David Spaltro's Things I Don't Understand is a wonderful independent film set in New York City that has been selected at numerous film festivals and won a number of prestigious awards over the past few months. The film's lead actress Molly Ryman gave a wonderful performance, for which she was recently awarded Best Actress at the Northwest Ohio Independent Film Festival. I sat down with Molly to talk about acting, life and independent filmmaking.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Oh goodness. Well, I am originally from Minnesota. I have an incredible family though I have always felt like the odd ball. I've always been a bit of a daydreamer so my family has been good at keeping me (somewhat) practical. I moved to NYC because I wanted to make movies like Mean Streets and Taxi Driver. I was in love with the image of New York that Martin Scorsese has captured.
I studied at Stella Adler and the Terry Schreiber Studio, but I have always felt that I gained the most from on-camera classes. It's pretty powerful to have to watch your work and ask "do I believe that?" I have great memories of getting together with groups of actors in a Tribeca studio study and dissecting scenes and creating characters.
I am a huge advocate of taking care of the earth and all who live here. I have fallen in love with Ayurveda and I am very passionate about holistic health care.
What made you decide to pursue a career in acting?
I spent my childhood in front of my Dad's video camera with my brother and sister and I was always in school and church plays, but I never considered acting as a career option until my sophomore year of college. It was always just what I did. I remember realizing I could do it for the rest of my life...and maybe make a living from it. It was terrifyingly exciting.
In Things I Don't Understand, you play Violet who is a rather complex character. Did you find her a challenge to play, and how did you prepare for the role?
The biggest challenge came from my attachment to who I thought Violet was. I instantly fell in love with her and her story, but my idea of Violet was slightly different from the character David had envisioned. Ultimately David's vision needed to be met and as we worked together I began to understand and I fell equally in love with his Violet. One of David's greatest strengths as a director is his ability to help an actor create a character. He will provide anything necessary.
Music was pretty crucial. David loaded me up with the Clash and Joe Strummer. We had an amazing team on this film. Amy Forsythe, our make-up department head was with me from the beginning and she helped me with visualizing Violet. When I dyed my hair the first time, I almost fainted (I went from blonde to dark purple), but it really moved the creation process forward. Once Beth Kelleher, our costume designer put me in the wardrobe, Violet came to life. I had to do the work on the inside, but I couldn't have been in better hands when it came to putting it all together and giving Violet the finishing touches.
Violet is obsessed with the subject of death and what happens after people die. What are your personal views on death and dying?
Though there is sorrow that accompanies death, I have never worried about what comes next. My faith has always guided me and given me peace.
You have now worked with director David Spaltro twice: first in ...Around and now again in Things I Don't Understand. What was it like working with him, and how was the second time different from the first?
David and I both have grown a lot since ...Around. There was an adjustment period where we had to get reacquainted professionally, but there was also a comfort that came from understanding each other. I was very impressed with David. He knew exactly what he wanted and he wasn't going to let anything get in his way. When he sets out to do something, he does it.
Many of your films are set in New York. What does the city mean to you personally and professionally?
I am madly in love with New York City personally and professionally. I came out here be a part of the amazing stories told. I crave the energy of New York. It's a love hate relationship though. When I'm away from the city I miss it and when I've been here too long it's starts to get to me. I've learned to keep a balance. When people say "I love New York, but I could never live there" I totally understand, but I also remember that's what makes New Yorkers so amazing...they get it.
I love that no matter who you are or how you live, you're accepted in New York. It's like the Island of Misfit Toys, everyone fits. The greatest stories come out of New York because it has the best characters.
Please tell us something about your new projects since Things I Don't Understand.
I actually took a little time to do some traveling. I spent time in India and Thailand to study Yoga and Ayurveda. Now that I am back I have a few projects I am playing around with and I am doing some writing of my own, but I am ready and excited for a new challenging role.
Having worked on a number of indie film projects, what things do you like in particular about independent films?
I love the passion and the chaos. I was originally drawn to independent film because I wanted to be a part of telling great stories without the hype. I wanted to be surrounded by people that had to make their movie, no matter what. Limited budget, location issues...whatever hurdles get in the way, indie filmmakers don't stop and I love that. I love the family that is created on a film set and the sense of community that comes from a group of people with the same vision and the willingness to do what it takes.
Many actors and actresses go on to become directors. Is that something you might be interested in? If so, what would be the one film that you really want to direct?
Yes, totally. I think I could really enjoy directing though there is a lot for me to learn. I would love to direct a dark, moody film based in the 1970's in NYC (of course). I've been writing for fun for a few years and there is one screenplay that I can't seem to finish, but I can't give up on either. I'd like to think that someday it will all come together.
If you get given the opportunity to work with any director of your choice, who would that be, and why?
Martin Scorsese. His work helped shape me as an artist. It was his films that gave me my first exposure to DeNiro and Pesci, which led me to Al Pacino. I've learned so much from watching those guys. However, I am pretty in love with Woody Allen too. I love his quirky take on life and the unique characters in his films. Right now, I don't think I could choose between the two.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
"If nothing changes, nothing changes." It's so simple it's almost stupid, but it helps me when a situation or circumstance isn't working or if I'm expecting a different outcome. It's easy to stay in our comfort zone and hope for big things, but making a change (big or small) creates a shift in your life and it's bound to lead you to something new. Sometimes you need to take risks and shake things up a little.
Finally, what words of wisdom would you share with people who are considering a career in acting?
If you have to do it (and you will know if you have to) then do it, but fill your life with as much as you can. The richer your life is, the more adventures you go on and the more walks of life you encounter, the better you will be as a storyteller.