Category Archives: Canadian Talent

Actor Jeff Parazzo’s Artistic Authenticity

While Jeff Parazzo first made his professional bones in children’s television, the ambitious young actor unfailingly projects a forceful dramatic presence. The Canadian-born Parazzo imbues each role with an impressive mix of skill and instinct, and whether it’s a soul-searching dramatic feature like The Waiting Room or the dark science fiction of powerful short film Celsius 486, Parazzo deftly creates convincing characterizations that unfailingly display a rich measure of nuance and emotion.

It’s a striking combination of deft technique and natural instinct that Parazzo realized was his vocation early in life

“I was always fascinated by films and found myself enjoying drama class way back when I was in school, “Parazzo said. “When I finished my studies it just felt natural to start taking professional workshops.”

Born and raised in Toronto, he has been acting for the better part of two decades and has a strong resume of professional training.

“I’ve continually trained in Canada and Southern California,” Parazzo said “I was fortunate to work with the acclaimed Canadian coach David Rottenberg in Toronto and, in Los Angeles, with Michelle Danner from the Larry Moss Studio, as well as the Edgemar Centre for the Arts in Santa Monica.”

Early in his career, Parazzo jumped right in with a recurring co-lead in a very popular, action packed series. “I’m best known for my work as Trent Mercer, the White Dino Thunder Ranger on the Hit kids TV show Power Rangers Dino Thunder,” Parazzo said. “I went on to do the critically acclaimed Canadian indie Late Fragment as well as many more TV and film credits over the years.”

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The ease with which Parazzo transitioned from the Power Rangers glossy, fantasy adventure into the eccentric, innovative Late Fragment significantly raised the actor’s professional profile and his subsequent, fast rising stack of credits is a testament to the both his talent and broad appeal.

“For The Waiting Room, I just got a call from my agent saying they were interested in meeting me.”  Parazzo said. “At the audition the lead actor and I just played around and improvised a bunch of different thing, and a few days later I was booked. It was so fun, I’ve always loved doing indie films. There’s a freedom that comes with working on an indie that’s hard to experience on bigger studio productions—I’ve got an indie heart, so working on these types of films, with creative filmmakers, is all I could ask for.”

Parazzo’s skills once again allowed him to craft a wholly believable performance.

“I worked with Jeff on The Waiting Room, which tells the story of a once successful actor, Jasmin, who struggles in his older age to find roles,” actor-director Jordan Barker said. “Jeff played the role of Teller, who has an endearing conversation with Jasmin and comforts him in his current situation, He was so focused on the material that it didn’t feel like acting at all—just another character existing.”

Next up for Parazzo was grim sci-fi thriller Celsius 486, set in a distant overpopulated future where a government mandated sterilization program targets males  arbitrarily deemed  undesirable.

Celsius 486 was demanding but creatively fulfilling because we were working on such a tight schedule,” Parazzo said. “Everything had to be shot over a 2 day period and, as the lead whose eyes you see the story through, I was basically in for every scene.”

Typically, Parazzo not only exceled but also enhanced the production.

“Celsius 486 is where I first worked with Jeff Parazzo,” writer-producer Christos Petsis said. “Jeff flourished in this role which was a very demanding character. It was amazing to see how real he made the role feel, adding a deep strength to the character that we had not seen on the page.”

Here, Petsis’ aptly summarizes the actor’s approach; a gift for creating a comprehensive dramatic presentation which Parazzo, who can currently be seen in Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut Molly’s Game starring Jessica Chastain, unfailingly achieves. It’s an essential quality for any onscreen portrayal—a subtle, particular brand of aesthetic sensitivity which Parazzo very consciously nurtures.

“I enjoy doing projects of all genres,” Parazzo said. “But I do seem to be drawn to roles that are offbeat and stylized, dealing with interesting themes, and characters that are slightly off center. I just want to continue to learn and communicate my work truthfully, authentically, while never forgetting that I am just one piece of the whole story telling puzzle.”

 

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Canadian Actor Donald Heng Faces the Supernatural in SyFy’s ‘Ghost Wars’

Canadian actor Donald Heng followed a downright unorthodox route to break into the business, but it’s definitely working for him. The Vancouver-born Heng’s recurring role as Deputy Larry Foon on the new SyFy network fantasy/horror television series Ghost Wars encapsulates the Heng story, an offbeat, pan-professional mash-up of career choices that has placed him alongside some high profile stars.

“Quite frankly, I never felt I was attracted to acting for necessarily the right reasons,” Heng said. “I grew up admiring the police I saw portrayed in films and I wanted to be a police officer. I studied criminology in university. In the end, I figured being an actor would provide the positive aspects of being a cop without having to deal with the public pressure and boring administrative work.”

Born in Vancouver B.C., Heng had flirted with acting as a teenager, but after graduating high school and studying for a Bachelor of Arts Degree for Political Science and History at Simon Fraser University, he decided to obtain representation and study the craft in earnest.

“Despite that initial ambivalence, I fell in love with acting for all the right reasons. I acquired an agent and jumped in headfirst,” Heng said. “I studied acting with Jeb Beach for the next 5 years. And also worked with Matthew Harrison, Robin Nielsen and most recently, Andrew McElroy.”
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“Initially I just wanted to be on TV,” Heng said. “I can pinpoint the exact moment I decided I wanted to be an actor and that I was in it for the long run. My second class ever with Jeb Beach coincided with a deeply depressing moment in my life and Jeb helped me channel that energy into something I was able to illustrate through acting. I realized that I could take all the bad things I’d experienced in life and turn these into something good. Meryl Streep articulated it best as she remembered Carrie Fisher, ‘take your broken heart, and make it into art.’”

Heng swiftly parlayed that emotional breakthrough into a successful television career, with a small but memorable role in Disney’s T.V movie Girl Vs. Monster, a string of appearances on such series as Supernatural, Ransom, Arrow and, most recently, the elegantly terrifying Ghost Wars.

“This was a project that checked so many boxes on my list,” Heng said. “First off, I got to play a police officer which has always been a dream of mine. Secondly, I deeply respect the actors on this series. It was a wonderful experience to work with Vincent D’Onofrio [Full Metal Jacket, Netflix’s Daredevil], Meatloaf and Avan Jogia. I had some challenging experiences working on this as my character goes through some traumatic events in the series premiere. But it was a challenge that I welcomed and deeply appreciate the opportunity to have experienced it.”

His co-stars agree. “Donald was an absolute pleasure to work with,” Ghost Wars lead Avan Jogia said. “It’s so nice to act alongside someone who understands what each individual character brings to a scene and then, ultimately, the entire piece.”

Heng is also fully invested in his new role. “I am very excited about Ghost Wars,” Heng said. The horror/fantasy has experienced revitalization in recent years and demand for quality stories in the genre is at an all-time high. New shows have to meet that demand by integrating a very human story into the horror and develop a show that can stand on its own and be mainstream without just catering to a niche market. Remove the ‘creepy factor,’ and there’s still a very human story beneath it. By attaching that human component, it becomes easier to think about the character’s relationships and also about what might be at stake because of that ghostly entity.”

Heng stands at the cusp, savoring a rich, loaded professional moment in a fast moving career that has already come far and is poised to reach full bloom

“I just want to make good movies and TV,” Heng said. “And I want to do it for the same reasons that I fell in love with acting—I want to continue to push that goal of consolidating all the bad that is in my life and make it into something beautiful.”

Donald Heng will next appear as a guest star on episode 2 of the 4th season of The Flash airing on the CW, Tues., Oct.17th.

CREATING A STATE OF THE ART LOOK FOR FLATLINERS

At the end of this month (September 29th in the US) the Cross Creek Pictures/Columbia Pictures distributed drama/horror/sci-fi film Flatliners will open worldwide. Why does Hollywood choose to remake such a film (the original Oscar nominated production was released in 1990)? There are numerous reasons but one of the most prominent is that the ability to tell the story has become better, at least in certain genres; that’s code for technology. There’s no denying that there have always been great artists and professionals creating films but technological advances make the unbelievable more believable. As someone who works in this field as a VFX Coordinator, Jacquelyn Racine is always working with the latest developments. The soon to be released remake of the 1990’s film Flatliners (starring Ellen Page, Diego Luna, and star of the original 90’s film Kiefer Sutherland) has a remarkable look thanks to the work of Racine and her team at Spin VFX. Movie audiences have become savvy in regards to VFX, leaving the professionals who create them with the task of creating exceptional visuals that are somewhat grounded in reality. This is especially challenging within the story of Flatliners with its otherworldly settings. The mediator at the heart of this is Jacquelyn Racine.

Spin VFX is a large-scale visual effects studio in Toronto. One of the top three companies which most L.A. based networks outsource their work to, it has over 100 employees working on up to/over 20 projects at a time. As a VFX Coordinator at Spin VFX, Jacquelyn oversaw three groups of artists, assessing strengths and assigning work according to deadlines. Perhaps more than any other professional around her, the human aspect was paramount. The director’s vision needed to be communicated clearly and manifested by those whose individual skill set best met the need. The very nature of the art being created for the film necessitated a two-way street in communication with Jacquelyn as the roundabout.

The look of the film is not the only difference from the original. The new production has a markedly more supernatural turn on the idea of the afterlife that was investigated in the 90’s story. Technological advancements in cinema have made this a much more viable course. When each of the characters in the film go into their ‘flatline’, they enter an alternate universe with magical components. These paranormal experiences follow them back to reality and haunt them in everyday life. The students push themselves so close to the limits of human life that they almost kill themselves to chase a high of the unusual alternate reality. The 2017 film uses the idea of the original as more of a starting point. The work of Spin VFX empowered the filmmakers to take the idea much further than before. It is meant to be a separate film even though it’s a remake. The characters are different and it takes place in modern day, meaning that the same initial aspects remain the same but the overall look can change and has given the story a different bent.

While the flatline experiences were hinted at in the 90’s film, VFX allows them to be deeply explored and displayed in this new version. In this rendition of Flatliners, the visual effects play an integral role, essentially becoming another character within the film as they help direct the plot. A deliberate vagueness makes it hard to differentiate between reality and the ‘flatline’ in a number of scenes. The result of this is that the audience becomes somewhat disoriented in a similar way to the characters in the film. Jacquelyn worked with her team and the filmmakers to develop a look for each of the characters’ ‘flatline’ world based on their history. Some are meant to be ethereal and beautiful while others are enhanced versions of reality. The VFX in the film adds a visual spectacle to a unique story that would otherwise be quite sad.

The work of Racine and her team at Spin VFX is not as simple as just sitting down at a monitor and using software and…Voila, everything looks amazing! From the very beginning, the producers and directors of a film like Flatliners understand the visual needs of their story are great. Racine and Spin VFX were heavily involved in the previsualization meetings that took place before shooting. This included creating mock-ups of some of the more complicated sequences. They created a blocking for the actors and production team members to use on set for complex camera movement scenes (often involving the use of a techno dolly). Bringing a simplified video example on set can help the director understand and perhaps alter the way they choose to shoot a given scene. Jacquelyn was in charge of overseeing all the work being brought on set and ensuring it was completed on time and on schedule. She explains, “The animation team at Spin VFX, with my management and the VFX Supervisor’s direction, created previsualization videos to give guidance to the team on set. It included a bird’s eye view and camera view of the set, actors, and equipment on location. We used software called ‘Maya’ to create a fully computer generated version of what they were seeing in real life. It demonstrated where the camera would need to be placed to perform the required camera movement. It also included each set piece placed to scale (based on location measurements), so it was a realistic depiction of the production. The video was played for the director and DP to determine whether their vision could be achieved in the space or not. We discovered that the actors would need to be relocated since the camera would interact with them. This was something we wanted to avoid, so we rearranged the placement of the elements in the video and demonstrated the new version to the director. This ensured that when they got on set to shoot the sequence it was clear what needed to be done, and no time was wasted.”

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Spin VFX’s Wes Sewell professes, “It was my distinct pleasure to work with Jacquelyn on the feature film Flatliners. We worked closely together at Spin VFX with the animation, effects, and tracking departments. With Jacquelyn’s oversight, we developed a previsualization system for the film. Her excellent and precise management of these teams of artists made it possible to deliver the on-set materials within a tight schedule. It’s not only her knowledge and abilities, it’s that I know I can trust her to keep everything moving. It always gives me comfort to know she’s there. Every success is built on the talent of those involved but also on their commitment and reliability; Jacquelyn is a master of all these.”

SIMEON TAOLE DELIVERS A COMPLEX SNAPSHOT OF A LIFE IN “EVERYTHING CHANGES”

Simeon Taole believes in the power of photographs. As an actor that might seem both a redundant and ironic statement. His performance in the film “Everything Changes” immediately squelches this confusion. The film and Taole’s performance is nothing short of extraordinary. In many ways it exemplifies great storytelling. Humor, intoxicating passion, tears, and a completely unexpected ending (two of them in fact) are all communicated by both the emotional cinematography and the inspired performances of Simeon and his only costar in the film, Virginia Leigh. As the couple experiencing a first date, these two actors generate a chemistry that permeates the air. Through discussions and coy confessions about their lives and interests we are romance-inspired voyeurs who are nourished by their budding romance. As the action progresses we are witness once again to the fact that life is rarely if ever as carefree as we would hope. The repartee, the longing silence, the honesty of the two characters in this film is so convincing that we want to believe that Leigh an Taole are actually a couple. This very modern tale is a photograph of the complications of romance in this world.

It’s not serendipitous that Simeon’s character in the film is so interested in photography. The idea that a photograph displays and is simultaneously withholding in the entirety of information is a central theme to the story. Calvin’s fixation of photography is a metaphor for his desire to discover and understand himself and the world around him, and perhaps to make it a more beautiful place from his vantage point. We almost feel that if he “frames” the moments in his life correctly, he will be able to relax with them. Calvin is a character who is looking for meaning in his life. He has regrets and hopes he can rewrite his future and change things; which he hopes to begin by forging a connection with Naomi. Calvin is motivated by his desire to capture something with her and ultimately bring meaning to his life. Somewhat naively, he feels confident that he can do this. The naiveté of this is not apparent until the end of the film. Calvin is a nostalgic person and photographer who laments the fact that photographs don’t tell stories with real meaning, at least, not like they used to in Life magazine. In the end, he’s presented with a photograph that has significant meaning for them both and changes everything.

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With deep insight and information of all aspects and characters of this film, Simeon was aware of the story from many points of view and given the time to deeply understand Calvin, which resulted in the compelling and honest performance seen in “Everything Changes.” Taole states, “I had a very detailed history for both characters in the film. It was great to think about what it is that motivates a character at a granular level. I spent time thinking about what it is that’s complicated about him; the dichotomies that exist in all of us. For example, how we can show love and yet also cause pain. How no one is fully good or bad but alternates between the two. Or sometimes, even simultaneously conveys both. I think for me it’s about taking this rich history and applying the level of detailed information to other roles where I wouldn’t necessarily have all that information at the beginning.”

One of the aspects of the film that makes it so gripping and real is the lack of singularity in its approach. Moments of lighthearted playful romance are mixed with tension and even fear. Real life can go from joy to tragedy in an instant and the film does not deny or shy away from this reality. A large reason why this works so well is the measured approach Simeon uses in his performance. He takes great care to not be overly broad with the comedic moments lest the audience not feel the truth of the more dramatic ones. Most of the actor’s work has been in dramas but he notes that this has given him a conservative approach to levity which plays out well in this film.

There’s no denying that a great deal of the heart in “Everything Changes” comes from the intoxicating chemistry between the two (and only) cast members. While it might be expected that a cast so small would make the viewer perhaps long for other characters but Calvin and Naomi (played by Virginia Leigh) go through a myriad of emotional evolutions that it’s impossible to remove one’s focus from them. Taole remarks, “I do feel a cast of only two does create a sense of intimacy in the film that would not necessarily be there with a larger cast. We both had to be fully engaged. Our chemistry was important because we carry the film and this really works for this story. I don’t think it affected the way I prepared for the role but it may have meant we had less downtime during the shoot because we were in every scene.” Leigh concedes, “Simeon and I didn’t really know each other before this film but I found immediate chemistry with him and this showed on screen. We had a warm, funny connection that engaged the audience and led to an ending that was shocking after such a strong build. Our natural bond was a key strength of Simeon who can read actors and find the paths to organic connection off which the audience can feed. Of course, he was the central leader to this film, and his performance was key to the ensuing success. Simeon carries this film in his performance as Calvin. He brings the audience into the over-compensating, overly- confident young man who one cannot help but root for.”

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“Everything Changes” has been an immense hit of the film festival circuit with screenings at: at 2016 San Francisco Black Film Festival, 2016 Hollywood Glam Gala, 2016 Las Vegas Lift-Off Festival, 2015 Toronto International Shorts Film Festival, the 2016 North York Arts Anniversary and Cultural Hotspot Closing Party, and a win for “Best Short Film” at the 2016 San Diego Black Film Festival. As Calvin, Simeon Taole is a proxy for the audience. He encourages us to dig to find meaning and connection with those around us. What reveals can be both beautiful and shocking, an idea delivered with impact via Simeon’s incredible performance.

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YOUNG ACTRESS JAEDA LEBLANC IS ACTING WITH SOME OF THE BIGGEST NAMES IN HOLLYWOOD

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Jaeda LeBlanc may be the best kind of actor. She delivers powerful performances which are emotionally moving yet young enough that she is completely unaffected when it comes to the incredible fame and notoriety of those she works with. This powerful professional cocktail results in an individual focused on doing her best and disinterested in any vocational or social politics involved. As proof, Jaeda is too young to watch the most popular TV program in the world “Game of Thrones” …that will make more sense as you keep reading. LeBlanc is a young actor in age but her performances certainly belie this fact. She’s appeared in comedy kid shows (Odd Squad), acclaimed medical dramas (Saving Hope), even crime dramas (Real Detective), but in the upcoming The Death and Life of John F. Donovan she is set to receive the kind of notoriety that follows the marquee names she appears with in the film. LeBlanc appears in the film alongside names such as: Kit Harington (GOT’s Jon Snow), Natalie Portman, Kathy Bates, Susan Sarandon, and a host of other accomplished professionals. The core of the film is about fame, how we perceive those who have it and how it affects their lives. While this young Canadian actress has experienced accolades in her home country, “The Death and Life of John F. Donovan” prepares to project her into the arena of international fame. In discussing the film and her involvement, we get a glimpse into Jaeda’s view of fame and how it correlates to the industry and her involvement.Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 9.19.19 PM

So many iconic names in the field of film give gravitas to this story’s exploration of fame; how it affects those who possess it as well as colors the vision of those who witness it. It appears that everyone in society finds the idea of fame appealing. In a culture which lists “social media influencer” as a valid job title there can be little doubt that the pursuit of fame is air to many in the world. The Death and Life of John F. Donovan challenges perception and reality. A decade after the death of an American TV star, a young actor reminisces on the written communication he shared with him as well as the impact those letters had on both their lives. American movie star (Kit Harington in the lead role) finds his correspondence with an 11-year-old actor exposed, prompting assumptions that begin to destroy his life and career. Jaeda also appears as a young fan of Donovan’s in the film. The main character is encouraged to interact with her by his manager Barbara Haggermaker (played by Kathy Bates) as a means of creating positive press.Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 9.19.42 PM

It’s doubtless that millions of GOT fans are envious of LeBlanc’s interaction with Harington but the fantasy show’s more adult themes prohibit Jaeda’s parent from allowing her to view it, leaving her to see Kit as more of a coworker and star of the soon to be released film rather than the dashing bastard heir to the throne. The most impressive individual in Jaeda’s assessment was the film’s director Xavier Holland who helped her focus the approach for her role in the film. Holland comments, “When I saw Jaeda’s audition tape I was very impressed by this little girl’s acting ability. I also started acting at a very young age so when I saw Jaeda, she immediately reminded me of myself at an earlier age. Seeing her on the screen, I was immediately drawn to her character because she has that special kind of connection with the camera and the audience. Jaeda has a strong artistic ability. It allows you to see the picture of the character that she is painting, otherwise I don’t think she would be able to display such a strong image of what she wants her character to be. The camera loves Jaeda! She has an amazing stage presence. Like most artists, Jaeda knows how to create emotions but what impressed me the most were the little moments when she was not talking, just before crying; she was just quiet, still, and sad, but yet she was still making us feel something. That is what I love the most in an actor. Jaeda is an extremely talented young artist and I hope she knows that”.

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LeBlanc did her due diligence preparing for the role just as she would any other. Holland’s appraisal of her performance is the epitome of the idea of preparation meeting opportunity. The chance to be in such a major film is exciting for the young actress but even more so is the opportunity to watch so many accomplished actors on set and witness their method and approach towards their characters and scenes. Jaeda’s humility is admirable as she concedes that, as a young actress there are many opportunities ahead to learn and she makes a point to be astute and aware as they present themselves. Names like Bates, Portman, and Sarandon are desirable tutors for a young actress such as LeBlanc. With such exciting circumstances, one would expect the young actress’s favorite moment of this project to be one of heartfelt advice from any of these acclaimed veterans of film…yet, Jaeda’s most memorable moment is seen through the eyes of her own mother. Jaeda recalls, “Yes, there are a lot of famous actors in this movie and I was excited to play along with them so I could study their ways of working and see how I could improve my own skills by learning from them. Now, after working with them I realize that I am like them in the sense that I have the same work ethic. So yes, working with big names is definitely a bonus in this choice of career. But…my favorite moment was when I went to get breakfast. I was in the lineup with my mom when she turned she saw a lady behind her. She smiled at her, then she looked back because that person looked so familiar. My mom’s face started to change at that moment as she realized that it was Kathy Bates. She turned to her and nervously said ‘hello’ to Kathy. I had to take over because my mom looked like she was going to pass out. lol. I said hello to Kathy and just let her know that my mom was acting a little weird because she liked her so much. Kathy was very nice about it. When I think about it, I guess I learned two lessons about being an accomplished actor on this film: how to perform well and how to be gracious to fans. This was a very sweet moment that I still remember fondly.”

 

Q&A with leading Canadian actor Darren Eisnor

Originally from a small town in Ontario, Canada, Darren Eisnor did not grow up aspiring to be an actor. It came to him suddenly, in an epiphany of sorts, and since that moment, he has never wanted anything else. Now, he is one of Canada’s top young actors, and he is quickly taking the globe by storm.

In many captivating performances, such as the films Holiday Joy and Early Release, as well as the acclaimed television show Anne with an E, Eisnor has gained fans from all over the world., and audiences are looking forward to his performance in the upcoming Syfy horror flick Never Knock. Currently, he is starring in the popular Blackpills series Skal, an enthralling story about the water disappearing across the planet overnight. To read more about the series, Eisnor’s career, and his life, check out the interview below!

IFR: What do you like about being an actor?

 DE: I get to be super cool. When people ask me what I do, and I say that I’m an actor as a career, they automatically assume I’m a cool guy. So that’s pretty cool. Really though, if you can get some lucky breaks and manage to carve a career out of the whole thespian thing, it is a ton of fun and incredibly liberating in a few ways. I’m the kind of guy who bounces around from friend group to friend group, and I’m always diving headfirst into new interests, as I like to keep things fresh and experience as much as possible in this life. Acting meshes rather well with that state of mind, because I get to become all sorts of different people in all sorts of different lives, and if I convince the right people that I’m really like those people – then I get paid for it!

It can be a great life experience for me to look at the world through all these different perspectives, even if it’s just for an audition or two and I don’t end up getting the part. We humans are such interesting and multi-faceted creatures, but I don’t think everyone gets the chance or has the courage to explore all their dimensions. Of course, there are some dark and dangerous sides to us as well, that are probably best left for the actors (and the Mixed Martial Artists). It really is a privilege to even have the opportunity to compete for all these roles that I go out for, and I am grateful for that.

When I first started training as an actor, it actually helped me in a therapeutic way. I didn’t realize how many emotional walls I had built up over the years, and I think this is especially prevalent among young men, and even more so for young men like me who were competitive athletes for most of their life. I actually think there is a fair argument for the building of these walls, because life is almost always very hard to tackle, and the battlefield of life can be easier to navigate if you are able to have a firm grip on your emotions. However, acting is a forum for the human condition to express itself, and to be successful and great at this profession, it seems to me that one must truly elevate emotional intelligence to a higher level of understanding and vulnerability.

IFR: Why did you want to work on Skal?

DE: Skal piqued my interest with its post-apocalyptic world, something that’s fascinated me in stories like The Walking Dead, or the Fallout video game series. At first, I auditioned for the role of Arthur, the outright leading role of the series. Arthur is a bit of a nerd, but he’s charismatic enough to operate a YouTube channel with three million subscribers. I submitted a tape that I really nailed down in terms of performance, and was really excited. The scenes they requested for the audition helped a lot in that regard, ranging from comical and cool, to raging and teary-eyed. I got a callback for it – but for the role of “Ylane”, which was a soon-to be-changed French name from the original French short film the series is based on. The character is Arthur’s best friend and manager, and an integral character within the series.

My agent set up a Skype session with the writer/director who is from France, Benjamin Cappelletti, who explained to me that my original audition was great, but I didn’t look enough like his vision of Arthur. He went on to say that I looked like a great “Ylane.” Luckily, I was able to flesh out this character into someone with some dark humanity, and they casted me! They even renamed the character “Darren” which was pretty cool, since I’m not sure if I’ll get the chance to play my own name again.

IFR: What was it like working on Skal?

DE: Working on Skal was an outstanding career experience for me. Living in Montreal for about a month during this shoot really made me feel a sense of independence. Of course, it came with the great responsibility of carrying a lot of the burden of the show’s success on my shoulders, which was more than welcome on my end. This was exactly what I’d be looking forward to, and I wasn’t about to back down now that it was staring me down.

Darren was an interesting character to play. In the first episode, before the apocalyptic world is born, Darren is a bit of an arrogant showman, talking all sorts of big game to the hottest girls in the room. That said, he felt relatively happy and content in his materialistic world. But when all the bodies of water in the world dry up, he immediately adapts a “kill or be killed” mindset. While it’s easy to condemn that sort of regression, it’s easy for me to understand why someone would fall into that way of thinking in that sort of world. Although there are times when it seems Darren is being overly aggressive, often it’s hard to disagree with his sentiment in a world where you can’t trust anyone, or take any chances.

Every villain is a hero in the story of their mind, and that’s how I took ownership of Darren when he makes decisions that may seem wrong on the surface. There is one particular part of the series where I wish Darren were a little more heroic, but I remained entirely understanding of his motive of self-preservation. I think there’s also an automatic connection with a character when he has the same name as you – and when the other characters address me as “Darren” there is an added element of personalization.

I also tried to get into character for one particular series of events by going without food for a day or so. It was definitely tough turning down lunch that day on set, but at least the last meal I had before all that was a delicious all-you-can-eat sushi brunch!

IFR: What was your character like?

DE: The role of Darren is important to the story, firstly as Arthur’s best friend and Emma’s romantic interest. There’s an awkward love triangle going on where Arthur lusts for Emma, but never makes any moves on her. Darren is far from low on confidence, so him and Emma have been going at it for a while, and it really irritates Arthur – even after all the water dries up, and the apocalypse creeps on in. After survival mode kicks in, Darren and Emma clash often. Emma has an empathetic desire to help as many people as she can, but Darren understands that there is too much danger to risk the group, especially after they come across a huge stash of water bottles that could keep them alive long enough to figure out what the hell’s going on in the world.

The group runs into two other people named Frank (a police officer) and Malika (a nurse). Frank misleads the group when he comes into first contact with them, and Darren never trusts him again after that. There are many fiery exchanges while they try to escape the dangerous city, but as the season crosses the halfway point, tragedy strikes, and the pack is split up. Darren becomes a prisoner of a violent gang of brutal men. With his life fully in jeopardy, his every action has extremely high weight to it. In season two, I think I will be exploring an even darker side of Darren if we keep the fun rolling.

IFR: What was it like working with such an all-star cast?

DE: It’s important for there to be a good chemistry between cast members, especially when a group forms in the show and your characters spend a lot of time interacting with each other. Everyone got along really well, and really put their best foot forward with their performances in Skal.

In terms of performance, it was superb. Evan Marsh (who plays Arthur) was a consistent rock in the center of the production, and there’s one particularly powerful scene where we really pushed each other to emotional peaks. Oliva Scriven (Emma) managed to tolerate an intense make out scene with me, so kudos to her for that. She’s very popular on social media for her role on Degrassi, so it was nice to have her bring some viewers on board with that. Trevor Hayes (Frank) and Mariah Inger (Malika) were playing characters that “Darren” viewed as outsiders, and didn’t trust, and there were some great heated interactions between us on screen – especially Frank, the hard-nosed cop who doesn’t take too kindly to Darren’s big mouth.

Shawn Baichoo played a late-season villain named Pablo, who is a leader of a violent gang. I only got to work with him for a short period of time, but he really brought his A-game and played a convincing madman. They gave him a contact lens that made it look like he had a white “dead eye”, which added to the aura of evil. We had some intense scenes that he totally owned and showed a possession of confident power. I should also mention that little Chelsea Goldwater, who played a young child prisoner, helped add to the creepiness of the scenes.

This project was Benjamin Cappelletti’s “baby”. He’d been pushing this story for a while as a young filmmaker in France, and it was great to help bring his vision to life. His passion for Skal was evident, and even though there were a few moments of language barriers, we were able to communicate together and get the scenes done to his satisfaction.

IFR: The series premieres on the streaming app Blackpills. How do you think streaming websites have opened the doors for actors such as yourself?

DE: Well, obviously there is more opportunity than ever for an actor with all these new avenues of distribution. In the past, films were limited to festivals and cinema, while television series were limited to cable and satellite subscriptions. Now there are all sorts of streaming avenues out there for episodic series and films alike, and the opportunity to get quality productions made has never been greater.

I’m very grateful for the opportunity to have a leading role in Skal, and it will be interesting to see how Blackpills performs overall as a company. It seems they are aiming to get a firm grip on the mobile-streaming game, as their app is currently only available for mobile devices as opposed to TVs. I haven’t had the chance to observe many of the other shows on their app, but they have already granted out several second season renewals for some of them, so there is certainly a chance for us to get back at it. At the very least, the show is of high-quality and makes for solid demo footage to show other productions what I can do with a meaty role.

Blackpills also stands out with the brevity of each of their shows’ episodes; the average runtime for an episode of Skal was about nine minutes long. Today’s generation operate very much from an extreme lack of attention span, so this format is designed quite well with that in mind. Here’s hoping it works out!

GORMAN LEE: THE DARK SIDE OF “I REALLY LIKE YOU”

A working relationship can be like a romantic relationship. Set aside the sexual politics and you are focused on whether or not your interaction with someone else makes you a happier and better person. It can also end you. Thankfully, the professional relationship between writers Jason Karman and Gorrman Lee (who also served as story editor) on the film “I Really Like You” was much more benevolent than the story’s two main characters Michael (played by Steve Bradley) and Brandt (Garrett Black). Michael’s pursuit of Brandt has fatal consequences, while Karman’s pursuit of Lee as a writing partner gave new life to this tale. The 2014 drama/thriller is one of the most frightening of the genre because of its believability. The darkness in each person has the potential to be exorcized or cultivated, and in the action of “I Really Like You” the two writers collaborated to display the fragility of that decision in the characters. Using a commonplace venue but presenting circumstances that become more twisted and the story unfolds, Lee and Karman peel back layer after deceptive layer until a surprise ending shouts to the audience that the only thing they can rely on is that they don’t know where the story will lead.

Jason Karman is a Vancouver-based screenwriter and director whose short films have screened at festivals in Brazil, Hong Kong, Australia, across Europe, United States and Canada. He has a very specific point of view, making films from both an LGBT voice as well as an Asian voice. Jason was already aware of Gorrman’s notoriety as a writer in Canada when the two met at an event put on by the Praxis Centre for Screenwriters in Vancouver. With an idea for a new film already brewing in his thoughts Karman states, “Having worked with Gorrman as a story editor on a previous film, I jumped at the opportunity to work with him again to develop the story of ‘I Really Like You’. His sharp insights, thoughtful notes, and natural instinct for story and structure allowed us to hone in on the themes and character arcs that I wanted to explore. The film would not have been the success that it was without having Gorrman hammering on the story with me.” Although Jason would see the film through its production and release, Gorrman’s hectic TV schedule would only allow his involvement in the writing process.

As with most positive relationships, our counterparts challenge us to become better, which is precisely why Karman persuaded Lee to join him in writing this script. He did not disappoint. Lee recalls, “I questioned everything about the scripts. I was beginning to fear that Jason thought I hated the project! It was a kind of tough love. I looked at everything with my own expertise and would tell him what wasn’t working, offered new ideas, a new structure, and told him where he should be focusing. It’s true with writers as with many professionals in production, you cannot exist without honesty. We had to be brutally up front with each other in order to create an exceptional script…and I feel that is exactly what we got. The plot of the film and the characters are very unique and fresh. Nothing is ever completely new in a film but your presentation of it and the motivations of the characters can be, and ours definitely were in this story. I’m very proud of it.”

“I Really Like You” follows Michael, a loveless and lonely man who runs a diner that’s known as a casual hook-up spot. As he begins closing up for the night, Michael finds himself drawn to a late customer, the handsome and innocent looking Brandt. There’s just something about Brandt that reminds Michael of a past love. As Michael and Brandt bond over food, Michael thinks back to how his past love, Colby, rejected him, and the outcome of that relationship. After Michael shows Brandt his shoe collection (in truth, a collection of shoes he’s taken from his past loves) they have a casual tryst in the bathroom. When Michael asks to see Brandt again and is rejected, all of his loneliness and anger begins to resurface. What happens next is unexpected and will require you to view the movie to find out.

The story depicted in the film is far from what was the original idea of the story, but the dark romantic tone was the essence which both writers were committed to retain. With the proper intent and drive written into a character, a writer can explore almost anything. Gorrman and Jason are certainly not violent people at all but concede that they have both experienced the pain that comes with unrequited love. This is what allowed them to access and explore the motivations and following actions of the characters in this story. For “I Really Like You” it all came down to identifying what Michael wanted, what hurt him, and how he wanted to fix that hurt; his drive and his intention. Once that was nailed down in an authentic way, it was safe for the writers to explore the darker and more violent impulses that drove him. If the writing is exceptional and done correctly, this should make it easier for an actor to channel the authenticity as well without having to go to a method acting place (a potentially dangerous and sometimes unreliable prospect for everyone).

Gorrman 6

“I Really Like You” received tremendous accolades, but was lauded nowhere more than at numerous festivals which understood and reflected an aspect intrinsic to the storyline including: Boston LGBT Film Festival, Shanghai Pride Film Festival, Rio Festival Gay de Cinema, Vancouver Queer Film Festival, Inside/Out Toronto Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, as well as many others. It’s worth mentioning that the film is at heart a very gripping action/drama. While Gorrman finds himself most comfortable with Science Fiction, he is an immense fan of the attributes of the action/thriller and the opportunities it affords a writer like himself. He notes, “The action/drama genre is certainly one of my favorites. There’s a latitude and broadness that the genre affords. ‘I Really Like You’ is rather character driven but still has the mystery and excitement of a more action-oriented thriller. What drew me to it, and what I bring to it as well, is the need to externalize the drama. That’s what good action/drama/thrillers should do: come up with a complex inner struggle and have interesting and compelling ways to externalize those conflicts. “I Really Like You” is all of these things and embodies the concept of “edge of your seat” viewing…all created courtesy of Gorrman Lee and Jason Karman’s clever writing.