For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed writer-director-producer-actor Jaclyn Bethany. She has 19 film credits to her name, and with her company BKE has produced nine short films, including Olivia Martha Ilse starring James Frain and Emmy Award winner Tammy Blanchard; the award-winning Between Departures and its follow up In:Transit; Sunday Tide; and Schoolgirls, to name a few. Her work has screened at festivals and venues worldwide. As an actor she has appeared in the films Trumbo, I Saw The Light, Miles and several festival favorite short films.
Q: What are you currently working on? Tell us about it.
As a filmmaker, I am working on my first feature Indigo Valley. I am currently fundraising for it and I am shooting a short promo version of it in July. It’s an amazing team made up of really amazing women in the principal roles. It is a psychological relationship drama following Isabella, a washed up actress and what happens when she unexpectedly joins her uptight sister Louise and her new husband John on their honeymoon in Iceland. That may sound comical, but it’s actually very dark.
Acting wise, I am in a film Miles, which was recently released in the States. I just wrapped a run of a play, A Bright Room Called Day written by Tony Kushner and directed by my friend, the talented C.C.Kellogg with American company Invulnerable Nothings.
As a writer/director, I’m working on two additional projects: my American Film Institute Thesis Film entitled The Delta Girl which is set in 1960s Mississippi and an experimental short called The Last Birthday inspired by the last day of the Romanov sisters.
Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?
For Indigo Valley, I think it combines much of who I am and my trajectory as a filmmaker and storyteller. Which is interesting because I am not really anything like the protagonist, but I am drawn to complex characters and dark material, I suppose it let’s me explore a different side of things. The cast is small; there are three characters and with the two women, I really wanted to write two complicated women.
If anything, it’s inspired by classic theatre, actually: A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams and Miss Julie by August Strindberg. It also touches on an illness I had a few years ago that one of the characters experiences and I wanted to explore that in film. The stakes are very high, and these three people have to deal with their problems head on, which in turn questions their own lives in the middle of the Icelandic wilderness. It’s an edgy, sexy psychological thriller, set in a beautiful landscape.
It is a modern story but it’s a bit of a timeless story as shown by the previous mentioned text. It also encompasses the work of a team of people I have admired and worked with over the past two years, and those collaborations mainly came out of my year at the London Film School. This is my first feature and it is the script that many of the people I trust have responded most enthusiastically to.
Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?
Cate Blanchett, Sofia Coppola and Jane Campion.
Cate Blanchett because she’s fearless and ran a theatre company. She is able to switch between Academy Award winning performances, experimental artistic roles and theatre seamlessly.
Sofia Coppola because I love her aesthetic. She pretty much does what she wants and has found a great group of collaborators who support that vision. It was so cool that she won Cannes this year! I can’t wait to see The Beguiled.
Jane Campion because a lot of people mentioned her work to me for a long time but I wasn’t as familiar with her. Then I watched Top of the Lake and The Piano and became obsessed. Top of The Lake is one of the best things I’ve ever seen in my life. So unexpectedly dark, such a brilliant female protagonist, and Elisabeth Moss and Holly Hunter’s performances – wow! I can’t wait to see season two.
Three other actresses/artists:: Nicole Kidman because she is having a glorious comeback at 49 and vowed to work with female directors; Keira Knightley because I think she has a beautiful elegance and will see her in anything; and Kirsten Dunst because she has been able to sustain her career from childhood and takes interesting roles. I can’t wait to see her adaptation of The Bell Jar.
Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?
My friends. I am lucky to have found not just some amazing girl – and guy friends! – but a wonderful group of collaborators. My friends are writers, theatremakers, filmmakers who I think challenge the world we are in at the moment.
I also feel right now that I am working on projects that I want to be working on, I am creatively fulfilled and challenged by each one of them.
I love traveling, reading, seeing films and theatre.
Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?
I always have so many ideas that are in different stages of development at one time and some are just sitting in my head right now. Haha!
I have avoided making films set in the South ever since my first film, so for my AFI thesis I am excited to return to my roots.
I am planning to do more theatre, I’m directing a play reading of Anna Karenina by Helen Edmundson later this month.
I’d eventually like to turn my short film Sunday Tide into a feature and shoot it very low budget in Florida. It’s so bizarre and magical. I also want to write something more suspenseful – something set in Ivy League New England/the South of France, inspired by Talented Mr. Ripley and The Secret History. I also have an idea surrounding a female detective and the story of a missing girl in 1979 after the great flood in Jackson, Mississippi. That was such an interesting time politically as well. I think that could make a cool series.
I am currently pursuing the rights of a novel that I think would be my second feature, but don’t want to spill the beans on that one yet!
Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?
I think being surrounded by people that believe in me and help create work. You don’t always start out working with those people immediately. It takes some time to figure out. But I’m lucky to be finding and collaborating with those people. I’ve been told all my work has a certain look to it – I’ve been told you can tell I directed it. I’m not sure of words I would use to describe my work but I think it’s kind of vintage and nostalgic. I hope it makes people feel something.
Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?
Working with directors I admire – whether acting in their projects or assisting them. It would be a dream to work with Sofia Coppola or Jane Campion! And there are so many more! Or act alongside some amazing ladies in different, diverse projects. I hope my first three big projects would get funded! Haha! I also want to be on Broadway. In anything. I’d happily just walk across the stage or be a tree.
Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?
I often feel frustrated because professionally I sometimes feel I am not where I want to be. That may sound crazy because obviously I am very lucky. I originally just wanted to be an actor. I started exploring different areas of the industry because I wasn’t booking the acting jobs I wanted and didn’t want to go to cattle calls. I don’t know if that’s necessarily the ultimate obstacle to my vision but it would be great to be able to continue to act and lift my career in that direction through filmmaking and working with various likeminded collaborators. You can’t do this alone, and I have great support and I hope that network will grow. Being just an actor is hard. I admire those who stick with just acting, and don’t try to be crazy multi-hyphenates like me (haha!) Now, I refuse to give up acting to solely direct. So much of what I do comes from a performance background. People always ask me which aspect I prefer, I don’t know why I necessarily have to prefer on thing; if you can do both and trust yourself, acting and directing for film really go together. You learn so much behind or in front of the camera in various circumstances.
I think I was met with a lot of judgement when I started directing. That I was too shy or just an actress and why did I think I could direct? Or people assume I am selfish or narcissistic because I sometimes act in my own films. When I acted in my first short film Between Departures it was pretty much on a whim, I understood the character because I guess she’s based on me and I was like hey, I am acting and directing! Fun! I didn’t even know what a shot list was but I somehow managed the people I was working with to trust me and that film is still playing festivals and got me into AFI so I figured I must be doing something right.
Of course, I am drawn to the characters I write. I am not turned off by people who criticize or dislike my work because hey, that’s great and their opinion. As an artist you want people to have reactions and there is obviously enough people responding and connecting with my films to keep making them.
I think another challenge we face today is sort of the perception of women in film. I am not really interested in labelling myself in terms of feminism or female sexuality and it seems like in this day and age especially with art there is a pressure to do so. That it will somehow help your work. Maybe it does. It’s true that women are minority filmmakers. I found it interesting coming across this topic when I was working on the debut issue of Constellation Magazine. Many women were really sick of talking about it. People sometimes mention that my films seem feminine or point out that I worked with an all female team or cast and this somehow seems really significant, that it make sense for me. But I’m not sure what that means, and really find that kind of collaboration between women (and men) happens organically. I don’t prefer working with one gender or another.
Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?
I like to spend time alone and reflect. I am an only child and I often go places by myself – I love to eat and go to the cinema alone. I guess this may seem weird to people but I grew up playing alone with my dolls and imaginary friend. So I’m used to it and in this industry you are constantly surrounded by people.
Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?
I’m pretty resilient. Not a lot of things hold me back. I think when I graduated college I was young and confused so for about 2-3 years I didn’t really pursue much when I graduated. I wish I didn’t have fear then. But that changed pretty quickly.
Q: What is your favorite piece of art?
That’s a hard one. Nothing specific comes to mind but my favorite play
of all time is A Streetcar Named Desire.
Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?
Elizabeth I. She led a country and shaped a nation in her vision when basically everyone told her she couldn’t. She broke all barriers and is now remembered as one of the most important women in history.
Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?
That’s hard! Acting, I think. But I hope to create a film with Indigo Valley that presents a new voice in filmmaking. I’m still going on that journey.
Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?
Determined. But can I have two? Kind. I really hope I am kind.
Q: What is your guilty pleasure?
I read tons of magazines! From high end fashion magazines to trashy weekly ones. It annoys my friends and family because I collect them wherever I go.
Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?
It will all be okay. Fifteen years ago, I was 13 – what a terrible age!
Q: Where would you most like to live?
London! I love the European approach to life and filmmaking. I love the culture and theatre in London. It’s amazing that Europe is right on your doorstop. Being an artist and making a living is still hard, but I find it’s just much more feasible and acceptable in the U.K.
Q: What is your idea of success?
Feeling happy. Being surrounded by friends and family. Performing consistently and inspiring myself and others.
Q: What is your idea of happiness?
Sitting at home in Mississippi with my dogs and doing nothing. This rarely happens but I like to think I carry that happiness on!
Q: Final Thoughts?
Do what you love! Life is too short.