Monday, February 11, 2013

An Indeterminate Exploration Of Life: My Interview With Indie Actress Joanna Pickering

Joanna PickeringJoanna Pickering is a young Indie film actress from New York recently cast in the upcoming horror film “You Found Me”. The film is from a new talent in the industry currently getting a lot of attention for his coming project “The Mangled”, Lawrence W. Nelson II. That project has been picked up by Archstone Distribution and will see a theatrical release. Which says something about the director’s talent. “You Found Me” is scheduled to begin this summer with Joanna Pickering cast as Maggie Smith, one of five friends who decide to take a camping trip away from all the mod-cons for some female bonding and relaxation. The trip becomes anything but relaxing as the friends find themselves in a horrific fight for survival. The film role is something that Pickering is looking forward to very much as it will be her first venture into the world of horror. Something that will allow the young British expatriate from North Shields, in Northern England, to test herself while exploring as much of life as she can. It has become somewhat of a mantra  for the young actress who had no real intention to become an actress, only discovering the passion through one of life’s wondrously random moments of chance. 

So how does a young girl find her way from the North of England to acting in New York? It is a very intriguing tale of adventures in world travel and a true gypsy spirit. That complete desire to explore the unexplored with herself and to experience an indeterminate number of possibilities that a life of random moments of chance can offer. A life that has allowed Joanna Pickering to travel to break free from a life of predetermined options that seemed out of her control in the hands of others. Ideals that fit with a more bohemian world of artistic expressions. It is those ideals which led her to modeling which eventually found her stepping of a plan and onto the streets of New York City. It is also the exciting story that unfolded in my interview with the actress that is best told in her own words. Joanna Pickering’s life has truly been a fascinating one that has seen her in many exciting projects and one that I am sure will continue to carry her through any infinite number of new adventures. In the interview Pickering talks about her life, travels, her excitement about stepping onto a horror set as well as her experience in bizarre experiment in quantum mechanics in “Kubrick”, a film that has yet see the light of day.

ASouthernLife: How was it coming from N. England and stepping into New York City? Was it your initial intention or something you decided to do during university?

Joanna Pickering:  I haven’t lived in North of England for a long time. You know people there are very down to earth and I miss that - although New Yorkers are super friendly. I was born in North Shields. It’s an old industrial shipping and coal area. On one side my grandfather worked on the ships, and my other grandfather was a coal miner. Places like New York never entered my consciousness growing up, or with anyone I knew around me.My mother fought for her right as a child to finish her education. She was determined this was not be the case for me so she sent me to a top girls convent school. I was very privileged in this and no matter what your views are on that, it definitely challenged the mentality to be stuck in one place. My initial intention was, however, simply to be old enough to live on my own - like any family, life at that time could be fraught, and since that happened round the time when my parents moved south to London, then so I had gone north to the other end of the country – Scotland just across the border - and enrolled at university. There intentions kind of went out of the window for a while - I was distracted socially and by other underground artistic projects..
The shit airlines had started up, you know that we love to say are shit, but that actually meant people who could not afford to travel, could start going to new places. That was combined with the banks handing out colossal loans to students. At the same time everyone was telling me “with math you can make a million on Wall Street by the time your 21” I just thought no way is that my path. I became a rebel and for a while nothing good was coming out of my schooling.

Everyone thought I was ready to graduate but the reality was I hadn’t enrolled further than into a bikini, maybe in Australia, or some beach town like Biarritz, I was modeling for top surf companies, but really just hanging out with the world’s top surfers, friends, creative mad and beautiful souls, or I’d be off touring all the ancient cities, say through Egypt, to Cairo, you know these amazing places filled with so much art and history. I’d return to Scotland - I could learn three months differential equation in one night on a crate of red bull – pick up some notes, take an exam, ask the bank for more money (based on the exam results), or pawn some jewelry, get a doctors note to explain my absentees, and then go abroad again. I saw the world like this. Then after one final year of absolute slog - when the mathematics became indisputably hard – I finally graduated.

That was great, I had a piece of paper that said I could do math – which I knew anyway – unthinkable debt, zero cash, no house, which meant no social security, generally strained or severed relationships with family; I had nothing but some life experience. I needed funds quick, so I sold yachts and did model work, and people told me “you’ll be a millionaire by the time your 21” but it was corrupt, soon I fled that too. I needed to be where I could express myself most freely and that was all that mattered to me. I knew then I wanted to be an artist. There is less money in artists starting out than any other profession, so people thought I’d finally lost the plot.  Since, I had no dramatic training just life, I thought Method was the best for me. Lee Strasberg’s schools (founder of the method) only exist in USA. New York for the first time was finally on the cards. I wish I could just answer I went to acting college at 16 then to New York but it’s not like that, there was an element of derangement first, which I use for creating [roles] now.  I got accepted and off I went – and, for sure, New York couldn’t be further from North England, just as it is not representative of the rest of America. If you were to ask for soymilk with your tea in the North East, to this day, they’d look at you if you were barking mad or knock your teeth out. Greggs pasties, ask any Brit, they started in my town. They’re not organic, they’re 39p and you got one if you had been good. The north is my family and my roots, but New York is my life.  I still get butterflies flying into JFK.

ASouthernLife: You in fact gained a scholarship in mathematics, any particular field of study?
Joanna Pickering: Well I studied it all – pure and applied – I gained a Bachelor of Science degree in pure and applied Mathematics, but I actually had the scholarship to my school before, which meant my family got discounted fees because I achieved a good result on a certain day when I was 11 years of age.  I just cleared the exam well enough, as I wasn't anywhere near top of my year until much later. Kids minds develop at all different rates so picking out children based on intellect on one exam that young is a load of bullshit anyway. I wanted to be a vet, I loved animals, but the school said it was more credible to be a human surgeon, which was a vast error of judgment since I had social phobia and hate being in hospitals. My first work placement was in the pathology department of The Royal Victoria Infirmary at the age of 14. I’d be cutting up gangrene toes as they wheeled the bodies in. We had to get higher grades and job placements than the boys’ school up the road, science was the big key. There was immense pressure. I felt like someone else was running my life. I was suffocating. You need to have a certain personality, as well as the grades, if your going to be depended upon to have the lives of others in your hands, I was showing more interest in everything I shouldn't be. I was discovering rock and roll, Primal Scream “Get your Rocks off” was playing full blast in my bedroom, I was exploring. My grades began to slip, so I downgraded, literally, to the mathematics, where seemingly everyone thought I would fit in better, as I could be a bit eccentric and difficult without being responsible for someone’s brain surgery. They were right and I’m grateful for this education. I love doing algebra it’s kind of like poetry, it has a rhythm, a balance, and equilibrium you shift around in and lose yourself for hours, except unlike a poem you can know if you’re right at the end, and it’s kind of cool.

ASouthernLife: What inspired the transition into the dramatic arts and acting?

Joanna Pickering: I really have no idea how I went from that to being on a film set. I gravitate to creative and weird non conforming people and creative and weird non conforming people often ask you to join in some wonderful and macabre things, and one day instead of going to class you’re in a bed sheet up a cliff shrieking like a banshee filming a video for someone in a band that you just met. I also spent a lot of time in graveyards. My first experience of film was with a German lesbian student who was attracted to me enough to ask to film me in a graveyard. She said I was Death. It was very Bergman. There was simply no way I was going to say sorry I have a class I can’t be Death today. Moving, travelling, escapism, curiosity  - the urge to push myself over boundaries – and others expectations, and my own fears…trying to do it my way, getting it wrong, fucking up - it all plays its part. I used to dread performing in front of people - I had crippling nerves. Social anxiety. And the test is to overcome it without the superficial needs.  Now, I am most at ease on a film set than anywhere else, it’s where I spend most of my time - performing for others. I still get pre-nerves but the difference is I know it’s my essential energy source for the scene and how to send it there.  The transition has been a very long challenging journey of exploration.  Je ne regrette rien. It’s just beginning now. For me it’s always just the beginning.

ASouthernLife: You have been in several short films both dramatic and animated, from wife of a politician to a prostitute named "Trixie" and you have several features in the works but "You Found Me" looks to be your first horror film, do you have any apprehensions about such an intense and probably graphic role?

Joanna Pickering: Sure - I had apprehensions about why the graphic violence is being captured, which are the hallmarks of any slasher film. Plus the fact horror films have notoriously formatted scripts, relying more heavily on the aesthetic – you know location, female looks, the blood, the gore…but you know that’s what makes them such cult films, and the fans know and respect this, they want these ingredients and all the characteristics that make the specific genre. One of my favorite films is Peeping Tom, which must be some sort of sub genre, and that was very controversial, and caused all sorts of outcries, and the director, Michael Powell, he never worked again in Britain. Yet now it’s considered a masterpiece. Hitchcock added his part in the development, and Francis Ford Coppola with Dementia 13 - that’s an axe slaying horror with lots of violence. And of course who hasn’t seen the Texas Chain Saw massacre? My bloody Valentine – that was filmed in Canada as You Found Me will be - and that was cut, and held before release. All these films get cut by the film rating systems, it’s all part of it, and they’re controversial, but people want to watch them and there’s no denying they are part of classic film culture. There are lots of different genres - horror and blood and gore is definitely one of them. It’s definitely a cult type of film. The script I received has it all, it’s all happening, there’s lots of blood for sure. I promise! Truth is I have always wanted to be in a horror film. I always wished I’d been in The Shinning or The Birds… being afraid comes easily to me, my imagination simply loves to run down that path.

Regards intensity - I think it is going to be a different type of intensity, where I don’t need to search my past for some strenuous event just to feel connected to the moment – you know, when it is dark for real and your actually in the woods – it’s all there happening there and then. I am looking forward to clearing my mind and having a slightly more physical role, running and screaming, and special effects, really reacting to the environment round me and just being downright scared! What’s not cool about running around in the woods in Ontario in the dark with a film crew terrifying the shit out of one another? And since it’s my job I get paid! Check out the links for helping raise the extra budget, it’s on indiegogo – you can add the link? We’re hoping to film this summer.  It will be amazing fun.... well, you know, if I come home alive.

ASouthernLife: Your character is Maggie Smith, what can you tell me about her and her relationship to the other characters?

Joanna Pickering: Maggie is free spirit, and she is very sexual.  She is very loyal to her female friends, but at the same time she relates well with male friends.  She can be very strong and independent and can be shocking as she is not afraid of being judged. She likes outdoor sports and has strength and power. She loves to hunt and fish.  She can be sensible and protective of her female friends but it is not always seen as she definitely likes to enjoy herself. She loves to drink and have fun. She’s dying to go on this trip and have fun with her friends.  What can possibly go wrong?

ASouthernLife: Have you had a chance to meet some of the other cast members yet?

Joanna Pickering: Only via their headshots and pictures.  That’s the thing with film, people imagine you have rehearsals with one another before hand, for stage yes, but for film you usually meet your co actors five minutes before filming your scene.  Five minutes later you can be head over heels pretending to passionately make out for a sex scene! You get used to meeting on the shoot and making one another feel at ease on set in a short amount of time. You become a close nit group for a while. I am looking forward to meeting everyone!

ASouthernLife: What did you think when you saw the short film "You Found Me" which this feature is adapted?

Joanna Pickering: I thought that should be made into a feature film and I should be in it!

ASouthernLife: Are you a big horror fan?

Joanna Pickering: I absolutely adore the drama of being scared, like a great storm, so I really love horror movies. My favorite is Tales of Two Sisters, by Kim Ji-Woon…Chilling.  I’ve seen it four times and I still sleep with the light on after. I love that something can move me to be that scared…I remember being too young to watch Nightmare on Elm Street in my house and going round to my friend’s  – and then we would be too frightened to sleep so we’d stay up and watch the next one. She had lead windows, which looked like Freddy’s nails on the pane and I remember all the shadows would creep all over the walls …genuine terror! That memory is still a great method trigger for fear in scenes for me. To immerse your self in a good horror is a physical and mental experience that can last for ages. I’m probably more of a suspense psychological type or ghostly horror type, than blood and guts, you know I love films like Sam Peckinpah Straw Dogs, or more surrealist like David Lynch Eraserhead, but right now the bloodier genre definitely sounds adventurous and a completely new experience for me to actively learn how to film it.

ASouthernLife: You also have a movie completed called "Kubricks", can you talk about that film and your character in the movie? Based on the clip I saw from it the film seems pretty experimental.

Joanna Pickering: Ha, yeah, I can talk about it, if only I knew the answer! KUBRICKS was absolutely an experiment. There is absolute genius behind the madness from the director.  Basically whatever the thought process and despair or awe you have when you try to get to the bottom of Quantum mechanics, just apply to the film. So, yeah, in short I have no fucking idea! Or maybe I have lots! That’s the idea.  We weren’t sure if it was even a film. For months Mcgee has been asking do we have a film? I just read in some other press, he is shocked we do! And it’s really good! It takes a lot to shock Alan Mcgee (giggles). I don’t know if others will get it, but genuinely it fits as a working metaphor for quantum on every level. I think people may come back in years, well you know like maybe 45, and say shit, that’s really what that was about, it’s a total artistic masterpiece. On the surface though, the viewers are seeing as much as we do…you know - what the fuck IS going on? We deliberately made a film from absolutely nothing, and now there are infinite interpretations from every end of the spectrum.  Every member of the crew got a 52 page manual on quantum mechanics, every dialogue and technical aspect reflects this. That's the bit people have to figure out. You know I mailed Dean [Cavanagh] the director the other day asking if he’ll be handing a copy of the manual out with the tickets and popcorn. I’ll either get no reply or 10 at once telling me to fuck off. It's all there. I can definitely say it’s funny…I watched some rough footage the other day, I have an eye patch, I don’t know if they're “in jokes” for an "in crowd" but I had to keep pausing it for laughing so much.

I play an actress and had to be very natural and real, very northern, completely documentary style - which is actually really hard to do deliberately, and it is unnerving when closing in on one of your selves, with no character direction, or script to bury yourself under. I have played more concrete acting roles in terms of acting preparation yet this is the greatest exposure of any role I have so far, so it’s ironic that it was the most haphazard. Hair and Make up? No fucking chance! My hair is flattened to my head with dirt and grime if not almost falling out from stress in every scene! We were camping. I love camping. I also love the fact that maybe no one will even get this film and yet I am actually in it! Cult and controversial… just as a good disturbing horror should be!

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