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The Independent Critic

 The Independent Critic Interviews Eve Annenberg 
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It only takes a few minutes into a conversation with indie writer/director/actress Eve Annenberg has an almost insatiable tribal spirit, a spirit that comes to life in nearly every aspect of her infinitely interesting life on camera, behind the camera and, yeah, even in her everyday life. Having become familiar with Annenberg through her work as writer/director/star of the indie gem "Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish," I jumped at the chance to check out her latest film, the award-winning "From Hollywood to Rose," which opens at the Laemmle Music Hall 3 in Beverly Hills for a week-long run starting June 16th. 

Having recently given "From Hollywood to Rose" a rave review, I approached my telephone interview with Eve Annenberg unsure of what to expect from a woman whose cinematic landscape is practically defined by bringing to life, in ways both hilarious and brimming with authenticity, the quirkiest of characters whose stories she seems to regard with a sense of genuine affection. 

I wasn't disappointed. In our just shy of one hour conversation, I proved once again that I'm simply not that great of an interviewer. I love having just plain ole' conversations and Eve Annenberg seemed more than happy to oblige. 

EVE ANNENBERG

Hi Richard.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Hey, how are you?

EVE ANNENBERG

Thank you so much for that review. That was so generous and lovely. I really appreciated it. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

To be honest, I almost felt weird doing an interview. I'm such a big fan of the film and I'm an even bigger fan of you in the film. I think I was so immersed in the film that I found myself thinking "Okay, what's she going to be like in real life?" 

EVE ANNENBERG

Yeah, I can see why you might think that. I think that role is me. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Well, you know. I was doing my research before the interview and you really do have quite the interesting background. 

EVE ANNENBERG

Yeah, definitely. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Can you talk a little bit about how this role came to be? What made you say to yourself "Yep, this is something I can do" or "This is something I want to do."

EVE ANNENBERG

Okay, well I can be completely candid with you?

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Oh, absolutely. 

EVE ANNENBERG

Then you can decide whether or not to use it. People will say "What drew you to the role?," well first the director and I are married. We got married not that long ago. I was a blushing bride of over 50 and so I told him "If I'm going to spend this much money for a dress, you'd better let me wear it for 30 days." I just couldn't justify it. It was so not me, yet I had to do it. I drank the kool-aid. I bought me a wedding dress. So, then, he did. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

So, was the dress in the film that dress?

EVE ANNENBERG

No, it wasn't because we needed two of them because one of them had to get soaked in grape juice. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I wondered about the wedding. One of the things that popped up when I Googled your name was what looked like some sort of announcement that you were registered at some place called The Torch. It had Matt's name, as well. 

EVE ANNENBERG

(Laughing) We were registered?

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I think that's what it said. I didn't dig into it.

EVE ANNENBERG

We were not registered. We got only charity donations. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Okay, so you had that practical reason for doing this role. Your husband was directing the film. Still, it's such an interesting character. Did you have any qualms about it? I guess it's sort of in line with the type of character that seems to interest you. I haven't seen all of your films, but from what I have seen it does seem like something you would do.

EVE ANNENBERG

(Laughing)

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

That is a compliment, by the way.

EVE ANNENBERG

Well, it's not in Yiddish. So, that made it more commercial. I love quirky independents. When Matt was writing this we both looked hard at After Hours and it was an inspiration for the movie on a much lower, smaller scale. Matt is a painter by profession. He's an oil painter. I said to him "You're so funny and you cannot be funny in an oil painting. Maybe you need to try something else." 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I should probably know this, but was this the first time he'd directed?

EVE ANNENBERG

Yes. I mean, he watches movies like a professional...constantly. I told him "You can't do this as a civilian. You have to be in it. You have to be in the game." 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Okay, so one thing that I wondered about, and please correct me if I'm wrong here, but it seems like your films are usually based in New York. From Hollywood to Rose is obviously based in L.A. Was there any difference in shooting like that? Or did you experience a difference just in the process of filmmaking?

EVE ANNENBERG

In a way, it's actually easier than shooting in New York. Somehow, the city's geared for filmmaking and for inexpensive filmmaking and New York is not. We had some really great breaks...like Mike Ryan. Mike Ryan found us the bus, which isn't easy to find, and then he drove it down for us. When it didn't turn on, he stayed until it did turn on. He's a stunt truck driver. He's a real unsung hero. He's off working on Jurassic Park 2 now. He's got the limp to prove it. He's been in some very terrible accidents. He's really dedicated. So, L.A. really has every filmmaking budget and it's really possible to make miracles there and our film was no exception. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

When I first started, and I'm The Independent Critic so I obviously focus my energy on the indie scene, I think that even though I knew there was an indie film community that I was honestly a little surprised at its vibrancy. I mean, I think just becoming aware of how many people do truly make their living in independent films their entire lives was pretty profound for me. I mean, they're obviously not making $20 million a picture but they're making a living doing what they love doing.

EVE ANNENBERG

Yeah, it's so difficult and sometimes you don't make a living and you have to make a living a hundred other ways to support your addiction of independent filmmaking. It's extremely unhealthy, but every time I've tried to leave it I can't. You know, they say that about acting...if there's anything else you can do you should do it. As often as I've tried, and I've had 200 jobs, I just end up coming back to do this for nothing. It's also a testament, though. Indie film people are people who cannot be controlled. It's just not worth it to them...they're like "It's my way or the highway." When you go to deal with Hollywood at large, it's not good for that type of personality. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

You've written and directed twice. What would happen to you if you were to do a film where you could, say, get a million dollar budget? Do you think that would change you as a filmmaker? I mean, obviously there'd be more you could do in terms of production. You have such an interesting vibe. Could you keep that outside the indie scene?

EVE ANNENBERG

I always think it's great when you can be making an indie film and eating a sushi lunch. That, to me, is the definition of success. For a million dollars, you can probably do that. A lot of the money once you go union is eaten up in union rates. I don't think that it's that much different except you worry a little bit less about things. Say your budget is $5 million, you really do have a prop guy. You really do have someone to do people's hair. Those things are big. It's really big to have somebody doing your props and not have to be worried about it. When your producing these low budget indies, your concentration is so split. You have to think "I really need another take of that, but it won't be the best thing for our day." That puts you in a terrible position because you might not do your finest work in that moment and it's that moment that's going to stick around for a long time. If you're lucky, you just torture yourself about it right afterwards. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

So, you do that?

EVE ANNENBERG

Oh yeah. Unfortunately, that's a big part of my identity. I'm constantly castigating myself. That's just everyday. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Do you read the reviews? I mean, you obviously read mine. 

EVE ANNENBERG

I have been reading the reviews. We got an L.A. Weekly review today that was a real plug for me. It was like "hope Hollywood takes notice" and I was like "Oh my god, me too. I need a manager." That would be so great for me. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I think that's kind of what makes me frustrated with the indies...maybe frustrated isn't the right word. It drives me batty when we get around to awards season and you look at what gets nominated and then, especially my being an indie critic, you think about all the really great films and performances that don't get a mention. I mean, I can tell you. I'm a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and I've already put in a plug for you and the film this year. It may not go anywhere. I mean, who knows? But, I have no problem saying that at least right now From Hollywood to Rose is pretty easily my favorite film this year. 

EVE ANNENBERG

You have? I'm going to send you a fruit basket. (We both laugh). 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

In all seriousness, though. You really are that good in the film. Let's be honest. We've seen this kind of character before. It doesn't always work. The fact that you pulled it off AND you pulled it off in a low budget indie is amazing. That means that it wasn't overly edited. It wasn't special effects.

EVE ANNENBERG

More importantly, no one was doing my hair!

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

No one was doing your hair! AND you made me wonder if that was really you. I wasn't certain where you ended and the character began or vice versa. 

EVE ANNENBERG

Thank you so much...which is a big worry as an actress. You know, you lose your objectivity along the line. At the end of the movie, I was thinking to myself "You know, I think this is my new favorite movie." I thought that the elliptical structure was so clever. I think that's why it was my new favorite. It was so silly and it was so self-contained. 

Section title here
Eve Annenberg at the L.A. theatrical premiere of "From Hollywood to Rose"

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

The characters are great. I mean, you can have silly and you can have humor. I kind of think it's lazy when it's actually at the expense of the character. These characters, and maybe especially your character, could have gone that way easily. It would have ticked me off. 

EVE ANNENBERG

Hmmm. I can't even speak to that. You are coming from a separate place as a critic and a reviewer. That's a little bit of a different brain function from what I have. An actor can look at another actor and say "Do I believe that person?" I think there's an overlay that you have as a reviewer that I do not have. That's fine. It's good, probably. I don't know what else to say about that. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Did you get a chance to get familiar with your character? I mean, there was obviously the period of writing and the shoot. I'm assuming you were around Matt as he was writing it all. Did you get a chance to experience the character at all before you started shooting? 

EVE ANNENBERG

We didn't rehearse. (At this point, we were momentarily disconnected. After my seemingly awkward question about humor at the expense of the characters, I'm thinking "Uh oh. I ticked her off." Fortunately, I would learn I was wrong and that's not so easy to do. She comes back and we get back into our flow.). When you're working on an indie film, people are constantly putting out fires. In the chaos, you can find yourself alone and try to find what you want and in that moment hope that it works. There are moments when no one is looking and you're working the space. You hope that you've gotten a true moment out of your character. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

It seems like you got a lot of them out of this character.

EVE ANNENBERG

Well, that's great. That's great to hear. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

It's also a great ensemble film, though. I think part of my motivation for my original question was just that you all seem to play off of each other really well. I loved that young male actor, Beckett Rogers. He was just wonderful. I mean, he basically said one word in the film but he's absolutely essential. He completely sold it. 

EVE ANNENBERG

Talk about pulling in favors. He is Matt's nephew. Getting a child on a low-budget indie has so much red tape. It's somewhat less so if he's your nephew. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I had no idea.

EVE ANNENBERG

His mother was the redhead in this movie. It was a real labor of love this movie. Some of us have known each other for years. Danny Cleary, the melt down bus driver, has been in every movie I've ever been a part of. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

You seem to have a very communal spirit. (Eve laughs)

EVE ANNENBERG

Somebody told me that I live like a litter of puppies. I like to be in the middle of a lot of people all the time. Matt has to suffer through that now that he married me. We shot the movie in two segments. We kept going back and forth to the Ukraine. We were adopting three orphans. We shot the movie, went back and forth to the Ukraine, then finished the movie. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I actually read a reference to three children in an article I read about you. I was trying to decide if I was going to ask you about it. Again, that really reinforces that you've had this wonderfully interesting, quirky life and you have this wonderfully communal spirit. We kind of talked about this addiction of yours. But, what really made you know early on that you were meant to be an actress? 

EVE ANNENBERG

It started really, really early. In acting class, they used to have this exercise where the instructor would tell us that there was hot, molten lava dripping down and would tell us to find the warm spot. I could find the warm spot. I think I knew then. I knew that if I could find this imaginary warm spot that there was something to all of this. That doesn't mean that I haven't done everything else. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

We've got one big thing in common in our history. We both worked in an emergency room. 

EVE ANNENBERG

I love emergency rooms. Do you? 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Oh yeah, I miss it horribly. 

EVE ANNENBERG

This is horrible, but when I used to have to put in an Ng tube I would faint. But, I love the ER. I love the kind of people who work in the ER. What were you doing?

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I was in crisis intervention. So, I was on the mental health side. I did it for like nine years. So, yeah. I saw that and I saw that you had become a nurse. I saw that and thought to myself "Boy, that just came out of left field." I guess in some ways it feels like it's out of left field, but I suppose it sort of fits. 

EVE ANNENBERG

I think it's not dissimilar. You know Eleanora Duse the actress? 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Strangely enough, I do.

EVE ANNENBERG

She was a nurse for 20 years. Did you know that?

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I did not know that. 

EVE ANNENBERG

She went into nursing at the outbreak of World War I and she was a nurse for 20 years. She was the greatest actress of her time. I think that there's something there. After 9/11, I wanted a tangible way of helping people. I'd just had a rough shoot, so I went after that. I thought it would be like a sabbatical from indie film. It worked for a little bit. Then, I drifted back but the ER? There's nothing like it. It's insanely visual and you see the wildest stuff in the world. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

It was great. It's such an improvisational place. You have to be able to respond quickly and compassionately and effectively. The cultural potpourri, or whatever you want to call it, is just amazing. 

EVE ANNENBERG

I agree with you. I worked in Brooklyn and you could say that the ER I worked in was like something out of Star Wars. If a Wookie had walked into our doors, I would not have been surprised. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

So there was this period of your life where you were in nursing, then you moved back into film. Did you leave that behind? Do you still do any nursing at all?

EVE ANNENBERG

I haven't for awhile. It's a very hard thing to do part-time. If you want to leave yourself free for films, it's very difficult. I'd be getting calls and saying "This is great...and I can't take it." I'm not good at leaving people in the lurch either. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

You've had a successful festival run with From Hollywood to Rose. How long has it been on the festival circuit?

EVE ANNENBERG

Since February. It won Best Comedy Feature at the Hollywood Reel Independent and it won Best Comedic Screenplay at the Manhattan Film Festival. We missed the deadlines for all the big ones, Rotterdam and Cannes and others, because we were doing all this adoption stuff. We missed the deadlines on the biggest festivals. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

That kind of makes it a film that will sneak up on folks. I mean, these days it seems like even with indies you always hear about them playing Cannes or Sundance or Tribeca or some other big festival. It's actually kind of exciting to me to find a film like this one, which I'd consider a true gem, and have it kind of be an out of nowhere surprise and hopefully success. 

EVE ANNENBERG

That would be lovely. It's gotten the sales and the distribution with Random Media. They loved it. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Is there hope that it will expand beyond L.A.? 

EVE ANNENBERG

It definitely will digitally expand. I don't know. Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish played at Lincoln Center and it played the Vogue and others and we haven't even reached out to any of those other theaters. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

The digital world these days is so amazing anyway. The Indiana film critics group has been around about ten years. I remember those early days and how difficult it would be if I wanted to really push a small independent film. I'd have to hope that it made some local festival or that I could talk the distributor into sending screeners. These days, I can basically just e-mail the other critics and go "You really need to see From Hollywood to Rose!" and it's pretty amazingly simple to make that happen. 
 

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