As I announced not long ago, I was cast in a short film being directed by Lisa Donato, written by Jen Richards. I travelled to Austin the end of last week and we rehearsed and shot the entire film over four days.
Jen Richards is a transgender actress from Los Angeles who met Lisa Donato at South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival last year in Austin. They hit it off and struck up a longer conversation that led to Jen sharing a draft of a short screenplay loosely based on her life and experience as a person who transitioned from a man to a woman and the repercussions on her relationship with her family.
Lisa, who is an award-winning short film director, was intrigued by the premise and they immediately started working on refining the script and putting the funding and production crew together. That was last September, believe it or not.
Lisa’s partner, Heather Nevill and Danielle Skidmore became the Executive Producers. Mickel Picco came on as the production AD.
I auditioned to play the mother through my agent Cat Hardy-Romanelli at Pastorini Bosby in late November, was officially cast in late December and arrangements were made for me to do the shoot in Austin under a SAG contract.
My character, Sandra, is a conservative Texas woman who is the mother of a transgender daughter, who has not been home since her transition. My own mother is dying and Jason/Jessica has been sent for as the end approaches. I’m more than a bit controlling and my way of dealing with grief (in all directions) is to try to control everything, even to the amount of fried onion rings on the top of a casserole. This translates to pressure for Jessica to pretend to be Jason for grandma. But the truth of the situation is that nothing is in my control. While my disapproval has been made abundantly clear, having lost my mother, I must find a way to start to accept my child as the woman she has become.
There is a lot more to the story, but that’s not about me, so hey…
Jen Richards’ script is very strong, her portrayal of Jessica is touching, and the film is powerfully directed by Lisa Donato, with imaginative and evocative cinematography by Ava Benjamin Shorr.
I had a blast on the shoot and loved working with these folks. Everyone was focused and professional and almost universally congenial.
I also got a chance to work again with Jo Perkins, who played my mother. A very long time ago, I played a small role (Candy) in a production of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest at Country Playhouse (now Queensbury Theater). Jo played Nurse Ratched. I was a recent Sam Houston graduate and Jo had also gone to SHSU. She was very kind to a fellow actor just starting out and I have held her in high esteem these last forty years. To make things even more convivial, her husband Charlie Bailey came along and we three usually congregated in the hotel bar in the evenings.
Unfortunately, I had to miss the wrap party Monday night in order to get back in time to teach my Film Appreciation class in Houston. But there may be another party in our future. Look to see this very affecting film at SXSW later this year and at other film festivals around the country.