By Kat Merrigan
This is the true and somewhat unbelievable story of how I went from behind the scenes to a leading role in an upcoming, independent, feature film.
I’ve always had a passion for movies and theater. If I had to choose one over the other, I’d pick theater. I’ve been in local productions for many years. I love a live audience with that connection and interaction. Each performance is different because each audience is unique. The challenge and the rush is figuring out what hits with that specific group and then leaning into it. A joke that garners guffaws one day might elicit cricket chirps the next. It’s this beautiful dance actors and audiences do together. The hope is that at the end everyone leaves satisfied.
So if I’m a theater geek (and some might rightly call me a drama queen), how did I end up on a film set?
It all began over a year ago when I was asked to join the production’s creative team. I had previously worked with the film’s director on several theatrical projects. She asked me to come out and be a reader for the actors who were auditioning. The reader’s job is pretty self-explanatory. If an actor shares dialog with another character (or characters) in the scene, the reader plays those parts. But because I am who I am, there was little to no chance I would just say the lines.
I feel straight reading is a disservice to the auditioning performer. You can be a terrific actor, but a lot of your performance is in response to what’s going on around you in the scene. You need to react and respond. I just believe you get a deeper, richer audition if you let the actor be more in the moment. Give them something to work with rather than sounding like the muted trumpet sound used for all the adult voices in the old Peanuts cartoons. “Wah. Wah. Wah. Waaah.” “Yes, ma’am.”
The first day of auditions I developed a bit of multiple personality disorder as I played nearly every character in the script. But there was one role that stuck with me. An actor came in to read for the part of her husband. Now I’d heard the term chemistry before. I’d even experienced it. It’s when there’s just an instant connection. You and your fellow actor(s) just click. The material comes to life effortlessly. From the first lines delivered, our chemistry was palpable. But I was planning on moving and had a very different life plan. We continued our search for the wife with limited success.
On the day of callbacks, the actor came in again. This time we read together on a stage (my second home). I’ve never been able to cry on command. I can give a believable impression of it, but I’ve never been able to generate real tears…until that day. This emotional scene, coupled with a chemistry that was now explosive, had literally made me cry (in character and in a good way).
We let the actor know he had gotten the part. I escorted him out of the room and returned to the creative team’s table. One of our other lead actresses, and a veteran of stage and screen, pointed to me and said, “You need to play the wife.” The director and assistant director both turned and looked at me knowingly. I stumbled and fumbled, nervously chuckling. Deep down I felt it too. I’d been feeling the pull since the first auditions. But I had a completely different life plan. I’m not film; I’m theater! I can’t possibly─
A few weeks later we held our first cast meeting and rehearsal where it was announced I’d be playing the role of the wife. My onscreen hubby was visibly ecstatic. To tell the truth, so was I.
It’s been a roller coaster ride since then. I recently finished my scenes (or I’m wrapped as they say). I’ve learned a tremendous amount about the process of filmmaking. My biggest gripe, if I had one, is there is a lot of downtime. I mean a lot. You can be called to be on set at 9:30 a.m. and not start filming until 8 or 9 p.m. The theater girl in me struggled. Once I’ve done hair, makeup and wardrobe, I’m ready to go.
I gained great respect for cinematographers and editors, especially ours. As I mentioned earlier, I love how in theater every night is different and so is every performance. Film is more about repetition and doing it the same way every time. This is because when it’s edited and cut together, you want to have continuity. (Does anyone else watch shows or movies looking for the inconsistencies in scenes? Her jacket was open there. Look now it’s closed. Open again.) How they must have loved culling together my random, never-the-same-way-twice performances to form something resembling cohesive material. If I come across well at all it is due in no small part to their hard work.
I always love hearing how someone got a particular role or how they were first discovered. Now I have my own true story of how I went from behind the camera to in front of it. I’m incredibly grateful and feel so very blessed for the opportunity. Though it’s not finished or released yet, we have had some events where we’ve shown clips. There is nothing stranger than hearing a familiar voice, looking around, and realizing it’s you on a giant screen. Tell you one thing; it really makes you rethink your skin and self-care strategies.
Is there a red carpet premiere in my future? Anything is possible. But whether or not this is my big break isn’t really the point. As a writer, everything and everyone may become material. It can sometimes be an occupational hazard. In this case, however, my movie adventure provided me with lots of content I’ll be using to fuel the creative fires for some time.
Kat Merrigan was born and raised in NY. An author, blogger, podcaster and actress, Kat’s making her feature debut in an independent film coming soon. Her weekly blog is available at www.katmerrigan.com. She’s been featured in Calla Press and can be found on IG: Kat Controversy and FB: Kathy Merry.