Tracey Birdsall On Playing Diverse Women: ‘You Breathe Life into the Characters With an Undying Love’
Tracey Birdsall is an actress with an almost cult-like popularity, which is growing every day. With lots of films released or in production of late, we had the chance to ask her about her films and the process of getting into character for her many diverse roles. Here’s what she had to say.
Hello, Tracey. I’d like to start with a little bit about you. You’ve been acting since the late 1980s and have developed quite a fan base. How about giving us a little inside look at who you are beyond the film and TV actor?
I’m an incredibly private human being, a mom, a gym rat, and a daughter. I’m the youngest of three sisters (which says a lot in itself), and I lost my mother to Alzheimer’s last week – which was completely devastating. Most of all, I’m an actor, which I state because every ounce of my being loves to study the human condition at all times.
Sorry to hear about your mother. Thoughts go out to your family and added thanks for taking this time to talk with us. You’ve really become busy the past few years, landing parts in a number of fun Indie movies. Could you shed some light on how you’ve gotten involved in this scene and maybe tell us what’s drawn you to the independent market?
The roles and the opportunities draw us to indie film, wholeheartedly. It’s compassion. I can’t really define a moment I “got into the scene”, just a point in my life where I gave it my absolute priority – above all else. You see, being an actor is a lonely profession – a profession where you are driven utmost by your love of the art, and your love of living the lives of others. Once you live this life, the Indies find you, as you breathe life into the characters with an undying love of who they are and what they feel. I’m drawn to the characters, the opportunities to bring them to life, and the challenge to feel what they feel from the inside out.
Let’s talk a minute about Who’s Jenna…?, a new romantic comedy where you play the titular Jenna. Tell us a bit about Jenna and is there any of ‘Tracey’ in the character?
I tend to not let the characters define me or to let me define the characters. It’s funny, as I have an intense separation between who they are and who I am. It’s almost like choosing to have multiple personalities, and struggling to stay true to yourself between characters. Comedy (as in Who’s Jenna…?) is easier as they don’t have the same depth of field as strong developed characters in drama and intense sci-fi. I like to think of comedy as a dance, as it requires all of the actors being in sync and having the same vision. The characters in comedy are devised, but they are also malleable to react to other comedic actors. It’s quite a brilliant genre… I don’t ever feel as if a character, no matter the genre, is representative of me… the division is what’s brilliant.
I spoke with the director of Who’s Jenna …?, Thomas Baldinger about the adult themes of the movie and the balance in keeping it light and romantic despite the story revolving around you being mistaken for a porn star. Any thoughts on that?
It’s funny again, as the thoughts of the other characters within the story and the script are – again – their perspective. I don’t have to allow their perspective to bleed into my performance or to affect my performance… that’s part of the comedic element of it all! It’s like in real life, people have opinions and perspectives outside of our own (whether relevant, or in this case not relevant) and we have the option of considering those opinions or not. Jenna, quite frankly, didn’t give much heed to the outside perspective of Andy in his opinions, which is very much in life how I would respond. Additionally, Jenna really liked Andy – despite his opinions – which again is a very real life scenario. If you think about it, people who don’t know other people oftentimes have viewpoints and opinions that aren’t relevant. Who’s Jenna…? simply paints a satirical picture of an extreme case of this same thing.
As for the adult theme, I really didn’t see it that way when I signed onto the project. Even after my principal photography had concluded, there was no actual “porn star” attached to appear in the project – it was more of a comedic joke as I saw it – a reference (which made a great deal of sense from a distribution standpoint.) A cameo was later announced, however I was not a producer and was not part of that decision.
Let’s shift to Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter, a sci-thriller. It’s getting a lot of attention lately, with all the earmarks to become a cult classic. I really liked it, especially the old-school sci-fi fun. Tell us about Sienna, the character you play and what you did to ‘become’ her.
Sienna had to be her own individual, her own human, her own self-aware being… with that, it took a lot of imagination and preparation. I kind of let the script lead me into creating her, her vulnerabilities, her strengths, her passions, and her driving forces. Seeing as Sienna had so many more varying extremes to her than I do as a human being, I kind of just had to let her exist and not question her motives. I almost feel like I birthed her given all of the information that I had, and just let her live and exist in her environment and her challenges.
Are you a fan of sci-fi?
With every ounce of my being…
That leads me to The Time War, your latest, upcoming film, another sci-fi story with a historical twist of sorts. Could you give us a little rundown on what it’s about?
The Time War is an epic beast of it’s own. Born from an earlier script that became a behemoth of it’s own, The Time War (as I like to think of it) became a masterpiece film in post-production of another film. Originally, The Time War was a film from almost 15 years ago – a script the director had nursed for much of his professional career. It had been shot entitled At the Edge of Time, prior to Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter. After the success of Rogue Warrior, the director (Neil Johnson) felt we needed to “beef up” the film in order to surpass the quality of the performances and overall film of its predecessor. That’s when something interesting happened… a new film was born in the re-shoots in post-production. You see, the additional scenes were so much more epic and brilliant than the original film, the film had to be split into two: The Time War, and it’s later to be released prequel At the Edge of Time. It was quite an exhausting yet exhilarating process to watch from start to finish.
The Time War is a time-travel film which sees Hitler attempting to re-write history using time-travel technology and re-writing his own genetics in order to overtake the world in his power-hungry world in which he lived with an insatiable messiah complex. My character, Dijanne, is both his daughter and his nemesis – who will stop at nothing to bring his existence to an end.
These are some diverse roles. Could you share a little of your process in creating and delivering these powerful female characters?
I enjoy the process of creating and living lives that I could otherwise not foresee. The challenge is in the creation – in creating someone I can’t even sometimes relate with (as an individual), and believing in their purpose and their existence in totality. There’s no bigger challenge, and no greater joy. I believe the true challenge is in not questioning them, as a human never questions their purpose and their drive. It’s almost a disconnect from who you are as an individual, and a reattachment to a being that has been created right down to the tiniest iota.
Anything beyond The Time War you could tell us about so fans have more to look forward to?
The Time War is it’s own beast – a film that I’ve never seen anything like before. Mixing time-travel, sci-fi, drama, horror, and some factual history and science, it’s quite alarmingly brilliant. I may be partial, but mostly I’m so proud to be a part of Neil Johnson’s greatest masterpiece.
On our site, we write often about great moments in film, discussing their impact and influence. Any movie moments in your films or others that you like or have had influence on you?
Truly, since I “live” my characters, every character leaves it’s mark on me – the memories live on as part of my very fabric. The influence is immense as we imagine what it would be like, bring it to life and live it, and carry the memories as our own. Living with the knowledge I gained about artificial intelligence and it’s impact upon my “human-ness” in Rogue Warrior’s Sienna had a huge influence on my awareness of AI in society and the “what if’s” that are infiltrating our society more and more each day. Living as Dijanne in The Time War – where she becomes practically a terrorist in her quest to put an end to her father (Hitler), yes, these all have a huge impact on me as a human. These are some distant and dark journeys to live.
Thanks so much for talking with us. It’s been a pleasure. Best of luck with The Time War and I hope our paths cross again.
Thank you so much for the conversation, and thank you for the lovely film reviews you’ve done on both Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter, and on Who’s Jenna…? I love the in-depth thoughtfulness you provide to your readers across a multitude of extreme genres. You truly have a uniquely positive and multifaceted perspective and I appreciate you.