The multi-talented Phyllis Spielman chats with INFLUX Magazine
by Martin Hafer
I recently saw an amazing film at the Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival and my review for Sirens was just posted here on Influx, which can be read here. However, I was extremely fascinated when I met the film's star, actress Phyllis Spielman, and learned about her life story which is anything but typical and makes for really interesting reading. Fortunately, she agreed to talk to me and share her unique and fascinating story with our readers.
Martin Hafer: Your path to acting in movies is anything but traditional. Tell us about your background as well as how and why you decided to work in film.
Phyllis Spielman: I grew up in Devine, Texas, a small town outside of San Antonio and was involved in sports and Theater all 4 years of high school. I went to college, got married, started a family and then joined the Army. Three kids later I decided to become a civilian again and work in the Defense Industry where I would continue my education and earn a Master’s Degree in Global Management. After getting a divorce, I decided once my oldest son graduated I’d get into the film industry. I’d been through many ups and downs and knew that acting would provide an outlet where I could share stories, laugh, cry and entertain an audience. I remember this was the year I was going to turn 40 and I decided I was going to do act. I started to research online about acting auditions, what is required for an audition and what to expect when you enter an audition room. There are so many interesting you tube video, especially those from a lady name Wendy Wright, that can walk you through an entire process of what is needed and how to break into the industry. I came across a casting call for Sirens and it really sparked my interest. I told them that I could relate to the character and portray Sarah really well and I wanted the opportunity to audition for the role. I was fortunate at the time because although I didn’t have an agent or a professional headshot so I worked with what I had available and gave it my all. After booking the part the director, Joey Spillane , was able to cut me a demo reel and I was able to take that to a local agent and get representation. I had a really good day job at the time but I had to decide if I was going to dabble or dive into acting as it was too stressful to try to do both. I know it’s going to be a journey and I’m really looking forward to it!
Martin: Tell us about the films in which you appeared as well as projects you'll be appearing in soon.
Phyllis: I filmed The White Witch which was a Western under 7-minutes filmed in Denver for a 48 hour competition. I completed Sirens, which is a 24 minute short film and it's being submitted to the festival circuit. Then I completed my first feature film where I played a robust reporter in the Thriller Bone Deep which is currently in post production. I look forward to filming the feature The Political Affair where I play a President. I’ve also done a couple of commercials as well. There are additional projects in the works that I’ve been asked to be in but you’ll have to come back and do another interview down the road for that information!
I loved your work in Sirens
. The role was very demanding and required you to learn a lot of new skills. Please tell us about this.
Phyllis: When I went to the audition I was given a chair and asked to deliver a monologue telling my daughter her father has been killed. Then I was asked if I felt comfortable doing a strip scene (though not nude). I thought for a second and said, 'sure, not a problem'. After booking the role I read the script and it wasn’t disclosed during the audition that there would be sign language as well as ballet! I thought I wouldn’t be able to deliver a believable performance unless I learned some basic ballet and sign language so I enrolled the very next week into a local basic ballet class. I do respect Ballerinas now more than ever and learning ballet in a crash course was very difficult and challenging . I also called local sign language institutes to ask if they could help translate my lines into sign language for a film. Additionally, I also had to learn to walk in 8 inch heels which I never knew existed until I put them on and I towered over everyone. Walking in them was very difficult! The director and I also discussed when to do the strip scene. I had needed time to get my body in shape so that I would feel comfortable and confident doing the scene. For 3 weeks non-stop after we started filming I would work out very hard. It was a vulnerable role but I knew it was an opportunity to show a large range of acting.
Martin: How did your family react to Sirens when they saw the film?
Phyllis: My relatives in Texas haven’t seen the film yet because it hasn’t hit the festival circuit there. But my kids all saw the film and I had to cover my eyes as they watched a couple of scenes. To them they say it’s weird seeing me on screen when I’m sitting next to them in person. They are 100% supportive of my decision to act, they know it will mean sacrificing things in the beginning but that it’s my passion. We’ve always stuck together as a family and given each other support. They are my cheerleaders and without their support I would’ve of waited to enter the industry.
Martin: Is the character in Sirens like you in any way?
Phyllis: Yes, in many ways--such as being a single mother and being in dangerous situations. This character’s experienced pain, sadness and struggles as a single mom and yet doesn’t give up her dream of being whatever she wants to be but puts her child’s needs first. I don’t truly see how an actor can portray a mother without having kids themselves.
Martin: I am really curious about your Army career...
Phyllis: I joined the military at the age of 25 after I completed my B.A. and since it was in International Business I was able to go to the recruitment center and practically negotiate my terms and conditions. I asked about the different positions available and where I could go. I was able to choose a Supply Specialist and to be stationed in Germany. It was tough at first because I was like the Private Benjamin of the Army from day one until I proved that I could perform like the rest of the troops. There were many days I’d be the only one doing push ups but I always thought, if it didn’t kill me, it sure would make me stronger and it did. I was stationed in Friedberg, Germany my entire tour. My Grandfather, Father and sister had all been in the Army along with other family members that were Navy. Military was inevitable.
Martin: What was the biggest obstacle you faced while filming Sirens?
Phyllis: I almost died! We were ¾ the way done filming when I took my son to a college visit in Wyoming. On the way back we had a near fatal car accident where I was ejected from the vehicle at 70 miles per hour! I was in the hospital for 10 days and spent the next 8 months recovering. My son and I were very blessed to have survived and am thankful that the Director waited for me to heal instead of recasting the part.
Martin: I'm sure glad he waited...it's hard to imagine another actress handling the role better. Thank you, Phyllis.