Tuesday, June 16

Q and A with Actress/Filmmaker Leah McKendrick

Q&A with Actress/Filmmaker Leah McKendrick

By: Theresa Dillon

On May 15th, bored out of mind and ready for COVID-19 to disappear forever, I discovered the most amazing short film on YouTube - "Pamela & Ivy"

"Pamela & Ivy" is a gritty exploration of the childhood traumatic event that spawned one of Gotham City's most notorious super villains - Poison Ivy.  

Finally, my beloved DC favorite was getting the spotlight she deserved. Then I discovered that the short was written, directed and produced by a woman.

I decided I had to contact this incredible female filmmaker and pick her brain. Luckily, she happily agreed to answer my questions.

Ladies and gentleman, I proudly bring you a fresh new talent to keep on your radar - actress/singer/filmmaker, Leah McKendrick.

Theresa Dillon (TD): Leah, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. To start us off, can you give us a little background about yourself? It made my day when I discovered your
work. It was all I could think about. 

Leah McKendrick (LM): That's SO nice. THANK you! I'm from San Francisco and grew up singing, dancing and acting. I wanted to be a pop star like my heroes – Madonna, Michael Jackson, Britney. I went to college for Theatre and I was very experimental. I would write and direct and produce my own stuff. Not because I thought it was a career path, but because I was bored and frustrated that my parents made me go to college while I wanted to move straight to L.A. After I graduated, I finally got a record deal. Probably at the worst time in history - during the recession. The label folded and I was DEVASTATED. I started performing live a lot because I didn't know what else to do but stay the course. From there, I began producing my own music videos, then web series, then shorts, then a feature, then studio stuff – where I am now. I realized that the experimental, DIY approach to creating that I lived by during college was actually something I could utilize in the real world. Moral of the story – stay in school, kids!

TD: What film was the spark that had you say, "I'm going to start making movies."

LM: I always wanted to make movies – but only as an actress. My whole life, literally. My mom still has no idea where I learned about Hollywood, but from the moment I was able to speak I would say I was going to go to Hollywood to sing and act. The filmmaking spark was ignited in college. I didn't like the scenes they wanted us to shoot for acting in film class. They were recycled over and over and they felt very dated and stale to me. I complained about it like a brat and luckily I had the best professor ever – John Benitz at Chapman University. He said, "If you don’t want to do these then write your own scene and if it doesn't suck, I'll let you shoot it." That was really the beginning because writing my own work enabled me to play the kinds of roles I wanted to play and tell the kinds of stories I wanted to tell. It was a game changer, I just didn't know it yet.

TD: Do you have a favorite female writer/director/producer? 

LM: I love Reese Witherspoon, obviously as an actress, but I love her in the producer chair. Her career is very dreamy. She has an eye for great work and she gets it DONE at the highest level. I love seeing an actress – or any woman taking her power and OWNING it and expanding her empire.

TD: What is your favorite genre to watch? Favorite genre to work in? 

LM: I'm a horror nerd. I want to make a monster movie very badly! I just saw "Thirst" by Park Chan-wook which was inspiring. You can explore so many challenging topics through the lens of a horror: puberty ("Raw" and "Ginger Snaps" ), racism ( "Get Out" ), grief ( "The Babadook" ). My favorite show during my teens, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" was chock-full of metaphors about high school and growing up. My favorite genre to work in is constantly changing. Right now I'm having a great time writing musicals and romcoms. But I think my next one is going to be a heightened horror-comedy like "Ready or Not."

TD: Let's dive into your amazing short "Pamela & Ivy," available on YouTube. What made you decide that the DC favorite, Pamela Isley (Poison Ivy) finally deserved the spotlight? 

LM: I'm very fascinated and enraged by the way we as a society are quick to label women "crazy." I want my work, regardless of genre, to challenge that label.

TD: You also played adult Pamela/Ivy in the short. Have you always wanted to portray her?

LM: Always, always. It's a dream role. If there's a role that I'm desperate to play, I have gotten into the habit of just writing it for myself. I encourage EVERY actor to do the same. It's very empowering!

TD:  Do you have hopes of continuing Pamela's story? I know I would gladly pay $20 at my local theater to see your completed work. 

LM: We so appreciate that! I hope so. When DC makes that call, we will be ready.

TD: If there's one thing you hope viewers take away about Pamela/Ivy's character, what is it and how do you feel you achieved showing that? 

LM: I hope that people feel that she deserves her moment in the sun. We are constantly re-imagining, further developing and rebooting our male-driven stories. Let's give our female characters some love and let's not label anyone "crazy" before knowing the story. I don't know if we achieved that but I hope we did.

TD: As most of our readers know, I'm a big cheerleader for female filmmakers so I'm going to pick your brain just a bit on this topic. Do you think female characters, like Pamela Isley, come off more dynamic on screen if women have been involved in the writing, directing or producing of the film? 

LM: YES, YES and YES. Women have the ability to capture the female experience in a nuanced, compassionate way because we are living it. It’s that simple. We understand judgment, shame, subjection, because we were born into it.

TD: What are some ways we as film lovers can help female filmmakers, like you, get more screen time and more opportunities? 

LM: I think we have to speak up for ourselves and each other - publicly. We have to DEMAND female directors when we are in the producer chair. Demand women of color. Demand, demand, demand. It doesn't happen by asking nicely. As viewers, vote with your dollars. Seek out female-created content and attend, rent, buy and share! It's a business and unfortunately, nothing speaks louder than those numbers. It's the power of the purse.

TD: Do you have any film recommendations that we need to watch now? 

LM: I just watched the new film, "Never Rarely Sometimes Always" by Eliza Hittman. It's about a teenager on a journey with her cousin to get an abortion. It felt so real and achingly human. I deeply admire that kind of filmmaking. I also just saw "Peanut Butter Falcon," which was just beautiful and joyful from beginning to end.

TD: Lastly, I for one look forward to seeing more work from you. I'm sure a lot of our readers do too. Can you tell us about any upcoming projects that we should watch for? 

LM: I'm working on my first TV show at HBO Max, called "WTF, Glenn?" I’m also working on the prequel to "Grease," "Summer Lovin!" Praying there's a light at the end of the tunnel with this pandemic soon, and we can get back to work safely! It's been really nice to see everyone consume all of Netflix and Hulu etc. It reminds me that film comforts us during dark times.

No comments:

Post a Comment