If you go to the shelves of HOLLYWOOD VIDEO there's a good chance you'll see one of Roxanne Coyne's recent movies, VAMPIRE FEMMES. She also starred in several of director Ron Ford's movies, including MARK OF DRACULA, ALIEN FORCE and the recent DEADLY SCAVENGERS. I had the opportunity to ask Roxanne a few questions about her career to date.
Q: Well, tell us about yourself...
ROXANNE: My mom's Colombian and my dad is from New York, but his family is from Venezuela. I was born in Santiago, Chile, where i lived until I was 3 1/2. We moved to Boston and then to North Carolina and when I was 11 we moved to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, where we spent the next 6 years. (My dad worked in international marketing for Gillette and other big companies for a long time) Growing up I learned to speak English and Portuguese and then French. I still speak Spanish with my mom and my sisters. I went to Stanford University where I majored in Communication with an emphasis in film production. After college I moved to Los Angeles, where my initial goal was to become a cinematographer. I worked as a camera assistant for a number of years before making the switch to acting. In fact, I did fulfill my cinematographic urge by marrying a very talented one, Brian Coyne, who has since graduated from cinematographer to director. I did a bit of theater in high school, including some tech work. Mostly, I was involved in the arts through music and dance while I was growing up. I was a dedicated flutist for about 10 years and I took up the alto sax in high school. I played in the Stanford Band for four years. I also play the guitar and I like to dance. I'm basically a show-off.
Q: What was your first acting experience?
ROXANNE: Third grade. We did a classroom production of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate factory. I played Mrs. Beauregard and I remember stuffing lots of pillows under my clothing to achieve the proper portly, middle-aged momma effect.
Q: What was your weirdest acting experience?
ROXANNE: It happened when I wasn't even an actress yet... ... .I had to convince the customs official in British Columbia that I was a professional flamenco dancer on vacation with my boyfriend and NOT a professional camera assistant trying to sneak into the country illegally without a work permit (these tools don't really belong to ME, officer... ..!) . He finally bought my story, but not before I had to offer to give him a demonstration... ... .
Q: What was your Best/Worst acting experience on a movie?
ROXANNE: Both happened on Riddled with Bullets (Ron Ford, director). The best was working with Wes Dietrick, who is a very talented and generous actor. He enabled me to go very deep within myself and thus find the truth of the role. It's a rare opportunity to work with someone like Wes. Most people are not willing to take such risks.
The worst experience was my death scene in the same movie. It involved several quarts of disgustingly sticky stage blood. And it was a tense day. We were behind schedule and tempers were short and I was covered in goo and it was not pretty. In fact it was really, really ugly.
Q: You've also worked with producer Dave Sterling, who is a bit infamous in the low budget world. How was it working with Dave?
ROXANNE: I learned that McDonald's offers 99-cent hamburgers on Tuesdays.
Q: What do you think of genre films?
ROXANNE: At the risk of alienating your readers, I have to confess I'm not a big fan of genre films. If I were making a very low-budget film I'd prefer to make a character driven drama rather than an action based thriller (which is what I think of when I think of genre films). Now and then, however, you get an exceptional script and it's made with love and a sense of humor and the result is pleasing. Ron Ford's Hollywood Mortuary is a case in point. This is such an off-the-wall concept and the characters are so goofy that you can't help but be drawn into it. I've had a lot of fun working on ultra-low-budget Indies. It's been a training ground and has given me an opportunity to take risks, make mistakes, and throw in my own opinions whenever I've wanted. I've done some horrifically bad work in them, but hopefully I learn from the mistakes and make different ones the next time.
Q: Do you find that there is a lot of improvising with lines or do you Tend to adhere to the written script?
ROXANNE: Most writers really hate it when you change their words. If I were a writer, I would hate it!!! Nevertheless, I'm not very good about sticking to the exact script. I try, but sometimes it's hard. Especially if something jumps out at me as being very out of character or incorrect in some way. I've done a couple of movies written by people who were not native speakers of English and it was a challenge to stick to the words as written.
If something really bothers me I ask the director/writer about it. I did a lot of improvising in Riddled With Bullets. I didn't realize how many times I said the "F" word until the movie was done. Every other word out of my mouth was "FUCK". It sounds terrible. So, now I'm very aware of cursing. It's only effective if it's used selectively. During Deadly Scavengers I deleted as many of my expletives as I could so that we wouldn't have the Bullets problem. Ron let me substitute Fuck for Damn, oh Hell... ... etc.
Q: Do you have any advice to aspiring actors?
ROXANNE: Find a reputable acting class and don't quit your day job. And don't be in a hurry to get into any unions. Learn your craft and study, study, study. Most actors do not give enough attention to the craft and it is the very basis of what we do. Acting is not easy and it's not like riding a bicycle. It's more like dancing ballet. It takes years of dedication and constant practice to keep the muscles toned. You can't call yourself a dancer and never practice. Similarly, you can't expect to call yourself an actor and not be exercising your skills on a regular basis. Some people have more inherent talent than others, but this is in no way a measure of long term success. It's often those who have to work much harder who end up developing the skills to be truly great actors.
Q: Advice to directors about treating/dealing with actors?
ROXANNE: Directing is a skill, too, like acting. It takes lots of practice to learn to do it well. As far as dealing with actors, there's nothing like stepping into someone else's shoes. The best directors have had some acting experience. Maybe it's just a series of classes. Doesn't have to be Broadway, just enough to have the experience of crossing that CHASM of just a few inches that is the dividing line between "behind the lens" and "in front of the lens".
As a crew member, I never appreciated what an actor goes through. It's like Alice Through the Looking Glass. A whole different world out there!!!! It can be very, very frightening. Like walking down the street without your clothes on... ... or like being blindfolded in a crowd of sighted people. The actor is completely blind. He relies on the director to be his eyes. That's why it is so important for the director to be able to speak the language of the actor. As performers, we don't see our work as it is being created and we rely on the director's words to mold and shape us. In order to do this most effectively, a director must empathize with the performer. The best way to empathize, I think, is to have the experience of being a performer.
There must be trust between the director and the performer. Patience, love and a lot of feedback are important, too. If something is good, tell us, please. Because we are insecure. We are insecure because of what I said earlier: we can't see our work.
Also, I think it's really important for directors to be careful in casting. Maybe that sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised how many serious mistakes are made in casting. You have to try to assemble a cast of people who are dedicated enough, skilled enough and physically right for each and every part. When you're working at a very low-budget level it's hard to get all three things out of everyone you hire. But it's essential. So take time to cast carefully. I've seen people put projects on the shelf for months at a time because they were holding out for exactly the right actors. I respect that.
Q: You just finished DEADLY SCAVENGERS, directed by Ron Ford. Tell us about your character and about the film.
ROXANNE: DEADLY SCAVENGERS was a quickie. I played Lila Lancer, a tough mercenary, survival-expert. It was fun. I haven't seen the movie yet, so I don't know how I came across, but what I liked about Lila was her wry sense of humor. She doesn't take herself too seriously. I'm looking forward to seeing the movie!