At just 25 years of age, Jasmine McGlade Chazelle is premiering her second film at the TriBeCa Film Festival. The first time the former competitive fencer, Harvard graduate and producer/writer/director was there was in 2009 for producing GUY AND MADELINE ON A PARK BENCH, a musical directed by her husband Damien Chazelle. This year she is premiering her directorial debut MARIA MY LOVE, which she co-wrote with Lauren Fales, who not only has a part in the film, but whose own story of loss inspired the film.
Judy Marte is a critically acclaimed actress and two-time Independent Spirit Award nominee, known best for her memorable portrayal of Juicy Judy in RAISING VICTOR VARGAS. The two women sat down with me to discuss MARIA MY LOVE, an earnest portrait of a young woman named Ana, who encounters new relationships that help her live again after a year of grieving for her mother.
Jasmine, what inspired you to make the film MARIA MY LOVE?
Exactly two years ago I saw Lauren [Fales] at the film premiere of a film I produced called Guy and Madeline On A Park Bench.She was an actress that I knew from high school and she told me how she lost her mom, how she had met a hoarder and she was telling me about that experience. I was very touched by her story. She had lost her mom and it was very hard for her. I knew I wanted to make a movie in tribute to her mother and about the subject of recovery. In terms of the story— a lot of it is fictional. It is inspired by her life, but there are a lot of elements that I wrote for the story.
A lot of films tackle the subject of grief. What did you hope to convey with this film?
Grief is personal for everybody. I’m not trying to make something that I think speaks for everyone’s experience necessarily. I wanted it to be personal to Ana’s character. I think the film is not only about grief or the loss of a parent, but I think it speaks to recovery from a variety of things. I talked a lot to Lauren, about how she was handling it. And, you know Judy said a lot of her acting and what she brought to it was just her imagining losing her mom. I really wanted a naturalistic performance from her . She said she tried to not act as much as possible, just try to be present and imagine what it was like to lose her mom. As the writer I think I kind of did the same thing. I have lost people in my life, but the loss of a mother, the mother-daughter relationship is so special and so I think it was a combination of talking to people and imagining what that would be like.
Judy, how were you able to tap into Ana’s character and give such a naturalistic performance?
I chose to just not act at all. I chose to do whatever I felt at that moment, just go with it instead of making a decision or choosing to go a different route for the performance. I was not concerned about that. As we all know this was based on a true story and for me it was important to get how she felt across and make sure that it was real to her.
Jasmine, talk about putting together and working with such a versatile cast.
Lauren, Karen, Brian and Judy are all such different actors and it was so special to bring them together. Karen Black is a legend, she’s amazing. We had a really great on-set working relationship. We really trusted each other. A lot of what I did with her is watch who she is as a person and try to incorporate that. This is Brian Rieger’s first film and he did a fantastic job. He’s someone I knew from childhood, but I put him through a rigorous casting process. It was great, because he was a trained theater actor, but I think he took to film very naturally. Working with a first time actor is different than working with Karen, who has been in over a hundred movies. Judy, she’s a real blessing. She just has an amazing talent for improv. What I love about Judy are her instincts and her ability to just dissolve right into the role. Lauren is pretty new to film also. She’s done a couple of films and is a trained theater actress. I think because it was her life it was such a personal experience. Everyone involved was just so excited to be there, myself included, that there was a lot of trust, a lot of love and will to work really, really hard. I really love actors and I love working with actors. For me, as a director, I find it important to find out who each person is, who each actor is as a person and how they want to be talked to. Brian wanted to know a lot about his character’s background. He really wanted to talk a lot about it. Others wanted to kind of figure it out on their own. But, if you can find a language that works for each actor, thats the way we can develop the trust to get a performance.
Judy, talk about the natural chemistry you and your castmates share on screen.
You just have to be lucky. You can’t plan that. When people have chemistry, its an energy thing, you just either have it or you don’t. I was lucky that in this movie we did. I’m always so thankful for that, because it shows on film and makes such a difference.
Talk about your character Ana and her struggles.
In the movie she’s beyond rock bottom. She already went through the whole suffering. When the movie starts she’s actually in the stage of the process where she wants to better herself. She’s been very angry for a really long time so she feels like this wreck, but she doesn’t know how to control it, which is another step of discovery.
Jasmine, tell us about making your directorial debut at such a young age.
Karen actually said to me yesterday one of the things that she likes so much about our dynamic and about me is that I felt part of the group, rather than on the outside. Some directors are on the outside. I think because of how low budget was I really wanted to get in there and modify things and be open to suggestions. I had a vision for it, but i also wanted to see how my vision could blend with what they could bring to it. We felt like peers.
Judy, how did having a young director and young cast affect the dynamic of the film?
It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old. You just have to know what you want, have a vision and we definitely did.
Jasmine, talk about MARIA MY LOVE premiering at the TriBeCa Film Festival.
I think its perfect that we’re premiering at this festival, because the idea for the movie came to me while I was here. The whole movie was just very serendipitous. I’ve been wanting to work with Judy for years, since I had seen her in Raising Victor Vargas. We were made to make this movie and come back to TriBeCa, so it just feels like a complete circle.
What are you working on next?
I’ve written the script for The Fencer. Its an intense and dark movie about a girl trying to make the Olympic team, the anxieties of competition— a portrait of this young woman. I know this world inside and out. I started fencing when I was 12, then I was a competitive fencer all through college. This is a perfect way to marry my two passions.
Sanela Djokovic is a writer living in the Bronx
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