Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Actress Shailene Garnett Dishes About Her Film The Dirties, Actor Terrence Howard & Mayor Rob Ford

Shailene Garnett stars in one of my favourite films this year, The Dirties - a controversial movie that has garnered critical acclaim for its fresh perspective on high school bullying. 

The Montreal-born actress has recently made acting her career, but isn't limiting herself to working in front of the camera - she's also working behind the camera on a new web-series and short film.

TorontoVerve met with Garnett at the St. Lawrence Market, where she wasn't shy to talk about her new projects and a certain scandalous mayor.

TorontoVerve: The Dirties has sparked a lot of discussion about bullying and gun-violence in our schools. Due to the sensitive subject matter, were you at all nervous about how audiences would receive this film?

Shailene Garnett: No, I first saw the film shorty after the Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut and I was just shocked to see how relevant it was. I knew it would capture a lot of attention, but I wasn’t nervous.

TV: Unlike most of us, you got to relive high school life by filming in an actual high school with classes in session. What was that experience like for you?

SG: I’m convinced that I’m still in my teens so it wasn’t that much of a stretch. It was cool because we were working with real high school students -- the majority of them didn’t know what was going on. It was fun being just one of them. Maybe they thought we were new students. They didn’t know what was what or who was who [on our set].

TV: How has the success of The Dirties changed your life?

SG: It’s been really interesting because I have people all over the world adding me on Twitter, saying they saw the film and they loved it. A co-worker friend of mine told me that he emigrated to Canada and was picked on all the time and he eventually turned into a bully himself. I wouldn’t have known this about him had I not invited him out to a premiere. More and more, people are reaching out to me to talk about the film and want to get to know me as an actor.

TV: You not only work in front of the camera, but behind it too. You’re one of the co-directors of the web-series Out of Time. When did directing become an interest of yours?

SG: You know -- it wasn’t at first. I kinda got suckered into it. I was originally asked to take on the role as a project manager because I’m very nit-picky when it comes to details. I guess I also have a good eye for performances -- especially when actors don’t really connect with the material. I know ways of overcoming those obstacles so I was asked to co-direct mostly in terms of working with the actors to get the performances we’re looking for. It’s definitely a collaboration with show creator and director Rodney V. Smith, who focusses on the more technical aspects behind the camera.

TV: What did you take away from Matt Johnson’s directing style from The Dirties?

SG: Because most of The Dirties was improvised, I learned that the most compelling performances are the most natural. Sanford Meisner’s acting training is all about following your impulses -- not thinking, just doing. I think when people first start acting, they put on this character -- they put on the character voice and think the character should do this and do that, but it shouldn’t be that way. Instead, you should ask, ‘what would I do in this imaginary circumstance?’ I truly had this ‘aha’ moment working with Matt Johnson.

TV: I have a lot of respect for people who take the initiative to create their own opportunities rather than waiting for someone to hand it over to them. What are some other projects that you dream of producing yourself?

SG: We’re working on a short film based on the real Mars One project. This is a true thing -- they are trying to send 100,000 people to Mars by 2023 and it’s a one-way trip. People are applying for this now. It’s going to be a huge worldwide reality show. Our film is going to humanize this event and we’re going to be portraying the final days before we actually take off and what that experience will be like with family -- the tensions and emotions that follow.

TV: I’ve been checking out your Twitter feed and lately you’ve said some interesting things. You tweeted “we push to get TTC collectors fired bc they fell asleep on the job, but we’re cool with Mayor Ford smoking crack on video?” Ford says that he’s not stepping down. What are your thoughts about that?

SG: Listen -- Mayor Ford has been in the media more for scandal than for doing good for the city. So I think he should just take his losses and just call it a day. If you’re the Mayor of Toronto and you know that the media is after you, just do some good. Stay under the radar.

TV: It’s interesting -- Ford’s approval ratings have gone up after the scandal and people are feeling sorry for the negative treatment he’s getting in the media.

SG: I think he puts it on himself. If you’re the Mayor and you choose to do illegal things, don’t get it on camera! It’s just common sense. He should just step down and say: ‘please, somebody else take over.’ It’s funny -- when Justin Trudeau admitted to smoking weed, everyone was freaked out about it, but we’re supposed to be ok with the Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack? No, it’s not ok.

TV: As a person of colour, what has your experience been like finding good film or television roles? 

SG: I see a lot of black roles that are the [white lead’s] best friend. I’m not saying that I’m not getting bigger roles because I’m black-- that’s not the case. My role in The Dirties is not about colour at all. The same with the Mars One project that we’re working on. So I try to throw that out of my mind because at the end of the day, it’s my look and performance that’s going to get me the job. I feel that Canadian productions are more conscious about diversity than US productions. It’s cancelled now, but ABC’s Lucky 7 had a Pakistani girl and she was fair as ever. You wouldn’t know that she was Pakistani at all by looking at her. So I feel it would be harder to break into acting in the States. I’d definitely be categorized as black there -- end of discussion. Here, I think there’s more versatility. You can be mixed race, Hispanic, Indian and Black -- anything you need to be because it’s more about the character and what they serve to the storyline.

TV: This month, you’ll be appearing in the feature film The Best Man Holiday starring Terrence Howard and Nia long - how did you get involved in that production?

SG: Ok, that’s a misconception. Yes, I am playing Nia Long’s assistant in The Best Man Holiday, but the role is so small. I don’t even know if I’m going to make it in the final film, but it was a great experience. There are a lot of big stars in that film and I’ve always admired them, but to see them share their ideas and work together in-person was exciting.

TV: Which cast member did you learn from the most?

SG: Terrence Howard, by far. I’ve always looked up to him as a performer. He definitely took the time to talk to us smaller folk. He shared a lot of insight regarding his work ethic and even beyond that. He’s one of the most intelligent human beings I’ve ever come across. He just knows his stuff and he has a certain confidence. It’s just unfortunate that the media portrays him negatively and when you get to talk to him, you learn that he’s not like that at all.

TV: You think he’s gotten a bad rap?

SG: He definitely has gotten a bad rap. Look at the whole Iron Man scandal and shortly after working on The Best Man Holiday, there was a [domestic dispute] scandal. There’s all this drama about him and it’s not fair. We should just admire him for his work and leave it at that.

TV: TorontoVerve is a street style blog so I must ask: how would you describe your style?

SG: Honestly, I just want to wear things that are cozy all day long. I’m into a lot of tights, big sweaters and comfortable shoes. I’m a huge admirer of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. They are the reason I wanted to become an actor since I was 3. As you know, they have three huge fashion lines: Elizabeth and James, Olsenboye and The Row. I prefer Olsenboye because it’s more casual and comfy, but I admire The Row because it’s sleek and elegant. The Olsens encompass the complete spectrum: the completely casual, the semi-casual, the business chic and then the complete dolled-up look.

TV: I remember when the Olsens shocked consumers by selling out their line of $39,000 backpacks. 

SG: It’s nice to splurge. People go to these boutiques all the time and buy $1000 purses. Once in a while it’s nice to treat yourself. Not that I’m going to buy a $30,000 purse anytime soon. What I like doing is seeing what they have [in luxury boutiques] and trying to find more affordable comparisons.

The Dirties is currently available on iTunes and The Best Man Holiday opens this Friday at theatres.

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