Angelic Zambrana – Girls (TV)

February 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

It’s been six years since Latina actress Angelic Zambrana made heads turn as part of the young ensemble cast in the Oscar-winning film “Precious.” In the film, Zambrana played Consuelo, an at-risk teenager opposite Oscar-nominated actress Gabourey Sidibe’s title character. Since the 2009 drama, Zambrana has starred in a number of independent films, including “Sleepwalk with Me” and “Rites of Passage.”

Zambrana’s 2012 film, “Musical Chairs” will be airing throughout the month of April on HBO & will be available on demand via HBO GO! In “Musical Chairs,” the inspiring romantic film from renowned director Susan Seidelman (“Desperately Seeking Susan”), Angelic stars alongside EJ Bonilla, Leah Pipes, Laverne Cox, Morgan Spector, Auti Angel, Jerome Preston Bates, and Nelson R. Landrieu.

During an interview with me on her birthday (Feb. 21), Zambrana and I talked about what’s she’s been up to since her role in “Precious,” how she feels about nudity as an actress and explains what the situation would have to be if she said yes to playing a role as a chola.

How has life changed for you over the last five years since your film “Precious” received so much attention back in 2009?

I think more than my life, I have changed over the last few years. “Precious” was a really beautiful experience. It catapulted me. I got to meet all of my idols – Oprah Winfrey, Sidney Poitier. It was crazy. I changed as a person. I became more humble. I focused more on the art of acting and caring less about the sparkle. We were all kids when we did “Precious.” We were all mature and talented, but I needed to grow as an actor. That’s what I’ve been working on.

What about professionally? Did your role in “Precious” give you more opportunities in the industry? Did you have the advantage of being able to say “no” to some of those things if they weren’t right for you?

Even before “Precious,” I would already say no to things that were badly written. (Laughs) There’s nothing you can do to save a badly-written script. No good actor could save a badly-written script. Some of the scripts were just overtly sexual. I mean, if [the sex] has something to do with the story, I’m all for it. But if it’s just gratuitous, then I’m not. But “Precious” did open the doors for more auditions, to meet studio heads, to go to meetings. It gave me so much confidence and I had so much fun doing those things. Sometimes I wouldn’t get into auditions because I was typecast, but for the most part “Precious” did open doors for me. Even today, “Precious” still helps with the pitch.

Give me an example of something you’ve said “no” to.

The thing is I’ve said yes to things I thought were going to be great, but they didn’t pan out. (Laughs) I think what I’m trying to do now is take care of who I am as an actor and really do things that I want to do. I won’t name specific things I’ve said no to, but I would say no to things that I didn’t feel comfortable doing. I mean, I like a good challenge, but if it’s something I don’t agree with or felt was gratuitously sexual for no purpose, I wouldn’t do it.

So, nudity, in general, wouldn’t be out of the question for you, but it would have to serve a purpose in the story, correct?

Yeah. I mean, I love my body. It’s my instrument. I’ve been an athlete since I was a child. I work out now. I don’t know if I would do nudity or not. I’m still young in my career. I don’t know if I would want to put myself out there like that. For me to expose my intimate parts to the world, I feel like it would really need to be worth it. (Laughs) I’m not going to be like, “Wooo! Here are my tits!”

Nudity on TV has been a hot-button topic recently since “Girls” debuted on HBO. I know you recently had a small part on that show. What’s your take on the show and how it’s been criticized by some as including nudity simply for nudity’s sake?

I think that each artist has different things they are willing to compromise and not compromise on. It’s [Lena Dunham’s] show. It’s her baby. If she sees a reason why [there should be nudity], it will have its benefits in the long run. She believes in what she is doing. If you want to be naked and it makes sense to you, it will be fine. If you are uncomfortable and you’re out there and you’re naked, it’s going to be [uncomfortable].

Another criticism about “Girls” is that, until recently, there haven’t been any Latina actresses on the show. This season we have Melonie Diaz in a supporting role. Did you see this as a problem in past seasons, especially since the show is set in a city as diverse as New York?

I always felt these shows that cast in New York City really do a good job at casting diverse characters. With a show like “Girls” I think that’s starting to change and I think that it’s happening overall. I mean, I have an audition for something soon that I never thought would be open to a Latina. I can’t say what it is yet, but it’s a period piece. But I think the media is finally getting it and the doors are finally opening up. There are more things opening for [Latinos]. We don’t have to be the drug dealers anymore. But I love “Girls” because it’s true to what it is. That’s her and her group of friends. As long as it’s realistic, then I’m OK with that. I don’t feel like there has to be a minority in everything.

You mentioned earlier about getting typecast, which I know is not something you want as a Latina in this industry. But at the same time, your role in “Girls” is a nanny. Talk to me about that. How do you make a decision to play a nanny in “Girls” but you might pass on playing a chola on another project?

The thing is, I wouldn’t pass on playing a chola unless it was badly written and cheap. A chola is a real person. If the role is great, give me the chola! For “Girls,” I went in for a bigger part and almost got it, but I was too young. So, they offered me [the nanny] role. So, I said, “Why not!?” I had fun with it.

I’m sure over the last five years there have been ups and downs for you going into auditions. Have you felt the cutthroat nature of the industry yet?

Yes, of course. I’m not this supermodel soap star. (Laughs) A lot of the times, there is this idea of what a Latina woman is supposed to look like. But I don’t focus on that. I focus on the fact that I have been given this gift and that I work really hard to improve on my art. But, yeah, I’ve felt the cutthroat nature of it all. When you do anything for TV or film, you’re put on this platform. [Actors] have a product to sell and people go to them when they want their product. But you have to have tough skin in this industry. Sometimes you don’t get a role because they wanted someone who is a blonde or someone tall or someone more ghetto. It’s all about how you fit into the story. As long as you audition your behind off, it’ll pay off somehow.

Ira Glass – Sleepwalk With Me

September 7, 2012 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the indie comedy “Sleepwalk with Me,” PRI host/producer Ira Glass Glass contributes to the adaptation of comedian Mike Birbiglia’s personal story about trying to make it in the stand-up industry and having to cope with his real-life sleepwalking disorder in which he acts out his dreams – sometimes violently. Prior to the film, Birbiglia shared his story in a number of formats, including on the radio during a 2008 episode of PRI’s “This American Life,” as an off-Broadway one-man-show, and in a best-selling book.

During an interview with me, Glass, who is credited as a co-writer and producer on the film, talked about his bizarre dreams and going head to head with “The Avengers” at the box office.

Mike has told his story on the radio on “This American Life,” performed it as a one-man-show on stage, and written a book about it. What did adapting it into a film bring to the story that these other formats did not?

Well, I don’t want to pretend his story was like a crappy jalopy driving down the road beforehand and now is this fancy car driving down the road like it’s so much better, but what you can do with film is just so different. What we added a lot in the film that you don’t see in other versions is that you get to watch Mike go from being a really terrible comedian to learning how to be Mike on stage. People really responded to the story of him becoming a comedian. When he’s sad at the beginning, he’s so terrible.

There are, of course, challenges when it comes to promoting an indie film. What did you learn about the process and how much cash do you think you really took out of the director Joss Whedon’s coffer (“Avengers” director Whedon made a satirical video about boycotting “Sleepwalk with Me” because it would hurt his blockbuster, which is still playing at theaters)?

Obviously, Mr. Whedon declared a war on us. We were shocked that such a thing could happen. He was so scared we were going to take money away from “The Avengers” and that people were going to be going to our film instead of his. It’s funny because it started off like a joke war between us and then we just learned about our first weekend grosses. Our weekend total was $68,000 per screen. That was so much higher than Joss’s opening weekend, per-screen average of $47,680. So, we trounced him as long as you don’t look at the fact that “The Avengers” was in 4,400 theaters and we were in exactly one. We look forward to earning every dollar “The Avengers” made plus one dollar. We look forward to making $5 billion and one dollars.

You started as an intern at PRI and climbed the ranks to where you are today. Was there ever a specific time during your internship or early in your career where you though maybe this wasn’t the right profession for you after all; maybe second guessed yourself like Mike’s character does in the film with his stand-up career?

Yeah, that’s definitely one of the things I related to in the story. I spent a lot of time in my 20s wanting to be a reporter and to be on the air, but I wasn’t good at it at all. I was 27 or 28 before I was competent radio writer. My parents would tell me to go to medical school. They wanted me to do anything other than this thing I didn’t seem to have too much talent for.

Stories from “This American Life” have been used as inspiration for other films and there are still more in the pipeline. Personally, what story over the last 17 years do you think would make for a good film?

It’s hard for me to answer that honestly because we have half a dozen films that are now in development. If I pick out one I feel like I would accidentally be dissing the others. But one of my favorites for sure is the story that aired a few years ago about this minister named Carlton Pearson who was a rising star in the evangelical movement. He ran this kind of fire and brimstone kind of church. But then he came to realize he didn’t believe in fire and brimstone anymore. He didn’t believe that God’s message was that there was a Hell if you didn’t accept Jesus. He started to preach it and he lost everything. It’s just an incredibly, old-school, cinematic classical kind of thing where you have this funny, super-smart guy who follows his ideals and loses everything. It would be a great part for a Jamie Foxx or a Will Smith. We’re just at the point of almost finishing the script for Marc Forester (“Monster’s Ball,” “Quantum of Solace”) to direct. It’s so exciting to be thinking about that becoming a movie. I wouldn’t be involved in a movie like that in the same way I’m am involved in this. They have an amazing director and an amazing screenwriter. I would kind of say, “That’s awesome.”

I know you don’t sleepwalk like Mike, but which one of your dreams do you think could be adapted into an interesting film?

That is a really funny, good question! What’s so sad is that all of the dreams that I have that I remember are anxiety dreams. My subconscious is so unimaginative. My dreams fall into two variations. In the first one, I dream I need to finish the radio show and I’m on deadline and I’m not going to make it. The other dream is basically the same thing, but for some reason I don’t have any clothes on.

What have you learned about yourself now that you’ve added screenwriter to your credits?

One of the nice things about learning any new craft is that you really appreciate other people who do it. There are things I notice now in movies and TV shows that I never noticed before. I’ve stopped being a civilian when I’m watching TV shows or movie and notice how short a scene is and how economically it is shot and how concisely and beautifully somebody does something and how they get a point across with just a gesture or a look. That’s really an unexpected gift. I’ve always liked movies and TV, but now I feel there is a level of understanding I have for it.

As a radio guy, what were some of the challenges of writing something you knew would have to have scenes that people were not only going to hear, but actually see?

If you’re on the radio telling a story about your girlfriend, you can simply refer to her as ‘my girlfriend’ with an affectionate tone in your voice and people will buy that you love each other. But in a film, you have to physically create an actual human being. You have to figure out how you’re going to communicate that love. I have to say, as a first time filmmaker, that was one of the most vexing problems we were working on up to the very last week of editing.

As you get ready for bed every night, do you worry about Mike?

No, I have to say, I don’t think of Mike as I lie in bed at night. Mike is worrying about himself so much you don’t have to worry about him. He does 10 times the worrying that any person would. My mind is racing when I go to sleep. Sometimes I just lie there. Usually what I’m thinking of are stupid things I said to people during the day.

The film has earned some pretty favorable reviews from film critics so far. Are you disappointed you received a negative one from NPR?

No, I didn’t even know that! NPR panned us? Those bastards! In that case, I just want to say I hate all their programs; this NPR that you speak of. I didn’t know that. They panned us? NPR?

Yeah, one of their film critics, Stephanie Zacharek, didn’t like it.

Well, I’m glad that at least it shows that nobody is on the take and doing their honest jobs and giving their real opinions and not doing any favors for anybody else. I can’t believe it. Everybody loves us and the one place we get a bad review is on NPR? Et tu, “All Things Considered?” Et tu, “Morning Edition?”

Sleepwalk with Me

September 7, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose, James Rebhorn
Directed by: Mike Birbiglia (debut)
Written by: Mike Birbiglia (debut), Joe Birbiglia (debut), Ira Glass (debut), Seth Barrish (debut)

Stand-up comedian Mike Birbiglia has gotten a lot of mileage out of his bout with REM behavior disorder. It started by jumping around radio programs and telling anecdotes about his condition in which he physically acts out his dreams, sometimes to painful consequences. Birbiglia then crafted a one-man show called “Sleepwalk with Me,” which was met with critical acclaim as well as released on CD. Most recently, Birbiglia compiled his stories into a book “Sleepwalk with Me and Other Painfully True Stories,” which landed him on the New York Times Bestseller list. Barring a foray into interpretive dance, Birbiglia’s directorial debut “Sleepwalk with Me” should be the last stop of his bizarre autobiographical story.

Birbiglia plays a somewhat fictionalized version of himself in aspiring stand-up comedian Matt Pandamiglio (clearly an exaggerated joke on how butchered his name can get). Matt decides to move in with his girlfriend of eight years, Abby (Lauren Ambrose), but is hesitant to lay down any marriage plans. After mopping floors and bartending at a comedy club, Matt finally catches a break when he connects with an agent and is sent around to clubs all over the country to help develop himself into a true comedian. While all this is happening, Matt refuses to see a doctor to confront his disastrous problem with sleepwalking.

Those who have heard Birbiglia’s live album might be surprised by how much content from his one-man show is in the film. Beyond general ideas and stories, a sizable chunk of both the film’s dialogue and Birbiglia’s fourth-wall breaking narration comes verbatim from his show and stand-up material. While it doesn’t quite hit a laugh as often as it should, the aforementioned narration is one the stronger elements of the film, with Birbiglia firing off solid one-liners in his typical deadpan and dry fashion.

The best moments of the film come in the scenes where Pandamiglio begins to evolve as a comedian. Likely drawing from personal experience, Birbiglia is able to perfectly capture the blind euphoria of his character as he revels in living his dream, almost oblivious to the fact that he is playing gigs in front of a handful of people, staying in crappy hotels, and getting very few laughs at his shows. The stand-up scenes get even better after comedian Marc Mulheren (Marc Maron) convinces Matt to include personal stories in his act and we see Matt truly come into his own as a comedian. Still, his journey as a comedian is only one part of the film, and the other major part, the sleepwalking scenes, are a mixed bag. As silly as the situations are and as convincing as Birbiglia is at acting out sleepwalking, these scenes are mildly amusing at best. Some of the more off-the-wall ones work as a quick sight gag, while others fall short completely.

Above all, “Sleepwalk with Me” is a film that is more about a man’s struggle with commitment in his career, relationships, and medical condition than it is about the sleepwalking itself. Though there are some funny lines and an honest autobiographical performance from Birbiglia, the better storylines are cancelled out by the less successful sleepwalking scenes. One can’t help but think that Birbiglia’s dreams such as winning first place in the Dustbuster Olympics are likely funnier as anecdotes rather than seeing them being acted out.