Acting schools do not teach how to act. They may teach elements of acting, and technique, but to be an effective actor/actress you must not only be intuitive, you must be empathetic as well. Figuratively speaking, you must become the person you are going to portray. This is the philosophy of Michigan native, actress Melissa Anschutz.
Melissa was born an artist. She realized that she wanted to become an actress at a very young age. Although she attended school specializing in theatrical arts, she was well on her way to becoming an actress before she set foot on campus and this gift she had for becoming her characters, she honed and polished as she accepted each new role.
Today, Melissa has been in 26 films, five television series, and several commercials. She has earned her SAG eligibility, a designation she wears with pride. The union now views her as a professional.
MMM interviewed Melissa Anschutz regarding acting, her roles and her aspirations as a performer.
MMM You have a personal philosophy on acting. Rather than paraphrasing what you think, why not give us how you feel about acting and school?
MA Education in any field or industry is power. I feel the more you educate yourself, the better, more polished professional you will become. Yes, even in our industry. However, I must qualify this to say, do I feel as though you can teach someone to “act”? No. In my heart of hearts I truly believe acting is the talent of becoming, which can not be taught, but can be honed.
For instance, you can be taught to ‘open toward the camera,” “wait for a “sound” to pass to deliver your part of a conversation;” “let the light catch your face and eyes,” “stay inside of your frame;” “make sure your movements don’t reveal your mic, or impede the sound;” “repeat exactly the same movements during exactly the same dialog for take 2, 3, 4, as you did for take 1;” and of course this list goes on and on… The education of perfecting these technical aspects will make you a better actor they will become second nature and not distract your focus of ‘being’ your character.
I also believe it is important to more than just ‘your part’. The more I understand the positions of the DP, the director, the 1st and 2nd ADs, the script, all the supporting artists working behind the camera, the better “art” we can create together. It’s the team concept. In any sport, when a “team” works together, the game becomes one fluid motion.
I see. When did you realize that you wanted to become an actress? How old were you? And what were your earliest experiences that confirmed that this would be the direction you would like to take?
MA From a very young age, honestly as long as I can remember, I wanted to be an actress. I loved to make people laugh, cry, be afraid, feel happy, etc. I loved to make people “feel” anything. I loved to watch their reactions. I loved to tell the stories…I loved “becoming” someone else and found it intoxicating to figure out “who” they were.
Human behavior has everything to do with the influences around us; who the parents are, where we grew, up, what school we attended; what kinds of friends we had, etc. And then we have our chemical make, or “hard wiring” genetics.. I found it fascinating to dissect these elements in different people. It affects speech, thought process, moral beliefs, religious beliefs, religious beliefs, body language.. as the saying goes, “You never know unless you walk in someone’s shoes.” As actors, we get to do just that; as a human, I feel as though this has made me more empathetic, or “tuned in” to the reaction or actions of others.
The confirmation of my direction came at a few times in my life. The first time was when I was 7. I had organized a “show.” When the “felt” the audience response (which, mind you, consisted of parents, neighbors and friends), I watched them engage. I fell in love with the emotion in their reactions to the story we were telling.
Each time I listened to naysayers, and tried to go the “safe” and traditional path, it was like wearing the wrong skin. So the only “choice” for me was not a “choice” at all…Be happy taking the long way to your destination, where you may have to stop several times and ask for directions, consistently refer to your “map” and battle your insecurities. Or, be miserable listening to the “Garmen” voice of traditional means while following the “safe” directions.
What I realized was, if I had chosen the later, the journey and the destination would have never made me happy. It confirmed, take the hard path, enjoy the journey and when you get there will become your choice relative to whatever goals you set and meet along the way.
Where did you go to school? What were your experiences in acting class?
MA I went to a small high school on the east side of the state. They did not offer acting classes. In college my acting classes were theater dominate. I enjoyed them since they put me with like-minded people. However, since I didn’t have a background of experience, I also didn’t carry any connections in the field. So, to be honest, I found them somewhat intimidating. Every one seemed to know each other. What I had to learn was there wasn’t any room for fear in this industry, or I’d never survive it.
You attained numerous theater credits. The last was your part in “The Odd Couple.” For this you had to master a British dialect. Was this difficult for you?
MA I have a very good ear. So, no it was not difficult to master the British dialect. But I did have to work hard and study. The production had a dialect coach who worked with all of the actors. Probably the most difficult part was to keep the “mid-Atlantic” out. I wanted to sound like the real deal, to give the accent respect. I also didn’t want it to distract me during the performance, so I listened to a CD the coach had given me over and over again and I never broke from the accent for the the duration of the rehearsals and the show. For instance, if I went to Starbucks, the grocery store, or the doctor’s office, they got Gwendolyn Pigeon’s voice.
Have you since had to master other dialects? What would you recommend for someone required to master a dialect/accent?
MA Yes, I’ve had to master others. One of the most difficult being Lituanian. If an actor is trying to master a dialect, I would suggest this website. A wonderful friend and fellow actor passed it along to me and I have found it very useful. It separates different areas, so it’s incredibly precise. http://www.dialectsarchive.com/
Since leaving school, you have become active as a film actress. What was your first film role? How did you prepare for this role?
MA My first film role was an independent student film titled “Dome”, where I played the Council Woman.” They added to my part, so I felt confident they liked what I was giving them. I didn’t know how to prepare for a film role, so I prepared for the world I was going to live in by understand who I was in it. I asked myself questions like “Who was this woman?””Where did she come from?”; “What experiences did she have that shaped her opinions?””What was she trying to accomplish?” and “Who was important to her and why”, etc.
Since then, you have earned your SAG eligibility. What did this mean to you? How did you feel about being so qualified?
MA When I earned my SAG eligibility, I felt accomplished in the the screen world. Coming from a theater girl, who knew nothing about film, it meant at that point I had spent enough hours on a SAG set/production for them to allow me to join, When I say, “them” I mean the union now viewed me as a professional. It was another step in my journey, a goal met and I felt proud above reaching it.
You have since performed in 26 films, five television series, and several commercials. (Quite a resume.) What are some of the most noteworthy films in which you have appeared? Television series? Commercials?
MA Which films/television series are the most noteworthy is a difficult question due to subjectivity. For “40 Nights” and my role as “Mary” for many that have Christian views, would consider becoming her the highest honor. As for law enforcement, western lovers, or fans of TV shows like “The Walking Dead” or “Deadwood”, Maddie Rawlings in “Land of the Outlaws” TV series should top the list. Single mothers, I believe, would vote for Dana in “Ashes of Eden,” The comedic audience may get the most from “Cheryl” (my princess brat with big heart.). In “Realizm” or my portrayal of many characters in a skit driven comedy series I did years ago. For those who are into “Things That Go Bump in the Night” I’d say “Anne Harper’s” story in “Bestseller” would top the list , or for serious gore fans, it would have to be Maria in “Elder Island” or perhaps Kerri in “Demon Trek” Potical activists would lean toward Laura in “7 Stones” Psychological enthusiasts would say Dina in “Fugue.” A teen and a viewer of the new “Melrose Place” would probably choose “Chasing the Rain,” since all of my scenes with Matt Lanter (a very nice young man with a surplus of young lady followers) if you’re an art lover, and prefer film noir, you may select my role as Jellybean, Or if you’re behind the camera expert, certainly “Monogamy” with the attempt of of the one continuous shot would impress you. Basically, I’ve been privileged to tell all kinds of stories in different genres. As for me, each and every one had worth.
As for commercials, no national spots yet; but several local (meaning statewide) and a couple of spokeswoman spots.
So, were these films you have named all Michigan productions?
The films were not all Michigan productions, although most were and all were in country. However, a goal of mine is to work internationally.
As well as being an actress, you have also become involved in screenwriting, co-producing, as well as other pursuits. Tell us about your involvement in each.
Writing is something I haven’t done in many years, something I certainly want to get to and will. I co-wrote a pilot years ago based on my experience behind the scenes of an on-going TV series. I’ve also written poetry. I love to write. I find it relaxing, yet consuming. Co-producing is another story. It can be exhausting, stressful, frustrating, and intense. Yet it can also be exhilarating, educational and exciting. It’s a job where you roll up your sleeves and go to work. But there is an undeniable sense of schievement when you are sitting in a première for a film you co-produced. I have often used the example: co-producing is like planning a wedding that takes place for 21 plus days. This entails food, travel to and from set, to and from hotels, lodging, locations, restrooms, make-up and hair, all staging areas, tables, chairs, wardrobes, vans and, of course, crewing up, gearing up…the list goes on and on. Oh, yes, and absolutely all within your budget. I must also talk about and certainly credit Collective Development, Inc. I was first introduced to DJ Perry on the film “7 Stones” where he and I were cast lead opposite each other. The film primarily consisted of our two characters, basically trapped in a prison cell together, so the dialog was heavy, as in both had many lines. This resulted in constant rehearsal between takes. He was as militant as I about running lines, which created a mutual respect for the dedication to the craft we both carried. At that time, I had just created. co-wrote and produced a television pilot titled “Paid Programming”. Knowing his success with CDI and producing, I asked for his help. He was kind enough to teach, then later develop me into producing for the company. CDI consists of several industry vets, all of whom I have the utmost respect. Wonderfully talented, honest individuals who work hard, are willing to teach or listen, brainstorm and collaborate. I fell very fortunate to have found a home within the company and credit them completely for the knowledge I have as a producer today.
Presently you are involved in several productions which are in various stages. Would you like to share information regarding these, as much as possible.
MA I am presently involved in productions at every level. I equate a single production similar to a child, they never really leave you. Currently in post, on some, setting up theatricals for completed projects on others. We do have a few in our library with certain rights open to I’m offering those up to potential buyers. I have a hand on information exchange to distributors with some, reading scripts and rewrites for ones in development, watching actor reels and offering feedback with “Chasing the Star” which is in pre-production and next up to shoot in February 2016. As well as setting up lodging, crewing, catering…most of what I described in my answer to being a producers for “Chasing the Star”, then also, looking at budget, weather, colors and locations for what will shoot directly after it. And that is just the producer work. The acting work is also on-going, scripts that have been sent to read then decisions on whether to express interest or politely decline, searching for quality projects to send materials, auditioning for producing that fit, skyping if the fit has gone to the next level, dates to look at for conflicts, then going further yet, if an offer is presented there are contracts to read, lines to learn, character development to begin, director talks to happen, as well as many exchanges, from food allergies to wardrobe sizes, etc.
What are your goals, what would you like to achieve in this industry? Are you on target to achieve what you want?
I am thrilled to report I have reached some of my goals. The main one being, I’m doing what I love. Being an actress is a continuous journey, and my dream lies within it. Other goals: ideally the Type A personality in me would like to be able to roll from one film to the next and have a year or two already mapped out. I would like to work outside the country. I would like to land a solid role within a series. I’m purposely using the word “solid” meaning strong character with layers of depth into who they are, which is what makes me hopeful for the world of “Land of the Outlaws” to continue for many seasons. Maddie Rawlings is certainly a “solid” person. I would like to write my own screenplay and see that story told.
My life is a delicate balance between this world and my family. As many parent professionals probably face, my time between work and personal can get tricky. I will always look first to my personal. I’m certain many would tell me this has held me back with the choices I’ve made. I did not want to raise my children in LA or NYC. I gave up my dream of working in this industry while my children were young. I will be careful in my selection of roles due to having teenage boys. I will turn down a chance to work on a feature for important things such as not missing my eldest senior year of football. And they too have had to deal with certain aspects that are a direct result of having a mom who is an actress. But all in all, I can say I feel as though I am on target. However, it is solely because I have the beautiful liberties of choosing where it is placed.
Will I ever hit the bull’s eye? I have been discouraged, I have faced frustrations; I have seen both droughts and feasts. I have celebrated and cried, certainly when I couldn’t fly out of the state and was trapped in three different cities because Michigan had an arctic blast and no planes were flying for days causing me to miss a golden opportunity for a beautiful role in a film in New York. I shed some tears, mind you this was well after having gone through all of the contracts, character development, etc., etc. To have been offered the role, every thing signed, plane ticket in hand, then on runway after runway just to turn around and go back to the gate was heartbreaking. Yet, even that experience, once the wounds healed a bit, I picked myself up and headed back into the ring. I believe that’s it. That the way to hit the bull’s eye; to accept your defeats, enjoy victories, and never quit fighting.
Melissa Anschutz IMDB http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3090924/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm