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Elisabeth Shue Reveals...
Moments of Truth from “Don McKay” and her acting career
Written by: Kelly Calabrese
Secrets abound in Elisabeth Shue's latest movie, “Don McKay” which tells the story of a McKay, a high school janitor (played by Thomas Haden Church), who flees his hometown after a tragedy only to return 25 years later to rekindle a romance with his old flame… cue Elisabeth Shue's character, who is dying! Drama!
From start to finish the movie reveals many sudden twists and secret meanings and Elisabeth's role of Sonny plays a major part in each caper.
To find out more about Elisabeth Shue, the actor, NYCastings asked about the movie and how some aspects may have a deeper, real life meaning to her…
In Don McKay, your character, Sonny, plays the eternally romantic girl next door (at least by appearances) …
Q: What does the ‘girl next door' type mean to you?
People say I express a certain amount of innocence and I like playing characters that come with a certain amount of innocence and openness because they get to experience more emotions and be more on edge and more complicated. As a jumping off point, I think there is a thread of that girl next door in my work. But after “Adventures in Baby Sitting” I think my work has been different. Lately, I have really enjoyed work that has more of a comedic tone to it. It's really liberating to not always have to go to a dark emotional place as an actor.
“Don McKay” involves many childhood stories about the characters and how it affected them later in life…
Q: Are there aspects of you from your youth that you hold onto and that help you develop characters today?
I think you can't help it. Your tool is really yourself so all the things you experienced in life, the joy, the pain all of it is what makes you who you are and when you are creating a character you are using a few colors of yourself. That's the way I understand characters. I only have myself to work with and my imagination. Then the two together to create the character.
Your character tries to re-kindle and old romance…
Q: How have you kept your love of acting alive throughout your career?
I guess the characters help me. Each character you come to has its own challenges and maybe it's choosing people who will challenge you that keeps you interested and alive. I don't work that often so I think that helps me. Each time I work I am like ‘this is so much fun. I forgot how much fun this could be.' And then when I'm back at home being a mother of three I am so happy in my life that I forget how much I even love acting. I feel incredibly grateful but I don't feel as much like an actor right now. I feel more like a Mom who gets to act too.
Sonny is a funny, quirky character….
Q: Do you have advice for comedic actors?
I think you have to try really hard to not play your character for the humor. In this film, what was liberating was that everyone in the film played everything for real. We all had characters that had extreme needs and the situations were all extreme and very intense and that led to a certain amount of tension that then became funny based on the fact that Thomas is very dry. And Melissa, I thought she was brilliant in the moments that were funny and I think that comes from a commitment to the character versus ‘I am going to be funny in this moment.' I think that would be deadly for an actor.
We were lucky because the situations became more and more absurd. As a character you would think ‘I can't believe I am saying this' and then you would keep going further with it. The way the scenes unfolded created a humor.
In Don Mckay there is a series of questionable occurrences (no spoiler here) …
Q: Where there any questionable aspects of this biz you would suggest others avoid?
When I meet people who talk about wanting to become actors I know how tough it is and how long it takes to break through. It is easy to give up early on and I was lucky enough to not even expect to do well. You have to really enjoy the process and not expect any results until the time comes, the right moment, the right part, the person who gets you as an actor. You have to enjoy the auditioning process even though it's awful. You have to keep your power.
One way that I kept my power was to be involved with other aspects of life so I didn't feel like everything was on the line. So I didn't put all this added pressure on myself. I think you have to keep your sense of power when you walk into those rooms. Deep down realize they are lucky to have you come in and then express yourself in the most honest way and that's all you can do. You have to be really kind to yourself through the entire thing. Otherwise you beat yourself up and think ‘why didn't I get that, it's all my fault.'
And one thing too… I learned a lot from casting “Gracie.” I read with people alone in the room. I was the actor, producer and camera operator and it was such a good experience for me because I realized that everyone who read for the movie was a really good actor. They really were. And they probably all walked out when they didn't get the job thinking they did something wrong and they did not. The only thing they did wrong was that they innately were not right for the part and I could have told them that the moment they opened their mouth. I was shocked by that because I always walk out saying ‘if I only did this' or ‘I didn't get to show them that part of me' and sometimes people are just looking for something very specific and you just can't take it on.
Your character and Don McKay are said to have been high-school sweethearts…
Q: If you were to write your own high school yearbook style caption predicting your acting future, how would you complete this sentence?
In the future I am most likely to…
Continue to work, that's pretty much all you can hope for.
I think that it's a great goal to have.The older you get the more grateful you are. When you are young you think it will go on forever, but as you get older you realize it's a privilege. And I want to make that transition into being an old woman one day who still has something to express. And to keep expressing myself in other ways and not limit myself to one form of expression, whether it's writing or producing. Something where my age will not matter or how I look, just my own sense of expression.
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