "map".  All of a sudden Connecticut became known as a coveted destination for top notch producers and directors. This influx of Hollywood level interest in the area galvanized local talent.  Local actors got extra parts in the big feature films, which whetted their appetite for film.  Many went on to star in local productions and even establish their own production companies. CT is home to Synthetic Cinema, your destination for creature features. I have with me a beautiful and talented actor Sari Gagnon, who was generous enough to share her experience from the trenches.

Please consider checking out and supporting her latest project Women Only
And here is her professional Actor Page

Do you need formal training?

MJN: You received your training at Circle in the Square in New York. Do you feel that formal training is paramount for a film actor?
SG: Certainly! In fact, I received a Bachelor's Degree in performing arts from Keene State College BEFORE I went to Circle in the Square Conservatory School. I continued my education because I believe that artist's need to keep their tools sharp. Since then I have studied at ActorTech, the Actor's Gym, The Stella Adler Studio and various workshops all over New England. Sometimes I think if I stop learning, I'll just waste away. 

Should you join the union?

MJN: Last time we spoke (6 years ago) you mentioned you were SAG eligible. Can you talk about the benefits and the drawbacks of belonging to a union?
SG: I think an artist's union status is really a personal decision, and reflection of the type of career path, the journey, that individual wants to take. Each path has it's own scenery. Unions jobs have a lot to offer there's no doubt about that, but you can never underestimate a break out indie movie to really make waves.

Working in film beyond acting

MJN: Many actors occasionally get involved in other projects, such as script supervision or production assistance. Do you think that doing jobs that do not directly relate to acting undermine one's reputation as a serious actor or provide valuable insight into the industry as a whole?
SG: Undermine an actor's reputation? On the contrary, I think if an actor is willing to try new positions it shows a great deal of flexibility and versatility. I think it's more important to remain humble, every job is an opportunity to meet people and make an impression. You just never know, that job may lead to something else. There's tons of success stories about artists who started out as a background extra, or stand-in, or production assistant.

How to protect yourself from letdowns

MJN: Years ago I did a series of indie horror films in Connecticut. Most of them did not see the light of day. I didn't even get the footage for my personal reel.  I won't mention any names, and I don't expect you to mention any names either.  Can you give us an example of a disappointing experience, when a promising project left you feeling deflated in the end? In retrospect, were there any warning signs that would have made you question the director's credibility?
SG: Yes, when I was first starting out there were projects that failed to provide me with footage, failed to pay me what we agreed upon. Those stories are a dime a dozen in our industry, I try not to dwell on past projects because there's so many great films being made by honest hard working people out there. My advice is to make sure you read your contracts, have an attorney look over them if you have to. Know exactly what is expected of you, and what you expect from the project before getting into anything. Don't be flattered by the idea of being in a movie, treat it like a business cause that's what it is. Make amendments to contracts, you're entitled to get what you expect out of a project.

On making sacrifices 

MJN Has a director ever asked to you to do something outside of your comfort zone?  I remember spending several hours on the roof in Brooklyn wearing a tutu and pointe shoes in the middle of January.  What kind of sacrifices have you made - or would be willing to make - for the sake of your art?
SG Oh I've worn bikini's in January, snowsuits in July, I've ridden a Ferris wheel for hours, I've been shot at with blanks till I thought my ears would fall off, driven home with so much fake blood on my clothes I was afraid to be arrested just on suspicion, I've kissed more people at work than I ever kissed in my private life... and more. Those experiences are my funny little anecdotes and notches on my acting belt, truly I wouldn't trade them for the world. I've never taken a job that made me feel uncomfortable, I know what my threshold is. If I find that partial nudity is a necessity to the plot, I'm not opposed to performing the role, but I have my limits. I can't really give advice about that because it's different for every artist, but there are movie's I'm done that my father won't watch, and we're both good with that.

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