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Interview with actress/filmmaker Emma Barrett

For fellow artists or those interested in supporting independent filmmaking, Emma Barrett is an accomplished performer from Australia, bringing her talents to the U.S through acting and fillmaking. Meeting this amazing artist through social media, I got a chance to chat with her about her work, most notably her upcoming film TAKE THE REINS...

Tell us a little about your background.

I’m from Australia originally, though I left the homeland almost eight years ago now. Wow, time flies, ey? Before coming to LA, I was studying acting in New York City. And before that, I was dancing in Paris at the Moulin Rouge. So, it’s been an unexpected and wild ride so far.

What inspired you to become an actress?

I’m not sure it was in inspirational moment, as such. More like a light bulb moment. You know when you hear something and it just hits you like a bullet? And nothing in your life prior to that moment has ever made more sense to you? Yeah, it was like that. I was 10 years old at the time. Even though I took a few years out to dance professionally, for me, that was actually because I wanted to be an actor so badly…but I didn’t want to be a bad actor. So dancing was more about taking some time out to live and love and fuck it up and learn some things (hopefully) in the process.

Who are some of your favorite performers? Who inspires you?

Well, I have a number of favorite actors…and they’re mostly all women actually. I really love Charlize Theron, Meryl Streep and Abbie Cornish, just to name a few. I find women very endearing who appear soft and sweet and lovely on the outside, with a strength and depth on the inside that could put any man to shame. Another massive inspiration of mine (though she doesn’t know it) is my mother. She’s an incredible woman and I don’t think I’ve ever given her enough credit.

What are your favorite films?

Some favorite films are The Lives of Others and also Candy with Heath Ledger, Abbie Cornish and Geoffrey Rush – three of my all-time favorite actors. Most recently, the film that has had the biggest effect on me was Fruitvale Station. I was beside myself after watching this. I couldn’t stop crying for hours. While I am immensely proud to now call this country my home (for many reasons), when I watch a film like Fruitvale Station, I realize that there is a lot about being a free white person in the Western world that I do not feel proud of at all. It breaks my heart to know that human beings can treat each other so badly sometimes. That any one person thinks they can play God over another just goes to show that we as a human race still have such a long way to go.

When studying your character, how do you go about finding the truth and humanity of this person? I think that this is something that improves with growing up a bit. Not because I’ve become any better at the analytical side of scripts/characters – if anything, I’m less cerebral in my life and my work than I’ve ever been. But what I’m starting to understand more and more is what it means to not judge a character. This is the hardest thing, because in order to stop judging characters, one must stop judging people. And in order to stop judging people, one must stop judging oneself. But that’s the life-long battle, right?

Has there ever been a character that stayed with you long after the performance was over? How did you deal with it? Yes, this most recent one, actually. I wrote the script for Take the Reins while crawling my way out of possibly the deepest and darkest hole of my life. It was (and still is) my passion project and in many ways, it saved my life. However, the extensive research during this period has, I believe, changed me indefinitely. I sat at my desk every day for three and a half months solid researching suicide, depression, mental illness, social media and society, philosophy, and the list of fun topics goes on. I think this period may have been the best and the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. And while I came out the other side alive, I definitely lost some innocence in my heart along the way.

While Hollywood has historically been a very difficult business to succeed in, it has been especially difficult for females. While there have been successful female directors from the likes of Kathryn Bigelow to Kasi Lemmons, what are you looking to bring to the industry that sets you apart from other artists?

I think we are already set so far apart from each other in life, from the day we’re born. It baffles me seeing so many actors running around this town and working so hard in an attempt to be just like everybody else. This makes no sense to me. People are like fingerprints. No two are the same. So, I think I’m less concentrated on what sets me apart and instead, more concentrated on figuring out who the hell I am, behind the walls, underneath all the layers of conditioning and programming that I’ve learned throughout my life. It sure is a fascinating and scary ride.

Tell us a bit about TAKE THE REINS.

Take the Reins is a story about a girl who, like many of us, lives in a constant charade just to get through each day. Her name is Sierra and the story is inspired by true events. She is a misunderstood soul who finds an outlet for her truth, vulnerability and darkness in an anonymous online community. The film is definitely not going to be what people might expect. I wanted to stay true to my instincts and the story, instead of getting tangled up and suffocated by what I thought people wanted or expected. So, it’s going to be interesting to find out how people will take to the film.

What inspired you to create this film?

It was born out of the heartbreak and confusion that comes from the world we live in today.

Between acting, writing and directing, what would you consider to be the greater challenge?

Definitely writing. I’ve never felt more naked and vulnerable in my life. In writing, there is nothing to hide behind and no one to blame. It’s scary. And it makes me feel so alive.

With so much emphasis in the industry being placed on box office appeal and first weekend sales, is mainstream success something you’re looking forward to? Or would you prefer a resume of independent but nonetheless more impactful work?

Success and money are nice… and useful to make more films, for sure. But I believe that money is the means to an end and not the end itself. Sadly, some of the most successful people I’ve met (in terms of financial and commercial success) have without a doubt been some of the most miserable people I’ve met thus far in my life. Money is great and it’s a necessary evil, but there is so much more to life than chasing bits of paper and shrapnel.

You took the initiative to get your project supported via crowdfunding through sites such as Kickstarter and Indigogo. What’s your take on the process and is it something that you would recommend to other artists?That’s a tough question. Because now it’s all over, I can tell you that it was wonderful and fulfilling, and all those good things, which are true, of course. But there’s a flipside to crowdfunding that’s not highly publicized by these companies. It’s extremely challenging. And humbling. My God, it’s humbling. A few weeks ago, I actually got into a heated argument with a man I met in a bar, who was sharing with me his strong opinions about homeless people and how lazy they are for “taking the easy way out.” Well… I don’t quite think this turned out to be the conversation he’d had in mind. I tried to offer a different insight into the kind of strength, humility and resilience it takes for a person to get up every day and put their hand out, appealing to the kindness of others. I only did this for 111 days. I can’t even begin to imagine how strong a person would have to be to do this every day of their life. I take my hat off to them.

What’s your take on social media as a resource to promote your work and what would you consider to be a successful strategy?

Social media is the key to successful crowdfunding, in my opinion. It has an international audience and there are no limits as to the niche markets and interest groups one could hope to find. Social media gets a bad wrap and I think we need to take our power back and realize that having a Facebook profile or a Twitter account or a YouTube channel is a choice, not a sentence.

Speaking as someone who has lived in Los Angeles before and interested in moving back or to New York, how do you maintain that balance and overall peace of mind while going through the usual challenges of casting calls, auditions and the fear of rejection that every artist faces?

I decided to walk away and find my own path. The life of an actor in Los Angeles can be a debilitating experience for many. And it breaks my heart to see so many talented, inspired, hard-working artists whose self-worth is wrapped up in the hands of some casting directors or agents etc. I wish these actors could see in themselves what I see in them, and how much more interesting and beautiful they are than they’ll ever know. And yes, I miss New York all the time. But for now, I have met a handful of truly wonderful people in this town who make all the bullshit worthwhile… and the sunshine doesn’t hurt either.

What is the message behind TAKE THE REINS that you would want the audience to take home with them?

I aim to present sides of the story that are almost never told or heard, and let the audience make up their own minds about what the message is for them, personally.

What’s next after TAKE THE REINS?

Sleep. And a vacation at some point, hopefully. Then, the next mountain I hope to climb after that is to make my first feature-length film. Stay tuned…

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

An amazing man once said to me, and I will never forget this for the rest of my life, he said, “If you can picture yourself when you’re 65 years old. Still acting. Still living the artist’s life – even if that means bartending to pay the rent. You’re not rich and you’re not famous, and you don’t see that as a failure…that’s how you know that this is really what you want to do with your life. It’s about the work. It’s about loving the work." I cannot explain to you how grateful I am for receiving this piece of advice. It changed my life and my work profoundly.

What’s your advice for fellow artists looking to make a career in the industry?

I would say, try to figure out who you are, what you want, and why it is that you get out of bed every morning. Then, I believe the rest will take care of itself.

Thanks so much for your time Emma. For those looking to support independent film and connect with this amazing artist, visit her at the following links:

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