Best Friends Forever is Brea Grant‘s “passion Project.” Not only does she star in the film, but she also co-wrote (alongside her co-star, Vera Maio) and directed the story about two friends who take a road trip just as the apocalypse is about to happen.
Brea (Heroes, Dexter) is my favorite kind of actor (and person). She loves to create and she wasn’t satisfied just sitting around waiting for her career to happen. She went out and is making it happen.
She and Maio, got together and wrote a script that they had both planned to star in. The script turned out great. They found a director and financing but as things go in the indie world, things didn’t go as planned. The director left the project and at the last second, Brea was like, “Why don’t I just direct this movie?” The film is totally original and as a first time director, I thought she did a wonderful job.
In the interview, I ask her how she liked directing and how she liked directing herself, if she liked being the person in charge and how the whole experience made her a better actor.
For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes
You co-wrote, directed and you starred in this, was that always the plan or did it just kind of fall into place like that?
Brea Grant: No, it wasn’t the plan. We started writing it together for ourselves. So the plan was always to write and be in it, and we actually had a different director on board and as with a lot of independent films, our funding fell out at the last minute and we ended up having not even half of what we thought we were going to have. So it just got cut massively.
But we really still wanted to make it and obviously the director at the time didn’t want to commit to doing something for so little money and also, I mean, no money. Vera and I haven’t seen a dime from this movie yet. And so asking to do someone to do that, it’s not their passion project, you know, so that person ended up dropping out, and so I was like, “Why don’t I just direct this movie?” and Vera was like, “Oh, yeah. That’s a good idea,” and it just literally as simple as that. But it was a terrible way to choose who directed it, because I had never wanted to direct in my whole life so then it was a weird choice to suddenly be in a situation where I was directing.
So was it like just a light bulb went in your head like, “Eh, I might as well do it.”
Brea Grant: Well, I felt like I knew I would do it, I knew I was gonna see it through, I knew, you know, we had started it together and I had seen it from the beginning, I felt like I could do it because I knew the story, I knew everything about it. As long as I had a good team around me, I felt like it was possible. And it was good because it was such my baby as a script, I didn’t wanna pass it on to someone who didn’t have a passion for it and would never finish it, you know, and it’s hard to get someone to be passionate about something when there’s no money involved.
Yeah, true. Did you like being the person in charge?
Brea Grant: No, I hated it.
Did you really?
Brea Grant: Yeah, I did, actually. I mean, I think I thought I would have a lot more… I think in my mind I thought it would be a lot more of me being, like, able to make all the decisions myself and being in charge of everything and you think of that as a director’s role, but the problem is you are also pleasing about 100 people at times. You’re pleasing your actor, your producer, your writer. Though I am some of those people, I’m not all of those people.
And so it was like making all these compromises and stuff, it’s not what I’m used to on a set. On a set, usually I’m in charge of myself and that’s it, and instead I was in charge of everything. It was just… it was just draining and not. It was definitely not what I thought it would be.
I would imagine if I were directing myself, I would find it difficult to move between being an actor and director. Because my actor side would be like, “You guys were great, but I sucked in that scene. I wanna redo it.” I would just nitpick everything about my work. How did you wear both of those hats at the same time? Or did you even do that?
Brea Grant: No, I did. And there was definitely some of that, but we rehearsed, which really helped, so I kind of knew what was going into that. And I think if I hadn’t written it that also would’ve been a problem.
But the thing is the character of Harriet, I’ve known her for a year before I started acting and I think that’s really rare. I knew the character for a year before I started actually being her on screen. I think that’s rare for an actor, usually we get the script a week ahead of time and then we’re making all of these decisions like, “No, no. She would never do that.” You know? With this, I kind of had to know everything I was doing before I even walked onto the set. So I knew all my shots before I walked on the set, I knew all my setups, and I knew what I wanted from each scene. I had gone through like, “This is what I wanna look like here, this is what I wanna be doing…”
The only time it was a little bit difficult was when I had sort of an emotional thing happening during a scene or outside of the scene. So if I had a fight with someone on the set, it was hard to not show it on… within the scene. Or if I was doing a scene that was emotional, I have a scene where I’m breaking down and crying, I actually just let my A.D. take over the set for that little while. I was like, “No, I’m just gonna step away, I’m gonna be gone for 10 minutes, when I come back we’ll shoot it, and then we’ll be done with the whole scene.” You know?
I definitely wanted to do about 100 more takes every time, but I want to do that anyway as an actor.
You said you guys did prep. Did you storyboard a lot of things? Did you rehearse a bunch before you shot any film? Did you rehearse with other cast members as well?
Brea Grant: Both. Yeah, I did. So the weeks leading up to the shoot, I met with my DP every day and we went through every single scene and we had all of our storyboards and our entire shot list was laid out before we walked on the set. And some of it would change because our locations would change or we didn’t have a location when we planned it out.
Another thing I do is I write comic books, so I sort of would write it out like I would do the comic book where I’m like, “ I want this to look like this in this panel,” so I kind of drew it like I would draw a comic book panel. And my DP was super cool and was able to interpret all of those crazy musings that I would have.
And then we also were able to rehearse and I brought my DP to shoot some of them and some I shot myself and then I would watch them at night and kind of figure out what I did and I didn’t like for me and Vera. Also, the other actors I was able to meet with all the actors with the exception of Sean Maher who plays an evil cowboy guy. But there’s not a ton of other actors in the movie and so that really helped as well.
Was there any particularly challenging scene as both an actor and director of it? Where you were in the middle of both and you were like, “Ugh, I just wanna do one at this time.”
Brea Grant: No, I mean, the whole thing is a little like that. You know? But, I mean, the hardest sequence to do was this big fight scene at the end between my character, Vera’s character, and then my character’s sister. Because we show up at this party and there’s a party going on and then these secrets that I’ve been keeping from Reba, you know, they all come out and then it’s just basically we’re all yelling at each other and stuff. And it was super hard, one, because it was an emotional scene, there was a lot of information, there was a lot of work, so we had to all be very on top of everything.
But then, two, as went into that scene I got the news that we lost our location in an hour and a half and we thought we had, like, 6 hours of shooting. I was planning of shooting that scene from all of these different angles. So it became this thing of like, “Crap, how are we gonna shoot this and get it covered as well as do a good job?” So I felt like that whole time my mind was thinking, “Ok, if we do it this way and then go this way…” I think it sort of works for the scene because my character is a little bit in her own world at that point anyway, I hope that worked.
Did you start writing the script to take control, more control, over your career?
Brea Grant: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, as you know, an actor’s job is basically to sit by the phone. I try to do other things because I’m waiting to see what happens with whatever. You know? And that’s a really horrible life to lead. And before I started writing comic books and I got interested in doing something outside of the acting world, but then I was like, “I know how to act now. I know how to…” obviously I’ve got a lot to learn, but I wanted to see what it was like to create something… to be on the creative side of things, and it’s very empowering to know that you can go out and do your own thing.
I mean, it’s definitely not easy and when I was done all I wanted to do was be an actor for, you know, you go show up on the set and remember your lines and go home, but for the most part it’s been really empowering and I definitely want to keep doing it. I mean, it’s hard, it’s way harder than starting an acting career, I would say, but totally worth it.
I think acting is fun because it’s so personal and we take all of those hits so personally, like when… like, “Oh, they don’t wanna see you for this role. Oh, you didn’t book this role, your audition was bad,” or whatever. Those things, it’s so hard not to take those personally.
Filmmaking it’s more like you’re handing a baby to somebody. It’s like you’re having a baby. It’s like having a baby and not knowing how to take care of it and being so worried you’re gonna screw everything up all the time. You know? So it’s a big different kind of worry that you’re not doing enough, whereas with acting I feel like we’re constantly just trying to shield our own egos and our own brains to keep us from going crazy. Filmmaking is more like, “Am I screwing everything up?”
Would you ever write, act, and star in a movie again?
Brea Grant: I don’t think so.
Brea Grant: No, I don’t think so. I’m not… I mean, I know that’s not the right answer. Everybody keeps asking and I know I’m supposed to be like, “Of course, I wanna direct everything from now on,” but I don’t. I think that there’s a drive to direct, I think there’s a drive to act. I think there’s a drive to write. I guess I have the writing one, I always have. I love acting, I’m not totally sure I have the directing bug. I definitely didn’t catch some sort of, “Oh, now I have the directing fever.” I don’t feel that way. But I do think that I might eventually direct something again, it would just be something I probably wasn’t acting in.
Well, you’re very good at it.
Brea Grant: Oh, well thank you. But you didn’t watch me fall apart for 6 months.
Do you think this whole process actually made you a better actor?
Brea Grant: Yes. It’s like… I think all actors should direct something, even if it’s a short or whatever, just to know what it’s like to be on the other side of the camera because you learn so much.
I learned a lot, especially when I was editing. That was when it was like, “Oh my God, I’ve been acting terribly for the last few years,” or whatever. Like, now that I’ve edited things I know what people are looking for, what they need, and you just get a better sense of the whole way the train runs. This is the way it goes. You know? And obviously actors are just a cog in the machine. We consider ourselves this huge, important roles, and yeah they’re important, but I don’t think they’re any more important than the sound designer. I think that we’re… once you’ve seen all these other people in action, you’re just like… it’s such an overwhelming, huge process that I just learned so much about what I need to bring as far as being an actor goes.
I decided two things. I was like, “No one gets a hard time from me on any set anymore ever. I don’t care if I’m there 15 hours, I’m gonna be polite, I will sit back and eat a sandwich and be… and not ever complain.” I’m going to be quiet and polite and to give something different on every take. That’s what I learned as an actor.
What’s the worst audition you’ve ever had?
Brea Grant: Oh my God. I don’t know how to even choose, there’s so many. There was one, there was one and it was for a show on… I don’t know what the show was, but it was on The N network. You remember those shows? N or something like that? They were trying to do like a teen show, like a Saved By the Bell but an updated version of Saved By the Bell. And I remember going in, I had just moved to LA maybe 6 months before this or something, and I went in and I got really nervous and I don’t know what happened but I flubbed one of my lines and I was like, “Oh my God, I’m sorry. Let me do that again.” And then I kept trying to go back and I literally, like, couldn’t say the line correctly. And I think I tried 3 or 4 times but I continued to flub the same part and at some point I could tell the casting director just felt bad for me and I just sort of moved on. It was one of those things where it sat with me for days and it was horrible. Because I literally couldn’t say words. And then at some point my arms started to lock up because I was so nervous because I couldn’t say the words. It was the worst moment ever.
I’ve had many of those. I think you kind of sort of covered this a little bit, but what would be your advice to actors? I mean, you said earlier, you suggest all actors should direct something. I think that was probably a good piece of advice right there.
Brea Grant: Yeah, I think that’s really good and I think the best advice anyone has ever given me and I try telling myself every day is to quit comparing yourself to everybody else. Because I feel like we spend so much time as actors, because our business is so much about being seen… you drive down Sunset Boulevard and it’s like, “Oh, I took an acting class with that guy,” or, “Oh, that guy again,” whatever on these billboards. It just feels like it’s so out of reach. Once you learn not, which I have not learned this yet, but once you learn to not compare yourself to people, that’s the biggest and greatest thing anybody could ever do for yourself.