Hollywood is an interesting place. You can be on top of the world with the roles you’re getting, but even then, they may decide not to put you in roles that fall outside of your established wheelhouse. There’s a reason why so many actors turn to producing. In order to get the roles they truly crave, they need to take matters into their own hands.
This is the case with Lisa Brenner. While she’s been in the industry for decades, there are still certain types of roles she’s never been cast in…including the one in her new film Say My Name. In my phone cat with Brenner, we discuss the nature of Hollywood, the creation of the film, and the ways in which many blockbuster films get feminism wrong.
Below is the official synopsis for Say My Name:
Mary and Statton’s one-night stand at a hotel gets interrupted by a robbery, and the complete strangers are forced to help each other navigate the seedy underbelly of a sleepy Welsh island in order to get back their stolen property.
LRM: Out of curiosity, in the credits it mentions produced by you. Is that correct?
Brenner: Yeah. Yeah. I produced it. I conceived the project with the director Jay Stern. We were friends for many years ago at Columbia University and we decided we wanted to work together. So he brought me this script and we made it happen.
LRM: Wow. That’s great. So is this your first material that you produced?
Brenner: Yeah. It’s my first film. I started a theater company in Los Angeles about five years ago called Electric Footlights. So I produced a lot of plays through that and that’s what finally got me to feel like I was able to do a movie. Because I’m from the film and television world. That’s what I’ve always done. So it just felt like a really natural progression.
LRM: Wow. So how did it feel to be producing and yet working on your own film? How was that?
Brenner: Well, it’s really addicting, I have to say. It’s hard to go back to just acting after being the boss, which is awesome. Every day there were new challenges and struggles, but it was so much fun that while I was producing, I was thinking I actually think I like this more than the acting part. I’m doing my second feature now as just producer. I won’t actually be in it. It’s such an empowering great thing.
I just feel like I got to a place in my career where I had to do this because … I tell people all the time as soon as I turned 40 … I’m 45 now. Just the parts stopped coming. Yeah. The type of roles that you get are just … you’re either the mom of the lead, or you’re the best friend of the lead, or you’re always either crying or comforting the person. It got to the point where I was sick of where the direction my career was going. I want to be the lead of something now. Just because I’m over 40 doesn’t mean that I can’t be in love or have a sex scene.
Brenner: All the things that were offered to me, all the time in my 20s, just stopped happening. As an older woman, obviously, your life doesn’t stop. I feel like I had no choice but to do it if I wanted to stay in the business because … Yeah. Exactly.
LRM: Well congratulations for turning it-
Brenner: I’m just going on at random. Sorry.
LRM: No, no, no. Congratulations on turning it over. You decided to go hands-on and be like, no, I’m going to do it my way. I’m going to fix it and I’m going to continue.
LRM: Yeah. Okay. Great. Well, congratulations. Definitely.
Brenner: Thank you.
LRM: You’re welcome. So I have to say, I really enjoyed Mary and her multiple names and life stories and … Oh my gosh. I wish I had her street smart brain I have to say.
Brenner: Yeah. And also the type of character Mary is, is a type I would never be cast in. I’ve been pigeon-holed as … in dramas to begin with. So even to do a comedy … When my agent would submit me for a sitcom they’d be like, “Oh no. She can’t do comedy because she’s a dramatic actress.” It’s like, well, give me the choice. I consider myself pretty hilarious.
LRM: Yeah. They totally missed out.
Brenner: Yeah. So yeah, just to play that really strong confident ex-stripper that she is, is something that’s completely the opposite of who I am and I know that I wouldn’t be cast in that role. So if I’m going to play it, I have to give it to myself. It’s fun now when I meet people who think that that’s actually the way I am. That’s the best compliment ever. It’s like, no, actually the funny thing about the movie is I’m much more the Statton character in real life. And Nick Blood, who’s Statton, is actually much more the Mary. And we’re both doing a reversal. He’s used to playing really kind of super hero type, leading men. So for him to get this opportunity to play someone shy and awkward was just … it was a thrill for him. It was just so fun.
I remember when we finished shooting, we were going to have the wrap party that night and he said he needed to go to the hair cutter person. I said, “Fine.” He walked into the party, I barely recognized him. He had his earrings back in. He had his head shaved. I was like, “What?” And with his London accent. That’s who he is normally? He does such a good job that you really believe that he’s this nerdy, shy, awkward, homely guy. Yeah.
LRM: Well, you guys definitely had really awesome chemistry.
Brenner: Thank you.
LRM: I really enjoyed it. I know you said that you were like the total opposite of Mary, but what would you say you enjoyed about her character, besides the fact that she’s pretty-
Brenner: Oh my gosh.
LRM: … like outgoing or something, you would maybe want to grasp for yourself?
Brenner: Yeah. I just love … Well first of all, she’s brilliant and she can talk her way out of every situation, which I think is so … It’s so fun to see because I feel like feminism in the movies so often gets it wrong, where to be a feminist movie you have to … or at least for the big budget studio pictures, you see the woman doing karate and chopping … karate chopping their way out of situations.
Brenner: Which so isn’t the reality of our world.
Brenner: The writer and I, we talked a lot about … she’s a pretty well known podcaster in London. She has a podcast called The Guilty Feminist. What she found in her life and what I found in my life was that so many times, because I’m not strong and I’m not a karate expert at all, when we feel like we’re in any sort of dangerous situation, suddenly, we use our intellect and our wits to get out of things whether it’s subconscious or conscious. I know for me if I’m in a situation where I don’t feel safe with who I am, whether it’s an Uber driver or something like that, suddenly, I will say, “Oh, so my children at home. I have a 12 year old and a 6 year old. Do you have children?” Then suddenly, they’re like, “Oh, I do have children.” Then suddenly he’s looking at me like a mother. Now he’s see himself as a father. It diffuses the situation.
So I love that about Mary to just portray someone like that who’s just so smart and worldly. I mean I live a very … I am a mother of two. I’m in a very happy marriage. But there’s that part of me. It’s like, well, what if I wasn’t and what if I was traveling the world and single and all of that. It’s the complete opposite. So it’s just so fun to explore that. When she says she’s an ex-stripper, I took a pole dancing class just to see what it was like.
LRM: That’s cool.
Brenner: So I could … Yeah and it was awesome. I added it in a little into that scene.
Brenner: Yeah. Just to be able to do and say things that it’s just so not part of my world. That was playing Mary every single day.
LRM: Yeah. I love that.
Brenner: It was so much fun.
LRM: The common question was, was this before being a nun or after being a nun? I loved it.
LRM: So when it comes to all the scenes, I mean there were definitely several that you and Nick Blood had. Which scene would you say you enjoyed the most of all the scenes from the film?
Brenner: Well, actually, it’s not a scene that Nick and I were in together.
Brenner: It’s a scene that when I was reading it, it was my favorite scene reading it. I could picture myself doing the movie based on this scene. It was the scene in the van with the drug dealer.
Brenner: I just … whenever I would … producing’s too hard or it’s all falling apart and we’re not getting a lead role or we just lost the line producer or all of the many bumps along the way, I just kept picturing me in that scene. It just gave me such a happy, good feeling that I could just picture having the best time doing this movie because of that scene. Then when the scene came up to do, I was like, “Oh my god. I have to do Mary justice. What if I’m not as witty as Mary? Or what if I’m not as whatever as Mary?” It’s all so much pressure to get that scene right. We did that scene in two takes. But we didn’t cut it all. It was just one long … let the scene play out type thing. So I couldn’t mess up anything.
It makes me so happy when after the movie people tell me that that’s their favorite scene because it was so my favorite scene. That scene made me want to just produce the movie. So to feel like I got it right means so much to me.
LRM: Yeah. I mean being able to show that you were able to control the situation. You pretty much turned it over and snaked yourself out of it.
LRM: So I did notice that about the film. Were several of the scenes one take?
Brenner: I’m sorry what did you say?
LRM: I noticed in the scenes it seemed like there were some long scenes. Were they mostly one take scenes? Or …
Brenner: Well, yeah, we shot the whole movie in 18 days.
Brenner: Yeah, it was very, very, very low budget. So we really didn’t have time to get it wrong. So there was a lot of rehearsal beforehand. But that scene, we did that whole scene in one take. I mean not everything but we all felt that scene should just be. Let it play out type thing. But yeah, the scene where I tell him I’m adopted in front of the night club, we had maybe five minutes before we had to wrap. And we had to do the most … a very pivotal scene in the movie in five minutes. We did that in one take. Then the scene by the graveyard was another time we literally had 10 minutes to get that whole scene just because we couldn’t go over time.
We just didn’t have that luxury, which put an extra … but a good pressure which … That’s why I love Indie films because there is this pressure need to figure it out on the spot. We don’t have the luxury of … Well, oh, I didn’t get it. Let’s try it again. Well, maybe let’s try it again. I didn’t really … We didn’t have that at all. So we just shot it and hoped for the best. I love that about the movie because it is a quirky little movie that to me just feels very unique and unlike anything I can compare it to.
LRM: I see. Well, I enjoyed it. I really enjoyed … Where was the filming done by the way?
Brenner: Thank you so much. We shot around … in Cardiff, Wales, in and around South Wales-
Brenner: … which was fantastic, with the best film crews ever. They do Doctor Who there in Cardiff. So they’re used to doing television paced filming, which is much quicker than film. So they were just used to it. I got them on their summer holiday. So I had the most established, hard-working crews just working for me on their summer holiday.
Brenner: Which it just worked out really well. It was originally written to just be a British Isle, nondescript. But we … because we all fell in love with Wales, we adapted it to Wales. So we added a lot of Welsh flavor. We talk about the Welsh cakes and we had some Welsh language and the mom speaks Welsh at one point. So yeah, we adapted it to the town where we were in.
LRM: That’s nice. It had its touch.
Brenner: I consider myself an honorary Welsh now.
LRM: That’s awesome.
LRM: To finalize the interview, Lisa, you mentioned that you’re working on something being produced. Can you share a little bit about that?
Brenner: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. I’m actually producing something with my husband Dean Devlin, for the first time ever. We’re working together, and we’re producing this movie called The Deal which we’re shooting in Serbia this summer. So that’ll be interesting. I said whether the movie does well or not, that’s besides the point. Me and my husband just have to stayed married. That’s it. If we can stay married, it all is good because it’s not easy to work with your partner. But we actually met working. He produced the movie The Patriot and I was in it. So we met as professionals. So it’s not as weird that we’re working together. We share a lot of the same sensibilities and affinities for the same type of work and we’re just … we get each other as artists. So we’re good together. So yeah, that’s that. And it’s a beautiful mother-daughter story set in a dystopian future.
Brenner: I love the mother-daughter part of it and he loves the dystopian future part of it. So it’s a good marriage between the both of us.
LRM: Well, that’s great.
Brenner: Well, yeah, so that’ll be this summer.
Say My Name is in theaters now!
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