Kellie Overbey and I first met working on Bill Bozzone’s play THE SECOND COMING at the Ensemble Studio Theatre’s Marathon of one acts.
She played a high school girl whose choice in bad boyfriends has her mother praying to God for her daughter to go to the prom with a good boy. On the night of the prom Jesus shows up in a powder blue Miami Vice Tuxedo as her date.
Since those early days she has gone on to become an award winning actress who has played a gamut of roles in a spectrum of styles ranging from Christopher Durang’s BETTY’S SUMMER VACATION to Noel Coward’s PRESENT LAUGHTER, OPHELIA in you know who’s HAMLET and much more in between.
Currently she is appearing in THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID.
What makes this an extra special occasion is that she also wrote the screenplay. This past year she has been with the film on the festival circuit and a date is set for a showing in New York City.
Soho International Film Festival
Saturday, April 14th @ TBA
New York City’s Sunshine Cinemas
143 East Houston St.
Even though she is doing a lot of running around these days, she graciously agreed to answer some questions for her fellow actors who may be pondering the notion of writing something of their own.
When did you realize that you needed to write a script?
It came to me first as a conversation. I heard it, saw it in my mind and was compelled to write it down. And then the rest of the story came pretty easily. I remember writing the first draft quickly. In two weeks. I would write and write, lose all sense of time, fall asleep and wake up knowing exactly what to write next. I wish writing were always that easy.
What was the impetus to create your project?
I guess you could say I wanted to exorcise these voices in my head, but after I wrote the first draft, I realized I liked these women and I wanted them to be heard. A good friend of mine Mary Siewert once said that writing is like dreaming. You do it first and then you figure out what it means later.
Being an actor foremost, did you find that a hindrance or and asset to creating your project or both?
How do you feel being an actor helped you?
I act out the scenes as I’m writing them, and a quarter century of doing plays has given me a keen bullshit meter.
How do you feel being an actor hurt you or do you?
It’s very difficult for me to focus on both acting and writing at any given time. So, if I’m working on writing a script the last thing I want to do is go out for an audition or rehearse a play. If I’m lucky enough to be working (acting), my scripts tend to sit idle for a while. It’s frustrating.
I hadn’t planned on being in That’s What She Said at all, but Joe, my husband, read the final shooting draft and said, “You could play that part,” and my actor ego got the better of me, so basically I cast myself. It’s a nice small supporting role, and I thought it would be easy to juggle that responsibility with my being the writer-on-set (which almost never happens), and a pseudo-producer/all-around-gofer. But it was very hard to have my focus split. In fact, we had the luxury of a few days rehearsal before we began shooting, and I, more often than not, did not know my lines (literally MY lines!) because I was so focused on making sure the overall scenes were working. My director Carrie (Preston) scolded me for that.
Who was the first person you told about your project?
A few friends knew I was writing, but the clarion moment was probably in the Ladies dressing room of the Long Wharf Theater when I mentioned my script to Carrie Preston and Marcia DeBonis (we were all in a James Lapine play with Mia Farrow) and they both came in the next day eager to do it. It was very organic.
How did that go?
Eight years later, we have a movie that’s about to be released, so I’d say really well!
How did you find the time to develop your idea?
Carrie (my main collaborator) and I would definitely both get distracted over the years by other projects, but everything really surged forward during those times when we made it a priority. It was at the beginning of 2010 when Carrie said to me definitively, “We are making the movie this year.” And it was like the Universe was listening and took her damn seriously . From that moment, everything began to fall into place.
Did you work with anyone or did you do it on your own?
You can’t make a movie by yourself. Obviously, Carrie and I were partners, but so many people contributed, not only to the film, but also before that, to the development of the script. I can’t even remember how many readings we did. Plus, we actually produced it as an off-off-Broadway play in the fall of 2004 at The Barrow Group. The success of that was what gave us the confidence to make it into a film.
How do you describe the transition from actor to writer?
I like using my creativity in a more holistic way. I like using another part of my intelligence. I like the power of creating something out of nothing. I like having creative control. Acting can be a bit of a mercenary pursuit. With writing, I feel like I’m taking part in the cultural conversation in a way I don’t necessarily feel I do as an actor.
Now that you are thinking like a creator, producer, writer, how do you feel it has affected your acting?
I definitely have a better sense of the overall machinery at work and take things much less personally. Partly because I see how much of casting is out of the actor’s control. This also leaves me baffled that I’ve ever worked at all.
Gaining this perspective is also a little like taking a bite of the proverbial apple. Actors are generally protected from the machinations of producorial hellishness. And for good reason. The actor’s job is fragile and mysterious and to be shielded from cynicism. It’s also very hard. And I must confess a newfound attraction to sitting my fat ass on the couch all day, ordering in and just making shit up. Do I prefer that to rehearsing, tech week, applause and drinks at Joe Allen? Not always. But sometimes.
Have you been writing all along or was it something that you made a decision to do because you had to?
I’ve always enjoyed writing, but had always been intimidated by the risk of exposing my mind. I’ve never been afraid of emotional or physical nakedness, but somehow putting my intelligence on the line has always scared the crap out of me. Still does, really, but I’m approaching 50, so fuck it.
Do you see the industry differently now that you have been on the “other” side?
Yes. Like I mentioned before, I take losing a role much less personally than ever before.
Do you feel that you are perceived differently in the industry?
There’s certainly a lot of support and enthusiasm for which I am very grateful. And I guess I do feel a sense of accomplishment and a new kind of confidence. I imagine people might perceive that favorably.
Do you feel that you were successful in the execution of your idea?
Yes. Especially in that many of the women (and men, actually) who have seen the film have been moved by it, like it and have thanked me for it. That is extremely gratifying.
How do you feel about the end product?
I’d love to do it again.
What would you do differently?
If I could, I’d make sure everyone was well-paid and not over-burdened. Independent film can be grueling.
What was it like to go around “pitching” your project? Was it any different from auditioning?
I haven’t yet had the experience of pitching an idea, and it still terrifies me.
Do you feel you were seen as an “actor” by money people? Possible producers? Did you feel accepted as a creator? Or just another actor?
Again, this remains to be seen, but it will be nice to point to the fact that I wrote a film that not only got into Sundance and several other festivals, but also got sold. (It’s interesting that the question implies the powerlessness of the actor. It’s true. Writing is one way of taking back the power.)
Was it an asset or a liability?
Being an actor is probably always a liability of some kind, don’t you think? I say that with all love and dedication to the art.
Having gone the distance, from blank page to finished script to selling it, making the movie and finding distribution and learned the business from a completely different perspective after having been an actor for so long, what do you feel you have come way with. Ultimately?
Gratitude. For living a creative life that continues to develop and unfold and surprise me.
Is there anything else you would like to add about your achievement and experience?
Just that I’m excited for you to see the film!
Thank you Kellie, I’m looking forward to it and deeply appreciate you taking the time out to share some of your thoughts and feelings with your fellow actors who may be harboring a secret yen to write their own screenplay. And Congratulations and break legs with THAT”S WHAT SHE SAID!
Below is a clip ( that’s our beloved Marcia DeBonis you see there) with Kellie and Carrie Preston being interviewed by Carson Daly.
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