AN ACTOR’S PROFILE: Hannie MAY ON ACTING WITH PURPOSE AND DEPTH

While Hannie May’s acting skills were put to the test in the film Breakdown, it’s clear that the passionate actress passed with flying colors. The recent project is but one of many hallmarks in a career that has been characterised by overcoming challenges, to eventually rise to the top. Indeed, May has cited how the industry is shaped by contradictions. On the one hand, the stereotypical casting in some instances provides challenges for actors with multi-cultural backgrounds to explore their possibilities to the fullest. On the other hand, it’s opening the world up to an onslaught of more diverse casts on high-profile projects – from Crazy Rich Asians to Marvel’s upcoming Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. It’s clear that the diversity of casting choices has stepped up to the next level, and May – as one of the industry’s breakouts – has most certainly stepped up too.

An actor with purpose: Hannie May shot at Vantablack Studio.

While much has been written however around increasing diversity of representation in film, the subject of this piece became clear when reviewing May’s work. The depth of talents rendered all socio-political commentary irrelevant, as the true significance of May as an actress comes to the forefront when watching any of her films. She simply makes it about the work, and makes it as deep and meaningful as possible.

In the case of Breakdown, it was up to May to not only lead a film, but also empathise with the character’s circumstances to the degree that any viewer would feel like the significance of mental health was given meaning and respect.

Ultimately, Breakdown is a display of a personal battle between self versus self, a real-life struggle that continues to go on today. In one particularly memorable moment, Hannie has to face a mirror and gradually let her inner self out while watching at her own reflection. The scene involves no dialogue, and is entirely fulled by the actress’ emotional expression.

Hannie May, playing the role of ‘Diana’ in the Cristal Alakoski film, Breakdown. 

The continuation of the story sees May’s character suffering from mental health issues, which triggers her to resent her own values and build up a significant fear from society. The internal crisis becomes an external one, providing a rich opportunity for May to showcase her significant emotional range as an actress. 

In the words of one industry professional, May is a tour de force in the film and a reason for why and how it resonates with any viewer.

All the more impressive is how Breakdown was created and directed by Finnish filmmaker Cristal Alakoski, herself known for a prolific career in Europe marked by memorable projects like music videos and commercials with Finnish band Aija Puurtinen & Brooklynin satu for their popular song Maantie (Highway), and another music video for John Westmoreland with his acclaimed hit, The Sparrow. 

Being the lead in a movie is one thing, but being cast as the only role of a film is an accomplishment worth celebrating. Even more impressive was the development of Breakdown and its unconventional filming process. While the role of Diana and her circumstances came with a lot of challenges, aside from being vulnerable to the audience, the project also did not have a set shooting script. 

May expected the role of ‘Diana’ to come with different challenges, but this knowledge didn’t make it any easier.

“It was one of the film projects I’ve worked on that requires the majority of acting from improvisation. So the process of filming this project with Alakoski was also a journey of experimenting with the idea of the film together,” said May. 

While the storylines Breakdown and May’s other recent project, Interrupted Girls couldn’t be more different, the emotional weight of each reflects the level of responsibility filmmakers place on May in casting her in such meaningful stories. 

Indeed Interrupted Girls, the release of which preceded Breakdown, was one such impressive project which garnered May significant attention. 

Directed by Christopher Cass, Interrupted Girls, focuses on two sisters who come from a broken home. May plays Elena, who is forced to side with her mum and go against her sister’s wishes. 

May mid-scene in Interrupted Girls, taken at a recent private exclusive screening of the film.

Award-winning director Cass is best known for his work on Trey Pops (2020), Scrubbers (2014), and The Bus Stop (2017). 

Christopher brought extensive experience from his career when directing May, and also boasted associations and screen experience with NBC. It was this epxienece that undoubtedly made May feel comfortable in front of the camera, expressing vulnerabilities about topics which – although incredibly specific, are also especially universal. 

Hannie’s exquisite performance in Interrupted Girls is best effectively distilled at the moment where her character chooses pride when it was “happiness” that she wanted. When it came to “Elena” and her self growth during the film, the remarkable emotional access of Hannie’s talents made especially clear in memorable moments where she was vulnerable and driven by her emotions in a significant way.

Divorce is a hard topic to discuss, many families everywhere have been torn because of failed marriages, and struggling relationships. 

May’s polished skills brought life to the character of Elena, further shedding light on the value of sisterhood  With a statement as powerful as the one that Cass’ shared, it required a lot of strength to push through discomfort, two things that Hannie May provided with excellence and perfection. 

In a scene where the two sisters fight, May shows the extreme of her character’s personality and emotions within the confines of no movement or dialogue. Her performance not only shows a strong internal life, but also reveals the contrast between the two sisters’ personalities and shows authentic real-life emotions which deeply connects with any viewer.

Ultimately, it’s these dual experiences on film that signify the mark May is leaving on her field as an actor, a storyteller, and more generally, a professional empathizer. 

“What’s the most interesting to me in acting is finding the complexity in every single character,” she beams with a smile.

“The story behind what’s on the page, what I enjoy digging into, is always more than what I have to show in front of the camera.”

Anna San Juan: Making Movie Music Magic

  We all know the power of one song in a movie. Whether it’s “As Time Goes By” from Casablanca, the Bee Gees “Staying Alive” from Saturday Night Fever, “Unchained Melody” in Ghost, Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”, or a host of others, one song can instantly recall the experience of seeing a certain film. Music Supervisor Anna San Juan has corralled the music for many films and far reaching advertising campaigns. Her work with Deviant Pictures on some of the company’s upcoming releases has once again required her to utilize her skill to obtain the ideal songs for moments that the filmmakers hope will similarly become synonymous with their productions. Part scientist and part chef but more rooted in filmmaking than anything, Ms. San Juan has become the magic ingredient of many a successful production. She relays her insight and expertise as it relates to these upcoming offerings from Deviant Films.

  Writer/director Michael Keating’s mind bending thriller Offseason premiers at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival this March. Starring such notable cast members as Richard Brake of Twentieth Century Fox’s Kingsman: The Secret Service and Melora Walters (of Oscar Winning Film Dead Poet’s Society, and Oscar Nominated Films Magnolia and Boogie Nights), the film is already peaking major interest prior to its premier. Little is known about the storyline except that it follows a woman whose journey to an island town is sparked by a mysteriously letter. One aspect of the film which Keating was adamant about was the musical complement to one of the film’s most poignant scenes. To obtain the specific song which would perfectly complement the scene and achieve this vision, Keating brought Anna San Juan aboard the team as the music supervisor. As previously noted, one specific song can achieve a moment that is historical and enduring for a film. While being guarded about the actual song prior to the film’s release, Anna relates, “The film had such a poignant scene for a thriller, with a song by an iconic 60’s rock group held very close to our director’s heart. It’s very central to the plot and definitely a movie moment to watch out for when it premieres. Countless calls and email negotiations took place, both within the team and with the label. Other options were considered, including replacements, but from the outset it really was priority #1 that there was no backing down in negotiations. Honestly it was touch and go towards the last moment. The song really was, musically-speaking, a breakthrough highlight for the film, set the tone, and also creatively very, very important it stays on for the final release.”

  Deviant Films was so overwhelmingly pleased with the outcome of Offseason that they immediately placed San Juan onto its upcoming feature film No Running. A Sci-Fi Thriller from Director Delmar Washington (known for his work on the Peabody Award Winning and Image Award Nominated Def Poetry as well as the Image Award Nominated BET Awards 2011), the film’s diverse and extraordinary cast includes -Stars Skylan Brooks (of Globe Winning TV series Empire ), Taryn Manning (SAG Award Winning Actress for her role on Orange is the New Black), Rutina Wesley (Image Award and SAG Award Nominated Actress), Bill Engvall  (American Comedy Award Winner and Grammy Nominee), and others. As the film is set in the future, Anna confirms that the music will be comprised of that which reigns supreme on today’s music charts.

  A recent inductee as a member of the prestigious Guild of Music Supervisors, Ms. San Juan will not only be contributing to the film industry with her work but will also be voting in this year’s annual GMS Awards. Inspired from a young age by a combined love for film, writing, and music, Anna professes, “The ability to make a moment with a song is something I always chase for in every project. Getting to see it air on TV, theaters, and now more popularly streaming services always gives me that boost to keep going and to keep being part of meaningful art.”

(Music Supervisor Anna San Juan)