An Interview with Christine Weatherup
Christine Weatherup has been acting since High School. In TV, she has walked the wards of Seattle Grace in GREY’S ANATOMY, as well as sharing a scene with Betty Draper in ‘Mad Men’, yet it is in Indie Film that she has been steadily making a name for herself, with major roles in Liz Manashil’s BREAD AND BUTTER and Jody McVeigh-Schultz’s ECHO LAKE.
Weatherup is impressively versatile, shifting between drama and comedy, with a quiet power and relatability that suggests a star in waiting.
Yet, Weatherup will not be categorized so easily. Smart, talented and ambitious, she also writes (having contributed to the series THE WONDERLY WAY) and is part of a new wave of female artists, intent on bringing stories to the screen that ring true to those who feel females are being underserved in a male dominated industry.
When I spoke with her, she was in pre-production on a new short, K.I.A. , which is now completed.
Multi-talented is too small a hyphenate.
The message is clear. If you can get Christine Weatherup in your movie, then you should get Christine Weatherup in your movie.
Q. Can you remember at what point you knew that you wanted to be an actor?
As far back as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be an actor. I would watch television and movies, hoping that one day I would be a part of them. When I was turning seven, I asked my parents for an agent for my birthday! (Don’t worry, I didn’t get one)
Q. I’m assuming, of course, that you did school plays at school. Do you remember your first part?
I would do impressions of my family members from a young age and I remember a musical review my kindergarten class performed. We sand The Good Ship, Lollipop, made famous by Shirley Temple. Being on stage, I felt a rush of excitement. It energized and excited me.
Q. What about movies, were they a big part of your youth?
Yes, they were definitely a large part of my childhood. My family would go to the movies frequently. My grandparents would show me classic films, like The African Queen and Yankee Doodle Dandy. And as I got to be a teenager, my family started seeing more art house films. I gravitated to a lot of those “smaller” films that were rich in character and style.
Q. Were there any actors that you admired, growing up?
There are a lot who inspired me, but the biggest inspiration was Jodie Foster. I loved that the women she played were always intelligent and fierce. She always chose interesting films, too. I also enjoyed watching her early work (Freaky Friday, anyone?). Of course, my favorite performance of hers is probably Clarice in Silence of the Lambs. Other actors who made a big impact on me were Shirley Temple, Lily Tomlin, and Julie Andrews.
Q. And now, as a working actor, who do you admire?
Oooh, there are so many actors! Right now I’m definitely in awe of Oscar Isaac. I recently watched A Most Violent Year and Ex Machina back to back, and he delivers exquisite performances in each of them. Speaking of A Most Violent Year, Jessica Chastain is amazing and dynamic. I also adore Reese Witherspoon, and especially admire her work as a producer, too. Her commitment to portraying complex women is inspiring.
Q. Where did you study?
I’m a big believer in studying and have been taking classes since I was eight years old. I’ve studied with a number of prominent teachers here in Los Angeles and also took improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. Additionally, I have a Theater degree from USC (and a film degree, too) and also did a summer in Oxford with the British American Drama Academy. I hope to always be taking classes!
Q. Have you worked much in the theatre, or primarily in front of a camera?
One of my favorite roles to date, actually, was from a play I did in Los Angeles called Seascape with Sharks and Dancer. The process is very different, but I think the differences between the two mediums feed one another. I loved getting the opportunity to rehearse for weeks. There’s also a special energy you feel when you’re on stage.
Q. You’ve worked a lot in TV. Is that a different discipline to film work?
They can be very different, especially depending on the budgets. A lot of my film work has been in the independent world, so budgets are smaller which means that you move a lot quicker. On a story level, they also vary because a film is one concentrated story that you work on for a finite time. Television is a longer story that unfolds over months or years. Each kind of work has its own set of advantages.
Q. Is auditioning still a large part of your life, or do you find at this stage that you are developing your own material?
Auditioning is definitely still a big part of my life, but I also believe that it’s important for all actors, regardless of what stage they are at in their career to develop their own material. Of course, not every actor has this interest. But developing your own material helps empower performers. It can be really frustrating as an actor that you don’t have control over the kinds of projects that reach you or what kinds of roles you are considered for. I’ve always been interested in making my own content, and have produced webseries, including Squaresville. Currently I’m developing a feature and am also pre-production of a short film that I plan to direct and star in.
Q. Do you research your roles at all, or allow the tone of the script to determine your performance?
It always starts with the script and I think it’s vital to really excavate all the information you can from it. After I’ve worked the script, I relish the opportunity to research other work that might inform my performance. That research might be other stories or films, or it might be delving into historical facts or learning about a topic that’s in the script.
Q. Lets talk a little about “Echo Lake”. How did the part of Erin come to you?
Jody McVeigh-Schultz went to film school with me at USC. He reached out to me with the script for the film, asking me if I knew any actors that might be right for the project. I really responded to the script—it had such a clear voice and a beautiful, simple story. I told him that I’d love to be considered for it, and later auditioned for him. It’s always oddly intimidating to audition for a friend, but I guess it went well!
I immediately understood the character of Erin and felt like her motives and behavior were clearly depicted in the script. I responded to her complex relationship with Will—she cares so deeply for him, but also can’t ignore his self-destructive ways.
Q. Your character is wonderfully rich and your scenes with Sam Zvibleman’s Will seem particularly naturalistic. You really feel that you two are a couple. Do you draw on personal experience to get to that sort of emotional truth?
Thank you, that’s the ultimate praise! Jody, Sam and I spent time mapping out their relationship, so we knew the history. I think inevitably my own life experiences are layered within the performance, as well. It’s a weird alchemy of my own experiences and the relationship of Will and Erin.
Q. She’s a character with many layers, both in love with this man, and aware of the limitations of their relationship. In that way she is very brave. How did you see her?
I think your analysis is spot on. Erin has been with Will for a long time and they have a very deep, committed relationship. Yet, at the same time, he’s not opening up to her fully and is acting in some real self-destructive ways. Their relationship is complex, troubled and really touching. What makes Erin exciting to me is that she is never the victim. She has strength and also stands up to Will. Her commitment to their relationship is why she challenges him. You don’t always see that in women on screen – they are often victimized by a troubled relationship or they are idealized, one-dimensional women.
Q. The complete flipside of Erin is Amelia in “Bread and Butter”. This has a far more comedic edge to it, and yet, I found your performance almost more profound than in the more dramatic “Echo Lake”. Do you approach comedy in the same way as drama?
I think the first priority is finding the heartbeat of the character, the spine. It’s important to know what they value and what they want out of life (and conversely, what’s standing in their way). Then the language of the script should inform the tone. Of course, comedy does have specific timing. And when you know that material is supposed to be funny, you look for ways to enhance the joke. In Bread and Butter specifically, the character of Amelia is never the joke. She’s in awkward situations, but her actual character isn’t ever made fun of.
Q. There is a physicality to Amelia, the way she moves, the way she sits, her mannerisms. Do you come to the set prepared with all of that, or do you live in the moment between action and cut?
Thank you! I don’t know that I consciously prepared physicality, but instead it came out of the character. Her fears and anxieties subconsciously made me behave differently. Liz Manashil (the writer/director) and I did talk about her physicality and comfort level a lot. It’s perhaps most evident to me in the dance scene with Leonard, when Amelia lets loose in a way she hasn’t before. We were careful that she didn’t completely change, but that the progression was grounded.
Q. Did you relate to Amelia at all?
I think we’ve all had a time in our life where we felt like a late bloomer – it can be in terms of relationship experience or career or anything really. It’s that feeling of missing the party and trying to catch up (or perhaps being too late) that is at the core of Amelia. I definitely relate. After having gone to an all-girls school for middle school and high school, I entered college without having had a serious relationship. I was afraid that I’d mess up, that I didn’t know what to do, and that everyone could tell. I definitely could sympathize with Amelia!
Q. Your characters in both films are a wonderful subversion of the girl next door, which is an overused cliché in film, it would seem. Are you looking to defy being pidegeonholed as an actor?
I definitely want to avoid being pigeonholed. Part of that comes out of the thrill of playing different kinds of women and delving into new characters. And part of that also comes from a desire (as a viewer) to see many different representations of women on screen. With every character I play, I want to explore new things. It can be hard to find those roles sometimes, because filmmakers seek out actors to play roles that are similar to what they’ve seen them do (understandably, because they know they can do it).
Q. I am struck by the fact that, particularly in this medium, image and style often take first place over what the material really requires (talent). It seems to be a world where the right face on the poster, sells the most tickets. Do you feel you are put under pressure to fit into a particular niche?
It’s definitely a fact of the business. I understand why that’s the case, too. Viewers want to see actors they know. And because it’s a visual medium, filmmakers need actors who can communicate their role just by looking at them. However, it is really frustrating. Most actors go into it because they want to play different roles. Nobody wants to be stuck in a niche. I think the goal is to become known as an actor who is a chameleon (like Meryl Streep or Daniel Day Lewis).
Q. “Bread and Butter” and “Echo Lake” are refreshing films in their depiction of independent women. Is this something you look for in your projects?
Yes! I love films that show complex, layered women, and am so grateful to be a part of them.
Q. As a woman in an industry dominated by men, do you find that good parts are hard to come by?
It can sometimes be tough, it just depends. The challenge of being an actor is that you are at the whim of a writer. If the roles aren’t being written, you can’t create them (unless you develop your own work). It’s a fact that there is not gender parity on screen. I believe a recent study found that only 3 in 10 speaking roles on screen was a woman. And that figure doesn’t even consider whether the quality of the role. I think these statistics are changing, the more that they are part of the conversation and as audiences show that they are hungry for these kinds of projects (Bridesmaids, Hunger Games, Gravity, etc)
Q. I was raised by women, so I have always been interested in the female perspective. Where do you stand on the current shake up in the industry, in terms of things like equal pay, or just giving more women an opportunity to work?
I think it’s pretty clear, it’s crazy that this hasn’t improved. I think equal pay for equal work seems pretty sensible. And I also think the more women we have working behind the camera, the more this will change.
Q. “Bread and Butter” is a great example of female driven filmmaking. Did that appeal to you?
It certainly did. Not only is the story centered around a woman with agency, but also the crew was a female majority. Most of the department heads were women including our Cinematographer (Katie Walker) and Assistant Director (Leslie Marchand), which are positions usually dominated by men. We had wonderful men and women working together on the film, who were excited to be a part of a project that was atypical in mainstream Hollywood.
Q. Have you any desire to direct a feature yourself?
I do. One of the things I admire most about Jodie Foster is that she works on both sides of the camera. I’ve directed some shorts and plays in college, but I focused on acting after graduation. I love working with actors and would love the chance to helm a project.
Q. Do you like to sit down with the filmmaker and discuss the script at length?
Definitely. It’s not often that you get that opportunity, but it’s always an asset to understand what the filmmaker is hoping to achieve and to learn more about their perspective and their process.
Q. How much room do you find to improvise? One would imagine on low budget terms, there isn’t a huge amount of time.
Yeah, for the most part there isn’t too much improvisation. And actually the bigger budget television I’ve done has had no room for it (though perhaps that has to do with genre). In the indie feature world, sometimes you get the opportunity to rehearse and improvise before the shoot, and then you can discover any moments you might want to play with on the day of the shoot.
Q. You have also worked as a writer. At what point did that part of your talent start to become an option?
Writing can be an empowering outlet for an actor. I actually read an interview with Danny Strong that talked about he began writing for that very reason. I started writing while in college, but have become much more interested in it over the last few years. It’s a very different muscle than acting. As an actor, character and dialogue come more easily to me than plot.
Q. Have you considered writing novels at all, or do you see yourself as an actor first, writer second?
I would love to do it all: write, direct, produce and act. Maybe not on the same projects, but I love every facet of making a film, and would relish the opportunity to work on “the other side”. Acting remains my first passion, but I think each position informs the others.
Q. As most actors would probably agree, as creative as the industry is, you still need to earn a living. In that respect, would you like to dip your toe in the big budget blockbuster waters as well as indie?
Haha, I have nothing against big budget blockbusters. In fact, I think there are a lot that are really artfully made and that are enhanced by the work of incredibly talented, trained actors. I would be very excited to dip my toe into one of those sorts of films.
Q. And finally, what are you working on at the moment?
I have a few projects in the mix right now. I’m writing a feature film, and am in pre-production on a short (K.I.A.) that I plan to direct and act in early next year. I have a few television roles and shorts that haven’t come out yet, too. I’m excited to see what 2016 brings!
Interview and Words by Chris Watt
This Interview originally appeared in Watch This Space Film Magazine.