Interview: Ser’Darius Blain of “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”

Posted on April 2, 2018 at 6:53 pm

Ser’Darius Blain plays Fridge, the high school football player whose avatar is Kevin Hart in “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” one of the best family movies of 2017 and now available on DVD and Blu-Ray. I got to ask him some questions about acting and being in the film.

Copyright 2017 Sony Pictures

If you could pick any avatar of any game to represent you, what would you pick and why?

If I could pick any character from any game to represent me it would be Ryu from Streetfighter. He’s so cool and walks with so much still confidence.

In “Jumanji,” what did Fridge most need to learn from the game?

In Jumanji, Fridge most needed to learn to trust in himself and his own intelligence. He also needed to learn true teamwork and that nobody was judging him but himself…he gained huge lessons through friendship.

What is your favorite scene in the movie?

My favorite scene in the movie is when Jack Black discovers his… anatomy and had to relieve himself in the woods.

With “Jumanji” and “Charmed,” you’ve worked on two projects with a lot of fantasy and special effects.  What is most fun about that and what are the challenges?

The most fun about working with special effects is that you have to really rely on your imagination to build the scene. You can’t actually see how what you’re doing will fit in ultimately and You look silly while doing it but when you see the finished product it becomes something amazing! Like getting mystically sucked into a video game and turning into green jungle dust.

When did you first realize that you wanted to act?

I always knew I wanted to act but I was really afraid to desire something that seemed so unrealistic and a long shot. I was a kid memorizing entire movies and TV episodes but I didn’t take it seriously until I was about 19. Then I moved to New York and took it head on. Best decision I ever made.

What actors have inspired you most?

Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Derek Luke and Leonardo DiCaprio inspired me the most. The rawness balanced with charisma that they all bring to the screen is awe inspiring. I want to be like them when I grow up.

What’s the best advice you have received about acting?

The best advice I’ve received about acting is “to be as uniquely and unequivocally YOU as possible. YOU are special. YOU are interesting and if you’re real, people will find it interesting.” -Della Reese (to me at 22 years old)

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Actors Interview

Interview: Drew Fellman and Jake Owens on the new IMAX Film “Pandas”

Posted on April 1, 2018 at 10:15 pm

Copyright Warner Brothers 2018
Pandas are, as someone notes in the adorable new IMAX documentary simply called “Pandas,” “the King Kong of cuteness.” Kristen Bell narrates the story of an ambitious and daunting Chinese project, to take panda babies bred in captivity and release them into the wild, to repopulate the endangered species. The Chinese panda specialists consult with an American from New Hampshire who has a similar program for bears. And we get to watch as a panda named Qian Qian leaves the only home she has ever known. I spoke to director Drew Fellman and American panda expert Jacob Owens, who worked with Qian Qian and appears in the film.

Why are humans so drawn to pandas?

Fellman: I know, it’s a mystery, isn’t it? There is so much about that that really is so unknown, part of it I think is that pandas are still so new to us. Pandas were unknown to the West until about the 1860’s and the first panda showed up in the U.S. in 1920. Once people were introduced to pandas there has been a panda mania of some sort. From the very beginning they just captured the public imagination and I think part of that was because they seemingly came out of nowhere and they’re so big and so adorable and they look so unlike any other animal. The physical answer as to why they’re so adorable is because they have the strongest jaws you can imagine so they can bite through solid bamboo and that gives them these huge jaw muscles which give them a big round head like a giant baby.

Owens: Yes, babies are cute because they have big eyes and they have round heads, they’ve got disproportionate ears; and so you look at the pandas and it’s got big black spots that look like big eyes and big ears and a big round head, also they roll around more than any other animal I’ve ever seen. They love rolling. So not only do they do look really cute, they’re also really silly goofy animals.

In the film you say that the three qualities you were looking for in finding the right panda for the release program were courage, curiosity, and climbing ability. Why were those were the key skills and how do you look for them?

Owens: There is a lot of research that goes into this that we can draw from. It starts off with genetics and health; we want healthy individuals who have the right genetics for the places that we’re looking to release them. The next thing is looking at the behavior. We introduce novel stimuli to see how they respond. If an individual panda sees something new and instantly runs towards it that’s not necessarily the quality we need because we want them to be curious but also careful but you also don’t them to be so wary of everything that they won’t explore. They’ll need to explore their habitat, being able to find food on their own; things like this, so having in moderation being exploratory but also being cautious, being really vigilant; vigilance is a big thing always looking out for new dangers, those are the key features. And they have to climb well because they have to spend a lot of time in trees. They flee predators up trees and so being able to walk around and climb and do that well at a young age is a good indicator.

Did it feel like leaving a child at school to say goodbye that way?

Owens: Yeah, worse. As scientists you try not to get attached to the animals that you’re studying but this is very different than just strict science; this is reintroduction and release of individual animals and so we are doing all this research but then you’re also dealing with an individual and their own personality that’s unique and so you can’t help but personify and you can’t help but get very attached. You really care about them as an individual and also what they represent for the species. As a conservation biologist, I’m focused on making sure that there are individuals of species in the future. But at the same time just like anybody else, just like if you have a human child you want them to go off on their own and be able to be successful. It’s just that how you prepare them is a bit different. I don’t ever refer to it as training because I can’t train a panda to be a panda because I’m not one. So I call it conditioning or preparing, letting their natural instincts come out progressively through increasingly wild conditions and eventually to the point when they are ready to go out. We open the gate and she can make that decision when she wants to go out and when she wants to come back and, when she’s ready, just to be out fully.

What was the most important thing that the project learned from Ben Kilham, the man who has been raising bear cubs and releasing them successfully in New Hampshire?

Owens: Ben has been doing black bear rehabilitation for more than 20 years and so he’s just got a huge amount of knowledge about bears in general and pandas are bears. They are very different bears but they’re still bears. He also knows so much about rehabilitating and releasing animals. I’ve worked on reintroduction programs before with different species. People think that you should avoid all human interactions. Ben takes the opposite approach. He says there’s no real way to do that because these black bears don’t have a mom so you have to hand raise these cubs and you have to give them a safe environment to progress into the wild. Our pandas are born in captive care. Their mothers are also captive-born individuals so they don’t have the wild skills to teach their cubs. So for Ben the biggest thing is that human interaction has a real advantage, because once they trust you that provides us the access to keep on learning more about their biology, to keep on learning more about their conservation and also monitor them. I can change Qian Qian’s GPS collar just as Ben can with Squirty as you see in the film, and that’s a huge advantage because we can monitor her, we can follow her, we can see where she’s at, see how she’s doing. As technology increases we can do a lot more with that technology but if you don’t have access to them and they don’t trust you, then you’ll have to take other measures. You have to capture them in some kind of trap or use sedation and so because they know and trust us it’s a lot easier for us to do those things. Using those human interactions for those advantages is the biggest thing that I have learned from Ben in terms of our project.

Fellman: Also from the panda’s point of view is the positive interaction with the humans as opposed to being trapped or tranquilized which can be dangerous and can frighten them.

Owens: There is also the misconception that I had coming into this that if a panda or black bear gets used to one individual or a handful of individuals then they’re used to people and then they’re going to be a nuisance animal then there’s going to be a real problem and they’re not going to do well when they go out. But pandas and black bears are really smart and they can identify individual people very easily by the sound of their voice, by the smell and also by vision somewhat when you get close. It was a big learning thing for me to learn that we were wrong in thinking that this risk of them trusting a few human individuals is going to lead to touching every human. My dogs don’t do that in the States and most people’s dogs don’t do that in the States. Most animals just don’t do that.

What’s the most important thing that you want families to learn about pandas when they watch this movie?

Owens: I want people, especially families with young kids, that people around the world can work together really successfully and use their own combined strengths to work on an endeavor that’s really challenging. We’re really dedicated and I think that’s the big point — all of us globally working together to achieve a difficult goal.

Fellman: And another important message is that pandas are much more than just adorable animals; they are very smart, occasionally fierce, a bear with a mind of their own and they’re all individuals. It’s going to take a lot to create a better future for them and it’s something that’s really worth fighting for.

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Animals and Nature Directors Directors IMAX Interview

Interview: The Young Women of “Step”

Posted on August 8, 2017 at 1:38 am

Audiences are cheering for “Step,” the documentary about a team of girls from a Baltimore school who compete in the jubilant precision world of step, which has deep roots in the African and African-American culture. They are members of the first graduating class of the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, which is committed to making sure that all of the students are accepted to college, attend, and graduate from college as well. The documentary follows the team, especially three of the seniors, as the team attends competition and as its members apply to college and wait to hear whether they have been accepted.

For the Huffington Post, I interviewed director Amanda Lipitz, who has has a background in producing Broadway musicals, which helped her bring a dynamism and energy to filming the girls’ performances. But it her connection to the girls and the unwavering dedication of their family and the school over six years that gives the film the emotional power that inspired an Instagram rave from former First Lady Michelle Obama.

I also interviewed the three young women Lipitz follows in the film, team captain Blessin Giraldo and team members Tayla Solomon and valedictorian Cori Grainger.

TAYLA: Okay, so for me we’re just sitting waiting for her for the college signing day because we knew we had to perform and so we were waiting, just sitting and standing and waiting; I’m just like I don’t care how long; it’s Michelle Obama.  I’ll wait all day if I have to. So while I was sitting down she walks in and she’s like “hey guys, it’s you.” We’re like “you don’t know us but we know you; we’ve known you for eight years. That was just a great experience.”  Yeah, and she hugged each and every one of us and talked to us. She smells really, really nice.  Yesterday we had the Baltimore premiere of the movie so we’re all getting ready for the premiere and then we see the Instagram post and we’re like “wow!” Speechless, still speechless; I don’t even have the right caption but my facial expression tells it all.  She’s amazing; she’s very powerful and I’m so happy we got to meet her.

What other adventures have you had on the road, promoting the film?

BLESSIN: We talked to a lot of youth and a lot of people that don’t know about what stepping is and don’t really understand the dynamics of our communities and how we’re all about staying together sticking together.  Being a black woman from Baltimore, we’re put in a really good position to represent not only ourselves, our community, our school but to represent our generation and a group of people all across the world; people that want to succeed and want to do specific things but they may not have all the resources and all the support they need.  It’s up to us educate people about it, how we can get involved and how you can help, and that’s one of the best parts for me. It’s getting a chance to talk to the people that can relate to my testimony because it’s really hard to be in front of a camera and open up like that but it came easy to us because we had a good team. We wanted to do something positive for our city and we had good intentions for it. That meant we had to break down your pride and really open up to let them in so people can understand you and why you’re so frustrated or why you’re going through what you’re going through and hopefully learn from that and be better.  No matter where they come from what they look like, somebody always comes out of the Q & A and says “Oh my God, I totally relate.” It may not have been like their lights going off or their grades going down.  It might have been something completely different like their marriage or their business and they relate to us.  They are inspired by us for being so courageous and continuing to persevere.

What does it take to be good at step?

CORI: Confidence I would say.

BLESSIN: Precision.

TAYLA: Teamwork.

CORI: We had to get precise but I think the first step is confidence because you don’t have to be a stepper to look good if you’re confident while you’re doing it; you don’t have to be perfect, you can mess up all you want but if you don’t want it to look like you mess up you have to be confident.

TAYLA: But I think I agree with Blessin.  Like the precision, you know when we have practice Coach would be like “you’re all not doing this right” and we’d be like “Coach we need to learn the steps” so we learned it and we made it look precise and once you feel it that’s when you get in the groove and be like “Okay, I’m confident; I got the steps and we’re going to look good together and we’re going to do every move together.”

CORI: I think that’s when you become unstoppable.

TAYLA: The ultimate stepper.

CORI: Like when we’re on stage and Coach says “I see you all zone out.”

TAYLA: When we step we have to find the space we want to look at because looking at people is weird when you step. So you don’t look at the wall, you look through the wall.

CORI: We all enter this from the perspective of us performing, I was entering from the perspective of a newbie so, what is it going to take me to be a good stepper?

BLESSIN: Maybe being willing to listen and learn.

TAYLA: Just going for it because I went in inexperienced.  I didn’t start in sixth grade, I started in ninth and I was just willing to adapt and wanting to learn.   They didn’t have to but they taught me what I know now to make me a better stepper and to look like them.  It all comes together even when we make last-minute changes about positioning ten seconds before the show.  You all might not know this but we know the formation is off and stuff like that.  You got to be able to move quick and think quick.

What does is it takes to be a good captain of the step team?

BLESSIN: You can’t be in a spotlight hog. You have to know how to maneuver and tell people when they’re doing good things; like for instance when the girls on the team are always relying on her to keep the bass because we have deep voices when we yell. We are an all-girl team so when we travel and we compete against boys we all want to have incredible base, strong, deep voices.  We have to uncover people’s strengths because you want them to be good. You have to be compliant. You have to be just as good in the back as you are in the front. You have to sometimes play the underdog. You have to play the person who gets in trouble because the whole team doesn’t need to get in trouble. It’s like you have to take criticism a lot because you’re not perfect and you will learn because at the end of the day you hold a title and at any moment anybody is capable of being a good captain. So you have to always keep in mind that this position is not something that is solidified; it can always be taken away from you, it’s something to defend, you have to earn it. Being a good captain you have to be very confident, you have to be focused on yourself and what you want to add to the dynamic of the team and always be very aware of the environment that you are selling; the tone of the environment.

You were the first graduating class at the Baltimore Leadership School for Women.  What makes that school so special?

BLESSIN: All of the staff are dedicated, I don’t think that there is any other school in Baltimore like it.  Some teachers just come in, teach, get their paycheck and leave but at our school they actually create programs for us after school so we can stay engaged and not be on the streets. They care about when we coming to class, how we get there, and they volunteer to take us home. They do things that teachers don’t necessarily do.  I know we can call up any one of our teachers if we just need advice on any subject and they don’t hesitate to be there for us.  The message of the school is to transform Baltimore young women one at a time and they definitely make sure they do that academically, emotionally and socially.

Does it make a difference that it’s an all-girls school?

CORI:  I think that I hold women to like a certain standard now; it’s like you represent everything and more. I never want to see a woman think of herself as not being good enough or not thinking she can do anything because we are the beginning and the end. I feel like everything in this world revolves around a strong woman and it’s all about women’s empowerment.  When it comes to women I’m kind of selfish and I think it’s because I was in an all-girl environment for a very long time. Men are pretty cool but I think women are way better.

BLESSIN: That’s just how I feel. I don’t mind being around men, now I go to a coed school I think we all go to coed schools now; it’s just something about being in a room full of women. You can come together and you can make magic.

 

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Interview

Interview: Francesca Capaldi on “Max 2: White House Hero”

Posted on May 19, 2017 at 8:00 am

“Max 2: White House Hero” star Francesca Capaldi has a very extensive resume for someone born in 2004, including three seasons on the popular series “Dog with a Blog” and the voice of the little red-haired girl in “The Charlie Brown Movie.” It was a lot of fun to talk to the charming and remarkably bright and poised young actress about her newest project, Max 2: White House Hero, available on DVD/Blu-Ray and streaming May 23, 2017. I have a copy to give away! Send me an email at moviemom@moviemom.com with Max in the subject line and tell me your favorite pet’s name. Don’t forget your address! (US addresses only.) I’ll pick a winner at random on May 31, 2017.

“Okay, so the movie is basically the Russian President and his daughter come to America for talks with the US President,” she told me. “I play Alex, the daughter, and I meet the first son, TJ, who is played by Zane Austin, and his dog Max, who is a Marine dog but he stays with TJ. We kind of get into some trouble and we kind of get in some mischief. We go to a party, I went in the water on this raft, and it’s because someone is trying to sabotage these talks between Russia and the US.”

She was experienced in working with dogs before, from “Dog with a Blog.” “The most important thing to know is probably that they are not typical dogs and they’re not pets either. They’re workers. They are like actors but they’re just not humans and they are so well trained and they know so much that it’s crazy. You just have to remember they are working, kind of like service dogs, you can’t really go around playing with them.” There were actually four dogs playing the part of Max, each with different specialties. “They all had different abilities. They have different strong suits and we got to spend time with all of them before we filmed so that they are comfortable with us and there’s a better emotional connection when we’re filming. One could jump really, really well, one was a runner, one was like the face for the dogs. He’s on the posters and stuff like that. So, they all have different things they do and I thought was really cool.”

Francesca describes her character as “really excited to see what’s going to happen and I think she had a great time visiting America. And she’s a really fun character to play especially since I never did a Russian accent before. It was really cool to try something new with that. And she is a little precocious, she is a little funky and she was really fun to play.” She loves doing accents and developed this one by watching YouTube videos and working with her dad, who speaks a lot of languages. “Russians have a really distinct accent. Instead of ‘will’ they say ‘vill.’ I actually got to say some things in Russian and I’ve never spoken Russian I barely even heard it been spoken before so it was really fun. It was a little bit difficult because it’s not like anything I ever heard.”

She also had her first opportunity to do stunts, which she enjoyed very much. “I had to do a scene where I was kidnapped, where I was thrown into a van and I head butted someone and I was in this river. It was so cold I had to wear a dry suit, it was freezing and I remember the medic that was on set was saying, ‘Yes, keep your toes moving or there’s not going to be any circulation and we’re going to have to amputate them,’ and I was like ‘Oh, okay, yes, I’ll keep my toes moving.’ So it was just so cold but I loved it. I thought it was so much fun.”

Francesca has been performing since she was a baby and says, “I just love acting so much, it’s crazy.” She keeps in mind advice she got from the late Don Rickles. “He said to me, ‘Don’t let anyone ever discourage you. Stay confident, no matter what. Stay strong.’ He just gave me the best advice about the business and how to stay true to yourself.”

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Actors Contests and Giveaways Interview

Interview: Barry Watson on “Date My Dad”

Posted on May 18, 2017 at 9:06 am

It was a lot of fun to talk to actor Barry Watson about his new television series, “Date My Dad,” a one-hour dramedy on the UP channel about a widower with three daughters — and a mother-in-law played by Raquel Welch! The show is something of a real-life family affair, as Watson’s wife, Natasha Gregson Wagner, and his father-in-law, Robert Wagner (“Hart to Hart,” “It Takes a Thief”) have guest-starred on the series, which premieres June 2, 2017.

Tell me about the character you play.

Well my character is Ricky Cooper, and Ricky is a widower with three daughters. We start the show off on Ricky’s fortieth birthday where it’s been three and a half years since his wife Isabella passed away and his daughters have decided to get him out in the dating world again because he’s sort of been in a groove just kind of focused on raising his girls. And on top of that his mother-in-law who has been helping out, who’s played by Raquel Welch, decided that she’s moving out of the house so, Ricky thinks his life is just turned upside down. It is obviously a challenge for him that can be messy at times and it is a challenge for me as well as an actor because I’ve got three kids myself and I’ve gone through a period of time where I was a single father so I can bring some of that to the role as well.

I think having a daughter really prepared me in a different way to play the father of three daughters because I don’t think that I would be able to bring the depth that I brought to the character without having my daughter come into this world. Ricky’s a very simple guy, he doesn’t really put a lot of effort into I think what his wardrobe is, he wears a lot of flannels, a lot of jeans, a lot of boots and that become a storyline with his daughters because they’re always telling me I wear dad jeans and I tuck my shirt in too much and it should be untucked and all that. It’s like my real life. My daughter is only five, but she tells me when she thinks my clothes aren’t right.

Ricky is not just a dad in a family of girls but he comes from kind of a macho environment. He was a professional athlete.

This guy was a professional baseball player so he went from city to city and hung out with his ballplayer friends and his teammates, but the one thing that he did have in his life was his love of his wife Isabella who he had been with since high school. So it wasn’t like he was out playing the field like you know you hear all these baseball players in sports athletes do. I think Ricky is a pretty dedicated guy to his wife and his three daughters.

So, basically, he has not dated for more than 20 years.

Yes, in over 20 years, his whole adult life he was with one person and so he doesn’t even know what that dating world is like or even how to do it. So, he needs the help of his daughters, his mother-in-law, and his work-family. They are there to kind of push him along and kind of get him out of this groove he has been in.

But it’s not a sitcom, right?

This is a single camera one hour dramedy. It’s not a drama, but I think most comedy comes from dramatic situations, just like in real life. My nine-year-old son said a few years ago, “I just wish that there is something that you could work on that I could watch.” In households nowadays if they have two TVs, one TV has some sort of Nickelodeon or Disney thing on and the parents are watching some procedural show that’s basically the same show that is on the other networks and nobody is really sharing that time together and I think it’s great that this show came about because it really has a little bit of everything for everybody.

What was it like to work with your famous father-in-law, Robert Wagner?

He’s my father-in-law now so I’ve known him for quite a while and so we have a relationship that’s obviously our personal relationship but it was just great to kind of see how he goes about his work and to share the screen time with him. He’s a pro, and there is no drama with him. He prepares for his work and he shows up on time and he is a true professional. And it was just on honor to be able to work with him.

What kind of role does he have?

He plays a possible love interest for Raquel Welch’s character. So, if we end up getting a season two then hopefully he’ll get to come and do more episodes.

And what kind of role did Natasha play?

Natasha plays this character, Page, who is kind of the first woman that Ricky’s taken any sort of interest in since Isabella passed away. I mean he has had some dates before but it’s always like the dates set up by his brother, Bill or somebody from the gym or his daughters or his mother-in-law and so it was kind of the first woman he’s really taken more serious interest in I think.

Ricky must have some challenges both in dating and in raising his daughters when it comes to technology.

We do, we touch on that quite a bit. We actually have really nice episode that deals with cyber bullying, which is something I obviously worry about in my own life with my own kids happening at some point. They’re too young now but eventually they are going to be into that whole social media world. So it was nice to be able to deal with that topic. That’s what’s so great about the show, being able to tackle these different issues that are happening with kids nowadays. I can relate to some of it because bullying is with every generation but now it’s done in such a different way.

And we did have an episode where Ricky tries an online dating service. But not every episode is going to have Ricky on a date. It’s called “Date My Dad” so obviously Ricky would be going on many dates hopefully to try to find the right one at some point but so far what we’ve tackled in the first season was basically about a handful of dates and most of them were set up by relatives or work friends or his mother-in-law, Rosa. Everybody thinks they know, just like real life, but hopefully Ricky won’t find that person for many, many seasons.

What kind of personality does Raquel Welch’s character have?

The Rosa character really pops off the pages. She’s such a memorable character. Raquel Welch was the first person that we went to. She hasn’t had a role like this that she could actually sink her teeth into and show everybody what she can do. So she was very, very excited to get the offer for it. And obviously, it all worked out.

What was your first paid job as an actor?

I had just moved out to LA, I was very young, I can’t remember what year it was but it was a recurring role on “Days Of Our Lives.” I played Randy, a bad boy with a leather jacket. Yes, you’re shooting one episode in one day, so I learned a lot because I got to see how the regulars on that show would go about their process. Some of them had their stuff memorized and knew everything and some of them would use cue cards. So, I got to see who I wanted to be as an actor.

Working with kids is always a challenge for an actor. How did you make your young co-stars feel like a family?

That’s always like the key to any show. You can have a great written show but if you don’t have chemistry with the cast then it doesn’t really matter. And so I was there during the whole casting process with the girls and I actually thought it was going to be a lot harder than it was. Audrey who plays Gigi, the youngest one, her character is a little bit of a brainiac and I’ll never forget Audrey coming in with a blazer on and these glasses and she didn’t even say any lines. She said, “Hi everybody, how are you doing? These are my new transition lenses.” I was like, “Oh my gosh, she’s Gigi.” None of them have really worked that much and so I just tried to take them underneath my wing and try to guide them in the right direction when it comes to how to be a professional and do your job and then when it comes to kind of chemistry, you know that is something I think that’s kind of built throughout the season. The pilot is great. We definitely have chemistry there. But as the series goes on a chemistry develops within that so I think by the end we were such a fine-tuned machine. I love those girls. I hope I get the chance to keep working with them more.

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