Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Little Convention that Could - Cat's Adventures in Texas (Exclusive Helen Slater Interview)

By: Cat

Last week was quite the roller-coaster for me. We had an end-of-the-year trip to Dallas with my daughter’s Girl Scout troop, which was immediately followed by working as staff for the Geek’d Con Convention in Tyler, TX. In the middle of that, I had some upsetting family news. The convention was a wonderful outlet for me to throw myself into enjoyable work and get my mind off of things.

I’m not exactly new to the convention scene, having worked as volunteer staff for Dragon*Con, in Atlanta, GA, for several years in the early 2000’s. Though, I’d have to say that this convention experience was new and wonderful for me in many ways. 

This time around, I was a member of the Guest Services team as a “handler” of sorts. I was assigned to one of our guests and sat with them at their booth to oversee the money transactions and watch the merch while they took breaks, etc.

Now this wasn’t a big convention – I believe it was even Tyler, Texas’ first one ever – so it was significantly smaller than behemoth conventions like Dragon*Con, or even the last couple conventions held in Shreveport, LA. Had the timing of this convention’s dates been different, I believe it would have done really well. Unfortunately, we were competing with a giant anime convention in Dallas, TX and high school graduations on the local level, so the attendance suffered.

The silver lining to that, though, was that we had some downtime on our hands here and there. The guests got to wander and peruse the vendors and otherwise just hang out. 

I also had a chance to visit more with my assigned guest, whom was gracious in allowing me an opportunity for an interview.

Our celebrity lineup for the Tyler con included (in no particular order): Theshay West (The Walking Dead), Sam Witwer (The Mist, Star Wars: Rebels, Once Upon a Time), Lindsey McKeon (What Doesn't Kill You, One Tree Hill, Supernatural), Pruitt Taylor Vince (Constantine, Deadwood, Beautiful Creatures), Jennifer Lynn Warren (Infamous, The School in the Woods, American Horror Story: Coven), James C. Leary (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Unemployed, Server Life), and - last but definitely not least - Helen Slater (The Lying Game, Echo Park, A Remarkable Life).

Imagine my joy when I arrived in Tyler and found out that I would be sitting with the original Supergirl (1984) for the entire weekend! While the caped heroine is the buzz of today due to the television series formerly of CBS, I remember Helen Slater best from her title role in The Legend of Billie Jean (1985). The mantra of “fair is fair” rings in my memory with a Pat Benatar soundtrack.

While I’m on that particular topic…I want to clear up a common misconception. Helen Slater may share the same name as Christian Slater (Ask Me Anything, Archer, Mr. Robot), however, he is not her younger brother. Rumors have abounded on and off the years after they played siblings in that movie, but it’s just not the case. 

Onward down the rabbit hole!

We first met Ms. Slater as she was arriving on Friday evening and checking in to the hotel. My family and I, as well as the Director of Guest Services, had just returned from dinner. In spite of what had to be a long flight, and the two hour car ride from Dallas to Tyler that had followed, she was all smiles and full of warmth. Our interaction was very brief that night outside of introductions and her attempts to coax my shy daughter out of her shell.

I have to say that this was one of the most pleasant and special celebrity interactions that I’ve ever had. She is a very special lady – down to earth, a kind word for everyone, a pleasure to converse with, and even calm and pleasant when she’s a bit vexed. (She had a few things to be understandably vexed about, but took it all in stride.) Helen Slater is just as lovely on the inside as she is on the outside, and a very classy lady.

Image by Tara Lupi (c) TB Butler Publishing (Other convention images can be found here.)
She enjoyed meeting the people at the convention and listening to their stories. Some of them were very moving, and we both nearly cried at least once as a gentleman thanked her because her work had helped him emotionally or mentally escape some horrible things in his youth. Fans got hugs with their pictures quite often. She even tweeted a selfie she took with my daughter!

Aside from carrying forward connections with the ‘Super’ franchise, I can see why she was cast as Superman’s biological mother, Lara-El, in Smallville (2001-2011); and as the new Kara’s foster mother, Eliza Danvers, in the new Supergirl (2015-) series. (There is actually a way to “six degrees of separation” connect the dots between all of the live action 'Super' properties, partially through her.) 

By the way, she also sings, writes music, and plays piano. I know, right?! She performed something from her children’s album based on The Ugly Duckling story as part of her panel Saturday. You can hear samples of her work on her website.

As the convention was drawing to a close on Sunday, we found some time to have a mini interview. It might’ve been a bit of a rookie move to admit to her that she was my very first interview of this nature – but I am a rookie at interviewing people! She was very encouraging and supportive and that really boosted my confidence. I might have stammered a little here and there, but it just got easier as we went along.

Without further ado, I give you my Helen Slater interview:

Q: How did it feel to be revisiting Supergirl after all these years?

A: You know, I was a little unsure about how it was going to feel; but everybody was so kindhearted, and so nice, and Greg Berlanti and CBS... Warner Brothers... the production where we were kind of producing it. They just made me feel so welcome. All I felt was very welcomed. It was a very positive experience. 

Q: When you put on the Supergirl suit for the first time, did you feel powerful? 

A: That’s a really good question. I think I did. When we finally found... cause they tried different combinations but yeah when we got the right combination... it made you feel... well I remember feeling “AH! This feels strong and powerful.”

Q: Will you still be guest-starring in Supergirl now that the show has moved to CW up in Vancouver? 

A: My understanding is yes. Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’ll be coming back. We don’t know for how many episodes, but hopefully more! 

Q: We noticed on IMDb that they have you listed for a movie called The Hard Way playing a character called Robin. Is that a real thing?

A: Oh, yes! Yes, that’s my friend’s this wonderful young filmmaker Lizze Gordon, and she’s been submitting it to festivals and we shot a couple of scenes just to get it going. It’s a great coming of age film. She’s in her 20’s; it’s really funny. [She’s] a really great writer. 

Q: I noticed it was a comedy, but IMDb didn’t have any description about it or anything so we were wondering...

A: They should probably get that listed, but yeah it’s a very... kind of in that sort of really funny women struggling with their identity. Just a really really good piece. I play the mom. 

Q: Is there anything else you can tell us about it, or is it still kind of hush until it gets picked up somewhere?

A:  It’s sort of hush, yeah, but a very funny movie. Super funny. Hopefully it’ll get wings. 

Q: Do you have a record deal for your CDs or do you self publish? 

A: I self produce my records.

Q: Are there any challenges that you find with that? 

A: Well, it would be nice to have the support of a record company, and maybe one day that would happen. But the other thing is that I get to sort of do it exactly how I want. I’m really proud of the records. I’ve made five. The last two were children’s records, and I’ve made three of them in Nashville, TN – recorded them all live with these amazing musicians. But, yeah those are kind of my love – my passion... hobby love.

Q: You mentioned during lunch that you were wanting to turn them into motion pictures. 

A: Yes! This year I’ve been moving towards having a book to go with the two children’s records. I’ve been talking to people about that; and, ideally, to make The Myths of Ancient Greece and The Ugly Duckling into some kind of animated piece. 

Q: I would definitely love to see that. That would be an awesome family animated movie. Not all the animated movies that are coming out these days are that way. And Musicals!

A: I would like to return to a more less-violent, less graphic, less over-using language that’s... I just feel like it doesn’t have to be that way to tell a story. Keep it above-board and there’s so much beautiful language in the English language! 

Q: Right, and musicals... there’s just something else with musicals. I think they stay with you a little better because there’s more emotion in them because of the music. Music just speaks to people in ways that words don’t always… you know.

A: I think so. I agree with that!

Q: That’s why I got so excited when you were talking about the Celtic Selkie myth and the Celtic music. I was like “oh my goodness! This is my wheelhouse!” 

A: Yes, and you gave me such a great list! I’m looking forward to listening. 

[We digressed into discussing Celtic musical instruments here and a list of Celtic or heavily Celtic influenced artists and music. She had mentioned looking for that sort of thing for research/inspiration to draw from in working on her current project. Of course, I was glad to write down a few of my favorites and introduce her to the gorgeous sound of the uilleann pipes.]

 Davy Spillane performing Caoineadh Cu Chulainn on Uilleann Pipes during Riverdance.

Q: What inspired you to explore the Selkie folklore for your next project?

A: I heard the Selkie myth like 20 years ago. There’s this wonderful writer, Clarissa Pinkola Estés, and she wrote a book, Women Who Run With the Wolves. She’s an artist and a psychologist, and the Selkie myth – she calls it ‘sealskin souls’. She writes about it in that book, and it’s so beautiful and compelling. She uses the Selkie myth as a symbol of the call or the need to return to the self. Like, you could be in a marriage, and you could be raising a child, and you could be having a wonderful life – but there is still this need to kind of return to your own. In the story, it’s very dark – she leaves the husband, leaves the child. You know, John Sayles made a movie, The Secret of Roan Inish, and he sort of explores it too. [There's a little here that had to be redacted due to Trust the Dice's policy on movie spoilers.] But I would never advocate for that – I’m very happily married!

Q: Right! The downside of the selkies – you could be absolutely happy but you had to hide the pelt; otherwise if they find it…

A: They want to go.  So I think because I’m still very in the middle of it, I don’t know how I’m going to unfold that piece of the story or unpack it; but I think what she’s saying – Clarissa Pinkola Estés– and what the Selkie myth is saying is that whatever ending you put on it, we do have this need to be authentic and true. As women, and I’m not even like a big feminist person, but just you try and figure out ‘well what’s actually true for me?’ separate from the nurturing, caregiving, providing, and that’s what I think the myth is sort of touching on. She writes a lot about that.  I’m interested in that because I’m now in my fifties... and you know... it’s just sort of… it just interests me. But it was interesting to me when I was in my twenties, too. Cause how she writes about it is very compelling. 

[We had another small digression here talking about folk singer Judy Collins and her Golden Apples of the Sun album, on which she does have a song about Selkies that, while not in the traditional Irish style, focuses on the story of the myth. It had been one of my first introductions to that particular piece of Irish mythology when I was little.]

Q: I did notice that you have the five albums when I went on your website last night. I said ‘oh my goodness she has more than the children’s albums, this is neat!’ What type of music is your favorite to write? 

A: Well I love writing the fairy tales – myths and fairy tales. I like any kind of storytelling. It’s sort of… I don’t know how you would describe it. Sort of more in the 70s type style music – very melodic driven storytelling. I love Carole King, and Ricky Lee Jones, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon. Those are probably like the biggest musical influences; and then musical theater. 

Q: I saw also that you’ve done Broadway...

A: I’ve never been on Broadway. I’ve been in, you know... I’ve been in an Off-Broadway show. There’s like distinctions in New York... Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway. My show was actually Off-Off-Broadway. 

Q: I think IMDb might need to make some corrections. I found that in your biography and I was like ‘Broadway, that’s cool!” So Responsible Parties and Almost Romance were Off-Off-Broadway?

A: Those were Off-Off-Broadway. 

Q: They also mentioned Grease and Shakespeare and Friends. Who did you play in Grease? 

A: That was Summerstock and I played Sandy. And the Shakespeare and Friends… I don’t know what that is. Boy, I need to go into that IMDb! 

Q: Who is your favorite Grease character other than the one you played?

A: That’s funny, I haven’t seen it in so long! I love the song that Rizzo sings. So that’s my favorite song. “There are Worse Things I Could Do” I just think the melody is so pretty. 

Q: Other than live audiences, what do you find different or interesting or challenging in stage production vs. film production?

A: Well theater… cause you know I perform every Sunday night. My husband runs this improvisation show every Sunday night, and Helen Hunt has been part of it and Jason Alexander... lots of different stars... Charles Shaughnessy... Daphne Zuniga, and then a bunch of groundlings – improvisers that know that world. What’s fun about that is that it’s just about making things up and being with the other person. But film and television is much more... it takes so many people to make it happen.  There’s hair and makeup, there’s the script, there’s getting there, there’s lights and cameras; so it’s just such a different muscle. One feels more free-flowing, and sort of... happy? And the other one – there’s still joy in it, but it’s a lot more… it’s like a marathon. It’s going to take a long time just to get through each day. 

Q: And then a lot of hurry up and wait, probably. 

A: Definitely that. 

Q: What was it like to work with Bette Midler in Ruthless People? Did you get to talk music with her? 

A: She was amazing! I didn’t talk music; but we use the same acting coach, Barry Primus, and um I just think she was very generous and gracious with me as an actress. I was very young – 22 maybe? I was 22 years old when I did that movie, so it was nice to have somebody feeling like they had your back and wanting you to be good.

By the time that we were finished with our interview, the day was mostly over, and the celebrities were beginning to pack up. In spite of the heavier thoughts that lingered in the back of my mind due to family events; and even in the face of small crowds (which usually makes an event like this seem to drag on FOREVER) – I couldn’t figure out where all the time had gone. I was having such a wonderful time visiting with Helen between fan interactions, that the whole thing just blazed by. She was just so easy to talk to, and we had such common ground – it was phenomenal. We even had a bit of a chat about Game of Thrones!

I actually can’t recall the last time I felt so at-ease around a celebrity as I did with this convention and the core group of guests that I interacted with. There were a few I met back in my Dragon*Con days that were nice – but I usually I get all shy and the million things I want to say either won’t get past my mouth or they just fall out of my brain all together.

Though, I feel like I want to apologize to Sam Witwer. Helen’s booth was right between Theshay West’s and Sam’s – so he was sitting RIGHT BESIDE me (a few feet away) for most of the convention – across from me at the table for Sunday lunch, even. I felt like I needed a fan to cool myself down from all the blushing I did – whether it was because he is handsome and I was doing my best to not be one of those giggly moony fans, or because I was slightly embarrassed I’d forgotten the seasons that I’d seen him in with Being Human (2011-2014)… (ok mortified is more like it). Sorry Sam!

I did get a chance to talk to Lindsey McKeon for a little bit about Indigenous (2014), which we reviewed not too long ago here at Trust The Dice. She said that it was a crazy shoot running through the jungle in Panama. The production team wanted as much genuine reaction to the creature as possible, so they saved its appearance. The actors didn't get to see the creature until near the very end! She also talked about how the contortionist-like actor playing that role would scare her at night in the jungle.

Lunch in the green room on Sunday was also quite interesting, as I got to sit and listen to a conversation among the guests as they talked shop about the industry, as well as some of their current projects.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Theshay West, known as one of the ‘walker pets’ led around by Michonne, likes to write music and is currently working on a musical called Dream: The Urban Musical, which is a bit autobiographical. He was quite the character to have around. He was always smiling, and at the center of quite a few laughs throughout the convention. At one point, he and Jennifer Lynn Warren got up on stage, after all the panels were finished, and started dancing with the background music that was playing through the PA system. They’ve got some moves!

Speaking of Jennifer, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that she does a lot of work based out of Shreveport. She’ll be one of the few guests that were at Tyler that will also be returning in August for the next convention here. She’s got lots of spunk and was really fun to be around. I immensely enjoyed getting to hang out with her and James C. Leary for Sunday breakfast. She definitely is one to speak her mind without hesitation. She had to take her panel moderator to school because they goofed and researched the wrong person on IMDb and didn’t really know who she was. (Whoops!)

She and Pruitt Taylor Vince are also in a movie together, Creature (2011). Not too long ago, it was on Netflix and I’ve been looking forward to watching it. Alas, when I looked for it yesterday, it was gone! (Maybe I’ll pick up the DVD from them in August.) Admittedly, it’s a B-movie, according to the cast members I met. I’m still curious.

Pruitt was such a funny and wonderful teddy bear of a guy. I loved him in Heroes Reborn (2015-2016) as Casper Abraham. The concept for his character was just great. 

I use the phrase “penny for your thoughts” quite a lot. Though, his character’s power took that to a literal level. He had a briefcase full of pennies. He’d pick one out and work his mojo on it then ask that question while handing a penny out to his target. When they touched the penny, his power of memory alteration triggered. 

He signed a penny for me to go with my Heroes Reborn glossy. 

James C. Leary was another really cool, very nice, down to earth guy. He’s currently living in Austin and working in the video gaming industry that is booming in that area. 

My daughter had been splitting time between walking around with her father, who was Director of Volunteer Services, and sitting in the booth with us (at Helen’s invitation). Though, as things were packing up, she slipped ‘next door’ into Theshay’s booth, and the little stinker tried to run a hustle on him! 

He had set a jug of lemonade on the table and she offered to autograph it for him (role reversal due to she was in his chair and he was standing in front of the table like a fan). He laughed and played along. Though, what she wrote on the jug in sharpie was her name and that it was her lemonade. She told him she was going to charge him for it, because it had her name on it. 

I swear… my child is trying to take over the world with those big blue eyes of hers – one person at a time. Theshay was such a good sport. He even gave her a dime!

When everything was over, I was sad to say goodbye to everyone – though, I will be seeing James, Jennifer, and Pruitt again later this summer. I tried to get everyone together for a group picture – though Sam, Lindsey, and James had already left at that point. It was a good close to a wonderful experience that helped me in ways it’s hard for me to explain.

I can’t wait to see what fun and shenanigans Geek’d Con Shreveport will bring in mid August. 

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