Actress and writer Mary Elizabeth Boylan has been building up a steady and enviable list of film credits since 2008, when her career began.
In only 5 short years Mary has starred in several short films and features, including Abby 33, Abby 79 and Antisocial Behaviour.
The award-winning actress was kind enough to take a break from a busy schedule to talk to Influx Magazine about her film career and about two of her movies, Getting Lemons–in which she starred and wrote–and the horror, Antisocial Behaviour.
by Nav Qateel
Nav Qateel: Clearly, Getting Lemons was a very personal film. Could you explain what prompted you to write the story? And was it a therapeutic project or were you finalizing the end of your relationship with your mother in your own way?
Mary Elizabeth Boylan: In the beginning of 2007, I moved home to care for my Mom up until her eventual death from lung cancer at the end of the year. Within the next few months, I lost 4 other people to cancer. I spent all my money living in Ohio with no job during her care, and came back to LA to the recession that made every job next to impossible to find. My then boyfriend at the time cheated on me. I ended up working a job that I couldn’t stand to make ends meet. It was basically the worst time in my life times 10.
I never really allowed myself to process any of it, until one night, I got in my car with the intentions of driving it into a tree. The only thing that stopped me was LA traffic, ironically, as I couldn’t bare the thought of hurting someone else. However, my own safety was not my concern. I knew then that I had hit rock bottom and was severely depressed.
I got some serious therapy and psychiatric help. Through that and the help of my amazing family and friends, I recovered, and found myself with strength I never knew I had.
My now boyfriend of 6 years (director/writer Nico Sabenorio) kept telling me I had to write about it. I had never written anything in my life. One night, I finally took his advice. 6 film festivals, 3 noms and 1 award later, I guess it was good I listened to him. (Smiles)
So, that’s what got me to write. In the process, it became a homage to my Mother, of sorts. I wanted to honor her. She never took care of herself, but she was always so concerned about caring for me. I wanted her to know I got that, I guess. And maybe I needed to hear it myself.
Also, I wanted to create something that would inspire others who were going through similar tough times. I think it’s such a common human experience: We all seem to have that time in our lives where everything went to shit, and seemed irrevocably helpless. I wanted to give people hope. I think we all have it in us somewhere to survive. Sometimes it’s just hard to see when you’re in what feels like your own personal hell.
NQ: One thing did immediately come to mind as I read through the credits. Lisa Stadnykova did a great job as director. I thought she coped so well with the material. Weren’t you tempted to try that hat on yourself?
MEB: I met Lisa shortly after writing the first few drafts of GL. We met at Wendy Wilkins birthday party (Wendy is the fantastic Actress who plays The Competitive Cancer Bitch in the film :). Wendy wrote and starred in the award-winning short Big Bully Bank, which Lisa beautifully directed. Lisa and I got along right away. She’s had some serious obstacles and hard times to overcome in her own life, so we immediately connected on that level. Also, since I was executive producing, producing, writing AND starring in my first endeavour of this kind, I thought it best to bring in someone with directing experience. I wasn’t sure how many hats I could actually wear at once!
NQ: Lisa Stadnykova co-wrote the script with you. Was there much change from the story outline you started with to what ended up on screen?
MEB: Both the feature and short versions of GL I wrote myself where rather heavy. What I loved so much about Big Bully Bank was Lisa’s ability to emphasize and create the comedy of the situation. That was definitely lacking in GL. The screenplay version we wrote together would not have been anywhere near as lighthearted if she hadn’t come on board!
I have to give some serious props to my amazing producer, actor and friend of mine, Cyrus Wilcox. Before meeting Lisa, he had the upmost faith in the project, and helped me through some of the beginning drafts. I could not have done it without Lisa and Cyrus!! Honestly, everyone on the cast and crew was a blessing. I really can’t say enough about all of them!
NQ: Who came up with the idea for a dance number, of all things, which I loved, at the close ofGetting Lemons and how long did it take to shoot? To me it felt like you saying, “See, Mom, I’m all better now!” kind of thing.
MEB: That was a mutual decision between Lisa, Cyrus and I. The incredible choreographer Sabrina Phillip teaches at The Edge in Hollywood. I frequently take her classes. I was lucky that she was available to be a part of things on such a small budget and short notice!
It wasn’t really about a “look Mom,” at least for me. It was more a personal resolution in the mind of Lizzy’s character, when she’s realizing that she has the strength within herself to go on with her life. There’s often pure joy on the other side of so much pain, at least for me. I felt alive again, and for the first time, not guilty at the same time. How better than to express such a thing than we dance.
NQ: On to your latest film, the fantastic horror from the mind of Ken Guertin, Antisocial Behaviour, how did you come to learn of the script?
MEB: It was on the breakdowns. I immediately connected to the character. At the time, I didn’t have a manager or an agent, so I went after the role myself. Luckily I was asked to audition for Ken!
NQ: Being perfectly honest, you’re the last person I pictured as scream queen material, yet, rather than appearing like a fish out of water, you were cast beautifully beside Jackson Kuehn. Can you explain a little bit about the casting decision and why do you think it worked so well?
MEB: From my perspective, I think Ken probably cast me because I had such a strong emotional connection to both the character, and the story itself. It really moved me. My audition was actually Joe’s monologue while he’s lying in bed, talking about his family and how he’ll always be a mess from his childhood. I don’t seem to have any walls about accessing my past, good or bad, so maybe that’s why I could relate.
Also, I’m a clumsy awkward dork most of the time, and my character in the film is a bit like that. Actually, that’s probably why he cast me! (Laughs)
NQ: After the success of Antisocial Behaviour, do you feel you could comfortably take on more horror roles without the fear of finding yourself becoming stuck in the genre or typecast? It’s not uncommon. As we’re all aware, horror has a huge chunk of the indie market, with a plethora of capable actresses vying for decent parts.
MEB: I would gladly take on more horror roles! I loved the intensity of shooting in that genre. I try not to think about all of things I could potentially be afraid of in my career, as there are so many. The worst of which is that I stop working. I think a part of me would be grateful to have done so many horror films, that I become the scream queen!
NQ: Are you an overly critical actor of your own work; a bit of a perfectionist? Like, how much time will you put into rehearsal before you feel satisfied?
MEB: I don’t think there’s an artist on the planet that isn’t critical of their work. It’s so personal, as though a part of you is on display, regardless of the medium. I’m definitely that way. I find watching my work to be almost unbearable. I think too much, analyze too much, “what if I would have did it this way” too much!
After an audition, I get in my car and play some seriously loud and fun music, just to get out of my head and stop thinking about what I did in the casting room. Otherwise, I’ll just sit in my car with my head against the wheel going WTF did I just do, even if I thought it went well!
The type of preparation I do before an audition depends largely on the material/length of the sides/genre/tone, etc. But I ALWAYS prepare. Social plans get canceled. TV off, phone off, etc. I think of every opportunity to get into the room and work as a gift. There’s so much talent out there, I feel grateful just to be able to read and do what I love!
And in terms of how much time do I put in: I like to get to the point where I feel like I’m beating a dead horse, but I don’t always have the time. I’ve had to cold read with 10 minutes to prep for a network audition (sometimes you read for one role, then they on-the-spot ask you to read for another). For some reason I love that kind of stress, though. All you can do is be your best self with the strongest character you can create in that time, which should be part of the fun!
NQ: You have a short film then a thriller due out next year titled The Hive. Do you have anything else on the go you can share with us?
MEB: Yes, The Hive was a great shoot! I’m working on the feature version of GL with Director/Writer Kim Rocco Shields of Genius Pictures. I worked with Kim 3 times as an actress on films she did while she was head of Wingspan Pictures (along with Rachel Diana). Kim’s currently shooting the feature version of her multi-award winning short Love Is All You Need. We’ll be hitting the ground running with our feature project right after.
NQ: After that recession that’s still hitting folk from all walks of life, pretty hard, how difficult is it to land roles, and do you feel you’re trying that much harder to impress filmmakers during readings? Do you feel more nervous than usual?
MEB: I don’t think it’s so much the past recession, but the change in how content is viewed, along with the various tax credits in each State, that are changing the landscape of film making. There’s less mid-level films these days (5-10mil) it’s usually a low-budget indie, or a studio film. Again, it’s something I try not to think about, it’s the craziest business to be in, and I’d rather not make myself crazy…er. (Laughs)
NQ: What would be your ideal film role? I could so see you taking Renée Zellweger’s part in Chicago playing Roxie Hart!
MEB: Ha! Renee killed it in that role, and of course I would love to play Roxie!
I tend to gravitate to roles that are uncomfortable. Whether dramatic or comedic, I love extreme vulnerability. In Abby 33, I play a super introverted scientist with serious negativity and judgments on life, and especially on herself, who was bearing it all in a therapists office throughout the movie. I’m an extrovert on most levels, so I loved the challenge of not being at all myself.
Thank you, Mary Elizabeth Boylan.