For Mariana Montes, acting is more than a career choice: it is a chance to continuously grow as a person with each role she takes. She has conquered the stage both domestically and internationally, both in Spanish and English, both in comedy and drama. Whether it is as a small role or a leading lady, this versatile actress is doing what she loves, and giving audiences performances to remember.
Originally from Mexico City, Montes is completely bilingual in both English and Spanish. She has worked in successful plays, such as Second Chances directed by Connie St. John from No Weapon Productions, Oedipus Machina at the prestigious Odyssey Theater Ensemble directed by Ron Sossi, and starred in Uterine Affairs by French writer and director Celine Nyanga. Uterine Affairs was nominated as Best International Ensemble, and won for both Best Original Playwright, and the audience-favorite Encore Award at the Hollywood Fringe Festival last year.
Her Mexican heritage and love for language and travel is something she brings to her work as an actress. When starring in the play Too Many Tamales, she performed with The Bilingual Foundation of the Arts (BFA). The BFA has a 42-year history of commitment to all people in the greater Los Angeles area, presenting the finest Hispanic literary culture for both Spanish and English speaking audiences. BFA’s presence is an integral part of the Los Angeles cultural scene, and provides an added dimension of understanding between the diverse cultures of the area by emphasizing the similarities of the human condition, which serve to unite us.
“I am able to identify natural talent, and Mariana is one of those gifted artists, overflowing with beauty, charm and charisma,” said Cecilia Garcia, the Director of Too Many Tamales and the Artistic Manager at BFA.
Based on the story by Gary Soto, Too Many Tamales tells the story of the young girl Maria, who well helping her parents make the tamales for Christmas dinner, she sees her mother set her precious diamond ring to the side. Although only trying it on for a brief moment, Maria loses the ring. In a panic, she corners her favorite cousins, and the four of them secretly eat the 24 tamales in a goal to find the ring in the dough. After eating all the Christmas Eve dinner, Maria learns a lesson and witnesses a Christmas miracle.
“Being in this production was fantastic. I was surrounded by a great team of professional actors. I thought it was going to be hard to work with kids but I was mistaken. They taught me a lot actually, and it was always fun to have them around,” said Montes.
Montes played Maria’s Aunt Rosa, a middle class hard-working woman who is dedicated to her family and brings the rest of the characters together. For Montes, who does not often get to play fun roles like Rosa, the change was welcome.
“Rosa is the perfect Latino mom who has everything under control. She knows about her niece’s secret, she can talk to the puppets but she is supportive about it because she once knew how to do it too, it’s a matter of faith,” said Montes.
While Too Many Tamales is a comedic musical, Montes typically is cast in dramatic roles. The actress is a true triple threat, as her acting, singing, and dancing abilities shine.
“Everything was full of charm and love. We did this show in Plaza De La Raza at Margo Albert Theatre that holds almost 300 people. It was amazing when we had full house and we could hear all the audience members singing our songs,” described Montes. “At the end of the play, we would invite them to come and join us for a final dance. It was great to see how much they love the show. I was sad when it was over. People would come to me and congratulate me and the rest of the cast for our performances and you can see how happy they all were.”
The true highlight of the experience for Montes was working alongside such a great cast and crew, saying they became a family from the experience. The production starred child actress Tiffany Galaviz, who was recently seen on television show The Voice: Kids, as well as Gloria Laino, known for the hit shows American Horror Story: Asylum and Weeds.
“Mariana is an incredible talented actress. I have had the opportunity to work with her in both film and theater, and I can tell you about her dedication and passion,” said Laino.
Too Many Tamales is a Christmas classic, but it is so much more than that. For Montes, the message the play communicates is extremely important, especially in the divided nation that we see today.
“It’s all about family and love. It’s a play that leaves you with the desire to communicate how much you love and care for your friends and family. It is a play about friendship, love, and tolerance between cultures,” concluded Montes.
The Los Angeles-based actress, Jaclyn Fleming, is a woman of immeasurable skill and talent. She’s the kind of person who’s been a performer since the day she could walk, and has now acted professionally for nine successful years.
After graduating from the renowned Second City Toronto, Fleming recently relocated from Canada to California in October of 2013, where she’s since worked on a number of shows. Her past and present credits span numerous media outlets and platforms, her most current work including heavy involvement with Tennessee Williams Improvised, The Second City Hollywood’s “Bubbelplast” and “Milk Tooth,” and Impro Studio Theatre’s “The Gauntlet” and “Netflix with Matt and Jack,” to name a few.
“I became involved with Impro Studios upon recommendation from Producer/Stage Manager Matthew Pitner,” Fleming said. The pair had previously studied at Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) together for improv acting, along with Paul Vonasek. “We had all come from a background of narrative and genre based improv and immediately felt a kinship.”
Fleming auditioned to be a part of an ongoing study for Tennessee Williams and an in-depth acting technique taught by the highly talented Brian Lohmann. From there, she relished the opportunity of doing several runs of Tennessee Williams Improvised, and has subsequently performed in the style for several independent shows at the Studio Theatre.
“The Gauntlet” and “Netflix with Matt and Jack” are two continuing shows that Fleming stars in at Impro Studio Theatre regularly. Produced by Matthew Pitner, “The Gauntlet” challenges Impro Main Company members to perform through a gauntlet of genres with performers from the studio.
“Jaclyn is truly a master of her craft,” Pitner recalled fondly of the performer. “As the nature of much of our work at theatre is transitory by nature, it is all the more reason why individuals like Jaclyn are so vitally important to the world. Her performances are highly praised by the community and inspire more support for the theatre as a whole, ranging from an increase in patrons to new students. The ways in which she has grown further confirms my belief that she belongs on the stage and screen and will have continued longevity throughout her career as an artist.”
Additionally, “Netflix with Matt and Jack” is an Impro Studio Theatre monthly show where Fleming and Pitner also come together in collaboration. “This show is raw and vulnerable for performers and audiences alike,” Fleming explained. “It is centered around building deep, emotionally-grounded relationships, all in the comforts of a faux apartment, while we watch Netflix. What comes out of it is moving and hilarious.”
Similar to her improv work with Impro Studio Theatre, Fleming has served as a valuable member of The Second City Hollywood since 2014. In 2015, Fleming was hand picked by Director, Writer, Actor, and Producer Dave Colan to be a part of Second City’s “Milk Tooth,” an ensemble made up of eight cast members who performed each Friday night.
“Jaclyn acted as a vital member and contributed beyond the regular expectations of the cast requirements,” said Colan of Fleming’s talents. “She brings depth, presence and life to the stage every time she performs.”
The cast rehearsed weekly, spending multiple hours building a solid ensemble that never failed to exceed audience’s expectations. After having been a part of ensemble driven performing in Toronto, Fleming’s move to The Second City Hollywood was a natural progression that led to an increase in viewership from outside theaters as well as the opportunity to perform in various festivals in the LA-area.
“I’ve been fortunate to have been asked to do “Cake Batter’s Funny Women Festival, which runs annually,” Fleming said. “The festival focuses specifically on women in comedy, in various categories.” Moreover, Fleming’s dabbled with musical improv as a part of “One Night Only” on several occasions, as well as participate as a frequent performer of the Venice Art Crawl, which takes place in Venice Beach, California a few times a year.
Post “Milk Tooth,” Fleming continued performing with The Second City Hollywood in her latest hit show “Bubbelplast,” produced by Celeste Pechous. Like “Milk Tooth,” “Bubbelplast” is also comprised of a hand picked, eight-person ensemble (Jaclyn Fleming, Molly Donnelly, Maya Gwynn, Jacob Sorling, Joshua Dickinson, Paul Heredia, David Anthony Luna, and Cassie Townsend) and includes a night of hilarious, Long Form improv at every show.
Together, the eight rehearse weekly where they are given the freedom to create. “We have some of the most energetic and physicals shows and rehearsals,” Fleming explained. “Working with the others within the ensemble constantly allows for me to grow. Each one of them has such a unique and amazing way of bringing life to the stage. I get to take lessons not only from what Celeste provides us as a director, but every time I watch each of them do something. Working in an ensemble reminds me that we are all in this together. It allows for me to let go and relinquish the need to be ‘perfect.’”
This encouraging space and experience has permitted Fleming to evolve and showcase her sought after talents, where she’s ultimately received a large amount of praise and recognition for her work. “‘Bubbelplast’ has allowed me to clearly show audiences my adeptness within the realms of physical comedy, musical improv and in-depth character work. I have received many compliments for bringing professionalism, my attention to detail, genuine emotional connection, and grounded performing to each show I am a part of,” Fleming stated. Not only has Fleming achieved recognition within the theatre community around Hollywood, her exposure via The Second City Hollywood has sparked the attention of several well-known directors who have pursued efforts of collaboration.
Currently, Fleming is in the process of diving into a bit of a different realm of comedic theatre acting. Set to begin production this summer is “Ginger Snaps,” a One Woman Show directed by Jamie Janek and staring Fleming. The show is a 50-minute staged comedic sketch play that tells the story of one Ginger and her life adventures thus far.
“I am so excited to be working on all of these projects,” said Fleming, elated. “I am getting the opportunity to work with some of the most gifted people in the country and to hone in on my skills as a performer. I am excited for what is to come of all of these endeavors and to see where they take me.”
Actor Peter Fall has been wowing international audiences for his outstanding character portrayals spanning action-adventure, mystery, drama, comedy and more. The Russian-Australian talent — who formerly went by Igor Fall — is classically trained and owns a myriad of specialized skills that make him recognized, praised and sought after by Hollywood movers and shakers.
Fall, 30, parlays his personal experience into an exploration of character in each of his performances. While growing up, Fall spent time living in Europe, Asia and Australia. He speaks English, Russian and Korean, and has mastered dialects including Australian, British, Irish and South African, among others. Fall embraces physicality when it’s demanded of his roles and is a skilled sportsman and former Australian National WTF taekwondo champion.
He’s been living in Los Angeles since 2010 and underwent training at the renowned Stella Adler Conservatory and Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. Whether for the stage, award-winning short and feature films, TV or commercials, Fall has stood out as a gifted actor with dynamic range, engagement and authenticity.
“I’ve always had a great love of acting,” said Fall, who started performing seemingly since birth and signed with his first talent agent at the age of 10. “I’ve studied the art of acting with some of the world’s finest practitioners. I’ve had the chance to act alongside some supreme talents and for some world-class filmmakers. Through it all, I’ve applied the strategy of absorbing and implementing effective technique, and more than anything, being a positive presence on set and in production.”
Fall’s first role on TV came in 2000 in “Beastmaster,” a fantasy series about an adventurer (played by Daniel Goddard (“The Young and the Restless”) who can communicate with animals. As child actor, Fall performed a featured role for Season 1 Episode 10 — “Riddle of the Nymph” — that was directed by the award-winning Brendan Maher.
“This was an immersive introduction into the world of television,” he said. “It was an exciting time and great chance to be a part of a series that found international success. The opportunity to act for “Beastmaster” fueled my drive to pursue a performing career at an early age.”
The series ran for three seasons with 66 total episodes and broadcast in America, Canada and Australia. It was derived from MGM’s 1982 film, “The Beastmaster,” and was nominated for awards by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films and the Australian Film Institute.
Since his move to Los Angeles, Fall acted in “Perception,” a feature mystery film written and directed by Stan Harrington. The movie tells the story of a man who questions his sanity when reality blurs with his own imagination.
Harrington, a 25-time award-winning filmmaker and actor, starred in “Perception” alongside R.D. Call (“Waterworld,” “Into the Wild,” “Murder by Numbers”), Kely McClung (“Blood Ties”) and Blythe Metz (“Nightmare Man”). For “Perception,” Fall acted in the key role of Hoges.
“Perception” tells a great cinematic story and I was thrilled to work with a brilliant filmmaker and terrific cast,” said Fall. “The character, Hoges, is a bit of a catalyst who drives the story. He introduces Athena, played by Blythe Metz, to Marcus, played by R.D. Call. Athena takes on a poor relationship with Marcus and Hoges tries to interject and reason with her. I felt we delivered a solid film that’s a callback to the story-driven approach.”
Harrington said, “It takes a certain kind of excellence to enter films and spin the story like Peter did. It is the best proof of his immense talent and range as an actor to see him do so superbly. His performance was honest, appropriate, and above all excellent.”
Fall thereafter played a soldier in the short drama film, “Red Poppies,” directed by Yaitza Rivera. The film follows the story of a woman (Zulivet Diaz) who was sexually assaulted, but finds a chance at happiness when she meets the love of her life while attending her father’s funeral.
“Red Poppies” was written by the great Tim McNeil, an actor-writer-producer known for his work in “Contact,” “Forrest Gump,” “Starship Troopers” and many more.
“It’s a powerful film with strong thematic elements,” Fall said. “There’s drama and conflict aplenty, but it’s also a touching story of hope and perseverance. I played the solider who attacks the lead, Iris. My part in the story is dark, grim and detestable, something that’s a real performing challenge. It’s difficult to go that far against the grain of who you are as a person, but that’s what acting’s all about. If I can make the audience hate me and root for the leading lady, I’ve done my job.”
The notion vaulted into fruition as “Red Poppies” received a Best Short Film nomination at the 2013 SoCal Independent Film Festival. Diaz was nominated for Best Actress at the festival, Rivera won Best Director and the film was also up for award consideration at the Action on Film International Film Festival.
Film festival judges weren’t the only ones who noticed the captivating acting displayed within “Red Poppies.”
“Peter’s ability to play such a dark and unforgivable character was key to the film’s ability to affect an audience,” said McNeil. “He portrayed the soldier with such a gruesome reality that everyone cringed in their seats and was immediately empathetic toward the struggle of Iris. The technique of an actor is often lost by the non-professional, especially in scenes of such intensity. Only the best actors can work honestly under such duress and employ years of technique to excel in such a despicable character.”
Fall has also routed his cut-above-the-rest acting talent for TV commercials. He acted as a young guitar player in Ubisoft’s “Rocksmith 2014” commercial and as a German protestor for a Sony Mobile spot from Tarsem Singh, director of hit blockbusters “Mirror Mirror” starring Julia Roberts, “Immortals” starring Henry Cavill, “The Cell” starring Jennifer Lopez and others.
The Sony commercial is titled “Always with You” and advertises the global electronics manufacturer’s waterproof Xperia Z smartphone. The spot shows Sony products throughout history and Fall’s role featured him taking a sledgehammer to the Berlin Wall to the delight of a crowd rallying behind his protesting action.
“Peter’s performance was the energetic fulcrum in the ad, bringing the excitement to the screen and loading the audience up for the new product reveal,” said Fall’s agent, Martin Herrera, of the Sherman Oaks, Calif. headquartered Baron Entertainment. “The ability to not only lead a commercial of that magnitude and work with a director of such prominence is exactly why we put him up for that part.”
For the Ubisoft commercial that branded their hit video game, “Rocksmith 2014,” Fall played a young man who selects his first guitar in the game’s debut trailer campaign. The game has achieved best-seller status and has the unique functionality of teaching users how to play the guitar. Fall’s face is the trailer’s opening image that sparks the pace for the commercial, which was directed by David Moodie, producer and director known for his work with games such as “Rainbow Six: Vegas.”
“Acting for commercials and branded content like that is a nuance unto itself,” Fall said. “The goal is to quickly create a lasting message that makes consumers take action and feel persuaded to purchase a product. Acting on large-scale productions with exceptional directors and for companies like Sony and Ubisoft was an altogether tremendous experience.”
Fall’s formidable prowess and career track record typifies acting excellence. His other highlights include acting in McNeil’s film, “Gettin’ Off,” where he plays a man who has a relationship with a prostitute, and in McNeil’s original stage play, “Margaret.”
Fall played the leading role (Edmund) in the Stella Adler production of “Edmund,” written by David Mamet (“Glengarry Glen Ross”), who has won a Pulitzer Prize and received Tony and Oscar nominations for his script writing. Fall’s performance as Stepan Stepanovitch in Chekov’s “The Proposal” (Nairn Theatre) resulted in Outstanding Actor and Best Supporting Actor awards at regional and state short play festivals in the U.K.
He has also starred in “M, M, M! Music, Monologues and Mayhem” (The Theatricians), “The Irresistible Rise of Arturo Ui” (Nairn Theatre), “Private Wars” (Lee Strasberg), in Oscar winner Milton Justice’s production of “J.B.” (Stella Adler), “The Diviners,” from writer-producer Christopher Thornton (“Sympathy for Delicious”) and in the film, “Shell Shock” from Levy Lambros.
Continuing to show up in many productions to come, Fall is attached to the forthcoming comedy film, “Not Summer Camp,” from actor-producer Joshua Marble (“CSI,” “Unusual Suspects,” “The Ex List”). He will also star in the YouTube comedy series, “Little America,” from Cobblestone Productions. Morayo Orija (“Spit”) and Sam Marin (Cartoon Network’s Emmy-winning “Regular Show”) will produce. Orija and McNeil will direct. Fall is also starring in the 2017 feature western period drama, “Colt,” about the last week of Russian poet, playwright and novelist, Alexander Pushkin. Fall is co-writing with Austin Iredale and will produce along with Orija and Marin.
Cesare Scarpone is an award-winning actor who consistently projects a formidable dramatic presence. The Canadian-born Scarpone inhabits each characterization with a masterly combination of skill and instinct, and whether it’s romantic comedy or a dark suspense story, he deftly crafts a persuasive, tangible persona imbued with the full spectrum of nuance, traits and emotion.
It’s a rare balance of sensitivity and showmanship and Scarpone, surprisingly, stumbled upon his avocation almost by chance.
“I started in high school, not knowing what acting really was, but coming from a town where theatre and acting are seen as a fantasy, imagined only through the TV, this attitude was the norm,” Scarpone said. “At my first performance, I stepped onto the stage and was overwhelmed by the mass of people watching me. I’d gotten through half the play but all of a sudden I froze. I’d forgotten my line and time stopped. This was the biggest rush I’d ever felt and I wanted more.”
Scarpone’s path was set, and the following year his performance as Jerry in the Edward Albee classic, “The Zoo Story,” earned him the Sears Drama Festival’s award of excellence for the York Ontario region.
“From there, I couldn’t get enough. I tried to do as many independent films as I could sink my teeth into,” Scarpone said. “This led to a few spots on television programs, union films and a commercial.”
Scarpone’s talent has shown up in his outstanding character portrayals in the films “Black Forest” from writer-director David Briggs, director Gabriella Bevilacqua’s “Aftermath,” Omii Thompson’s “Modern Romance is Dead,” Rebecca Carrigan’s “All I Need,” Rob Comeau’s “Chance” and “Dead Monday” from director Mark Korven. On TV, Scarpone has acted in History’s “Curious and Unusual Deaths” and Cineflix’s true crime docudrama, “Dual Suspects.”
“Working with Cesare on “Black Forest” was a great experience,” said Briggs. “It was obvious from the first take that Cesare is all about the character, and he digs deep to bring the script to life. He believes in the craft of acting, and that passion brought a lot to his role.”
Scarpone’s meticulous approach is fueled by a soul-deep passion, not just for the craft, but also its role in world culture. “Story telling is something that everyone knows in their hearts. We love it, yearn for it,” Scarpone said. “You see it in your everyday life, in some form or another and through different mediums, but we are slowly losing the original performed art. Our generation no longer needs to even get out of bed to watch a film or read a news article. They have everything in their hand. But the experience of live theatre can be life changing, perspective changing. You can truly connect with people, and not in a way that is buffered by static transmission through a screen. Everyone should know live theatre, and everyone deserves to have access to it.”
With almost 20 film and TV credits, Scarpone knew it was time to reach for an even higher level of accomplishment. “I decided to apply for a drama school, and this led me to London, England—the heart of theatre. What better place to train?” Scarpone said. “I came across The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and decided to audition for their flagship courses. I was surprised to get the call from the legendary Rodney Cortier, head of the school, inviting me to their two-year acting course—the best of its kind in London, which equates as one of the best in the world.”
Arriving in London in 2014, Scarpone subsequently performed in more than half a dozen stage productions (including “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Tempest”), absorbing a full measure of the almost alchemical depth of skill which has always typified British stagecraft.
“When I got that call I was ecstatic and screamed at the top of my lungs because this meant that I would finally have the foundation I needed to have my skills really develop,” Scarpone said. “Now I am in my final term at the school, graduating in July and ready to attack this growing market.”
“What first led me to acting was the feeling of not only being free on stage, but also feeling the effect I was having on the audience in theatre and film. I love both mediums, each with their joys and merits, and both are something I’m extremely excited about,” Scarpone said. “There are so many new things going on in the industry, like immersive theatre, and advances in technology with film and television that allow new ideas to be better completed and given to the world.”
Scarpone has already distinguished himself as both a capable technician and self-possessed artist. His very sense of wonder itself generates an aura of appealing enthusiasm and is something he’s sure to bring in many more productions to come.
His formula for acting is simple: interest in fellow man, being observant, educating on life and psychology, stepping out of one’s comfort zone and not being quick to judge.
It’s a proven methodology for German film and TV actor David Mihalka.
“Try to understand others. Walk in their shoes for a mile!” he said. “Always be a better version of yourself. That’s what I am working on each day.”
It’s certainly fair to say it’s been working.
Mihalka, who grew up watching many movies such as “Amadeus,” is known in the international filmmaking community for his dazzling character portrayals, chief among them his role in director John A. Mati’s feature comedy, “Monsieur Brucco.”
The Switzerland-released film follows Brucco (played by Mati), an Albanian who cuts his finger and is certified permanently unfit for work. Reluctant to accept early retirement, Brucco reinvents himself as a door-to-door toy salesman, but the new career takes a twist when he inadvertently becomes the target of the mafia.
Mihalka plays Monsieur Houstaf, captain of a spaceship.
“His mission is find a new leader for his planet,” Mihalka said. “The computer of the spaceship said that Monsieur Brucco is the chosen one. But he is a total fool and catching him becomes a challenge, since Monsieur Houstaf is a complete idiot as well.”
The role allowed Mihalka to tap into his profound comedic acting talent. He says he relished the chance of “being a fool” on screen.
“Life is so serious. Being a fool frees you! And with a captain from out of space, you have even more freedom to go overboard.”
The film was a success to the point a sequel is now filming. “All I can say is: The fool is still chasing the other fool.”
Other 2015 acting roles for Mihalka include Emilio Ferrari’s TV movie, “All I Want for Christmas,” Jonathan Moy de Vitry’s “Difficult People,” Alex Lewis’ “Driverless,” and Mickella Simone’s “The WorkPlace.”
Mihalka’s been acting since 2014 in the comedy web series, “Zero Button,” and he played Sean Benini in writer-director Stan Harrington’s “Lost Angels,” that won four awards at the Indie Fest USA International Film Festival.
“Sean is a sleazy paparazzi in Hollywood hoping to make big bucks,” Mihalka said. “The movie is about Los Angeles, the glamour and the gutter.”
Mihalka’s filmography also includes acting in Harrington’s multi-award-winning feature mystery, “Perception” and Yu Jung Hou’s “Forever.”
In “Perception,” Mihalka played the role of Yuri and said, “Yuri is a very shy and silent student. The opposite of me. It was my first movie…exciting of course.”
Mihalka’s theatre background provided a valuable training ground before he parlayed his talents to film. From 2010 to 2012, he studied at The Stella Adler Academy of Acting in Los Angeles and starred in theatrical productions of “J.B.” and “The Diviners.”
“In theatre,” he said, “I learned to speak up and be clear in my speech to make sure the guy in the last row won’t fall asleep. Also, I learned to get used to many eyes watching me. This benefits me on set since there are as many eyes watching you like in theatre.”
Veteran actor, writer and producer Tim McNeil has appeared in more than 30 films and television shows including “Forrest Gump,” “Contact” and “Starship Troopers,” as well as in over 40 plays. McNeil directed Mihalka in his original play, “Margaret,” at the Gilbert Theatre at Stella Adler Los Angeles.
“The play is about a community’s reaction to the unexpected suicide of a 16-year old girl,” McNeil said. “Initially, nobody speaks about it, all acting as though nothing has happened. Bruce, played by David, is the most vocal about his concerns. He is a drunk who is not afraid to speak the difficult truth, bringing comedy to a very dark and dramatic play. He is critical to the production because he is the only one who challenges everybody in the neighborhood to talk about Margaret, searching for an answer as to why she did it.
“David proved outstanding in his sensibilities and his knowledge of the character. He understood both the material and his own character, and in turn, made the play feel that much more real. His ability to bring comedy to such a tragic subject, and make it all seem natural without being over the top, is a testament to his ability as an actor. David has something to offer the entire world with his exceptional talent.”
Mihalka credits other actors as having a great influence on him. “Established actors taught me two things: find the unique things about yourself and don’t be shy. Enhance them and show it to the world. The other one is: never give up!”
Mihalka’s talents don’t stop in front of the camera – one look at his work in photography verifies another field where he excels.
Capturing difficult scenes through his work with a camera are a testament to his gifted photographer’s eye. Mihalka’s photography captures scenes from a diverse slice of life. From the sublime to the exotic, to the baseness of life, his photographic eye catches, captures and produces exceptional and unique perspectives of people, places, and situations.
We recently had the chance to sit down and visit with the talented, lovely actress Zoe Cleland, who film and TV audiences would recognize from her stand-out character portrayals in “How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town,” “Murdoch Mysteries,” “Saving Hope,” “Pay Up,” “Reign” and others.
A Toronto native, Cleland first starred on the stage before hitting the screen. She booked her debut TV role when she was just 15 and became the youngest actor to ever attend the National Theatre School of Canada.
Cleland has acted alongside famed talents such as Lauren Holly and Megan Follows, and has appeared in roles ranging from comedy to period drama to medical drama and more.
She’s been in the trenches on many productions. We’ve put the spotlight on Zoe, who shared this exclusive question and answer session that reveals just what it’s like to work nowadays as a film and TV actress. We think Zoe’s awesome and invite you to find out her story below!
When you read scripts and discover characters, what qualities do you look for and what aspects attract you to a role?
ZC: I’m attracted to all kinds of characters for lots of different reasons. Great writing has a huge impact on what I want to be a part of. I think if the writing is good, it usually means there’s a level of depth to the characters and the story that is super exciting to mine as an actor. I’m also drawn to roles that I feel will illuminate some aspect of the human experience that I feel needs to be looked at, that will benefit people to empathize with…and then sometimes it’s purely selfish in that a character might be fun to play or might have an aspect that I want to explore for my own understanding or personal development. It all depends! I rely a lot on my intuition.
You booked your first role at the age of 15 when you guest starred as Eva Rookwood on “Murdoch Mysteries.” How did this character tie into the episode and what was the experience like being on a television set for the first time?
ZC: Yeah, so I played Eva Rookwood, a British orphan who gets adopted into a well-to-do Canadian family, only to be abused by her stepfather. He ends up getting murdered and the episode revolves around solving that crime…won’t give too much away but the crime is a result of the abuse that was going on.
I remember the experience being totally thrilling and terrifying at the same time. Up to that point, I had mostly worked on stage so I really didn’t know much about working with the camera. So the experience was very very new for me. I was so excited to be on set, though, and I remember being completely entranced with how much detail went into to building each room…I remember looking at the books on the bookshelves and how much thought had been put into what they were, even though they probably would never be seen by the camera. I wasn’t used to being immersed on a set in such a realistic way and I thought I had landed in heaven.
You returned to “Murdoch Mysteries” in the role of Joanne Perly in an episode that aired earlier this year. How was this character involved in advancing the story and did you ever anticipate returning to the series?
ZC: I never anticipated going back; I just assumed that would be it for that show but apparently not! I can’t say too much about Joanne Perly without giving too much away, but I will say that she appears to be a sweet young mother but is actually something else underneath. She ends up being an intricate part of the episode, which revolves around a bank robbery. Her baby also goes on to be adopted by the Murdochs, which was a new kind of plotline for the show.
Last year you made your feature film debut in Jeremy Lalonde’s comedy, “How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town,” a project just a little different from “Murdoch Mysteries.” What was your experience playing Young Cassie?
ZC: My experience doing that film was really wonderful, it was a great set to be on and it was so exciting to be playing the leading character in the opening act. I had to have a different relationship with the camera than I’d ever had before, because the emotional heart of the opening of the film rested on me…because of that I learned a lot.
What was it like acting alongside Lauren Holly in the film?
ZC: It was great; Lauren is really lovely and very generous.
Did you learn or absorb anything from working with her?
ZC: I did, I learned a lot just from watching her work and also from talking to her, we had a lot of time to chat in between takes and she was really open about her life in the industry, so I absorbed a lot from that.
Did the topic of “Dumb & Dumber” or Jim Carrey ever arise?
ZC: Haha no, I’ve never actually seen the movie.
What are the characteristics a great actress possesses?
ZC: Great question! I think the ability to empathize is probably near the top, because without that there would be no acting. Apart from that, I’m going to say openness, vulnerability, bravery and imagination.
How do you try to incorporate those qualities into your own acting?
ZC: I just try to be honest with myself about whether I really feel I’m being true to a character and/or situation…whether I’m going as far as I can into whatever reality I am portraying. I think if I am I will exhibit these qualities by default.
What is one thing that people would never suspect about being a film and television actress?
ZC: I think people tend to have ideas about film and TV acting that it is a really glamorous job…and that somehow the actors are the most important part of the whole production. In reality it is really a collaborative thing, there is so much work that goes into film from so many different people and it is truly a team effort. That’s one of the things I love about it. It also really isn’t as glamorous as people think, there’s a lot of waiting around and it takes a lot of passion and stamina to continue to be present in the work.
What’s surprised you the most or surpassed expectations about working in the industry?
ZC: I think in a way the most stunning thing about the film industry is that it even exists at all. When you realize how much work and drive it takes from so many people working together to do a project, it’s really amazing how much great work gets produced. There’s such a magical element to the film industry and it’s incredible how many people have the passion to come together to make it happen.
What’s been your single most difficult day on set?
ZC: I had one day on “Reign” when they didn’t get to my scene till about 3 in the morning, so the whole day was waiting in my trailer, and then trying not to fall asleep. That was difficult purely physically because it was challenging to stay alert enough to do my best work.
What has been the most rewarding role you’ve played thus far in your career?
ZC: I was in a production of “Three Sisters” by Anton Chekhov in theatre school that really changed my whole approach to acting, and actually made me want to go into film. I played Irina, one of the sisters, and I don’t know if I’ve ever dove more into a part than I did with her. I just got totally lost in her and her story. We had a director who really encouraged smaller, more naturalistic acting and it made me realize how much I loved that kind of intimate work.
Continuing on the theatre theme, you attended the National Theatre School of Canada. How does that training bode well for your portrayals in film and television?
ZC: I think my training at NTS taught me a lot about myself…that has been incredibly valuable to me on many levels. The lessons that I learned about myself there made me really know who I am and how my mind and heart work, which is so necessary to act. The school also had a really strong emphasis on building stamina when I was there and that has also served me well.
What was the best part of acting in the comedy series, “Guidance,” alongside Rob Baker?
ZC: The best part of the experience was actually working with Rob, acting in those scenes with him was like being in a verbal fencing match. It was just so much fun.
You played Odette in two episodes of The CW’s award-winning period drama, “Reign.” Tell us a little about Odette.
ZC: Odette is an unfortunate maid who gets involved in a lot of intrigue that she would rather stay out of. Because she is lower class, she is in some ways not part of the world of “Reign” in the same way that everyone else is. It was fun playing her because she is a bit of a deer in the headlights…someone really powerless who has to live day to day surrounded by a lot of danger in the world of the French court.
What’s the best part of acting in a big period piece? Is it the costumes, set pieces, the transformative nature of the production or something else?
ZC: I have always had an obsession with period pieces, so acting in them is really a dream come true for me. It’s kind of the ultimate playground for my imagination, because when you are in a period piece it really is like stepping back in time. You are totally transported into another reality in a way that you aren’t when you are in something modern.
What was it like acting with Megan Follows in “Reign”?
ZC: It was wonderful acting with her, she has such a strong presence and she is so focused.
You switched gears last year and acted in the role of Brianna Pierre in the acclaimed medical drama, “Saving Hope.” How valuable is the range of an actress who goes from comedy to period drama to medical drama and more?
ZC: I think it’s valuable for sure, but to be honest I try not to think of each project as being that different from the next. It feels the most authentic to me to approach every character the same way, whether it’s a comedy or a drama. I think that’s what usually gets the best work out of me, when I’m more focused on the character and their situation, rather than trying to fit into a “style.”
How would you describe your character, Shawna, in Craig Macnaughton’s comedy series, “Pay Up”?
ZC: I would describe her as a teenage girl who is trying to assert her power in a situation in which she feels powerless. She is an only child of recently divorced parents, and she is tying to stay connected to both of them…and to keep a feeling of security around her. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know how to do this in a way that will really serve her, so she ends up basically playing her parents off each other in order to get them to buy her things.
In “Pay Up,” Richard Lett plays a debt collector named Jack. Is Jack a guy you’d not want to cross or is he living on reputation?
ZC: I would say Jack has more bark then bite, if he even has much bark at all. He struggles a lot to assert his power over the people he is trying to collect money from, and that’s where the funny parts come in.
What are some go-to hobbies or activities when you’re not on set?
ZC: I meditate a lot, and I would say I have a pretty active spiritual life, so that’s something that I commit a lot of myself to…I also watch a LOT of movies. I also like to write and paint, but I’d like to be a bit more disciplined with myself about doing those things regularly.
Who is on your short list for fellow actors or filmmakers you’d like to work with in the future?
ZC: There’s so many! And it really changes from day to day. Lately I’ve been really getting into the work of Jane Campion. I love what she does. I’ve also been going on a Tom Hardy spree on Netflix…I have an insane crush on him in every way, and I think he’s an incredibly magnetic and dynamic actor.
“Hot l Baltimore” directed by Che Walker and produced by Rochelle Rossman at Stella Adler in Los Angeles.
Cast: Mona Lisa Abdallah, Liselotte Alfons, Anastasia Burenina, Christina Blum, Ana Roza Cimperman, Robert Oliver Gislason, Christian Hoha, Ninni Holm, Edward Macgregor, Tatiana Olaya, Johann Schulte-Hillen, Kayla Strada, Nuno Sousa and Abel Vivas.
Los Angeles, CA- Director Che Walker’s production of Lanford Wilson’s 1973 play “Hot l Baltimore,” which had a successful run on the Gilbert Stage at the iconic Stella Adler Theatre in Los Angeles, brought together a mishmash of colorful characters who all have one thing in common– they are all on the verge of homelessness as the seedy Hotel Baltimore that they call home is slated for demolition.
Set in the lobby of the dilapidated hotel, “Hot l Baltimore,” which pulls its title from the neon marquee with the burnt out ‘e’ that sits above the dying building, follows the trials and tribulations of the soon to be evicted characters as they live out their final days at the hotel.
The cast of the show gives audiences a brilliant slice of life peek into the lives of these characters, which range from naive hopefuls and over-the-top eccentrics, to cynical prostitutes who’ve seen too much sorrow to ever fully recover and the hotel’s less than chipper staff that seem to go out of their way to make all of the ‘guests’ feel like they’re the scum of the earth.
Mona Lisa Abdallah first takes the stage as the hotel’s daytime desk clerk Mrs. Oxenham, and boy does this actress bring her easily flustered, germaphobic and overly conservative character to life with distinct style. From her fidgety, nail biting mannerisms to her unrelenting nosey-ness and constant eavesdropping, Mona Lisa makes Mrs. Oxenham into a character we all love to hate.
The interactions between Oxenham and Paul (played by Robert Oliver Gislason), a former tenant who returns to the hotel (after being sent away to a work farm for two years due to a drug conviction) in search of his grandfather, serves as the perfect example of the disconnect between the two societal classes portrayed by the story’s hotel staff and their ‘customers.’ Instead of being willing to help, Oxenham brushes off Paul’s requests and treats him as if he his less than human, further solidifying the idea that these down-on-their-luck characters are really just worthless individuals undeserving of respect.
While the play is definitely tragic in the way it portrays the less than glamorous lives of the majority of its characters, it is not devoid of comic relief. The way Mona Lisa’s character uses a tissue to pick up the old rotary phone, and takes several minutes to lick the adhesive on an envelope just to mail a letter, definitely brings a bit of quirky humor to the show.
On top of taking on the pivotal role of Mrs. Oxenham, Mona Lisa was also cast to take on the role of Dopey, a new character written into the production by director Che Walker. Mona Lisa reveals her wide range as an actress through her portrayal of these two very different characters within the same production, something she accomplishes with astonishing ease.
As Dopey, one of the hotel’s resident hookers, Mona Lisa gives an engaging monologue about the struggles of being a prostitute in the lower rungs of society, where the girls continually spend their money to look glamorous in the eyes of their revolving door of Johns, have little left over for themselves and still battle the unceasing yearning for the familiar touch of true love– a sad cycle few are able to escape.
The young and lovably naive prostitute known as The Girl, played by Kayla Strada, gives us a little insight into how some of the older prostitutes started out their lives in the ‘business,’ probably holding onto a glimmer of hope that they would some day escape the murky underworld that’s sadly trapped them.
And then there is Jackie, played by Tatiana Olaya, a rebellious young thing who’s travelling with her little brother trying to gather enough money to start an organic farm back in Utah. After using all of her money to purchase the land for the farm (which she has yet to see), she goes about trying to convince Mr. Katz, the hotel manager played by Ninni Holm, to cosign a loan so she can get the start-up money she needs for the farm. But when that doesn’t work out, she decides to steal jewels from Morse’s room; however, she is caught and gets herself kicked out of the hotel. Even sadder than the fact that Jackie has no chance of really making a go of it with the farm, is that she leaves her brother Jamie, who’s not-all-there mentally, behind.
Through Millie, played by Johanna Schulte-Hillen, a retired waitress with a pension for reminiscing over the past, audiences are privy to a character who represents a different kind of ‘failed’ existence– one where the person doesn’t even reason that their life is in shambles. The character, who always seems to be telling ghost stories (that she clearly believes) in her somewhat soothing southern drawl, has a sweet, but melancholy quality about her– as if she had a beautiful future ahead of her at one point, but somehow took a turn for the worse.
The drama that ensues as the conflicting personalities of the characters clash, and the tragic, sometimes hard to swallow, display of their personal turmoil, kept viewers engaged throughout the run of the show. From the soon to be destroyed building, where hot water is simply not a thing and a working elevator is a memory long past, to the decaying youth of the play’s struggling band of prostitutes, “Hot L Baltimore” is imbued with themes of human struggle and cultural decay, and the actors involved do a marvelous job of breathing life into this 1973 play in the modern age.
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