Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Production Diary # 5: The House Between: Cast

Last week, I blogged about the sets/locations for my independently shot TV program, The House Between, as well as my admiration and gratitude for the laudable efforts of Rob Floyd, our special effects expert.

I wanted to kick off this week's House Between production entries with some comment on the program's dedicated cast. Because - quite simply - everybody was amazing; all in different ways, of course, but nonetheless amazing. And, as Bobby Schweitzer noted over at Virtual Fools, the pressure on the cast during this whirlwind shoot was intense; and I'm not one to write easy (or brief...) dialogue. I went for broke in my expectations, and to my delight, the cast always kept pace. So forgive the love-fest!

Kim Breeding portrays Astrid, my central heroine in The House Between. Kim is not only beautiful, and literally able to kick ass (which is a quality important for the role...) but she came to the set 100% percent prepared for action. She's got the bruises to prove it (alas, no stunt doubles!). Truth be told, Kim had thought seriously about her character so much that she didn't really require any direction from me. I don't think there was any time during the shooting that I provided her a direction she hadn't already considered. I love that about her: preparation and discipline! The camera loves Kim, and for good reason, but what I found so valuable about this actress (besides her gung-ho attitude) was that she always understood precisely how Astrid "fit" into the scene...even if the scene didn't really focus on Astrid. She was able to fit with the ensemble as well as be "the star" of a given episode, and that worked out so well. Kim is also incredibly versatile: she can convincingly fight, emote, sing, fall, rattle off dialogue and scream with equal aplomb...and on command. Scream Queen! Scream Queen!

Jim Blanton plays Arlo, an odd character who I once likened to a "squirrel with a nut." He's strange, a little off-putting, and even a tad psychotic. Arlo does some horrible, shocking things in the course of the series, but what I love about Jim Blanton's interpretation of the role is that he makes you like Arlo. He brings a level of innocence and charm to the character that turns Arlo, ultimately, into a rather likeable guy. Not pitiable...but lovable. Jim was able to tap both anger and naivete to play this critical role, and there were times - especially watching his close-ups - that I was shocked and impressed by the honesty, clarity and openness I saw registering on his features. I didn't plan it this way, but it seems that Arlo has become kind of the show's "emotional barometer," and that's because of Jim's interpretation. There was one sequence with Jim as Arlo that was just so perfect and moving that it brought a tear to my eye. And Jim and I hadn't even gone over that particular moment...it was something that just came to him naturally.

Lee Hansen plays Travis, the fly-in-the-ointment character. Basically, Travis is a real jerk (as you'll see when this thing gets streamed online...). So Travis is basically the total opposite of Lee Hansen, the person. Lee is just about the most gentle and kind person you'll ever meet, but he tapped some inner sense of lunacy to play this part. I know that I wrote for Travis some of the best one-liners in the series, but as played by Hansen, Travis is just hysterically funny...even in the scenes without written jokes. He just brings this insane sense of humor and physical presence to the role, and we had a running regulation on the set. Don't watch Hansen during the scenes. Because if you watched him while you were acting with him, or shooting him, or lighting him, you'd crack up and ruin the scene. Literally. Hansen has a bigness about him that is both irresistible and hysterical. He also brought out new layers to Travis, ones that make the character much more three dimensional. I knew going in that Hansen could be boisterous, but I had no idea that he could turn Travis into a kind of tragic figure.

Tony Mercer plays Bill T. Clark, the sort of "alpha male" of The House Between and since his character boasts a grounding in science, Mercer was on the receiving end of many of the show's long-winded and most difficult speeches. Yep, speeches. Yet what humbled and awed me about Tony's performances was the level of passion he brought to each new dialogue challenge, especially those which could have been...well, rather dry, especially in the hands of a different performer. In particular, there's one episode that features a lengthy speech (like pages and pages...) about abstract scientific theories and such, and Tony just nailed it. His intensity and passion was amazing, but I was even more impressed when I discussed with him how he was tackling that particular soliloquy. What he told me truly impressed me: he had painstakingly mapped out the eddies and valleys and high points of the lengthy dialogue and then proceeded to explain to me what Bill was feeling during each instant. This was something I couldn't have possibly imagined or dreamed of when I wrote that dialogue. But Tony had internalized it, made the words his own - and - in fact - turned those words into a kind of poetry; a kind of lyrical story that was about Bill and his feelings as much as it was about the explanation of a scientific theory.

Alicia A. Wood plays my "resident" Spock-type, Theresa, and all I can say is that if Star Trek ever needs another sexy female Vulcan, they'd be wise to look at her performance and immediately hire her. Alicia is a gorgeous young woman in her early twenties, relatively small in stature, and yet she brought to her performance (from Day One on...) an air of supreme authority and confidence. Not arrogance, just confidence, mind you. She could recite whole chunks of strange dialogue with almost no rehearsal and then - furthermore - imbue it with petulance, attitude, humor and the like. It was an astonishing and accomplished tour de force. And then, for the fifth episode, which reveals a new side to Theresa, Alicia suddenly expressed this incredible, child-like quality that just makes the episode all the more emotionaly involving. When I wrote the part of Theresa, I realized it was going to be difficult, and require someone completely in tune (and in touch) with their body, their voice, their presence. Thank Heaven we found Alicia. I really have no idea how someone so young proved so utterly accomplished, so comfortable in her own skin, but I won't question it.

Finally, Florent Christol leapt into the production for a guest performance on the sixth episode, "Trashed," playing a really, really nasty villain. With his silky, accented voice, extreme physicality and expressive eyes, Flo brought a new energy to the show. More than that, his presence really energized the other actors, who - I think - enjoyed having someone new to play against. Flo's dedication to his part (boiling scars and all...) brought everybody to a new level and exposed new sides of each character.

So today, my hat is off to my incredible cast. Each and every actor did an incredible job. I've been watching their performances while I catalog the footage from the show, and every time I watch a scene...I'm just impressed as hell by what they accomplished....and lose track of what I'm supposed to be recording and analyzing.


  1. I'm just catching up with this venture, and I'm very excited by it. I knew this sort of thing would start to materialize on the web, and I think it's very cool that you're one of the early adopters.

    The show sounds pretty wicked. I can't wait.

  2. *blush*

    You're a sweetie, John - but you neglected to mention that I also put up with constant perverted suggestions from the director without once getting offended. "No, John, I don't think Astrid WOULD hump the bannister in this scene...this is still a PG production, right?" I am still waiting for the ass montage. ;-)


    I heartily echo everything you wrote about the other actors - my peeps! I can't wait to play with you again next season!

  3. One reason I like Astrid/Kim is that if I had found a legitimate reason for the character to be humping the bannister...she would do it.

    And don't think I'll stop trying to find that dramatic, legitimate reason....

    It all goes back to a childhood trauma about staircases...

  4. Anonymous2:35 PM

    I like that Tony is the Alpha Male! He will definitely make you feel the POUUUUUUNNNNCCCCCEEEEE . . . Period!

  5. Anonymous6:57 PM

    You'd better stay on track, John! We want to see something from the "studio" soon!


  7. Possession is nine-tenths of the law. Right? RIGHT?!

  8. Thank you kindly, Herr Direktor.

    While I know we’re all enjoying these accolades, I’ve begun to wonder “What about the writer/director?” I seriously doubt you intend to offer us a self-assessment, and even if you did it would be full of all of that humble, self-effacing John-ishness. Who will speak on behalf of the creative mind whose gravity is such that it snatched us all (happily) out of our homes to do this crazy thing? We shall see.

    Meanwhile, I’d like to add my voice to yours in praise of the other cast members. If I could assign each of the photos you included with this post (excluding my own) a short caption that best summarizes the actors as I perceive them, those captions would read:

    The Star
    The Chameleon
    The Force of Nature
    The Angel

  9. May I caption Bill then?

    The Tragic Hero

    If I may be so bold as to offer my services to craft a praise of JKM? But ah, where should I post it?

    (Stay tuned for THB2 - The Wrath of Sange!)