Robert Greene is no virgin to True/False. Three of his feature films have shown in Columbia over the years. In fact, he says he owes a lot of his career to the festival.
In his latest film “Actress,” Greene follows Brandy Burre – who fans of HBO’s “The Wire” may recognize as cutthroat campaign consultant Theresa D’Agostino – as she steps back into the thespian game after a reprieve to start a family.
Greene blends melodramatic, staged interludes with cinema verite scenes as the audience is guided through Burre’s dance among the roles of mother, partner, friend, businesswoman and actress. Greene tells the story strictly through Burre’s point of view, as her asides demonstrate the piercing self-awareness of an honest woman in the midst of the growing pains of change. Ultimately, the film poses the question to the audience: At what cost does reclaiming your dreams come at?
I talked with Greene about how Burre’s endeavor is relatable and the messages he hopes are conveyed through the film.
How did you come across the story and what did you seek out to accomplish with the film?
Brandy is my next door neighbor. I could look my window right now and see her house. We were friends before we started filming for a while.
I was interested in filming what would happen when you film an actor in a documentary. I'm interested in ideas about how people play the roles of themselves on screen. I have a formal interest in that. With the narrative idea that we see what happens if she tried to work her way back into the business, which she was sort of playing with the idea of doing that.
At some point, it became clear that she was going through a major transformation through her life. The cameras were documenting, but also kind of egging her on a little bit – not that she would be going through this anyway, but she knew she was making a film while going through this process. So it became a really unique thing where we were following a story but also collaborating on the best way to tell that story.
The struggle is somewhat relatable to women who may have also had kids but are striving, or trying to reinvent themselves as whom they were before they had children -- while still trying to balance that family life that they truly adore. Can you talk about the themes of the film?
There are two things. There is the angle of a woman in her thirties. She tells a story in the movie about she was up for a role that she was perfectly aged for -- perfect for the part -- but it went to a younger woman. I think this is typical of actors, but it's also typical of women in general that at a certain point you start to get overlooked. You may be ravishingly beautiful, you may be very interesting or you may be the funniest person in the room, but at some point after you've had kids you start being seen as a sexual person, as a person who wants to go on adventures, or whatever. Everyone knows these things, but these stories are less told.
And also as a parent, there are many struggles in the movie that I've personally struggled with, which is this idea of: When are you a parent? When are you an artist When are you a best friend? When do you need to be a husband or a wife? It's all very hard stuff to parse out. The way Brandy approaches it which is this bracing honesty that I've never really seen express on camera was just really exciting and liberating. She was speaking as woman and to women's experience in general but she was also speaking for me as a parent.