Emoticon;) is a female charged project led by Livia De Paolis whose end credits on the film fall under 'writer', 'director', 'producer', 'performed by' all behind her as the lead actress in this impressive first outing that premiered in competition at last year's Dances With Films Film Festival in Los Angeles in June. Emoticon;) is about Elena (De Paolis), a student struggling with her thesis on 'Modern means of communication' until she meets her new boyfriend's (Michael Cristofer) teenage kids who are dealing with their own identity issues and together they form and unlikely bond and embark on a journey of self discovery to better understand love and intimacy in a digital age. The cast is complimented by stage and screen veterans that include a wonderful Carol Kane, Sonia Braga and Daphne Rubin-Vega in what is a modern day New York story of people connecting the dots. LatinoBuzz met with tour-de-force Livia De Paolis and newcomer Diane Guerrero to find out more about their journey to Emoticon;).
LatinoBuzz: You are an actress, at what moment did you decide to write, direct and star in your own feature?
Livia: It was a bit of a process. Sarah Nerboso, my co-writer approached me and asked me to write something together. I said yes but we really didn’t do much about it for about one year. After that I realized that I really wanted to see this movie come to life and called her back, to finish the script. Once I got so invested in the writing of the script I was certainly going to figure out a way to make it happen. I knew I was going to act in it. As I did write it for myself, however the decision to direct came very last minute. As I was asking for help to anybody I knew, I realized everybody I’d talk to was kind of expecting for me to be the director. I think it was because I was very passionate about it and very assertive about what I wanted the movie to be. So at some point I embraced everybody’s expectation and decided to direct it myself. So, as I said it was a bit of a process. However I think the decision to make my own movie came from the fact that I was simply dissatisfied with the opportunity to act that were presented to me. Which, in all honesty were not a lot and not very fulfilling in any way. I would go to castings thinking: “What am I doing with myself? I don’t really want to get this job”. I think it was the best decision I could possibly take. I’m proud of it.
LatinoBuzz: How did you manage to assemble such a remarkable cast with the limited resources available?
Livia: I think the script was the basis for everything. I gave it to Casting Director James Calleri, who I knew because we worked together on a show at Rattlestick Theater. He was kind enough to read it and he liked it. He passed it on to the agencies. They liked it and provided me with fantastic casting options. So, I owe it James Calleri and his team. And to the wonderful actors who wanted to be in my movie, because they liked the script. It’s funny how everybody always asks me: “How did you get Carol Kane?” All I know is that I sent her the script and she said yes.
LatinoBuzz: What were your biggest challenges in making the film as a first time filmmaker?
Livia: Writing the script was a challenge. We rewrote it 19 times. Also having to be in control of every aspect of the production was extremely challenging. I’m glad I survived.
LatinoBuzz: What films influenced you in making Emoticon;) aesthetically. And did anyone in particular inspire you to pursue acting?
Livia: I always wanted to be an actress. My family was in the film industry in Italy so I always thought I was going to be an actress. I did admire Vivien Leigh while growing up, probably more then anybody else. But also Katherine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Audrey Hepburn, Julie Andrews and of course Marilyn. Believe it or not I think the show 'Fame' was kind of influential. It was big in Italy and I would be watching it, dreaming of moving to NY to work in the theater. It’s crazy that I actually did it.
I only started pursuing an acting career after graduating from university. My parents really wanted me to graduate, it was important to them, and I’m actually glad I did get my degree. As for the movie I wanted to make a movie that was honest and transparent. That would show real people with their flaws, lies and heartaches. I wanted to show a longing for human connection. I wanted it to be soft spoken. And I wanted it to be an ensemble piece. I wanted it to be inclusive of all the different people that make up the city of New York. I was mostly inspired by Noah Baumbach’s movies, Todd Solondz, Miranda July, Robert Altman and the more light hearted Ingmar Bergman (Fanny and Alexander, Wild Strawberries). I was also influenced by one of the first movies from Italian filmmaker Gabriele Muccino (But Forever In My Mind).
LatinoBuzz: What do you want the audience to take away from the film?
Livia: I think my movie is trying to show how, as human beings we’re all magnificently flawed and inherently co-dependent. We need each other. And that’s a good thing. And I think it does matter to be reminded of that. I’d be happy if the audience would walk away with a more accepting attitude toward themselves, and toward whomever it is that they might be having a hard time forgiving. I think it’s good to be reminded that sometimes you think you’re going somewhere and you might actually end up somewhere else. And that is also a good thing.
LatinoBuzz: What advice would you give women aspiring to make the leap from actress to filmmaker?
Livia: Just do it. As actors we’re always told to be generous, with our performance and with ourselves.
So, to any actress that is thinking even remotely that maybe she’d like to tell a story her own way, I’d tell her to be generous and do it. We need more stories told from a feminine point of view. It is not easy. It is not as fun as acting is, I don’t think. It is a lot a work and it is big commitment. But it is so important. It is necessary. It can be done and it must be done.
LatinoBuzz: What got you into acting? Does your family support you in it?
Diane: I love entertaining people! It's who I am. I love making people happy and I like sharing my emotions and my heart with them whether they ask for it or not (haha). I figured what better way to do that than through acting. I think one of my best qualities is my ability to empathize with people. Perhaps it's because my journey has been so bumpy. Whatever the reason is, I am happiest when connecting with the human experience. It lets me know that I'm not alone in this world.
My family totally supports me and this path. As a little girl they saw I was passionate about the arts, and although they weren't proactive with taking me to castings and acting classes, they did let me be the household entertainment and even sing at the dinner table. When I told them I wanted to be an actress at 24 they wondered why it took me so long to come to the decision. The one thing that they stressed however was the importance to stay in school and making my own decisions. I definitely had to pave my own path which wasn't always the easiest thing to do.
LatinoBuzz: What was the one thing that made you connect to your character In Emoticon;)? And what do you find to be the most important trait you look for in a character?
Diane: What made me connect with Amanda in Emoticon;) was her desire to fit in and find her place in the world. The fact that she is a Latina longing for an understanding of herself in a 'white world'. Growing up I often wondered what it would be like to be adopted and grow up in a white family and how that would affect me. I felt a connection. It was also interesting to play someone so young. At first I felt insecure about being too old for the part but I soon learned that what acting is all about baby!?
At the moment I don't think I'm in the position to be picky about characters (I mean, lets be real). However I do get excited about characters that are a little rough around the edges and have tons of baggage. For my next role I'd like to play a Bag Lady.
LatinoBuzz: Have you found any challenges being a Latina in the industry?
Diane: It is challenging to be a Latina in this industry. There are very few parts to play and characters to play with. I think the way to over come it is by always showing up.
LatinoBuzz: Your dream role, dream director and dream co-star?
Diane: My dream role would be to play something mythical or regal. I would love to play a fairy, or a princess from a far away land. My dream director would be Pedro Almodovar for his mind bending narratives and Spike Lee for always keeping it real. My dream co-stars would be Penelope Cruz and Kevin Spacey.
LatinoBuzz: “In 5 years Diane Guerrero will...”
Diane: In 5 years Diane Guerrero will be consistently working in film, TV and theater. Working with great directors and actors who will help her grow as an actress.
LatinoBuzz: What are you working on next?
Diane: I recently finished the first season of the new Netflix series Orange is the New Black where I played the character of 'Mariza Ramos'.
Emoticon;) Opens in Theaters May 30th, 2014
Written by Juan Caceres and Vanessa Erazo, LatinoBuzz is a weekly feature on SydneysBuzz that highlights Latino indie talent and upcoming trends in Latino film with the specific objective of presenting a broad range of Latino voices. Follow [At]LatinoBuzz on Twitter and Facebook.