“If you trust that you are that character, that you did the work for the character, and if you spent enough time to memorize to the best of your abilities, then why wouldn’t we have fun?” – Chelsea Gilson
Angel is the story of three thirty-something women (Raeann Giles, Chelsea Gilson and Angela Relucio), who travel to wine country for a weekend away from husbands, boyfriends and a stressful job. After drinking a forbidden wine, they wake up in an alternate reality, showing them a life of what-could-have-been, where one revisits a past miscarriage and comes face to face with the traumatic loss.
Gilson plays Brooke, a no-nonsense PR agent and while the film, which was also written and directed by Giles, does deal with some heavy subjects, she brings her share of laughs to the role. She’s also wonderful in the role and I should know, because I played her husband, Andy, in the film.
In this interview, Gilson (who has several upcoming projects about to be released, including A Merry Single Christmas), talks about the film, getting cast and how she prepares for a role. We also talk about how she got started and gives some great self-tape tips. These are edited excerpts from that conversation. For the full interview, check out the video below or watch it on YouTube.
Can you tell me about your role in the film?
Chelsea Gilson: Well, I am a very bossy PR agent, and I am just excited to go away for the weekend with my two best girlfriends to wine country. I am somebody who worked hard, and my hard work has paid off, but I’ve definitely become superficial, I think, along the way and it seems like I kind of want an out. I’m sick of the grind, and I think maybe for me, what could be my exit strategy to a less stressful life, would be to marry rich and have two kids.
I think all three of you in the movie want an out in some sort of way.
Chelsea Gilson: Yeah. Which I think is such a common thread in anyone’s life, right? I don’t think that we just have a midlife crisis, especially if we’re in any creative field. It’s like, you’re always looking for a way to kind of reinvent yourself or feel passionate about what you’re doing again. So, I think we’re always daydreaming about a big, drastic change.
How did you get the part?
Chelsea Gilson: I auditioned the good old-fashioned way. I sent in a self-tape first… It was pre-COVID, so I wasn’t doing as many self-tapes, and then Raeann calls me in for an in-person. I actually wanted the role that Angela had, the pregnant one. I really wanted that one. I felt like I connected with it. I even think I asked for it, and she was like, “No, you’re going to be Brooke, that is the role for you.” And all said and done, I’m glad about that. She had the creative vision, and she chose correctly.
Yeah, you knocked the role out of the park.
Chelsea Gilson: With your help, with your help.
Well, thanks for that. We finished it a while ago, but I think right now is the perfect time for it to come out with everything that’s going on.
Chelsea Gilson: It could not be more of a perfect time. I think obviously, the main theme is dealing with grief. And I think, being a woman, miscarriage has always been something that’s kind of brushed under the rug, people don’t really talk about it. It’s like you’re not expected to grieve for that, so it’s important to have that be the theme here.
Another theme that I think is really important is this idea that you’re grasping for something else, or you’re searching for something else. Maybe that’s because of social media, where you’re always seeing people’s lives are so happy and that people move on so quickly or they have no troubles. And I think that what’s so relatable about this movie and why it’s so important right now is that it’s raw and it’s real.
Have you done a lot of comedy? Because in the movie, you’ve got some good comedic chops going on.
Chelsea Gilson: I have done some comedy. I was in Second City Improv for a while. Comedic roles are my favorite to book.
I just filmed this really fun little pilot that Kenan Thompson produced. I’ve heard it’s going to go somewhere; I don’t know. I’ve had two roles where I play the neighborhood Karen kind of, so I think that might be my niche. I’m going to embrace it warmly.
I do have so much fun when you get to play with the script, and Raeann writes really well. I actually just read another one of her scripts a couple days ago. She’s clever, she’s quick and there’s so many little funny buttons that are so perfect to hit. It’s not all the time that the writer does the comedic work for you, and she really does. She really works it through and has that eye of being a writer, but also being an actor and being on the production side. She ties it all together, so it makes it easier to hit those moments.
The film, it’s a mostly female cast. Raeann wrote, directed and stars in it, and a lot of behind the camera roles were women as well. How was that for you to be in that environment?
Chelsea Gilson: It’s so empowering to be an actress on set when it’s all females there. I feel like it feels safe in a lot of ways, but it really gives you the feeling that like, “Hey, I could also do this.” And since then, I ended up finishing my own screenplay because… I probably was inspired at some time. People see an example of yeah, a woman really making it and playing all the hats, and having her project come all the way through from the idea all the way to where it is now. And I think it has the ability to inspire others. Not to say there’s anything wrong with any males, but it’s great for women to also have their time to step forward if they want to.
You’ve done some bigger budget films, but with something smaller like this, do you feel like you get to play more?
Chelsea Gilson: I wouldn’t necessarily say that you get to play more. When I show up to set, I just memorize everything the way that it comes. But, I personally am usually kind of rewriting things and thinking that it would be better a certain way, but you don’t know if you have that freedom until you’re actually there on the day, on set.
Because it has so much to do with, are we on schedule? Nobody ever is, but you know, how far behind schedule are we? Are they opened to being collaborative? Are the other actors open to being collaborative and playing with you? Sometimes people memorize in such a way that they need you to hit that last word so that they can spit out their words. I love something where you get the freedom to improvise a little bit, or have fun with the characters or try different buttons on the end of a scene.
And I felt that this was a great opportunity for that. We were rushed. There were days where we were shooting a lot in a small time frame, but there was tons of room to grow your character and have fun with things. It was super collaborative, and everyone was just so kind.
I think too, being on a set where no one’s screaming at makeup and hair to hurry up or yelling at the art department for everything. It’s like the tone gets set right away, and then as the actor, I’m like, “Okay, either this is something where I can have a little bit more fun and play with, or I’m just here to kind of be quiet until I get to deliver my lines.”
The reason I asked you that question is because, watching you on set, just kind of hanging out, you just seemed very confident and at ease.
Chelsea Gilson: Yeah, yeah. I’m a yoga instructor too, and I think that it’s more fun for me to be in the moment. I love being on set so much that I try to do the work as much as I can beforehand and then I just show up and see how I am that day and see how everyone else is.
I love the dynamic of being on set. I want to see all the moving pieces together; I don’t want to be stuck in some room by myself trying to cram my lines in because I’m nervous that I’m not going to say them exactly perfect. I truly believe if the words aren’t coming out right, it’s usually something that needs to be tweaked anyway.
It’s kind of like, if you trust that you are that character, that you did the work for the character, and if you spent enough time to memorize to the best of your abilities, then why wouldn’t we have fun? The amount of time that we spend getting ready for these auditions and the amount that we send in self-tapes, and then the number of times that we go back and forth for callbacks and all the stuff leading up to it, is just for those couple hours that we get to spend on set with other people who also are doing the same thing. It’s like, I’d rather bask in the glory of that as much as I can.
How much work do you put in prior to getting to set, to be in that moment?
Chelsea Gilson: If it’s a character that I do not feel is very similar to me, if I’m having a hard time jiving with that character, it’s harder. And harder in a good way. There was a movie that I did recently where I play a psychopath and she is just so unhinged that it was so hard for me to find anything to kind of grasp onto that I felt was similar. So yeah, I spent more time with it. I listened to music that I felt got me into that mood. Those are ones where it’s a little bit more of a struggle, it’s a little bit more of a puzzle to kind of figure out the secret sauce to it.
If it’s a character that kind of comes naturally then, I just kind of… I think about it a lot, but I don’t cram as much if that makes sense. I don’t cram the lines.
You talked about self-tapes a little bit. Give me some of your self-tape tips where you’re like, “I’m good with this. I’m going to hit that send button and upload it.”
Chelsea Gilson: I try not to do too many takes. I feel like the second take is usually the good one, if not the first one. I’m not very technical. I’m not the one that’s like, “No, I’d really like to look over here hon this point.” I hope that those things come naturally, and I hope that I can imagine the scene around me.
I love that I get so many auditions. Thank you to the audition gods for that, I am so grateful. But it’s a lot. It’s a new era where they can request as many people as they want to send in self-tapes and we don’t know if they’re watching them. There are so many more unknowns. It’s not when we used to go into an audition room and that was like our one chance and either they liked us and they might call us back again, and there was 25 people, and our odds of booking were high. This is not that.
So, I really try to prioritize and have as much fun with them as I can and not spend so much time on them. I usually don’t watch them back. I’m like, “Okay, I know I’m in the frame.” I see that I’m in the frame. I still trim it, but yeah, I usually don’t even watch them back. I either feel good about it and if I don’t, I try to do one or two more. It’s easy to get bogged down in it. It really is.
You mentioned that sometimes we don’t even know if anybody’s watching our self-tapes after we send them out. If you get an audition on a Monday and it says that it needs to be in by Friday, do you try and do it as soon as you can?
Chelsea Gilson: I do try to do them early if I can, but I really try to stick to my schedule. If I had plans tonight, then I’m not going to cancel my plans for the audition, unless it’s something so huge. I do try to stick to my routine, stick to my schedule, and work the auditions in.
We’re doing them every day and it feels nonstop, which is again a good thing but it’s just making sure that you don’t get burnt out and still taking time for yourself, still making sure that you’re exploring your surroundings and doing other things that you’re passionate about.
Because for me, I love to paint and I like the finished product. I like to make something physical. I like to have something when I’m done with it. And it’s easy to feel burnt out when you’re doing these auditions and you’re deleting them right away because you’re doing so many of them. You send them and you delete them and it’s easy to get burnt out. So, I try really hard to sprinkle them throughout the week. And if that means I get them in right away, then I’ll pat myself on the back, and if that means I’ll send them in last, then whatever.
I think also, the argument could be, “Okay, maybe it’s the best to get it in first.” But also, what if you send it in last and they’re exasperated by this point and they haven’t seen what they want? Nothing’s working and they can’t figure out why. And then they’re like, “You know what, she did good of enough job. This works we’ll take her.” You don’t really know.
Yeah, that’s a good point. Here’s my final question: what’s been your worst audition ever?
Chelsea Gilson: Let me think on that one. I’m sure that I have so many bad ones. I showed up one time and I interpreted the subtext to mean that she was trashy. I’m from Boston, so trashy to me is, like kind of dressed promiscuously, like maybe she works the street. And everyone else there was more on like the homeless spectrum, and I was very out of place in that one. I was the only one in heels.
I had an audition where I went in and I knew who had created the show and it was a small audition. Like it was only one page or so, which are always so much harder because then you’re like, “I got this, it’s so easy.” And you’re also like, “I’m insulted by these two lines, of course I can memorize these. Why wouldn’t I be able to?” It’s always those ones that you mess up. And it was in person and a new office, and she was so intimidating.
She read with me and was doing the camera and sitting down and I just felt like all of it was too much for me. I kind of froze on that one, and then I asked to redo it and I got the words out, but it was pretty bad. Those ones, if it’s in person and it’s just that one page, I treat it as if it’s 10. I felt like that was a good lesson for me.