Actress Khandi Alexander Finds HIV Comedy Film Life Affirming
By BeBe Sweetbriar | www.bebesweetbriar.com
Written and directed by San Franciscan Tom E. Brown, Pushing Dead, a home grown, quirky dark comedy set and filmed entirely in the Mission and Panhandle areas of San Francisco as part of the Scene in San Francisco Rebate Program, is about bureaucratic snafu that keeps writer, Dan, HIV+ for more than 20 years from getting his prescriptions. Skewering healthcare bureaucracy, a gentrifying city, and the tribulations of being a longtime HIV survivor. Brown, a 30-year survivor of HIV, had a goal in making the film to capture his daily struggles with rising medication costs and bureaucracy, but also make it the first-ever “AIDS comedy”. The film, winner of the Audience Award for Best Feature Film at Frameline 40, features a terrific ensemble cast, including James Roday (Psych), as lead character Dan; Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon, The Color Purple), Dan’s best friend Bob; Robin Weigert (Deadwood, Sons of Anarchy) Dan’s roommate Paula; and one of my all-time favorite actresses Khandi Alexander (Scandal, Bessie, Newsroom), as Bob’s wife. I had the greatest pleasure in chatting with Ms. Alexander while in San Francisco for Pushing Dead‘s premiere in this year’s Frameline Film Festival.
BeBe: I just have to ask as an actor over 50, what did you think when you received a script with the title Pushing Dead on it? (we laugh)
Khandi Alexander: Well, they told me Danny Glover, and that’s all they really had to say. That was the opportunity for me.
BeBe: This was the first time I’ve seen a film that addresses HIV and AIDS with its lead character, Dan, played by James Roday (Psych) in a dark comedy kind of way, the way Pushing Dead does. I know that HIV has affected you personally through the loss of many close to you over the years, so how did this film’s presentation sit with you?
Khandi Alexander: I have lost so many friends, you know BeBe. Every single boy that was with me (in my career) at the very beginning, that pushed me, that taught me how to beat my face, that were my closest friends are all gone. I’m very active in the (gay) community and have been since the very beginning of Angel Food. I was there at the very beginning of the journey yelling when no one paid attention. So, I enjoyed reading Pushing Dead because now people are living and have been for quite some time. I never thought we’d get here. I read this script and thought, wow, look how far we’ve come. I thought the piece was important as much as it was fun and surprising and heartbreaking, at times, but overall very life affirming.
BeBe: Life affirmation is also relevant with your character, Dot, in Pushing Dead as it relates to her relationship with her husband, Bob, played by Danny Glover.
Khandi Alexander: Well, I think the larger conversation has to include the fear of intimacy because for Dan to shy away and to be hurt when he finally opens up, that fear of intimacy, that fear of rejection is very large part of the conversation.
BeBe: As a fan of yours for so many years, I have always been impressed by the depth of your acting range. You have played so many varied characters in your career. I know there are actors who pull from a personal place when they prepare for a role. Do you find something within yourself to relate to your character?
Khandi Alexander: I don’t work from a place of myself. When I read a role and it speaks to me, the first thing I do is out into the world where I think this woman would live and I find her. Once I see her I follow her and watch. I look at her shoes, jewelry, nails and her clothes. I have bought the clothes off women’s backs, and I become her. It’s not in me, I become her. At the end of the day, I have to be able to take her off and get back into who I am. I’m in it, but not of it.
BeBe: Prior to your acting career which began in the early 90s, you were a very sought after dancer and choreographer. I mean you toured with Whitney Houston across the world for four years. What made you shift career gears?
Khandi Alexander: I had started formal acting training before I started working with Whitney. I was already preparing for my transition (into acting) when I got the call to come work in New York in Whitney’s opening number at the Grammys. I went thinking it was one job, but I had so much fun with Whitney and all the dancers and she turned around one day and said she wanted to take us on the European leg of her tour. And I said ok! But, the touring ended with her opportunity to do the Bodyguard, so I was able to go back to plan to go into acting.
BeBe: You started acting in Hollywood when there were far, far less roles written for Black women, but you were still able to find a way to not only survive, but thrive. And boy, how you have thrived.
Khandi Alexander: Before Whitney and all of that, I was on Broadway and on off-Broadway sitting in the wings and watching the greatest performers like Eartha Kitt perform. I knew what it took to learn a craft. I knew the difference between good, great, and not so good. I respected the craft.
BeBe: Where will all your talent and years of experience take you next?
Khandi Alexander: I have my own production company called Kiss The Sky. I am making a new transition into producing and offering many opportunities that will be fulfilling for talent to express themselves. We are hooking up that buggy and bringing it to you!
For more information on Pushing Dead and upcoming theater dates visit www.Facebook.com/pushingdead
A Trans Love Story
By BeBe Sweetbriar | www.bebesweetbriar.com
With her own wedding just around the corner, filmmaker Sharon Shattuck returns home to examine the mystery at the heart of her upbringing: How her transgender father Trisha and her straight-identified mother Marcia stayed together against all odds. From This Day Forward, an Argot Pictures film that has been on the film festival circuit for the past year including Frameline 2015, is a story of an American family coping with a parent’s transition. When Sharon’s artist father came out as transgender and changed her name to Trisha, her transition was difficult for her straight-identified, physician wife, Marcia, to accept. Having married and fallen in love with a man, Marcia found herself doubting whether she could love Trisha as a woman. At the time, with Sharon in her preteen years and focused on developing her own sense of self, her parents’ relationship seemed a mystery. Committed to staying together as a family, they then began a careful balancing act that would test their love for one another, and ultimately prove even more challenging than expected.
Sharon began asking the questions she couldn’t ask as a child, and film evolves into a conversation about love and acceptance in a modern American family. Sharon shared more about From This Day Forward in our interview.
BeBe: What was your thought process when you first decided to film the From This Day Forward documentary?
Sharon Shattuck: In 2011, I first thought I’d be making a film about other people’s families and do a retrospective of lots of different trans families. I went around the country interviewing people, and during the process, I realized my parents were really fun and warm on camera. I thought maybe I should just make this about them.
BeBe: From This Day Forward is similar to the popular Amazon series Transparent in that you take a look at your trans parent and your family, but it is different in many ways as well.
Sharon Shattuck: I really think the film is a love story and about my parents’ relationship. It’s about a family too with my sister (Laura) and I. And, it’s also about me getting married and taking lessons from my parents’ relationship. Thinking about when you commit to somebody, how does that really work when it’s 35 years later and you’re both very different from how you used to be? Love is what keeps them (Trisha and Marsha) together. They need each other the same way any couple needs one another.
BeBe: You and your sister were very young when you discovered your Dad wore women’s clothing. How was it for you two growing up during Trisha’s transition and your Mom’s thought of divorce because it?
Sharon Shattuck: At the time I don’t think we really had any idea of what was going to happen. We had never been exposed to anything like that so we didn’t know what to think about it. No one then really knew much about transgender people. My Mom knew before she got married that my Dad, Trisha, likes to wear women’s clothing. But, she thought it was just some occasional thing. We didn’t realize my Trisha was going to have to live as woman to be happy and not be suicidal. When Trisha started transitioning we soldiered along for the first couple of years, but then my sister and I started clashing with Trisha quite a bit. That’s when my Mom made a decision to divorce initially (though they did not). I don’t think it’s what she wanted. She was just worried about Laura and I. I hope the film helps other people realize there isn’t just one way to deal with this situation. You don’t have to break up your family. It’s important to know you have alternatives.
From This Day Forward opens July 15th at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco www.Roxie.com
Both Men & Women Can Be Skirtchasers
By BeBe Sweetbriar | www.bebesweetbriar.com
In Skirtchasers, a new series pilot on TelloFilms.com, Elizabeth Kenner (The L Word, My Generation) plays Robyn Samuels who is mending her broken heart after breaking up with her long-time girlfriend the day before their wedding.
Tony Award-winning actor Barry Bostwick (Broadway’s Grease, Rocky Horror Picture Show) plays Robyn’s absent father, Damien Samuels, who re-enters her life causing Robyn to realize her fear of commitment is rooted in her relationship with her father who cheated on and divorced her mother played by Meredith Baxter (Family Ties). Written and created by sitcom veterans James (Jim) Berg and Stan Zimmerman (The Golden Girls, Roseanne, Gilmore Girls) Skirtchasers targets the exact kind of audience Tello Films is all about. LGBT icon Amanda Bearse, primarily known for being one of the first openly gay actors in a television in her role as Marcy D’Arcy on Fox’s Married With Children and has directed and produced such series as Big Gay Sketch Show, MADtv and Dharma & Greg, directed four of the five webisodes, while Zimmerman directed one. And if that isn’t enough queer community power-brokering for you, Lea DeLaria, Big Boo on Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, sings the show’s theme song. I chatted with Stan Zimmerman, Amanda Bearse and Elizabeth Keener about Skirtchasers, that has more in common with the masses then having a lesbian lead character may suggest.
BeBe: You three, Stan, Amanda, and Elizabeth, are principles involved with all new Tellofilms.com pilot series Skirtchasers. Love the title.
Stan Zimmerman: It’s an old-fashioned title that really refers to a man who chases women, but in this day and age there are many people who chase women. As our series shows, it is a father and daughter who both chase women, and they both cheat on their spouses and need to reconnect. They sort of figure out their own shit so they can move on and have healthy, normal relationships.
Elizabeth Keener: But, it goes deeper than them chasing women and fucking around. They have issues with intimacy and she realizes she is a lot like her father, and they have to figure that out. Both are writers, both have major flaws in the kind of relationships they want. They want relationships, they just can’t keep them. Hopefully together they will figure out the relationships outside of their world and within. They need to figure out their relationship, too.
Amanda Beards: This is a half-hour comedy. We’ve all these issues that Stan and Jim explore in the concept of the piece, but bottom line, it’s funny. We had such h a good time making it. (As director) it was about creating an attitude on the set where people can come and bring their best and have fun. I think that transfers through the screen to people who are watching.
BeBe: Elizabeth, Barry Bosworth plays your character Robyn’s father. Since he also chases skirts, is a vagina blocker?
Elizabeth Keener: You’ll just have to see because a lot of vaginas come to his face. In his daughter and we’re reconnecting douche a vagina blocker or is he helping me come and get ’em?
BeBe: Stan, how did you come to be involved with Tello Films which is professed to be a network about projects written for women about women by women?
Stan Zimmerman: I have a history of writing for women with Golden Girls, and I write the lesbian miss episode on back Roseanne. Dare I say some of my best friends are lesbians. But, I also think a good story is a good story! Jim and I. Rested this project and we had a hard time selling it to the networks. In Hollywood, you can only make one gay pilot a year. That’s the reality of it. Being frustrated, I had a brainstorm and gave it to Elizabeth and luckily she laughed and loved it, and she brought it to Christin Baker co-founder at TelloFilms.com.
BeBe: Many of those involved with this project reads like the Who’s Who Almanac of the Lesbian Actors Society. How did that happen?
Amanda Bearse: As soon as I read the script, I wanted to be a part of it.
Stan Zimmerman: One of Tello Films goals is to have as many lesbians up front and center in their projects. All the pieces came together in a magical, beautiful way.
Elizabeth Keener: I’m thrilled (this story) has a gay main character, but you could plug anybody in that spot. That’s what I love about it. It’s a universal story. It’s father-daughter. It’s for men. It’s for women, gay, straight, bi….it doesn’t matter.
Skirtchasers is currently streaming on tellofilms.com.