Category Archives: Actor

Actress Claire Stollery tells her story in award-winning film ‘Who is Hannah’

Who_Is_Hannah--Day_1--LowRes--33
Claire Stollery as Hannah in Who is Hannah

Claire Stollery was never interested in anything other than acting. As a child growing up in Calgary, she always had this one passion. As she grew and moved around Canada, what started out as a childhood dream started to become a reality. There is no doubt that Claire Stollery was meant to be an actress, and audiences everywhere know this every time they see her on the big and small screen.

As an actor, being vulnerable is pivotal to opening yourself up to a character. Connecting with the story and allowing your experiences to come through is vital when it comes to connecting with an audience. Stollery knows this well. She starred in the award-winning film Who is Hannah, that she also co-wrote, and allowed the events in her life to guide her character, creating a cathartic experience for the actress.

“This film was very close to me. I co-wrote it with a great comedian friend of mine, John Hastings. We wanted to collaborate and create a great dark comedy, but we didn’t know what we wanted to write about. One night after a show we were sitting in my cold car, a couple days before Christmas. I told him the story of how I had met my biological father in Los Angeles when I was 21. I found his number and left him a message, lying about my identity because I wasn’t sure he’d call me back if he knew who I was. In the end I came clean and we decided to meet up. When he arrived at the coffee shop, he ended up calling me while he was standing right beside me. We had no idea what each other looked like! It was like a meet-cute you’d see in a rom-com.  John couldn’t stop laughing of the horror and awkwardness of the situation. We decided then and there we would write a film exploring that scenario and what could go wrong when you don’t know what each other look like,” Stollery described.

Who is Hannah is the awkward and unlikely tale of how one girl meets her dead dad. Stollery plays Hannah, a role that was written with her in mind. Because she helped write the film, she already had the character’s voice inside her. Hannah is a girl who just wants to belong somewhere and know where she came from. She feels lost and incomplete because she’s never known the identity of her father – only known pieces from what her mother has told her. The problem is, she discovers everything her mother has told her about her father is the plot to Indiana Jones. When she finds out that her mother completely lied to her about her father’s identity and that he’s alive and lives in the next town, she has new hope for self-completion.

“I can’t really relate to Hannah’s feeling of incompleteness because I was lucky enough to have a dad growing up. My mom met my father who raised me when I was six months old. But even then, you always wonder what that other person is like. Are you like them? Do you look like them? There are always those thoughts at the back of your mind,” Stollery described. “Everyone wants to know where they come from. We want to know our history; it’s a universal desire. For those people who are searching for their identity, we wanted a film that let them know they are not alone. Since making the film I have had a lot of people write me or come up to me after screenings telling me about their experience or a friend’s experience of meeting a biological parent. There are a lot of those stories out there, but people don’t talk about them that often. There’s a lot of shame in having parents abandon their children. For the kid, it is a terrifying journey seeking out and meeting a parent for the very first time. You’ve imagined and built up this person your entire lifetime. There’s a lot of pressure for fantasy to match reality. It was important for John and me to write a film that finds the humour in such a bizarre but impactful moment in someone’s life.”

Behind The Scenes WIH
Behind the scenes of Who is Hannah

Because of Stollery’s deep understanding of her character, the film went on to do exceptionally well at many international film festivals. It was an Official Selection at The Atlantic Film Festival where it premiered last year, and then went on to be an Official Selection at The Hamilton Film Festival, The Toronto International Short Film Festival, Hollywood North Film Festival and The Toronto Independent Film Festival. At the Lakeshorts International Film Festival where it was also an Official Selection, Who is Hannah took home the Cinespace Jury’s Choice Award and the People’s Choice Award.

“When it finally premiered we were so happy people liked it and were laughing. Because we had been with it for so long, we had no idea if it was even funny anymore. And you start second guessing yourself and wondering, was it ever funny? Were we just delirious on set when we filmed it at 4 am?” said Stollery. “And it was amazing to receive the Jury’s Choice Award. They always have such talented and revered people on their jury, so their opinion meant a lot. I’m so tickled when anyone likes something I make. It was a great honour to receive it and even better feeling to receive the People’s Choice award. We didn’t know anyone at the screenings, and to have a room full of strangers resonate with your film was really a special moment for us. There really is nothing better than sitting in a theatre and listening to people laugh at something you wrote and eaves dropping on people saying good things about it afterwards.”

Part of what makes Stollery so good at what she does is her ability to improvise. Although this is sometimes not encouraged on set, the Director of Who is Hannah, Mark O’Brien, was all for it. He knew what Stollery was capable of, and knew what she could add to both the character and the film. His instincts were right.

“Claire is an extremely talented actress and writer. She’s a very open-minded artist who knows how to collaborate well, while at the same time making her work authentic and unique. She works hard, and that is a rarity in this business. There’s a lot of talk in the entertainment industry, but Claire goes out and gets it done. And really, that’s what you want most from someone you’re working with. And she does it well,” said O’Brien. “She’s a very natural actress, very real. Acting is a tough skill that can be improved through training, but I do believe that there must be some inherent talent in the person first. Claire has a foundation of incredible talent that will take her very far. Anyone who has the chance to work with her should count themselves lucky.”

It was more than just the story and character that Stollery could connect with, even the set meant something to her. They filmed in an old, abandoned farm house that the actress had actually grown up in, as well as a hotel that was the first place Stollery went to when she visited Toronto as a child.

“Even though the film is a comedy, it is rooted in real issues. There’s a fine line tonally with dark comedies. You don’t want to make it too comedic otherwise you lose the truth of the situations. But you don’t want to make it too dark, otherwise you lose the comedic release. It’s a balancing act doing those types of films” she said.

But the most important part of the process for Stollery was not the awards, accolades, or why she embarked on the project, it was what it turned into.

“Filming was therapeutic for me. I had just lost my father who raised me a couple years prior, we were filming in the house I grew up in, the story was loosely based on my experience with meeting my biological father. And I realized I never really talked about it with my father who raised me. I regret that I didn’t check in with him more about the whole situation and considered his feelings more. But he was great about it and knew it was something I needed to do. He didn’t interfere. Not to mention my mother wasn’t too happy I was making a film about a man who had left us, even though it was very loosely inspired by him. But that was how she saw it. So it’s safe to say there were a lot of emotions surrounding the project!” Stollery concluded.

Audiences can see Who Is Hannah at the end of this year on CBC.

From Bollywood to Hollywood: Actress Karishma Bhandari

Karishma Bhandari
Actress Karishma Bhandari shot by John Clark

Born and raised in East London, actress Karishma Bhandari first made her mark in the Bollywood film industry back in 2012 when she landed the starring role of Sita in Southbank Centre Goes Bollywood.

Aside from being a skilled actress with magnetic appeal on screen, Bhandari’s extensive dance training gave her an added edge over the hundreds of other hopefuls vying for the role. Though she was only 19 at the time, Bhandari had already spent several years perfecting her craft at home in London. Her outstanding performance in the film Southbank Centre Goes Bollywood brought her widespread attention and ultimately proved to be the catalyst for the successful career she has today.

Directed by Encounters International Film Festival Award winner Aneil Karia, who also earned  the Grand Jury Prize Award from the Utah Arts Festival for her 2014 film Tag, the comedic adventure film Southbank Centre Goes Bollywood was commissioned for the Alchemy Festival, the UK’s largest festival of South Asian culture. The film followed Bhandari’s character Sita, Sheila played by Gurkiran Kaur (Oxasians, London Kahanis) and Rita played by Roshni Rathore (80’s Vampire Flick, Love Type D), three dance teachers at a local community centre who make it their mission to keep the centre open after a wealthy developer buys the property with the intention of closing it down in order to build a hotel. Chalk full of lively Bollywood dance routines, Southbank Centre Goes Bollywood’s endearing story about three young women battling the odds and fighting for what they believe in was a hit with viewers.

Karishma Bhandari
Still of Karishma Bhandari in pink in “Southbank Centre Goes Bollywood”

The first insight into the dynamic talent actress Karishma Bhandari has become known for, Southbank Centre Goes Bollywood proved Bhandari’s ability to portray a character who was the polar opposite of herself– a necessary skill for any true actor, and one that has undoubtedly led her to land leading roles in a wide range of films since.

Director Aneil Karia says, “Karishma’s passion is one thing that makes her stand out from the crowd, as well as her striking look and her warmth. It was a challenging, nuanced role in the film and she delivered a wonderful performance.” 

In 2016 Bhandari’s international reputation got an even bigger boost when she landed a lead role as Geeta in the Bollywood feature film Club Dancer directed by B. Prasad. The film follows Ria played by Nisha Mavani, an Indian girl who moves to the city where she tells her parents she’s landed a respectable job, however she is really a dancer in a club.

When her parents come for a surprise visit and find a man at her house who they assume is her boyfriend, but is actually a criminal who sought refuge from the police the night before, they immediately want them to get married. The man quickly disappears, but Ria finds another man, Amit, who’s identical to him and negotiates a deal with him to pretend to be her boyfriend in exchange for money, which he needs for his sister’s wedding. Bhandari’s character Geeta comes into play as the man’s soon-to-be-wed sister, a key character in the plot who helps further the love story that eventually develops between Ria and Amit, who’s played by Rajbeer Singh (Who’s There?, Ishq Junoon: The Heat is On).

Karishma Bhandari
Still of Raja (left) and Karishma Bhandari (right) as Geeta in “Club Dancer”

In the film, which Bhandari traveled to India to shoot for several months, she acts alongside notable Bollywood stars such as Filmfare Award winner Shakti Kapoor (Hungama, Musafir, Raja Babu) and Stardust Award nominee Zarina Wahab (Vishwaroopam, My Name is Khan), as well as actress Judith Shekoni (The Twilight Saga Breaking Dawn Part 2, Ice, Ordinary Lies).

Although she was raised in London, Bhandari’s parents are originally from Punjab, India and she grew up speaking Punjabi– something that created a challenge for the actress as Club Dancer was made in Hindi. However, Bhandari trained diligently, learning a new language and adapting her accent for the role, and she seamlessly delivered her performance as if Hindi was her mother tongue.

One of the highlights of Bhandari’s performance as Geeta came towards the end of the film when she performed an intricate Bollywood dance routine, one that few other actresses could have pulled off with the same level of grace and style she brings to the screen.

Bhandari admits, “I had already had Bollywood dance training, but to do it on a massive set in front of a lot of people was challenging… We had rehearsals every day for about two weeks and when it came time for the shoot date I had the heaviest outfit to wear. It was a wedding song and I was literally covered in jewels, which made it difficult to dance, but I pushed through and made sure my movements were seen… the song was definitely the most memorable as it was amazing to see how it was edited together.”

Karishma Bhandari
Sill of Karishma Bhandari (center) surrounded by background actors in “Club Dancer”

Some of the other film credits Bhandari has become known for over the years include BAFTA nominee Jon Jones’ (Da Vinci’s Demons, Cold Feet) 2013 drama Lawless with National Television Award winner Suranne Jones (Doctor Foster), the Empire Award nominated comedy The Inbetweeners 2 with Simon Bird (Drunk History: UK, Friday Night Dinner) and James Buckley (Zapped, White Gold), Asko Pati’s (Love Station, Super Micchua) romantic action film Aashiqui: True Love with Ankush Hazra (Romeo Vs Juliet), the 2016 sci-fi drama The Conversations with Daniella Down (The Wedding Party), and more.

Having already made a name for herself in the UK and Bollywood, actress Karishma Bhandari is currently planning to make her move to the states where she will undoubtedly be in hot demand in Hollywood as well. Bhandari is currently in production with the upcoming series The Corner Shop where she plays the lead role of Maleeka, as well as the series Emergency: LA where she plays Nurse Persis Chadra. A supremely talented actress, we have no doubt that we will be seeing a whole lot more of Karishma Bhandari in the future!

Australian Actress Sunny Koll helps sheds light on cyber-bullying in ‘Zach’s Story’

Sunny Koll doesn’t just tell stories, she embodies them. She brings a story to life. As an actress, she tries to find within her character a commonality, a humanity, that connects each of us together. From that connection, people are able to see themselves within the story. That is what makes her one of the best, and that is why she is recognized around the world for her talents.

This ability to connect with audiences transcends to every project Koll embarks on. She takes audiences with her on her path of ending human trafficking in the series Traffik, and in the comedic television show Flat Whites, viewers feel for her character Stacy, as she has been duped by the two main characters in their attempt to win her affections. However, in the film Zach’s Story, Koll not only connects with her audience, but she helps to tell the impactful story, raising awareness on the important and timely issue of cyber-bullying.

“The script was empowering for kids who have experienced cyber bullying. Within Australia, there has been a lot of action taken within schools to stop bullying and celebrate differences, as the Australian government is getting behind this, I really wanted to be a part of it,” said Koll. “I liked how important this project is. Today’s world moves at such a fast pace and there’s so much pressure on teenagers, I can’t even imagine what it’s like to have the speed of the internet added into the mix of bullying. I really liked that this campaign offers answers with how to deal with these situations, so you don’t feel alone, which only breeds more pain and long-term shame.”

Zach’s Story is part of the “ReWrite Your Story” campaign, an anti-cyberbullying campaign for the Australian Government Office of Children’s eSafety Commissioner. “Rewrite Your Story” consists of a series of short films focusing on different cyberbullying scenarios. Zach’s Story tells the story of Zach, a high school student who is being cyber bullied. The film highlights various ways a family unit can deal with these situations.

“The message is incredibly important. Bullying of any kind erodes self-esteem and is usually done to the most sensitive of people. The effects of bullying can take years to heal. The real tragedy is that the bullies themselves have something broken within them and are usually dealing with some horrific power plays of their own in their family homes and are only acting out to gain power somewhere else,” said Koll. “It’s very satisfying to know it’s reached so many people and that people want to make a change. It’s also so incredibly brilliant for Christopher Benz for taking out the Best Director’s Award in an Online Drama Project for his work on Rewrite Your Story at the Australian Director’s Guild Awards. He really is a brilliantly talented artist who continuously gives and works very hard, never resting on his laurels and I can’t wait to see what he brings out next. To also win Gold at the World Media Festival and the Bronze World Medal at the New York Festivals Television & Film Awards is so fantastic for him and his team at Brave TV.”

Zach’s Story premiered online, on the “Rewrite Your Story” site and on the “Rewrite Your Story” Facebook page. The Rewrite Your Story campaign has had almost one million views online with 133 thousand of them being for Zach’s Story. The film went on to win the Bronze World Medal at the New York Festival’s Television and Film Awards, and the campaign won the Gold Award at the World Media Festival 2017.

“It’s very satisfying to know it’s reached so many people and people want to make a change. To also win the Bronze World Medal at the New York Festivals Television & Film Awards, and for the entire Rewrite Your Story campaign, to win Gold at the World Media Festival, is fantastic as it means these topics are getting the air time they deserve,” said Koll.

Koll played the vital role of Leanne, Zach’s mother. Due to the cyber bullying, Zach was withdrawing, which caused concern for his parents. After his father discovered the cyber bullying pages, the parents worked together to create a safe family atmosphere where Zach could talk openly about his feelings and they could work out a plan of action. She’s doing her best to keep a normal relaxed home life, so Zach feels safe to express his feelings. For this role, Koll researched bullying in all its aspects, including the effects it has not only on the person being bullied, but also the entire family, as there can be radical changes within the person being bullied. This commitment to her performance was appreciated by all she worked with.

“Working with Sunny was a breeze. She is very much a team player and in tune with cast and crew. She’s also very open to direction, which is important. Sunny is a dedicated, passionate actress. She puts time into her preparation and turns up ready to work. She’s driven to create and combines working hard with natural ability, to find the layers, truth and need within each of her characters,” said Christopher Benz, Director of Zach’s Story.

The accolades and the awards, however, are not why Koll is proud to be a part of the project. For her, she wanted to educate, knowing that education can heal all parties involved with bullying. Showing young children that their actions can have such effects is important, as Koll knows firsthand.

“My uncle is a holocaust survivor, and regularly goes to schools to talk with the students. At one school a student approached him after his talk and said that his entire life he had treated people very badly and since hearing about the holocaust first hand wanted to make changes. It works out this boy was the school bully and nobody had been able to get through to him, but for whatever reason on this day in this moment he was reached and forever changed. This is what the power of continuing the message of compassion and acceptance does,” she said.

To learn more about the “ReWrite Your Story” campaign, and to watch Koll’s performance in Zach’s story, you can click here.

Korean Actor Yohan Lee Shines in the U.S.

Yohan Lee
Actor Yohan Lee

Originally from Seoul, South Korea, actor Yohan Lee is one exuberantly talented, not to mention stunning, Asian actor who’s made quite an impact in the American film industry over the last few years. From his recurring role in the comedy series Raymond & Lane starring Matt Cullen from the series CollegeHumor Originals and Skye of the Damned, to his key roles in films such as Jim Towns’ (House of Bad) 2016 horror film State of Desolation, the crime thriller Runaway Dream, the dramatic comedy Clippings and the historical horror film Comfort Girls, Yohan Lee has created a remarkable reputation for himself as an actor who is able to ease into virtually any genre and breathe life into an impressive range of characters with seamless precision.

Last year Lee took on the starring role of Jay in the award-winning film Trippin’ with the Folks directed by Meghan Weinstein (Terms and Conditions, My Delivery Guy). The film follows Kenny, a stoner artist who finds himself in an awkward situation after taking LSD with his girlfriend and unexpectedly coming face to face with his parents. When Kenny’s parents come into town for an unannounced visit he is forced to try and hide the fact that he is tripping, however things get progressively more tricky when his parents accidentally pop a few MDMA pills from Kenny’s stash.

Trippin' with the Folks
Bobby Reed (left), Kevin Ferris, Yohan Lee, & Carla Wynn (right) in “Trippin’ with the Folks”

In this hilarious comedy film Yohan Lee’s character Jay comes onto the scene as Kenny’s lovable roommate, an integral character in the story. Kenny’s only saving grace in the face of his parents, Jay goes out of his way to entertain the folks at dinner and keep the conversation flowing in order to deter them from noticing their son’s peculiar behaviour.

Trippin’ with the Folks did incredibly well on the film festival circuit taking home the Best Narrative Film Award from the CannaBus Culture Film Festival, the third place award at the New York City Cannabis Film Festival and screening as an Official Selection at the Portland Comedy Film Festival, the Hollywood Comedy Shorts Film Festival, Ha! Fest, Cinebis Film Festival and more. In Trippin’ with the Folks Lee stars alongside Chrissy Conway (The O.C., Reno 911), Kevin Ferris (Six Degrees of Everything), Bobby Reed (2 Broke Girls, Parenthood) and award-winning actress Paula Soveral (Celia, The Petal Pushers, Amor Secreto).

trippin with the folks
“Trippin’ with the Folks” film poster

Proving his versatility in terms of genre and the characters he takes on, last year Lee also starred in the horror film Dollz from director Rob Lee. In the film Lee gave a knockout performance in the lead role of Min, a Korean actor who moves to the U.S. with his girlfriend Yuni to pursue an acting career. After renting a space in a low-budget apartment that’s seems too good to be true, Min hits the pavement going on audition after audition.

About playing Min, Yohan Lee explains, “My character is very selfish, I had to be the meanest boyfriend ever… I moved to the U.S. with my girlfriend but I’m ready to abandon her at any time if I can succeed…Min is the complete opposite of me so it was a great experience for me to play that kind of character.”

Dead set on pursuing his dream of being a big star in America, Lee’s character Min might be ready to abandon his girlfriend, but making it big in Hollywood is not in the cards for him as things take an unexpected turn for the worse. When Yuni, who spends most of her time at home alone, finds a mysterious doll hidden in a cabinet within the house a malicious ghost with a vengeance is released, and the aftermath is not pretty.

In the film Dollz Lee stars alongside multi-award winning actor Klement Tinaj from the Golden Globe Award nominated film Furious 7 and WEAPONiZED starring Tom Sizemore (Natural Born Killers), Summer Rose Ly from the film 6 Love Stories, which earned multiple awards at the Williamsburg Independent Film Festival, and Natalie K. Grace from the 2017 film Cross Wars starring Danny Trejo (Machete) and Brian Austin Green (Beverly Hills 90210, Anger Management).

One of the unique aspects of the film Dollz that, aside from his unparalleled talent, made Yohan Lee the perfect actor to take on the starring role of Min in the film, was the fact that the film’s director intended to make the film in both English and Korean.

Dolllz director Rob Lee explains, “I would not have been able to make this film without Yohan. Every crew was amazed by how hard he worked on set. And also hi fluency in both Korean and English… He had to do every single scene in different languages but he always brought a great performance.”

In addition to the films Trippin’ with the Folks and Dollz, actor Yohan Lee also recently wrapped production on T.J. Choi’s (Quicksand, Palpitations) thriller film Plight of the Korean Mother with Greena Park (The Devil, Lunch Special, Lawyers), the dramatic action film Untamed with Leann Van Mol (My Crazy Ex, It’s Dark Here) and the upcoming sci-fi series Black Dossier with Laura Owens (Rizzoli & Isles) and Ryan Groves (Westworld, Dominion).

 

 

ALEXANDRA HARRIS HAS AND DOES NOT HAVE “MISSED CONNECTIONS”

Alexandra Harris - Missed Connections 2

Sometimes when things go wrong it can be very right. Consider Alexandra Harris. By all accounts people who know her consider her to be very positive and upbeat. There’s no implication of a duplicitous nature in regards to Harris but, opposites can play very well in cinema. As an acclaimed actress in a wide variety of productions, she exhibits all of the acting skill of the notable peers in her industry. The filmmakers of Missed Connections wanted to use Alexandra’s inherent goodness to drive a less amiable character in this production. Missed Connections is a Zero Film Festival Award-winner and was screened at esteemed events like the Raindance Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival. The protagonist of the film is Jamie (played by Joseph Cappellazzi), a man who gets ruthlessly dumped by his girlfriend Sophie (played by Harris). The fallout and aftermath leave him incredibly heartbroken and bitter. In an attempt to get back at the world (and to satiate his friends who tell him to start dating) he begins responding to the “Missed Connections” section of the paper, showing up to dates pretending to be the desired person…with less than fantastic results. Through this process, Jamie actually meets a girl he likes, Emma (played by Rebecca Perfect), and then has to come clean about what he’s done. Even more conflict arises when Jamie must decide whether he’s going to keep trying to get back together with Sophie or move on with someone new.

As Sophie, Jamie ex-girlfriend, Harris is cold but not completely unrelatable. Jamie has some maturing to do and the inherent likability which Alexandra possesses makes the audience question whether some of the blame falls upon his shoulders. It’s precisely because of this quality that Rory O’Donnell (casting director on Missed Connections) was adamant that Alexandra would bring depth to the character of Sophie. O’Donnell professes, “I knew she’d be a great fit. Here we were in London, with all these serious Brits and this bright bubbly American (yes, yes, I know she’s Canadian) came bouncing in and just sort of blew us all away. As a casting director, that’s what you hope for. She’s just very, very good, and very easy to work with. It’s quite simple really. She doesn’t make the production about herself and is able to roll with whatever punches may come her way.”

   Sophie has left Jamie bitter and heartbroken but instead of taking responsibility for his part in the failed relationship, he goes about trying to blame other people. Understanding that her portrayal could easily sway the view of Sophie in the eyes of the audience, Harris took care to present her as someone whom the audience could project their own ideas onto. She relates, “I saw Sophie as one of those girls with a five-year plan. The type of girl who knew where she wanted to be and was constantly evaluating herself and those around her to make sure she was on her way to achieving it. There’s nothing wrong with that but I think sometimes it makes people less flexible with the those who are in their lives. Sophie would describe herself as ‘career oriented’ for sure.”

While her performance is magnetic in Missed Connections, there were a few substantial hurdles for ALexandra to overcome in being cast for the film. It seemed highly unlikely that she would be Sophie in this production. Chris Presswell (writer and director of Missed Connections) confirms, When Rory O’Donnell (our casting director) read the script, he thought Alexandra would be great for Jamie’s love interest (Emma), however, I wanted to keep the cast British as it was supposed to be a British comedy. When Alexandra came in for a read through, I knew I wanted her in the film somehow. She’s such a talented actor, and also a genuinely good and decent person; the perfect combination. Rather than Emma, I liked the idea of her for Sophie (Jamie’s ex-girlfriend) because I knew she’d bring some vulnerability and depth to her. While Sophie’s technically the bad guy of the story, it’s boring if the audience flat out hates her; casting Alexandra was the perfect solution to that. It’s pretty hard to hate her. She’s also very fun to have on set and all that positivity was needed when shooting during the British winter as it gets dark at 4pm!”

To hear Harris tell it, the audition wasn’t as much of a cinch as the director implies. It is a testament to her abilities that an early misstep during the audition did not derail Presswell’s desire to use her in the film. It’s often said that bad choices lead to great stories and this aptly applies to Alexandra’s initial choice in the audition. Ever self-effacing, she reveals, “When I was called in, it was for Jamie’s love interest, Emma. Rory had told me it was supposed to be a British dark comedy, so I thought ‘Right, I’ll be British then.’ Keep in mind, I had only been living in the UK for about 6 months and was still under the impression that all British people sounded like Hugh Grant. I’d also never performed with a British accent (I played an American in The Last Man, which Rory had cast me in pretty much as soon as I arrived in the UK). I went in and did THE WORST British accent. It was cringe worthy. Chris was so polite and kept a straight face but I remember Rory just looking horrified. He was nice enough to take me aside and say gently ‘Why don’t you try it with your American accent.’ which I then did. I immediately felt the energy in the room change. Both Chris and Rory relaxed a lot! That experience is something that the two of them still tease me about to this day. The positive result was that I started taking accent work seriously, studying with a teacher and performing as a Brit towards the end of my time living there. I remember being so proud to invite Chris to my performance of ‘The Cherry Orchard’ where I was playing a British Charlotta and afterwards I questioned him and he just looked at me and said “Well, Alex, I’ll give it to you, for a second I thought you were British, but I’ll never forget your Emma”. It’s true what they say, first impressions are real!”

Missed Connections was Alexandra’s first time shooting in London and second time filming in the UK. Her first British film, The Last Man, was shot in the woods outside of London in Essex. Filming in London proper is a much different experience than in Essex, her Canadian homeland, or even Hollywood. The Brits are some of the best actors in the world and Harris took every advantage to soak up the experience of the unique British approach. UK productions are more grass roots and unpolished compared to other film centers, on purpose. The feeling on UK shoots of “we’re all in this together” permeates all levels of production. This lack of hierarchy was something to which Harris was unaccustomed but welcomed. This however does not mean that it was any less challenging. The actress notes, “Chris [Presswell] is soooo British. When I say that, I mean that he doesn’t’t suffer fools and really doesn’t overpraise. When he offers a compliment, it’s genuine and it means a lot. We were on the same page from the beginning so we didn’t’t have to talk about the character too much. I would say ‘I’ve been that girlfriend’ and he would say ‘I’ve dated that girl’ so we knew where to go from there. We knew we didn’t want Sophie to be a bitch but rather someone who was at their ropes end.”

The short days and the brutal London winter temperature were unsuccessful in squelching Alexandra’s well-known positivity. Through her performance and a shrewd stroke of casting, she presented Sophie as an emotionally complex character. What might have originally been a secondary antagonist for this film became a stand-out character which captivated audiences. Mentioning how being different was a prominent facet of her character and her involvement in Missed Connections, Harris recalls, “It became the running joke on set that I had to be called the ‘evil American’ because Canadian’s can’t be mean; however, I think my character proved them wrong.”

Alexandra Harris - Missed connections 1.jpg

Anja Ellam captivates audiences with her writing of new film “The Woods”

There is one thing about her that shines above all else: she is an entertainer. She is extremely multi-talented, and uses her writing and acting skills to captivate audiences around the world, whether through film, YouTube, or various social media platforms. There is truly no limit to what she can accomplish.

Ellam has tens of thousands of followers on her Instagram, with a strong impact on Twitter as well, and as an influencer has helped many companies and shows gain a following and audience. Working with AwesomenessTV, both her writing and influencing skills have boosted the show to have millions of views. With the extremely popular app, the ArsenicTV Snapchat story gets over 500,000 views daily, and as a host and influencer for the show, Ellam is a large part of that. However, it was with the film The Woods where Ellam’s impressive natural writing talents became truly evident to worldwide audiences.

“Relationships between siblings can be complicated, especially if they’re teenagers. I wanted to show why the older sister in the film was so angry, because this is a common conflict between sisters,” said Ellam.

The Woods tells the story of two sisters at a party, who get lost in the woods while leaving. The film is about two sisters who get lost in the woods while leaving a party. They quickly realize they’re lost and will have to work together to get out, and push through the fighting and angst between them.

“I wanted to do something simple: two characters, one location,” Ellam described. “The sisters’ relationship is based on my sisters and my relationship.”

Ellam wrote the film entirely by herself. Originally, she wanted to experiment with her writing and work on a project that her friends could be a part of. She wrote the script while trying to think of the simplest way to make a short, but the story developed the more she wrote.

“The story is all dialogue driven which is a fun challenge for me as a writer. I also ended up directing it, which is something I’m not familiar with but my team believed in me, and I did know the script and the vision, so I hope the viewers can see it too,” she said.

Viewers definitely see the vision. The film has gone on to be shown at several prestigious international film festivals.  After premiering at the UK Monthly Film Festival, Ellam won the new filmmakers award at the Mediterranean Film Festival (MedFF). It also was just selected as a semi-finalist for the Miami Epic Trailer Festival.

“It’s a really amazing feeling that the film has been so well-received. It’s one thing to write something that people like ,but actually making it and still having people want to watch it is really cool. I know that sounds weird to say, but we did this on a very small budget with only one shooting day. It’s nerve racking because if something doesn’t work it’s almost like you can’t redo it. I’m glad people think we were able to do a good job. It’s had to get your vision across so I’m glad people saw what we were going for,” Ellam said.

All those that worked with Ellam on the film immediately saw that she was an extraordinary writer, and all of the success that the film has received could never have been possible without the vision and talent she brought with her. Maxwell Peters, a Los Angeles based Screenwriter, Director, and Producer, produced The Woods. He says her commitment to the film made it the success that is it.

“Over the course of the past two years I’ve worked with Anja on multiple projects. Most recently I produced her short film The Woods, which she wrote and directed. Anja is easy to work with and had a firm grasp on what she was doing. She worked with her actors with ease and was able to get wonderful performances out of all of them, aside from that she was able to work with crew in an effective and efficient manner,” said Peters.

Even without all the accolades and awards, the experience of writing The Woods was unforgettable for Ellam. She knew what she wanted to do from the beginning, and using her creativity, she was able to make something unforgettable for audiences as well. The film even has a twist ending, which was just plain fun for Ellam to write.

“I liked writing the ending the best. I didn’t know how I was going to end it at first, but I knew I wanted it to be unexpected. I had a lot of fun experimenting with different ending options,” said Ellam. “I took this ending honestly because I think happy endings are boring. I considered having them not make it out but I thought leaving it a little more open ended was a bit more surprising. I love twist endings.”

Be sure to check out what happens to the two sisters by seeing Ellam’s fabulous work in The Woods.

Actress Erika Garces: The Next Generation

Erika Garces
Actress Erika Garces

Born in Ecuador to an Ecuadorian father and German mother, actress Erika Garces’ undeniable beauty has been turning the heads of viewers around the world for the past seven years, but it’s her skill as a leading lady on both the stage and screen that’s responsible for the indelible mark that she’s made in the minds of fans.

Over the years she has become known for her performances in an impressive range of projects including the 2011 dramatic Argentinean film Milán directed by Festival Internacional Latin UY Award Nominee Alejandro Cuberos, Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival Award winner Samuel Gonzalez Jr.’s film Here with Me featuring TV Star James Scott from Days of our Lives, the 2016 dramatic comedy film Social Norm, which earned the Best Narrative Feature Award from the California Film Awards, and many more.

Last year Garces gave a dazzling performance in the comedy action film City of Dreams, where she took on the starring role of Audrey, a wife who leaves her husband only to be tracked down by one of his hitmen. As the lead actress and co-producer of the film, Garces earned the Women’s Film Challenge Award from the Audience Awards in Los Angeles earlier this year, as well as several other accolades for her work.

The ethnic ambiguity of Garces look has endowed her with the rare asset of being able to visually embody a wide range of characters from around the world, something that has definitely come in handy over the course of her career. Having taken on characters ranging from a Persian protestant in Rayka Zehtabchi’s (We Home, The Pad Project) film Madaran, which earned the HollyShorts Film Festival Jury Award in 2016, to a Spanish reporter in Gotham Independent Film Award nominee Mayon Denton’s crime mystery Distortion, Garces repertoire of work proves her versatility. As a performer who is always looking for a challenge, there are some character types that she has purposefully chosen to avoid.

The actress says, “I definitely stay away from the ‘cute girlfriend’ type. Not much to do.”

About what she looks for in a project, Garces adds, “One of the main things I focus on is the story…. Is there a message or a subject that I’m interested in working with. Is my character something new I haven’t been challenged with before, or is it a personal connection to something about this character that I would like to tell her story and communicate…”

The Perfect Plan
Poster for “The Perfect Plan”

In 2016 Garces took on the starring role of Agent E. in the action-packed romance film The Perfect Plan directed by Siena Sivrican (The Hitchhiker). The film revolves largely around Garces’ character Agent E. and Agent R. played by Akende Munalula (From the upcoming series Counterpart with JK Simmons, and Boo2A Medea Halloween with Tyler Perry), two CIA special agents tasked with bringing down a corrupt French company owned by three brothers that stands behind a massive money laundering operation.

While the adrenaline pumping espionage that unfolds over the course of the film is a major draw,  what makes The Perfect Plan even more intriguing is the unexpected romance that erupts between Agents E. and R., something that makes the ending of the film that much more tragic.

About working with Garces, Akende Munalula, who played Agent R. as well as wrote the screenplay for The Perfect Plan, says, “Her dedication to character and story telling is like I’ve never seen before. She truly immerses herself into her character and is always going deeper. I learned so much from watching her work.”

The Perfect Plan
Akende Munalula and Erika Garces in “The Perfect Plan”

Garces gives a knockout performance in The Perfect Plan, embodying both the cunning strength and seductive nature of a female secret agent, as well as the human vulnerability that allows the audience to see that the relationship between her character and Agent R. has grown into much more than a cover.

While Garces has taken on countless powerful authority-driven roles overs the course of her career, such as her role as Officer Johnson in the upcoming film La Cougars, Officer Greene in Decades Apart and Sergeant Lodge in The Hudson Case, the film The Perfect Plan provided the actress with a few intimate challenges she hadn’t experienced in the past.

“A new challenge I faced with this shoot is the intimacy that was required and the chemistry between the two leading characters. There were many kissing scenes, and implied sex scenes, no nudity, all implied, but it was new for me to live that on set as oppose to the stage,” admits Garces.

To any viewer who’s seen Garces performance in The Perfect Plan, or any of her other film work to date for that matter, it’s immediately apparent why the actress has managed to achieve the international level of success that she has over the last few years– her skill and magnetism on screen are virtually unparalleled.

About what drives her to perform, Garces explains, “It’s about telling a story that you’re passionate about. A story that affects the society, a story perhaps, that represents voices that can’t speak for themselves, but when they go to the theater (movie or stage) they identify themselves with these characters. I love the opportunity to be able to speak up for someone that cannot, through art.”

Having carved out a prominent position for herself as a sought after actress in both the U.S. and abroad, we know Erika Garces is one actress we will be seeing a whole lot more of on screen in the future. Keep your eyes peeled for Garces in the upcoming dramatic feature film Elevate from multi-award winning director Angela Matemotja (The Encounter, The Untimely Concurrence), as well as Marc Logan’s (Sweet 6teen, Solitary, Rats) crime film The Hudson Case.

Erika Garces will also be hosting Fashion Gossip at the magazine’s 2017 Maxim Hot 100 Party on Saturday, June 24th in Los Angeles.