Q&A for Death of a Tree
1. How did the project come to you?
The project came to me through Paul Borghese (lead actor from John’s previous film “Vito Bonafacci”). John was looking to cast the role of James, and Paul recommended me for the role. It just worked out.
2. How did you prepare for the role of James?
I basically, spent as much time with John as I could, and tried to understand his life and what the life of that particular man would have to deal with on a daily basis. I spent a lot of simple time in thought and essentially tried to put myself in John’s world and his life.
3. In what ways are you similar or different from your character?
I’m similar to James in that I do have a strong spiritual belief. I feel he’s a man of his word – he has integrity, which I hope I am that man. Also, I want to do what is right, even though my level of what I believe and the life I try to live based on my own beliefs, is different from James’. The character was a man who came from the streets, clearly led a life that was full and ‘colorful’, which led him to finding God. Having that in common, I felt it was easy to tap into my younger and crazy life, and come out on the other side as a man of integrity.
4. Were there any specific scenes that were difficult for you to film?
All of them! But most difficult were the scenes at Planned Parenthood, because many passers-by in ‘real life’ had many strong opinions of what we were doing there, the atmosphere was very tense.
5. What was your favorite scene, and why?
Hard to say, there were a few that I really liked. I enjoyed my conversations with Gracie (Erica) very much. But my favorite scene would probably have to be the breakfast scene, it felt very natural and honest. It seemed that James was content and happy with his life, but then we learn shortly after that, that wasn’t in fact the case. But at that point in the script, it felt as though James had come to a resolution that he deserved love and wanted to explore the relationship. I felt like it was a side of him that we got to see of what could have been for him and of course i think that his own mind was his enemy. The scene felt as a ‘flash’ – a moment…a real coming-of-age for him. I liked the whole experience of that scene.
6. What was it like working with John Martoccia?
It was a very interesting process, because John felt and cared deeply about the character James, and I felt as though I was in a constant mode of trying to please John. With any role, trying to achieve the necessary balance between pleasing the director and bringing as much of myself into the character is always a challenge. So, overall, I’d say it was a gratifying, yet conflicting process at times. John is certainly a man who knew what he wanted and this is a role that doesn’t come around too often for a guy like me. I admire his intensity, passion, enthusiasm, drive and overall love and care for telling this story.
7. What were your feelings about working on a faith-based film?
Conflicted. It came for me at a time I was looking and searching myself. I feel that I took this role so seriously and personally, it really struck a chord with me. At times it was very trying, having to swallow something that I didn’t particularly believe in. But when I take on a role, I completely throw myself into it. While filming, I felt I became James and believed exactly what he was saying. There’s always that conflict – that once you put something in your heart sometimes it leaves a little print there. A part of that experience will always be with me. It really made me hold a mirror to my own face and really question my own beliefs.
8. How was the atmosphere different from other films you’ve worked on?
Being a religious film, I noticed a lot less foul language being used, everyone seemed to be on their best behavior . I felt as though everyone respected John and his wishes, his home, and the church we shot in. It felt very different, it felt like a bunch of kids doing their best to behave.
9. What was the best part of woking on Death of a Tree?
The friendships that I’ve made that are still with me today. I loved staying and being a part of Carin Mei’s family for the duration of the shoot, she is to me now a life-long friend. She was so gracious to open her home to us, her friendship and hospitality were a big part of what made my experience so much fun. Also, getting to play a character much older than myself was an interesting and fun challenge.
10. Did working on this film re-awaken or help strengthen your faith?
A little bit of both. I think it re-awakened my sense of wonder, and made me re- examine what it is I believe. Some of the stances I took as James have stayed with me in some ways.
11. What do you hope audiences will come away from this film with?
I hope audiences will relate and identify with the heart, the struggle and the challenges of James. Whether its on the same level that he experienced or on some whole other level, religious or otherwise – heart to heart, or man to man. I hope they will identify with the fact that sometimes the best thing you can do is to stay on the path you believe. I hope people come away with the sense that it’s never too late for somebody in their lives, and as bad as things are today – tomorrow is a new day, and that you can turn things around. If it gets people thinking, praying, seeking, and stirring in their own hearts, then I feel like we’ve done our job. Hopefully everyone can find peace in their own hearts and simply be moved on a human level.
12. Any final thoughts on the experience?
I feel very grateful to have been a part of it and to have had this experience. I think James’ voice was not much different from my own – in that, we all have something to say. I believe as actors and as storytellers we have the power to move people, so I’m hoping that these kinds of projects continue to come to me in the future.
13. What’s next for you?
Many of you know I’ve been a supporting player on ABC’s General Hospital for the last 3 years, however, I have just left the show. Currently, I’m involved with a lot of theatre work. I’m working on bringing my one-man-show as Lenny Bruce to Broadway. Also, I’m always trying to nurture the talents of my theatre members, helping them to find their identities as artists. My theatre, Theatre 68 (http://www.theatre68.com) is now bicoastal, in Los Angeles (for 11 years) and now in New York City (celebrating 1 year in August of 2012).