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Interview with Tanna Frederick, star of The M Word

Rainbow Film Company releases The M Word on April 30th, 2014 at the Cinema Village.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How has your background in theater enhanced your experience as an actress in cinema?

Tanna Frederick: It's completely necessary and crucial for me because it's just muscle memory---doing children's theater since I was 8 and being used to be on stage for 4 to 5 shows throughout the year just becomes second nature and works that muscle. I learned what was effective in front of audiences and what wasn't, so I just translated that to the camera. What I learned on stage is being able to carry the lead in a play, knowing what emotions you need and when you need them and what works and what doesn't work in front of the camera even though there's no active audience there laughing and crying. The camera became my audience.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How do you feel about the issue of corporatism that The M Word explores? Are there any big issues that you care about as a human being?

TF: This is one of Henry Jaglom's first films the really address the economic climate. Being an independent artist, actress and producer, I've worn many hats, so of course I know the difficulty of running a small operation like the station life. I did a lot of research about television stations and the downsizing. People are out of jobs because everything's going corporate, so for me that's just not good. I don't know how you could solve that, but you could certainly put that onto film and create hope for some sort of fighting back. I'm very passionate about the little guy. As far as personal fights, I run a non-profit called Project Save Our Surf and we fight for the little guy as well. We put water filters into different countries and bring clean water to better the Philippines, South America and Mexico. We have been in Vietnam. We also provide camp opportunities for kids in the California area--either on the mountainside or on the beach. They're urban kids who have no access to a preserved natural setting. It's breathtaking to see how their eyes open up and what they experience through first-hand relating with nature. They learn all sorts of things that can't be taught through a textbook.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think the public school system teaches more complacency than critical thinking?

TF: I don't know if it's a complacency or more of an ineptitude be it lack of monetary resources. It's an ineptitude to give children the tools that they need. I don't think that we're in a place for that. We keep on getting further away and the children are less and less educated compared to 15 years ago. It's so hard to watch the decline of education and school systems. I focus on what I can do to help with my non-profit and put all of my energy into that. It's a tough question to answer and to be kind, encouraging and analytical at the same time. I don't know enough about the educational process to say anything bad about it.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How challenging is it to be well-balanced and well-rounded in modern society?

TF: I double-majored in college in Political Science and International Relations. It's not so much about looking at individual situations or affecting the planet; it's more about looking at politics and international conflicts. It was more objective versus subjective. In economics, you don't consider the human element of it because you just focus on systems and money. I was a double-major in theater at the same time, so for me that was really interesting because on the one hand I was looking at an overview of all of world history and politics and theories, but on the other hand I was delving into the emotion of humanity through theater. So, I really enjoyed both those sides. I didn't know I was going to be a double major until I did theater. How much responsibility do we put on ourselves and our children to be well-balanced and well-rounded? On the one hand, when you're an artist there's so much emotion involved and it could make you become so self-involved that you're not looking at the bigger picture or reading the paper every day. I'm not saying that about all artists. I wish I had had more economics classes--economics is very difficult for me. I wish I knew more on the world view rather than indulging myself in the arts and emotions, so it's a big complicated line to walk and to discuss. It's just a question of balance. I don't think we have that balance now. In our American school system, we don't have the balance that European school systems have. They're very far ahead of us and less egotistical.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How do you avoid the temptations of starring in big-budgeted, CGI-filled Hollywood films?

TF: I have the Nancy Reagan response to big-budget filmmaking: Just say NO!. It's difficult for me to watch a movie with a ton of CGI because I just feel like my brain doesn't understand CGI. It's weird. There's something very one-dimensional about it and impersonal. I grew up with Jaws--there's no fake shark in Jaws; it's all real. The same thing can be said about Titanic.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think we live in shallow times? How similar are we do the Romans?

TF: Yes, we could be in a pre-Caligula era I think. The only thing about the Romans is that they weren't doing it with iPhones. Their fall was more legit than ours if ours were to fall. I love Roman and Greek history. In the colloseum, they were filling it with water and making slaves kill each other on ships and doing all of their orgies. All of that was real. But now, it's kind of scary, I don't know if we're all going to be collapsed or all going to be introverted because we're communicating with machines all of the time. I no idea what reprecussions of that are going to be and don't think anybody can really say until a decade from now until you actually see how the children of today are manuevering in their relationships and jobs. Are they isolated? Technology is very isolating but also brings people together.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Which actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood Cinema would you have loved to work with if you could travel back in time?

TF: When I get asked who my favorite actors are, it's nobody contemporary. It's Bettie Davis, Greta Garbo, Humphrey Bogart. Every single person in that era I would love to work with including the cameramen and the directors. It was the most magical time. I'm sure that I glamorize it, but it seems that the studio system felt like a wonderful, safe place to be. I always go back to watch old interviews with Katherine Hepburn and Bettie David, and they had their complaints about the studio system, but for modern actors, the studio system would be like a dream and for me too. I'm more of a "tell me what to do and I'll do it" person. If I have to color my hair, I'll do it. But now, you have so many people in studios telling you "be thinner, be fatter, do this, do that." You have 20 different opinions and nobody willing to pay you. It completely demolishes me when I meet actors from the Golden Age because they lived the life that I wanted to live. In their eyes, I can see all of the directors that they've worked with and what they've been through. It's magical, mystical and beautiful. I feel like Humphrey Bogart is my hero out of all the actors. My inner person is Bogart.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What's so exciting about working with director Henry Jaglom? Which actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood Cinema do you imagine in his films?

TF: For me, it's exciting to be a part of what Henry Jaglom, Dennis Hopper, the BBC and others set out to do which is a movement of film which is that they're all going to start working for each other in their first films, and do what they wanted without answering to the studio system. Henry held out on that renegade filmmaking that they all started out with in the 70's. That's what makes being able to do his films so special. I really don't know how many actors from the Golden Age would agree to star in his films because when they were asked, they sort of laughed because they're so sculpted in their lives and script. Henry's films are completely unsculpted, and you don't even know at the end of the movie what you did in the movie. You're finding your character each day over the course of 3 weeks at the most. Yes, I get more access than anyone else to what the movie is about because I'm a part of pre-production, but still I go in trying to be completely unsculpted yet have some character base and be open to anything that's going to happen. When you watch Gone with the Wind screen tests, they put so much into just casting the actors and the screen tests themselves were so impeccably planned that it's nothing at all what Henry does. If he were to do a screen test and something brilliant were to happen on camera, he would be so upset that he didn't get that on film and that it wouldn't be going into the final version of the film.

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