Robert Greene's Actress is a breath of fresh air.
Using Brandy Burre (The Wire) as the center point, Greene makes a blend of reality and fiction in this melodrama while blurring the line between person and character, her sense of reality and fiction is constantly being questioned.
After reaching a high level of recognition by being part of the show The Wire, Brandy now lives with her husband and two children in Beacon, New York, away from the city lights of Manhattan. We follow Brandy's steps as she decides to get back into the acting world and witness her marriage crumbles around her new set goals.
We set with Robert to talk about this amazing documentary that dives deep into Brandy's world of dreams and illusion while reality comes in like a ton of bricks.
Gomes: Where the idea of Actress came from? Walk me through the process of completing the film, from conception to completion.
Greene: Brandy was my next door neighbor and I was sensing something in her that was bottled up - she wasn’t “unhappy,” necessarily, but there was definitely a restless creative energy inside of her and this happened to match concerns I was having in my own life at the time about balancing creative needs and the demands of being a father. On another level, I’ve long been excited about the relationship between performance and documentary and I saw potential in putting an actor as theatrical as Brandy in front of my observational camera. It was really a melding of form and content and the film went from an experiment to a full blown collaboration once life crept in and this stage that I wanted to construct for Brandy became her art project and her means for mental survival in some ways. We shot for 18 months and faced many dilemmas, including Tim’s growing wariness with the process, but I never asked anyone to a sign release form until the film was done so that no one felt trapped. In the end Brandy loved the film and Tim tolerated it and cared enough about her and my filmmaking abilities to give us the ok.
Gomes: Your previous film Fake it So Real was a documentary about wrestlers, their dreams, aspirations and what inspires them to join this world. Actress goes even deeper, we see Brandy switch between her roles frantically as mother, wife, actress and woman. It is almost impossible to gasp wether this is a documentary or drama, are we just observers of participating in the action? While making this film, did you know the direction you were supposed to go or did it surprise you the direction the story was taking? What was the premise you were trying to portrait?
Greene: I had no idea what would actually happen - the actual “story” that unfolded about Brandy and Tim’s relationship - which is the terrifying magic of nonfiction. I learned the key points of drama as we were shooting. What I was interested in from the beginning was how people play themselves in documentaries could serve as a useful metaphor for the roles we play in our daily lives. I some ways, the documentary form is a kind of trap and so is societal norms. I thought if we revealed the artifices of that documentary trap - the way the cage is constructed, so to speak - that we might be able to provoke a revelation about how society forces us into daily roles and doesn’t let us leave them without considerable pain.
Gomes: At least to me, Brandy's presence was magnetic. I could not take my eyes of her. We witness a moment in her life that she is letting go of many important things in her life and trying to move to another chapter. There is pain, hurt and a lot of attempts of testing people's boundaries. How was to work with Brandy and how willing she was to display so many personal moments of her life onscreen?
Greene: Brandy is one of the rarest people I know - a person who sees an obstacle (most potently, for an actor, is the fear of being judged) and has to run through it. It’s like an impulse for her. But at the same time, all she wants to do is shield herself and hide. This is a common trait among performers of her level and that is part of what makes her such a dynamic person onscreen. She wants to be left alone so she can think and be, but when the camera arrives she feels some strange compulsion - a kind of responsibility - to share her thoughts, feelings, fears, desires. I just happened to be filming her in a major transition point in her life, but the fact is that the camera probably gave her a stage for her actions and she took that stage with gusto and brutal honesty.
Gomes: The feedback I have seen about your movie has been great. Did you expect the recognition from critics and movie fans to be so massive?
Greene: One can never expect critics to behave in any predictable way, but I do feel like the movie rewards thinking, so in some ways critics can’t help but respond.
Gomes: Movie fan to movie fan, who or what inspired (or inspires) you to keep creating and making movies? Any recent movie you watched that you would like to suggest to movie fans out there?
Greene: I’m inspired by many of the best working filmmakers: the Ross brothers, Laura Poitras, Adam Curtis, the Sensory Ethnography Lab folks, Abbas Kiarostami, Richard Linklater, all kinds of adventurous nonfiction filmmakers and fiction collaborators like Alex Ross Perry, etc. But I’m still mostly inspired by the greats: Wiseman, Sirk, Akerman, Godard, the Maysles and great films like Posession or A Married Couple or Three Women or Portrait of Jason.
Gomes: What are you next projects?
Greene: My next film is called Kate Plays Christine and in it I will follow the actor Kate Lyn Sheil as she attempts to take the role of Christine Chubbuck, a newscaster in Sarasota, Florida who killed herself on air 40 years ago in a story that inspired the Hollywood film Network. I also just completed editing on films as diverse as Perry’s Elisabeth Moss-starring Queen of Earth, Charles Poekel’s Sundance hit Christmas, Again and Nick Berandini’s TASER documentary Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle, all of which will be coming out in 2015. I just moved to Columbia, MO to serve as the Filmmaker-in-Chief of the new Murray Center for Documentary Journalism at the University of Missouri, which launches in the fall.