Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Shoshanna Stern Interview

In a previous blog, I told you how I went to the Phoenix Film Festival and saw a great movie entitled, “Adventures of Power.”

Shoshanna Stern plays the character of Annie in the movie and is a tremendously gifted actress. She’s been in a number of television shows like “Jericho” and “Weeds” and has a radiant presence on the small and silver screen.

I had only seen her in serious roles until “Adventures” where she’s a very funny love interest for the main character. In real life Shoshanna is hearing impaired, so I was curious to find out what challenges she faced acting in a comedy.

When she agreed to answer some questions via email (she’s already back in LA working on another project), I was elated. Below is our interview:

You’ve been in a number of TV shows; is it harder for you to do films because of the style and pace of a film rather than a half hour episode of a TV show? Which do you prefer?

I wouldn't say harder, they're just different. With television, you have a lot of arcs that happen in every episode, and then you have one big arc for your character that happens in the entire season, and you don't necessarily know what that is when you're starting out. It's hard to guess when you should hold back and when you should give it your all, especially when you're on an ensemble show. I remember I got one episode where I thought, "Okay, so this is my big one," and I did the trembly lip thing, eyes welling up, and then a few weeks later I got something even bigger, and looking back, I wished that I'd held back a little then. With film, you know exactly what is going to happen and you have a bit more time to get to know your character. I think there is something about film that is really satisfying, but I don't have enough experience with that to say that there's one I prefer yet.

As an actress who is also hearing impaired, how difficult or easy is it to do comedy? In your role as Annie in “Adventures of Power,” you do a fantastic job and have some really funny lines that you deliver with perfect timing and a brilliant personality. Does that come naturally?

I don't know if my hearing loss has anything to do with my comedic ability. But I know that all my deaf friends are funny, especially my girlfriends. I think there might be something about the experience of being deaf that just makes you cynical and more prone to making fun of yourself. You don't take yourself as seriously. At first with Annie, I was thinking really hard about how to be funny, but I think with comedy, you can't really try to make people laugh. So I decided not to over think it. I'm still not sure if it is the character of Annie that makes people laugh or if it's actually Power's reactions to her, but I don't think that really matters as long as people are laughing.

How hard/easy was it to work with Ari Gold (the director) (or any director who haven’t worked with hearing impaired actors) and how were you picked for the role of Annie?

Ari was great. He has so much patience with the whole process and he really put so much thought in everything. Every time I see the movie, I notice something different. The only time I have issue with directors is when they think they know how deaf people are or how they should be and then I feel really compartmentalized. Everyone handles the experience of being deaf differently because it is such an individual thing. There's also something about sign language and the deaf experience that allows people to assume that what they think or know is factual. There are so many people that say that they're fluent in sign when they can barely fingerspell, and writers that don't do enough research when they write about deaf characters because they think plugging their fingers in their ears for a couple minutes is experience enough. As long as you let me show you who I am, rather than trying to make me into someone you think I should be, we're good.

I only know this story because Ari told it to me. He was given a list of “names” for the role of Annie by his casting directors because they thought trying to cast Annie would have been a doozy because she was so specific. Ari was really good about staying true to the origins of almost all of the characters in the movie, and there is so much diversity there. But he was starting to think that he might not be able to do it with Annie. The story goes that one of his friends was watching “Weeds,” saw me on it, called Ari in the middle of the night, and said, I found your Annie! Or something like that, I might be making some of that up. The end result was that I got sent the script, met him for coffee, don't think I handled it appropriately because I was just like, okay, so do you want to hire me? Good thing he said yes. So we just went from there.

I’ve seen you in the TV show “Jericho” and loved the depth and gravitas you brought to that character. Do the characters you choose closely resemble your own personality or do you try to take parts that aren’t reflections of you? Would you ever play a “bad girl” or a villain?

I would definitely play a bad girl, and I'd definitely love to be the villain. I've been a bad girl a few times, but on television, I think writers get inspired by the actors themselves and what they see on a daily basis. I think Megan on “Weeds” started out a bad girl but she didn't necessarily end up that way. I think everyone has a degree of darkness in them that we just don't see because circumstances might not have made it necessary for them to show that side of their personalities yet. I think anyone could commit evil acts or do bad things if the situation forced them to, and I'm kind of morbidly fascinated by that.

What role have you always wanted to play but haven’t had the opportunity yet?

Dana Halter in T.C. Boyle's “Talk Talk.” He's an amazing writer and his words are so visual that I would love to play her in the film version. The rights have been optioned, and they have no idea when they will begin production, and to be honest, when they do, it will probably be on such a large scale that I probably won't even be considered. But I think about it all the time, because Dana is so whole and flawed that it would just be a dream come true to be able to, and I think we all have to have dreams because it keeps us hungry.

Any word if your movie, “Adventures of Power,” has been picked up by a distributor?

No word. That's really Ari's thing, not mine, I'm just a measly actor, so I try to stay out of those things. But I think we'd all naturally love to see the movie get out there!

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