From the time Ariel Zhang was a child, she always wanted to be a performer. Singing and acting were always her passions, and growing up in Beijing, China, she began to explore these passions, by studying vocal music, dance, and stage drama. At that time, she enjoyed being at center of the stage, being in the spotlight and being admired. As she grew, she began to appreciate the nuances to acting more and more. She wanted a colorful life, where she could constantly have different experiences and see through many different perspectives. She came to truly appreciate Sir Alex Guiness’ words “Acting is happy agony.” This realization solidified her future, and acting became her true love. Now, she is an award-winning actress, with international audiences appreciative of her talent.
“I bring life to screen. Being an actress, I can pass all my energy to the audience with my performance. The successful performance of an actress gives vivid and direct descriptions of the hero to affect the inner heart of all the audiences. It also means that I could have the chance to experience the eternity of time and space as well as the immortality of life, as I could have the chance to act in roles from the far past to the never-ending future,” said Zhang.
And Zhang has done just that. She has portrayed characters from the ancient times, like in the film Mo Zi when she had the leading role of Song. She has represented large companies, such as Citic Bank, when they launched a campaign and commercial to help Chinese immigrants coming to the United States. She has used both her singing and acting capabilities while teaching young children English and Chinese with the interactive computer game PreSchool Play with Skoolbo. And she has captivated audiences around the world with her award-winning performance as a schizophrenic in the film Consumemate. There is no limit to what this versatile actress can achieve.
“I think that being an actress is a great almost holy job, where you can redeem people’s souls, just like doctors do to save people’s physical lives. I think that a theater is like a church, where people will get their souls purified. Watching the work of the actors, the audience will be able to look into their own minds, from which they will view the world and the society with some kind of criticism. Staying in a theater for two or three hours, the audience can be there observing themselves from the depths of their heart with quietness. This is the charm of the stage drama, which communicates with the audience by the performance of the actors. That is why I hope to have such power to influence the audience by my acting,” said Zhang.
While Zhang tells important stories, she always enjoys what she does. She always has fun, no matter what role she is playing. And sometimes, she plays roles just to have fun, going back to that thought she had as a child, that when you act, each day is different. That is exactly what happened when she was a dancing girl in Mexican pop band CD-9’s collaboration music video with South Korean girl group Crayon Pop, titled Get Dumb.
“It was fun to be one of the dancing girls. This music video doesn’t really have a proper story line to follow, so your character feels freer to do whatever feels right. In a commercial or a film, you can experiment with the character, but you know where the story is taking you, so this was different and fun,” said Zhang.
As a dancing girl in the video, Zhang got to dance in a pool that was in a fancy car, just laughing and having fun. The video gave her the opportunity to keep expanding her horizons, and work with foreign singers, something the actress had never done before.
“I felt out of my comfort zone, since I was dancing a different kind of music of that I usually listen to. But I felt comfortable enough to be myself and have fun with it. Also, as a dancer, the floor is my world, but having the unique opportunity of doing it in water, it was a nice experience,” she described.
Fellow actress Sabrina Percario worked with Zhang on the video, and describes her as extremely pleasant to work with, a reputation she carries with whatever she works on.
“Ariel is a sweetheart and very professional actress. She is a unique, dynamic and much desired creative artist. She brings to her work both enthusiasm and creative magic, and she excels in many specific areas that take her beyond the range of most artists in her peer group. She is able to play very different characters,” said Percario.
The video, produced by Sony Music, has over 2.5 million hits on YouTube alone. It is an upbeat song, made for dancing. That is exactly what Zhang did when she first saw the final product, and it made the experience even better.
“I was really happy with the video. When I got to see the music video online, I was so excited, that I danced and sang along with it,” she said. “CD-9 and Crayon Pop have so much energy, it’s contagious. Even though everyone was working so hard, they never went off. They kept the set working in a positive way with a smile in their faces. Everyone seemed to be happy to be working there that day.”
First taking to the screen as Countess Albrizzi and Albrizzi’s ghost, in the UK’s hit ITV series “Strange But True” alongside famed English presenter Michael Aspel, actress Francesca De Luca has carved out an impressive reputation as a performer whose magnetic energy on screen keeps audiences engaged in every role she plays. Over the years she accumulated a pretty extensive list of credits that includes the films “Orpheus & Eurydice,” “Lateshift,” “Taxi,” “Anna and Modern Day Slavery,” as well as the TV series “Down & Out” and “Leenden University.”
For Francesca De Luca 2016 has been a major success with the actress taking on a critical role in five-time Oscar Award winner Francis Ford Coppola’s (“The Godfather,” “Apocalypse Now”) recent film project “Distant Vision,” which also stars Lou Volpe from “The Bold and the Beautiful” and Francesca Fanti from the four-time Oscar nominated film “Nine.”
De Luca gave a memorable performance as iconic English ballet dancer Margot Fonteyn in the docudrama “Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent,” which had it’s world premier at the Tribeca Film Festival in April. De Luca also starred in the film “Passports,” which earned awards from California Women’s Film Festival and the Accolade Global Film Competition, in addition to being chosen as an Official Selection of several other prominent festivals including Atlanta Shorts Fest, Laughlin International Film Festival and Film Invasion LA.
Francesca De Luca has earned quite a bit of attention for her finesse when it comes to taking on boundary-pushing dramatic roles, as well as for her spot-on portrayals of historical figures such as Countess Albrizzi and Margot Fonteyn; but her strengths on screen don’t stop there. She is also a master of comedy, something she proved with her performances as Fiorella in the Royal Television Society award winning series “Sundae” and Sonja in Robbie Moffat’s (“Sisters Grimm,” “Dark Side of Heaven”) comedy film “Heckle,” as well as with her role in the series “Down & Out” where she acts alongside A.B. Farelly from the film “There’s Something About Mary.”
While the dynamic nature of De Luca’s craft has helped her make a name for herself in film and television, she’s also been featured in several music videos including one for DJ Goldroom’s hit song “California Rain,” which was featured on MTV’s Snapchat and helped launch the Snapchat Snap Channel in 2015. You can also see her in a national commercial for Turner Classic Movies as well as the music video for Olos’ “Real Talk.”
To find out more about Francesca De Luca, what it was like working with Francis Ford Coppola and what’s next for her, make sure to check out our interview below!
Where are you from?
FDL: London, England. I was born in Hammersmith, London and am of Italian origin. My great grandparents came over from Italy in the late 1800’s. I was brought up by my mother with the help of my grandfather, as my father left when I was two. My grandfather was a real inspiration to me as a person and I feel very lucky to have had him in my life.
When and how did you get into acting?
FDL: My mother took me to dance classes from the age of 6, ballet, tap and modern, which I loved. Then I started competing in poetry festivals reciting poems. I felt at home and confidant on the stage, it gave me the space to express myself. I became more serious about acting at the age of 16 when I auditioned for the school play and was offered the role of the flirtatious nurse or the main role of the hunchbacked German owner of a lunatic asylum who goes mad at the end of the play! Guess which one I chose?! I loved the challenge of that role, even though the nurse would have made me more popular with the boys! In fact my best friend did not initially recognize that it was me on stage! –which I was always amused about as it was a complement to my acting ability! I won the school’s award cup for the best actor that year. After this experience I was hooked on real acting and knew it had to be my vocation.
What is it about acting that drives you to perform?
FDL: I love to make an audience feel something whether it’s through comedy or drama, and the emotion and truth of a character. I love making people laugh, feel and think, and I love to get my teeth into a script where the character has depth, contrasts and experiences an emotional journey.
I love to bring characters to life on both the screen and the stage. I love to explore all parts of myself and bring my life experience to a role. I am interested in psychology and feel I understand how complex we are as humans, with all of our quirks, patterns and vulnerabilities, no matter how tough we appear on the outside.
I like to make a role come alive in the present, and am excited by the challenge and process of bouncing off the other actors and seeing what happens! When I started acting I thought it was about hiding myself until I realized that it was completely the opposite, it’s about showing who you are, your vulnerability and all that it encompasses is what I feel makes an actor really watchable. We are all complex and have contradictions within us and we all share many of the same fears and want to be loved and to love.
Can you tell us about the film “Passports” that you recently shot?
FDL: The film follows Tanya who returns after six wild years of travelling. Once home, her mother and grandma make her join an online dating site and go on a date. The date is a visit to a psychic. During the visit unexpected events occur and the guy hits on the psychic secretively sliding to her a piece of paper saying ” Call me.” The psychic ignores him and tells Tanya her fortune and after Tanya shows the psychic a ‘new’ game of magic in which she makes her date’s car keys disappear. From then on things get heated between the three. This film is a dramedy with beautiful cinematography and interesting characters.
How does your character fit into the story?
FDL: My character is the psychic who the other main characters in the film, who are played by Ekeobong Utibe and Coty Galloway, go on a date to visit. However the guy shows his true colours and ends up hitting on the psychic and emotions get heated. My character comes across as quirky and puts on a front of mystery and that makes for some comedy when she is reading the girl’s future. She gets more than she bargained for when a game of magic starts and mayhem ensues.
What was your favorite part about working on this film?
FDL: I enjoyed working with the two talented writer/directors Jeremy Pion Berlin and Adam Linkenhelt in making my character three dimensional and in bringing the comedy out from the truth of the situation. The psychic was a woman just doing her job with the same spiel day after day. She’s bored by all of the guys hitting on her, and the same old “I see love in your future” line she gives. The magic that happens in the scene excites her and when the guy loses his temper later she makes sure she is still paid and handles the situation well. I created a backstory of her life in my head so that the character was more real and the comedy would come from the truth of the situation. Jeremy and Adam encouraged improvisation.
When I first auditioned I did an American accent and then told them I was British and did a cockney accent and then my own accent which is standard British. They loved my cockney accent and then decided on using my own natural accent. They asked me to improvise in the audition as if I was a psychic giving a reading to them which went very well. They told me soon after that they wanted to cast me, which was great and I loved the way we all worked together. They are talents to watch out for in the future and I look forward to working with them again later in 2017 on their first feature film “Illynger” in which I will play a lead role. I can’t wait!
Has the premiere date for “Passports” been set yet?
FDL: Yes we had a Hollywood premiere in July at Raleigh Studios Hollywood, The Charlie Chaplin theater.
You were also in Francis Ford Coppola’s film “Distant Vision,” can you tell us about the story the film brings to the screen?
FDL: “Distant Vision” is about a multi generational Italian American family set in New York whose history spans the development of television. I believe some of the characters were inspired by his own family. I play one of the Italian relatives.
What was it like working with Coppola?
FDL: It was such an honour working with Francis. A dream come true for sure as he is a such a master director. He showed immense passion for this project and was a very humble genuine man.
I couldn’t believe it when he was actually there in person at my first audition. I had to hide my nerves at first but soon relaxed. We got on very well and he asked me about my Italian history. He told me I looked like one of his relatives. I told him I understood the perspective of immigrants and how it feels, and I joked that while I am born in London my Italian roots show through as I use my hands when talking, a gesture that I was doing at that same moment! It was easy to talk to Francis and he reminded me of my grandfather with his warmth. When he talks to you he looks you right in the eyes and really listens. It felt like I had known him for years. Such a lovely man. He spoke about how important it is to be yourself and how the character becomes us. He used examples from actors like Al Pacino when he was filming “The Godfather.”
It was amazing being one of the first actors in the world to be part of his innovative ‘Live Cinema’ experiment, something no other filmmaker has attempted yet!
Live cinema utilizes feeds from several cameras, instant replay servers, which he switches live with very advanced broadcast equipment. It is an ongoing project that will take several years to complete I believe. It’s a hybrid of theater, film and television.
As a director he was very direct and calm. He is so highly intelligent and creative and it felt like I was in “The Godfather” especially as we all looked so Italian and the actors he chose were very entrancing. It was like he was painting a picture with every shot and his attention to detail was amazing. It was clear he wanted us all to be relaxed and he let us bond naturally with each other. It felt like a real family on set.
Can you tell us about some of the film projects you’ve done?
FDL: In the film “Orpheus & Eurydice” I played the sorceress Aglaoniki, one of the leads alongside Oliver Reed. It was filmed around Athens, Greece. My character was the baddie in the movie. She kills Orpheus and Eurydice. Oliver Reed was the narrator. Oliver Reed was one of my favorite actors and I was so happy to be in a feature film with such a great iconic actor. Aglaoniki was a fun role and I enjoyed giving her layers, not just being evil. She is in love with Orpheus and he rejects her and she feels that pain of rejection but going to stronger lengths than we would usually go, by killing him and his love Eurydice by putting a spell on her so she gets killed by a snake!
We filmed a lot of the scenes in a cave outside Athens and my character had an altar. There was a scene in which Orpheus was supposed to get angry with me and the director told the actor to hit me with his lyre! I remember the actor looking at me in shock, wondering how we would do that without me actually being hurt. I think he ended up trying to ‘strangle’ me as that was easier! I had just done a film acting course in London with director Bob Bierman and relished the idea of using what I had just learned in this film; however I soon realized the director did not like the subtle acting I was hoping for, he kept asking for me to go bigger!
It was Oliver Reed’s second to last film around the time he shot “Gladiator.” I feel fortunate to have had the chance to work with him before he died. The movie was shown in theaters across Greece and had a mix of American, British and Greek actors. I was featured in the Greek version of Hello Magazine and newspapers in London and interviewed on radio in London about the film.
I played Margot Fonteyn in the feature docu-drama “Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent,” which was produced by Zero Point Zero and Anthony Bourdain for CNN Films. It has been successful in major film festivals such as Tribeca where it premiered this year, and it will be shown on CNN in 2017. Directed by Lydia Tenaglia, “Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent” is a story about the life of Jeremiah Tower, one of the most controversial and influential figures in the history of American gastronomy. In one section of the film set in the 60’s it documents his well known dinner parties in which the famous ballerina Margot Fonteyn, my character, was an anticipated guest.
“Taxi” is a film in which I played a taxi driver and the film follows her throughout her day giving the audience a day in the life experience of what it’s like to be a female taxi driver. This film was largely improvised which was an aspect I enjoyed. This film was shown at The Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner a few years back. I had the opportunity to see it at the festival in Cannes and see other films at the festival which was a great experience.
How about television projects?
FDL: I played an Italian Countess, Countess Albrizzi, in the series “Strange But True,” which was shown on London Weekend Television, one of the UK’s three main tv stations, and had very high ratings which was great. The story was set in the 1800’s and my character is killed by her husband who found out she was cheating on him so she could get pregnant as she had thought him to be infertile. He got so angry that he chopped off her head! You didn’t actually see that in the show though… we just hear her scream as he comes towards her with an axe! Very gruesome! My character then turned into a ghost and haunted the palace. This was based on a true incident and Joan Collins was filmed telling this story in between the reenactments, as it was actually her who had seen my character’s ghost when she stayed in Venice at the Palazzo. The ghost was seen walking out of a painting of herself.
In the comedy tv series “Down And Out” I played one of the three leads alongside A.B. Farrelly, the daughter of Bobby Farrelly, one of the Farrelly brothers who directed several great comedy movies like “Dumber and Dumber” and “Something About Mary.” A.B. is a well respected comedy actress and stand up comedian and she was so lovely to work with. My character was Margo, an attractive lipstick lesbian, a successful go getter who gets herself in trouble by speaking before she thinks. She is one of three women who are coming out. My character has a very funny scene with her crazy therapist played by the talented Malcolm Matthews. I loved working with him. It was a fun scene to film. “Down and Out” was written and produced by Annie C Wright.
The show was chosen as an Official Selection of Webfest and LA Cinefest, and was featured on the front page of the One More Lesbian website, the leading platform for high quality Lesbian film and TV.
In “Justice For All with Cristina Perez” I played an American litigant. I can’t reveal more as it has not been shown yet! It was filmed live and the questions from Cristina Perez were not given to me before filming so I had to know this character’s backstory inside and out! A good challenge for me!
In “Sundae” I played Fiorella, the daughter of an Anglo-Italian Family in London. “Sundae” was the Runner up in Royal Television Society Awards for Best TV Pilot. My highlight in the show is when I get angry with my boyfriend and squash a big plate of spaghetti on his head!
You get approached all the time to work on projects with people, what makes you pick one role over another?
FDL: Firstly the script. If it’s well written and also if the character develops throughout the story. I have to feel that I can’t wait to get my teeth into this script. Then the director. If we click at the audition and I can see us working well together.
Do you feel that you get cast to play a certain type of character more than others?
FDL: Yes– evil, mysterious, bitchy, quirky, strong are possible adjectives to describe the roles I’ve played. The psychic I played in “Passports” is quirky and comedic. My comedic role in “Down And Out” was a strong woman discovering herself and I played a bitchy Northern English heckler in “Heckle.” I play a bitchy mother in “Your Move,” a new series coming out in 2017 and I played a mysterious Russian secret agent in “Anna and Modern Day Slavery.”
Out of all your productions, what has been your favorite project, or projects, so far and why?
FDL: Of course being part of Francis Ford Coppola’s “Distant Vision” project has been the pinnacle of my career and I loved working in the presence of such a master. One of my favorite acting experiences has also been being directed by Sir Timothy Ackroyd. I feel he helped me hone my acting craft. Playing Carla in the stage production of “Kennedy’s Children” was wonderful as I hired an accent coach to help us all with the American accents and I feel I perfected my Texan accent which was good so that I could forget about the accent and focus on the acting alone. She was an interesting character with flaws and insecurities that she was trying to surmount while going for her dream in Hollywood. And finally working as the psychic on “Passports” was a challenge as I wanted to make her real, three dimensional and not hammed up.
What is your favorite genre to work in as an actor?
FDL: Comedy and drama, dramedy and also fantasy. I like all of these. I have a well developed sense of humor and have a strong feel for comic timing and seem to make people laugh with my choices! I remember one of my acting teachers recently saying “You could make a fortune out of comedy!” I love drama too with emotional situations. I like paying a villain who people love to hate or people pushed to their limits or in difficult situations. The list is endless, I love a challenge. If people tell me I have moved them or made them laugh or uplifted them or made them think, I feel fulfilled and happy that I have done my job. I feel I have a lot to give.
What separates you from other actors? What do you feel your strongest qualities are?
FDL: Depth of character. I am good at showing contrasts in characters. I take direction very quickly and I can improvise well. I am good at getting great results on the first take. I have a large range of emotions and life experiences that I can draw upon and have taught me about myself and other people. I am excellent at accents and changing the tone of my voice and physicality. I give my all to any role I play and am always looking to learn and become a better actor. I have a genuine love for my craft and am easy to work which helps bring out the best in others I work with. My presence adds to making the production a success.
What projects do you have coming up?
FDL: Later in 2017 I will be shooting the feature film “Illynger” with the directors of “Passports.”
I’ve also just started freelancing with one of LA’s top Voiceover agents and look forward to auditioning and booking some great roles. It’s highly likely you will hear me in some big animation movies and TV shows over the next few years! Bill Ratner, one of the US’s busiest voiceover artists, heard my voice reel and immediately recommended me to his agency.
What are your plans for the future?
FDL: To keep on working on my craft and take classes at studios like Groundlings and work further with other world renowned LA acting teachers like Lesley Khan. In London, I was one of the founding members of the Anthony Meindl Acting Studio. I was inspired by Anthony Meindl when I first saw his Youtube videos and when he visited London I made sure I did his masterclasses. Then he opened his London Studio helmed by Mitchell Mullen, a seasoned actor from Boston and I never missed a class till I left London for LA in 2013. In London and LA I did scene study and worked on a variety of scripts. Tony gave me added encouragement to make a career for myself in LA.
What do you hope to achieve in your career as an actor?
FDL: I aim to continue working with talented writers, directors and actors, to make high quality films and tv shows that people will love and to reach a large audience. I want to feel I have made a difference to this world. I want to feel that I have become the best actress I can ever be and keep my sense of humor!
If you weren’t an actor what other profession do you think you would have pursued?
FDL: A fine artist, designer or even a life coach! I am good at painting and am creative and I am good at seeing people’s blocks and weaknesses and would want to help them become happier people.
Australian actor Wadih Dona’s career has been marked by an impressively steady progression of accomplishments. His natural cache of talent and classic theatrical training has earned him two decades of sustained professional success, not only on stage but also with numerous television and film jobs. Dona’s gift for creating fully realized, believable characterizations have landed him several very high-profile recurring roles on Australia’s top TV shows, but those successes are just a minor aspect of the driven actor’s ambition.
“I am interested in telling stories that resonate on a larger scale,” Dona said. “I have been in TV, film and theatre for many years in Australia, and I am interested in opening up avenues for international work. The US is a market that actors naturally gravitate to, and given my long list of credits, I felt ready to take it on.”
It didn’t take long for Dona to reach this goal. His portrayals utilize an impressive mixture of instinct, stagecraft and soulful, emotional intensity; Dona draws viewers in close, building an emotional bond which he deftly exploits for a powerful artistic impact. It was precisely this quality which led him to his first US film, 2016’s Septembers of Shiraz, playing alongside two of America’s biggest movie stars, Oscar winner Adrien Brody and the acclaimed lead actress Salma Hayek.
The film, a thriller set in 1979 Iran, was somewhat of a passion project for the two stars—both also served as producers—and it combines taut suspense and raw emotion into a compelling whole.
“Septembers of Shiraz is an art house film, it’s an intimate family story, not an action blockbuster,” Dona said. “The film is an adaptation of the novel by Dalia Sofer, and is based on real life. It centers on a Jewish-Iranian family, played by Brody and Hayek, who are suddenly faced with persecution when the Iranian Revolution unfolds in 1979. Brody’s character is arrested, tortured and humiliated, and the film closely follows his ordeal and the fortitude he had to have to get through it.”
Dona’s personal background—the actor grew up in numerous European and Middle Eastern countries—and formidable resume of successful performances served him well when it came to Septembers of Shiraz.
“I knew Wayne Blair, the director, as we had worked together in a production of Othello for the most eminent Shakespeare company in Australia,” Dona said. “We had history, were good friends, so he trusted me and my work methodology—and vice versa.”
“He sent me the script, asked me to screen test and told me that the project would be cast out of the US, with Salma Hayek and Adrien Brody attached. Obviously, I did well because I got the part, but Wayne had no final say in the casting so it was good to know that I achieved it on my own merit.”
This was indeed the case, as executive producer Heidi Jo Markel said: “We were looking for an actor with gravitas, who could portray the menace of the Iranian Revolution. We knew we had our guy when we saw his fantastic screen test. Wadih is talented actor with incredible screen presence and the icing on the cake was that he was a pleasure to work with on the shoot.”
To develop his character (Rostam, a member of the infamous Revolutionary Guard) Dona focused on Markel’s watchword: “Menace. Rostam symbolizes the forces of chaos and anarchy within the Revolution,” Dona said. “I was cast because I can access those dark emotions quite easily. As a child I was exposed to civil wars and I knew those kind of men, I saw them—young men who suddenly had power, and they could do what they pleased with that power. When we were on set, carrying weapons and with the period uniforms, I was scared when I saw my own reflection in the mirror!”
“Adrien Brody and Salma Hayek were both very personally invested in this story,” Dona said. “I had scenes with both, and each was a pleasure to work alongside, but I had more to do, plot wise, with Salma. In one scene, Rostam loots her house and there is an obvious sexual threat as well as one of underlying violence. We rehearsed this scene a few times and kept going deeper emotionally. She went into that dark emotionally territory with me so openly, we built rapport very quickly because of this. She was fantastic to work with—open, accessible and an absolutely gorgeous human being.”
When the film debuted at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival, Dona said, “It premiered there in the biggest cinema in Toronto, the Roy Thompson theatre, with 2,630 people watching. It was massive. I had never seen a cinema that size.”
A complex, thoughtful piece of filmmaking, Septembers of Shiraz was aptly described, by one critic, as “a germane and intelligent observation of the current global political climate in which the world’s ‘have-nots’ are rebelling against the party-political status quo.”
For Dona, it had even more significance. “It was a fantastic, enriching experience,” he said. “Personally, I think we made something quite beautiful and life affirming. And it has helped me leverage myself professionally to do more work. It’s a calling card of sorts for me now—people sit up and listen when I tell what I have done in this film. And, if I had to be selfish, I would say also that shooting a film with one of your friends directing and acting alongside Oscar award winning stars, well, that’s too not bad, either, is it?”
Many people spend their lives working in a job that brings them little happiness. It takes many years to figure out what they are meant to do. Those graduating high school face a decision as to how they want to spend their lives, and few that age can figure it out. This is where Kyle Meagher is the exception. While growing up in Ottawa, it was evident what he was meant to do, and he started doing at the age of ten. Now, four years later, Meagher stands among Canada’s best young actors.
Audiences have had the pleasure of watching Meagher in an assortment of national commercials, web campaigns, award-winning television programs, and feature films. And even with a successful career under his belt by his teens, he has no plans on slowing down. This past year, he was able to secure a role in the short film The Big Crunch, alongside Peter DuCunha (12 Monkeys), Jennifer Robertson (Schitt’s Creek), and Chris Gibbs (The BFG). He also got to work with his friend Sam Ashe Arnold (The Adventure Club).
“This was a cool short film to work on because they added a bunch of special effects and used a new, very expensive camera that helped make the special effects possible. I was really excited to see what it would turn out to look like,” said Meagher.
The Big Crunch, by Inflo Films, is produced by Harry Cherniak, and written and directed by Dusty Mancinelli. Meagher was excited to work alongside them, as he had heard of their great reputation of making award-winning films. It looks like The Big Crunch will follow the same trend, as it is already making its way to many film festivals.
“I love hearing about the festivals the film is going to and seeing the press about it. Harry and Dusty are great film makers and they deserve the recognition for the amazing work they do,” said Meagher.
The film follows 12-year-old August (DaCunha), who suffers an existential crisis about his place in the world after learning the universe will one day collapse in an epic Big Crunch. Nothing can shake August out of his depressive state, not even celebrating his birthday six months early. But when August is accidentally electrocuted after changing a light bulb, he has a magnificent cosmic experience. During an intense game of dodgeball at school, August suddenly unearths his own magical powers and goes on an extraordinary adventure of self-discovery. With his newfound understanding of the universe, August stands up to his bully and goes after the girl of his dreams.
“In this film, it was a great build up to a climax where August kisses the girl he has been admiring. It’s amazing to watch the character go from a very forlorn and sad child to one that sees the world in a completely new way. The scenes were fun to shoot, we spent some time outdoors and running around a school,” said Meagher.
The film made its world debut at the Atlantic Film Festival in Halifax in September, and quickly headed to the Edmonton International Film Festival right afterwards. Audiences get to see Meagher play a role completely unlike himself: a bully. He and his friends are known as the “Goons” and bully August throughout the film.
“I am totally opposite to the bully, but I can relate to the role because I have been bullied before myself, and I simply channel what I’ve seen into a character,” said Meagher.
Throughout his career, Meagher has played the character of a bully many times. His experience makes his performance not only believable, but outstanding. However, those he works with find it interesting to watch him take on roles that are so different to his real-life personality.
“Kyle’s a really great guy, so it’s fun to see him play such a jerk,” said Sam Ashe Arnold, who played Elvis, August’s archenemy in the film. “Kyle is funny and nice to everyone, and he’s always professional and well prepared. That’s pretty much exactly the kind of person you hope to get cast with. He’s a great actor partly because he has such an expressive face, with big eyes and a big smile, but it’s mostly because he’s smart and he really listens and takes direction,” said Sam Ashe Arnold.
Arnold played the main bully in the film, and had worked with Meagher previously, but it was on this production that they truly became friends. They are both from Ottawa, so they attend auditions together, and hope to work together again soon.
“Sam and I are with the same talent agency and we spend time together so it was neat to actually get to work with him on set,” said Meagher. “I also met Peter DuCuhna for the first time who is a great actor that has a lot of experience.”
Despite having a lot of experience himself, the role also provided a unique learning experience for Meagher.
“There was a stuntman who taught Peter how to jump out the window for a scene – and it was the first time I had been with a stuntman on set,” he concluded. “It opened my eyes a bit more about safety and was interesting to see what they teach!”
Audiences will have the opportunity to see The Big Crunch later this year. Bell Media will be putting it on the BravoFact website.
Andrew Searles is funny, there is no doubt about it. The actor and stand-up comedian knows how to deliver a line and leave audiences in stiches. He is known across his home country of Canada for his comedic talents, and whether on stage or screen, he captivates audiences.
When working on the film Sharkboy, Searles’ natural comedic talents shine through. He plays Sundown, a character who was created after the film was written, specifically for him. The role required a lot of improvising, and natural comedic talents. Luckily, that is Searles’ specialty.
“I really had fun and enjoyed playing the character of Sundown. The character was not originally part of the script, but the director liked me so much that he wrote me into the script as one of the gang members. I was instructed, because I originally didn’t have any written lines, to improvise and go along with the scene. As a result, I would often repeat the last word said by anyone in the scene, for comedic effect,” said Searles.
Sharkboy tells the story of Francis, a half-man, half-shark, and the events surrounding his arrival at a new high school. The “Sharkboy” has a difficult time adapting to the high school, as he is bullied by Scott and his gang. Scott’s girlfriend is caught by the eye of Sharkboy, but not before Scott catches him staring, which leads to a violent altercation for Sharkboy. When Scott challenges Sharkboy to a wrestling match during their gym class, Sharkboy eats Scott, and immediately becomes not only the new leader of the gang, but the coolest kid in school. Now Sharkboy is styling and winning awards and the hearts of his fellow students, along with the heart of the newly single, Scott’s ex-girlfriend. The film is based on the myth that the band Led Zeppelin once defiled a groupie with a shark.
“From the breakdown of the film, it seemed like a type of awkward, twisted comedy, and I was eager to sign on and be a part of this, especially when they explained what the “Sharkboy” character was. I think the title alone was enough to sell me on this,” said Searles.
Sundown is one of the gang members lead by the antagonist Scott. He is in almost every scene, and turns into one of Sharkboys friends. Part of what makes the character so funny is his look, which was entirely created by Searles. Sundown looks like a member of an ‘80s gang, donning a high-top, California State Trooper-style reflective sunglasses, and a box of toothpicks. Searles was inspired by the iconic character of Mr. Bean, where Rowan Atkinson created a classic icon who did not speak, but was incredibly funny.
“I felt with such a unique looking character such as mine, the less he said on screen, the more of an impact he would have, and based on the reactions of people who have seen the movie, with my characters unique look, I felt I accomplished just that. I’m very proud of myself to this day for portraying a comedic character that said so little but stood out on screen,” said Searles. “I liked the fact that I was given free will with the character. I was able to make it my own and craft it exactly how I want to do it. In most cases, an actor is given a breakdown or guidelines of what the character is, but in my case there were no restrictions or guidelines, so it felt great to really create something on my own.”
Pat Kiley, the director of the film, loved Searles’ look for the character, and he effectively named the character “Sundown” after the striking similarity to the Top Gun character of the same name.
“Andrew created his own retro style for the character and we loved his angle and his approach to the character as it fit perfectly with the story. I loved how even though his character had few to no lines in a scene, his character spoke volumes on the screen while saying so little. He ended up becoming one of the crew’s favorite characters because of his hilarious look and demeanor whenever he was on screen. Even at the film premiere, the audiences loved him too. Andrew not only brought life to a character, but he did it with so little and he brought out so much out of it. I look forward to working with him again one day. He did spectacular job and I wish him all the best in his career. He is definitely an incredible actor whose character began with nothing and made it huge and a fan favorite on screen,” said Kiley.
Creating a character for the film, which would be a challenge for many of the most seasoned actors, was a breeze for Searles. His experience in improvising and stand-up comedy made it easy to think on the spot.
“I would watch and listen attentively to the other characters lines. After a run-through and rehearsal, I would decide what I would say and when to say it, to keep the rhythm and pacing of the scene. After figuring out what I would say before the cameras started rolling, I would let the other actors know that I would be saying something at a certain point in the dialogue when nobody would say anything. Therefore, we all knew when I would come in and say my line, without stepping on another characters line,” said Searles.
Sharkboy premiered at the 2004 ‘Comedia Festival’ gala as part of the Just for Laughs comedy festival in Montreal. The film was also screened at the Austin Film Festival.
You can watch Searles as the audience favorite Sundown in Sharkboy on FunnyorDie here.
Actor Souleiman Bock’s intriguing and versatile look coupled with his phenomenal acting skill have been integral to the actor becoming a hit both at home in London and abroad. Considering that Bock landed one of his first roles on the hit British TV series “MI-5,” aka “Spooks,” it was an easy bet that the uber talented actor would soon be hot on everyone’s radar, and he has become just that! In “MI-5” Bock took on a major role as an ill intentioned terrorist who plans to bomb London’s House of Parliament and takes a ship hostage along the way. For anyone who has had the chance to watch his performance and how he embodied a man of evil deception down to the most minute detail, it’s easy to see why he has continued to land roles of a similar nature.
In the dramatic crime series “River,” which aired last year, Bock took on the critical role of Khaalid Mohamoud, a hard-working immigrant who harbours a game-changing secret to protect a friend. In “River,” which earned the Golden Nymph Award from the Festival de Television de Monte Carlo, as well as a BAFTA TV Award nomination, Bock acted alongside one of his icons, multi-award winning actor Stellan Skarsgard (“Good Will Hunting” “The Avengers”), a memorable experience to say the least.
Bock recently wrapped filming on an episode of the upcoming series “Riviera,” which stars Golden Globe nominee Julia Stiles from (“The Bourne Ultimatum,” “10 Things I Hate About You”). In the series Bock takes on the critical role of a doctor acting alongside multi-award winning actor Idal Naor from hit series “The Honourable Woman” and “The House of Saddam.”
With undeniable magnetism on screen, those with even the toughest of standard will conclude that Souleiman Bock is a gifted performer. Aside from bringing some of the most challenging characters to life, Bock is fluent in English, French and Somali, something that gives him an edge over others in the industry.
To find out more about Souleiman Bock and some of his exciting upcoming projects make sure to check out our interview below!
Hey Souleiman thanks for joining us! Can you start by telling us where you are from?
SB: I was born in Djibouti, East Africa. I traveled a lot as a kid because my dad was in the French army, we then settled in Paris when I was about 10. But I have been living in London for almost 10 years now.
When and how did you get into acting?
SB: Acting was always on my mind growing up since I loved films. Although i wanted to play soccer professionally as a kid and almost ended up doing it, when I turned 20 I went to my first acting class in Paris and after that I was hooked and never looked back.
When did you land your first onscreen role? What was the project and how did it feel being a part of it?
SB: MY first professional acting job was on the British Drama “Spooks” or “MI-5” as it’s known outside the UK, I was really happy getting the role since I had been a fan of the show before and I considered it to be the best spy/action drama anywhere. It was quite an experience being on a show of that quality with a really great cast and crew.
You’re currently shooting the upcoming series “Riviera,” can you tell us about the show’s story?
SB: The show is about a rich family who inherits an empire from their father when he dies in the South of France. But all hell break loose as they discover all the dark secrets he left behind. The lead actress is American actress Julia Stiles.
What character do you play and why are they important to the story?
SB: I’m not allowed to go into to much details right now since the show is in production, but I can say that I am playing a Doctor who is key to the storyline, and there is a nice plot twist regarding him.
Did you face any challenges in bringing this character to life?
SB: Being quite young, playing a Doctor with a lot of experience and weight to him has been a very interesting challenge.
What was it like working with director Damon Thomas and the rest of the cast on the series?
SB: I think this has been my best shooting experience so far since we were shooting in the South of France in some amazing locations. The director was really experienced and efficient, and the cast and crew are really friendly, which always makes things better.
How about the crime series “River,” what was that about?
SB: “River” I would say is my best job to date, and definitely my most demanding job as an actor. It was a great experience bringing Khaalid to life because of the complexities of the story and the character. Also acting opposite Stellan Skarsgard which I considered before I met him on set to be one of the best actors out there, was a really amazing experience. I learned a lot watching him work and grew a lot from it as a result.
How did it feel when you found out you had landed a recurring role on the series?
SB: I was really happy, again because I knew I was going to work with Stellan Skarsgard and the story I felt was really different and special. The show has has some amazing reviews on its quality and originality.
Can you tell us about your character Khaalid Mohamoud? What kind of guy is he and what happens to him in the story?
SB: He’s an immigrant in the UK who has been working hard to support his family and struggles to find his place in society, he’s central to the story because he’s hiding information in an effort to try and protect someone, a move that could change the course of the story.
You are also in the series “Call the Midwife,” can you tell us about your character?
SB: I actually just finished shooting and I am in season 6. I play a British Merchant Navy Seaman in the show. It is set in the 60’s and my character is trying to have his wife go back to Africa to give birth and that’s when all the drama begins.
What is the series about?
SB: The story is about midwives in the 60’s in post war London, and the job they did. It is a very popular show worldwide with great reviews.
In the episode you are in, how did your character fit into the story?
SB: I will be in season 6 episode 6, which comes out in 2017. The entire episode is dedicated to my storyline and that of my wife in the show. It’s a really heavy and sad story that will be very interesting to watch.
How did the character challenge you as an actor?
SB: Having to play a man living in the 60’s was the challenge, since people of that time had a completely different view on things but we had an amazing script to help, and I asked for details from my parents to find out what it was like for them during the 60’s as well.
Can you tell us about the project “Spooks”?
SB: “Spooks” was my first job on TV. It’s a Spy/Drama and was one of the influences for the “Bourne” movies, it is a very gritty and realistic show about the Spy world. “Spooks” is slang for spy in government official circles. I was playing one of the terrorists who planned to bomb the house of parliament in London and took a boat hostage. As this was my first experience with a show of that scale, I had to overcome a bit of nerves at first but was quickly put at ease by the cast and crew. The director of this show was Paul Whittington and I was playing opposite Richard Armitage (“The Hobbit”) who was the main Spy I took hostage in the episode and Iain Glenn, who went on to be one the main character of “Game of Thrones.”
You’ve had quite a bit of success as an actor on television so far– do you have plans to focus more on film work anytime soon?
SB: Definitely in the future that is my goal!
What is it about working in television that you enjoy?
SB: Television has become such a great quality media that you would really miss on a lot of opportunities if you didn’t look at it. Plus it is a great way for an actor to show their skills as you could have more time to develop a character, and really these days TV has amazing quality shows!
Can you tell us about some of the film projects you’ve done?
SB: Around the same time I was shooting “Spooks,” I had my first role on the big budget film “Gulliver’s Travels.” I was playing a soldier and it was a great experience. It was a massive shoot and Jack Black was really great to work with and very friendly. I also did a film with French director Mass Youssoupha called “Conscience” that we are looking to show at film festivals next year and I am really excited about that but I can’t really talk much about the story as I’m forbidden to do so. Also I have the typical actor’s story when I started I did a couple of background jobs in film to pay for for acting school, and that was also a great learning experience.
They are all very different, what made you choose to participate in these projects?
SB: At the moment, for example, the movie “Conscience” that we hope will be selected for festivals, the main reason I did this film was the director Mass Youssoupha. He saw my work on “River” and wrote that story for me specifically so I was really keen to work with him. In the beginning of my career working on films was not my priority, of course if you get an amazing project you will do it, but I was more focused on TV and now that my name is out there I go for castings for some great movie projects with great directors, and that’s what you want as an actor really– to create a window for you to have access to quality projects.
You get approached all the time to work on projects with people, what makes you pick one role over another?
SB: Now that my name is getting known it’s really about choosing that quality project that will make a difference in my career, that’s why I am very picky of what I want to be associated with. That’s why if you look at my work on TV so far it’s only be quality work. I am choosing quality over quantity!
Do you feel that you get cast to play a certain type of character more than others?
SB: At the beginning of your career you get typecast always, but you have to get your opportunities and show what you can do, and now really I get all kinds of characters. “River” has been a turning point for me really. But I would definitely say that I usually get the intense sometimes menacing type.
Out of all your productions both in the theatre and on screen, what has been your favorite project, or projects, so far and why?
SB: My favorite job so far has been the show “River,” this was where I learned the most and also the complexities of the character were so fun to play! Acting with Stellan Skarsgard has been the highlight of my career so far because I really admire him as an actor.
What has been your most challenging role?
SB: My character Khaalid on “River” was the most challenging, the range of emotions was great, and my character was always on the edge. This is really challenging as an actor.
What is your favorite genre to work in as an actor?
SB: Definitely drama, I think this is where I shine the most really. And it is also my favorite genre to watch.
What separates you from other actors? What do you feel your strongest qualities are?
SB: I have always been told that I have this sort of presence which is menacing and charming at the same time so maybe that, although it’s quite hard to judge yourself but I suppose I would agree with that.
Have you been in any commercials or music videos?
SB: Yes I did a Spring Water commercial for “Voslauer” with supermodel Agyness Dein, you can actually still see it on youtube it’s called “Voslauer Part II”.
What projects do you have coming up?
SB: Coming out next year are my roles in “Call the Midwife” and “Riviera.”
What are your plans for the future?
SB: I would love to be as versatile as possible as an actor and maybe learn a new language to act in, that would be really great since I have a passion for language.
What do you hope to achieve in your career as an actor?
SB: Hopefully grow as an actor and do lots of quality work.
Why are you passionate about working as an actor?
SB: It’s always such a joy for me really to disappear into a character, there is nothing like it!!
If you weren’t an actor what other profession do you think you might have chosen?
SB: My dream as a kid was to be a professional soccer player, so definitely that! I am still very much passionate about soccer and sports in general, i also love the NBA.
Thousands of people have been watching the small screen and seen Savannah Burton, but may not have known it. She has appeared in television shows such as Killjoys and Beauty and the Beast. She has worked on a variety of films, including The Kiss, an upcoming film that will bring light the issues of the transgender community from the 1950s.
Burton has overcome many barriers to reach the success she has now. Being a transgender actress in the industry, many opportunities can be limited to trans roles only. That is not the case for Burton, a refreshing and promising change.
As she discusses in the interview below, Burton did not always know she wanted to get into acting, but once she had a taste of it, she knew that is where her future was. To find out more about her career and her story, make sure you read below.
IF: Where are you from? When and how did you get into acting?
SB: I was born and raised in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, a town with a population of about 19,000 people. My father was a small business owner and my mother is in real estate. Growing up in such a small place a million miles away from Hollywood, you never really think about being in the entertainment industry. It wasn’t until I moved to Toronto, Ontario in my twenties that I took my first acting class. It was in the basement of a church and from the very first class, I was hooked. I love the feeling of making the audience have an emotional reaction to something I’m doing and taking them on a journey.
IF: Can you tell me a little bit about the film and television projects you’ve done?
SB: Some of my most recent projects have been on Beauty and the Beast on The CW network and Killjoys which airs on Syfy and Space. Being able to work with actors like Aaron Ashmore, Thom Allison and Ryan Blakely on Killjoys and Austin Basis and Nina Lisandrello on Beauty and the Beast have been wonderful learning experiences. While I’m on set, I try to be like a sponge and watch the actors who are where I want to be in their careers. It was a huge thrill to work on a show created by Michelle Lovretta who was also the creator of the popular series Lost Girl. She masterfully creates amazing, original story lines with characters who just happen to be LGBTQ+.
IF: What is it like being a transgender actress in the industry?
SB: Being a transgender actress in the industry is still a big challenge at this point. We are still kind of waiting for society to catch up to us as far as understanding what Trans people go through and have to deal with on a daily basis. Many people have this false narrative of what a trans person is from decades of misrepresentation of us on film and TV screens. Fortunately, shows like Sense8 and Transparent are helping to educate and create dialogues where none existed before.
IF: When looking at a script, what makes you pick one role over another?
SB: I certainly wouldn’t want to limit myself when it comes to roles, though knowing what your “look” is and what types of roles you are more suited for is something that every actor should be aware of.
IF: What has been your favorite role so far and why?
SB: I’ve played many roles from villains to incredibly sympathetic characters. My favorite to date would have to be Itchy Woman on Killjoys. First of all, the role isn’t written as Trans, plus she is a guard at a place for criminals to gamble their merchandise they have illegally obtained. She carries a big gun and isn’t afraid to use it. I love seeing a strong powerful Trans woman on screen. It really goes against stereotype.
IF: What is your favorite genre to work in as an actress?
SB: Honestly I like all genres. I grew up collecting comics like Thor, Captain America and Doctor Strange so I love what Marvel is doing right now. I also remember watching Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs for the first time and thought this is something different. The way he would mess with the linear storytelling and take the audience from 0 to 100 miles an hour in an instant made me want to be part of a film like that. People mostly see the violence in his films, but he also writes incredibly strong female characters to which he doesn’t get enough credit. Most of the female characters in Kill Bill, Jackie Brown and Inglorious Bastards are totally bad ass.
IF: What separates you from other actors?
SB: One of the most important things you can do as an actor is training. I’ve been training off and on for more than ten years. It’s necessary to stay sharp by going to classes frequently. Try different acting coaches and see what style works for you.
IF: What would you say your strongest qualities as an actress are?
SB: They say that the eyes have it. One way to tell good acting from bad acting is in the eyes. Being focused on the task at hand during a scene. The audience has to relate with you and put themselves in your place. This can only happen if they believe what you are doing and saying. It’s not really about acting; it’s about being real.
IF: What projects do you have coming up?
SB: I’m really excited about a film that I’ve recently worked on called The Kiss. It’s an LGBTQ themed period piece which takes place in the 1950’s. There are so few stories with Trans characters from this time as much of our history as Trans people has been erased or been completely misrepresented. Being able to tell a story like this is incredibly important and I hope will start conversations.
“Love By Chance” star Vishal Arora has been appearing in stage plays, music videos and television series’ for several years. Much of Arora’s work has appeared on India’s well-known channel Bindass, a famous youth channel known for programs targeting the country’s younger generation.
Recently, Arora played the character of a Customer Care Executive on one of Bindass’s hit television series titled “Love By Chance.” Just this week, I had the chance to sit down with Arora and discuss the details of his character’s storyline within the episode, all outlined in our exciting interview below.
Currently, you’re living in Los Angeles, California. Where were you born and raised? VA: I was born and raised in Ambala Cantt, Haryana north part of India. After completing my bachelor’s degree in computers, I moved to Mumbai where I started my acting career. I did theatre in the beginning and began getting work in TV Serials a year after. Since then, for the past four years, I have been working TV, music videos and commercial jobs.
For how many years have you been acting? Where did you initially get your start? VA: It’s been 5 years now since I started initially. I began with theatre roles and from there began booking commercial projects.
Who and what inspired your acting career early on? VA: My love of acting stems from my childhood; I love to live different lives, which is possible through this art form. In my school days I performed on stage. Whenever I perform on stage, it gives me a type of freedom we mostly don’t get in real life because of society rules and regulation in addition to rituals in my country. When I act, I’m living my dream. When I was younger, the stage was a great platform to begin with. From there, once you get started professionally, getting work helps you make a name for yourself and your family, which is exciting when you have the whole world watching your work.
“Love By Chance” is an episodic show that airs on Bindass TV where you played the character of a Customer Care Executive. What more can you tell me about the show’s plot? More so, what can you tell me about your character? VA: It’s a fun filled story about a character named Joshi meeting a character named Ishita one day at work. My character and Joshi work for a glue manufacturing company. He is a door-to-door salesman for this brand glue and I work in the customer care back office called Lo Chipak Gaya where we work together. It is his 31st day at work and he has failed to meet the monthly sales target. He is under great pressure to perform. That’s when he steps out for some hard selling and meets Ishita. As soon as Ishita buys the glue – Joshi asks for a high five. Accidentally, some glue had gotten on to their hands as the glue bottles were faulty and then he calls me for a solution because I am his close friend and always he relies on me to solve his problems. Their hands get glued together and Ishita has a whole day of tasks planned ahead. From being an irritating sales man stuck with her to solving her problems throughout the day, Joshi eventually gets fired, but my character still motivates him while he’s leaving. In the end, Joshi charms his way to Ishita’s heart and they both decide to give a relationship a chance.
How did you initially become connected to the show? Did you have to audition for the role? VA: I initially got connected through a casting director whom I had auditioned for with some other role. He sent me to this particular role, which was dependent on the character requirements.
What was the audition process like? VA: Since I auditioned for something else that was also an episodic show, the process was fairly unique. I was given a script to perform and it took 1 hour for the whole process to conclude. Then, after few days, I got a call for “Love By Chance.” I was a bit surprised because I wasn’t expecting it at all.
Who are some of the other actors you collaborated with on “Love By Chance?” What was it like working with them? VA: Joshi who is played by Rahul Sharma, and Ishita who is played by Huzan Mevawalla. It was fun working with them we had a good time on set. We got to know one another while working together. It was a great experience and we had many fun moments while shooting.
Can you tell me about a favorite memory or experience from the time you spent working on “Love By Chance?” VA: It was when I was shooting for my particular scene where I had to act over the top like grandma’s do in Indian daily soaps. It was fun for everyone watching me doing that and was good experience for me to be able to play around and act so dramatically.
How would you say that “Love By Chance” allowed you to showcase your talents as an actor? VA: It is always a good way to explore your skills and showcase your talents whenever I played characters like this the one I played on “Love By Chance.” My character was dramatic and over the top, which is totally different from how I am in my personal life. It gave me a means of showcasing my skills by being totally different from who I am in real life.
What’s next for you in the world of entertainment? What are your future career goals and aspirations? VA: I am looking forward to working in film and TV in Hollywood because it’s a platform where I can really showcase my skills and also explore the things I’ve always wished to do with my acting. This type of art is unimaginable and everyday I explore something new personally. It’s a process, which can never end; it just gets better by working more everyday. My goals are to just do good work and entertain people with my skills and when I make someone laugh, that gives inspiration that I am doing something unique in life. It makes me feel like I am living for myself.
Americans are somewhat spoiled by the fact that Hollywood is the default epicenter of the global movie industry. The UK, China, India, and other places around the world have thriving movie studios producing fine films but Hollywood has the infrastructure which has been in place for more than a century. This gives the city an ample head start. Many actors set their sights on Hollywood as it gives a global platform to the talented members of the film community. Although Hollywood doesn’t create the artistic light, it can project it to all reaches of the planet. The most successful actors possess talent, charisma, and global appeal. This is exactly how one can describe actress Xiao Sun. This Chinese born and raised, moved to Canada, trilingual, dancer, model, and actress is complex and captivating on camera. Although Americans may not recognize Sun as quickly as Canadians, there is something very familiar about her. She worked on X-Men Days of Future Past (grossing 723MM worldwide, 2015 Oscar nominee and multiple award-winning), and TV shows like Being Human (multiple nominations and a win for ASCAP’s Top Television Series) but her roles in both English and French speaking films in her Canadian homeland have made her a household name in the North.
In her first ever audition for film or tv, Xiao was cast in the supporting role of Boon-Mae in the comedy film Fatal. Beyond the pressure of being in a feature film, Sun was required to act the part speaking her third language of French (Fatal is an entirely French spoken film). Also playing against Xiao’s nature is Boon Mae’s superficial and jealous character. Being cast so soon after moving from China to Montreal created a whirlwind for Sun, who soon found her comfort at ease on set. She recalls, “I had just moved to Montreal from China with my parents. My French was not very good yet so it was very challenging. My co-actors, Michaël Youn and Tony Tarba were very nice and helpful to me. They’re both big stars in France. They always gave 100% on set; rehearsing scenes with me, giving me tips on acting and my character development. It made me feel very comfortable and relaxed. Sometimes they’d throw me a slang word and I had no idea what it meant or I thought it was something else, but my expression and sincerity would make them laugh. We did have tons of fun in spite of the long shoots every day.” Fatal was distributed by Universal Pictures International & Remstar Films and was a box office success which endears Xiao to fans with the cult following that has led to its ubiquity in France.
A stark contrast thematically, as well as her role she played, was the movie Anna. This critically acclaimed movie about human trafficking was an official selection at Busan International Film Festival in South Korea in 2015 (the location of the world premiere), an official selection at Singapore International film festival, and nominated for a Canadian Screen Award. The film’s Director was so taken with her performance as a tough mafia guard that the character’s name was changed to Xiao. The award-winning Charles-Olivier Michaud directed Sun in Anna and declares, “Anna is a film about a photojournalist who travels to Bangkok to pursue investigations for a news story on human trafficking being carried out by the Triads, and is kidnapped by Asian gangsters and subjected to the same abuse she has investigated. Xiao played the leading role of “Xiao,” a fierce member of a mafia group in Montreal that Anna has to go through in order to get to the person with the criminal evidence of the mafia leaders that abused her in Bangkok. Xiao performed this role with amazing character commitment and zeal, and truly brought the character to life in the fierce way that it needed. She applied such great energy and emotion into her dialogue and expressions that kept the film momentous and suspenseful. Xiao embodied the character amazingly with every scene on camera, adding intensity to this tragic story. She was truly leading to the production. Xiao was such an excellent actor in my film that I cast her in another leading role in my new upcoming television series Premonitions.” Xiao’s portrayal as her namesake was moving to the film’s director and audience alike but it was the subject matter which moved this actress as she reveals, “Human trafficking actually exists in every country, not just less developed countries or areas. It happens not just to women, but also men and children. The awful way that these victims have been treated is something that I could have never imagined and no one should have to experience.”
Summer of 2016 saw Xiao returning to French film in Les 3 P’tits Cochons 2, leading at the box office for local Canadian films. The film is the sequel to the successful film from nine years ago. In Les 3 P’tits Cochons, Sun plays opposite French film star Paul Doucet (Remi) as his love interest Mikou. Mikou is stunning, sexy, and wealthy. It was an opportunity to play a strong woman who is every bit a match for her male counterpart. Sun confirms that she enjoyed the chance to work with the much respected and award-winning Doucet. Although the experience was fun, that doesn’t mean it was necessarily easy. Xiao recalls one unexpected scenario,” You can’t plan for emergency situations. During filming of one of the airport scenes, there was an emergency landing. We had to finish an important scene in 30 minutes; one which was scheduled to last a few hours. Everyone on set rallied and my co-actor Paul Doucet and I were focused to get what the director wanted in the first take of each angle. We managed to finish the scene before the emergency landing of the plane. That is not something that you prepare for in an acting class.” The film’s award-winning director Jean-Francois Pouliot reinforces the idea that Sun’s presence in the film had great impact by noting, “It was only after the premier of Les 3 P’tits Chochons 2, that I realized what a lasting impression the opening scene left on the audience and that is mainly because of Xiao. She has an incredible screen presence that set the tone for the rest of the movie and helped to elevate it to another level.”
Xiao is tight lipped about her upcoming film role which has her acting opposite two Oscar winners but she is happy to discuss the film Tidal Waves in which she plays Riley. Tidal Waves is the story of a young dancer’s struggle with scoliosis. Her history as a dancer makes this a very personal film which she is quite proud of doing. With a wide variety of roles, Xiao Sun is exactly the type of positive yet driven actress that audiences will be seeing more and more of as she appears in more and more international films.
To say that actor Michelle Alexander is versatile would be a thundering understatement. While the Vancouver Island-born performer is best known for her role as serial killer Alison on the innovative horror anthology series Darknet, Alexander’s current small screen incarnation, as Tess on web series Overachieving Underdogs, plays at the opposite end of the spectrum—it’s a fast, funny comedy centered on two young women living in Toronto—but for Alexander, the transition was simple.
““Both genres need to be 110% believable and authentic,” she said. “If a viewer can smell a ‘funny moment’ is being played for the joke rather than fulfilling the circumstances of that character, it feels false.”
Alexander’s keen grasp on the emotional mechanics of performance are impressive, and provide a fascinating insight in the actor’s modus operandi. “In terms of preparation, the two genres are not as different as people think,” Alexander said. “Drama is a tragedy with irrevocable consequences—death, heartbreak, loss. But comedy is tragedy without those consequences—your pants fall down in public; you fart during grace at your in-laws’ dinner party. The trick is to give the ‘comic circumstances’ as much importance as you would a dramatic tragedy. The comedy is there for the viewer, but the actor has to be invested in the circumstance.”
In Overachieving Underdogs, Alexander makes it look easy, and the results are hilarious. With equally gifted co-star, Sophia Fabiilli, the pair’s zany impulses, emotional vulnerability and unpredictable gags are deftly realized, and run the full comic route, from physical slapstick to razor sharp repartee
Together, the two make a formidable team. “Sophia is amazing,” Alexander said. “Everybody say that we have an onscreen chemistry that is rare. The series is all about our characters, Tess and Polly, individually as well as their relationship, so we share a lot of screen time. We know how to feed each other in the moment and riff on a joke together. Plus, like me, she’s determined to get an authentic funny moment rather than a ‘cheap funny moment’. We push each other to go further, to take bigger risks, to make each moment as funny and full as it can possibly be. She’s a joy to be on set with.”
The pairing has created a volatile, endearing and evident bond that provides a solid foundation for wild comic escapades, from irony laden observations on contemporary life to the pitfalls of dating and the unexpected twists which the two women face, as Alexander said, when “going after the dreams they never knew they wanted.”
“In terms of comedic performance, Sophia and I shine most in scripted comedy, rather than stand-up or sketch,” Alexander said. “Following on the success of series like Broad City and Garfunkel and Oates, we decided to put those skills to the test.”
“It’s been pure fun,” Alexander said. “The pilot shoot was peopled by highly skilled professionals both in-front of and behind the camera. We all believe so much in the potential of the series that we all brought our best work to the pilot. The set designer even made a “Tess and Polly shrine” in Tess’ apartment. I’m not sure if you ever see it on camera, but it’s a metaphor for how every tiny detail was attended to and cared for. “
Alexander also generates enthusiasm among her colleagues. “Michelle brings a great energy to set, always prepared, focused on the end game, willing to take risks,” director Patrick Hodgson said. “Directing her on Overachieving Underdogs was a fantastic experience. Her bright energy carried over to the crew and made for a genuinely fun time on the show. When we reached moments of conflict, or struggled with a scene, we put our heads together and worked out a solution that worked for both of us. No drama, no ego. She is a diligent, committed performer, who is keen to collaborate with her scene partners and director, always early to set and eager to make sure the cast and crew were all taken care of.”
The series’ wit and charm have an empathic appeal that’s bound to reach a larger audience. “We are currently in talks with some Canadian networks, one in Europe and one in the US, to produce a full 13-episode season of the show,” Alexander said. “And we’ve been overwhelmed by the popular response. Publications, both in Canada and the US, wanted to write about it, women from as far away as the UK tweeted at us that they “felt like you are making this series for me.”
The show’s success lies with Tess and Polly’s—and Alexander and Fabiilli’s—personal relatability, a genuine emotional quality that can’t be manufactured, but is instantly recognizable. As Alexander said, “Once Sophia and I, dressed as Tess and Polly, did a promo stunt in downtown Toronto during rush hour. We had two girls shout from the streetcar, ‘I’m a TESS!’ and ‘I’m a POLLY!’”
International Entertainment, and the Talents that Leave us Buzzing….