Idol Features editor Chris Charles has graciously invited me to guest-write for this site. Chris previously did an article on my film Remake, or more correctly on The Ladies of Remake. As a debut, I was going to do an article on the ladies of my own film Not Quite Lyin’ Eyes. However, I’m going to start with an interview with my friend Donna Marie Beard (pictured above in a very recent photo), the star of that film. I may cover the rest of the actresses in a subsequent column.
Donna also worked for me in Remake and Lightning Strikes Twice, and has been in many other indies. She’s also a writer, director, producer and singer.
DOUG PHILLIPS: Donna, thank you for doing this interview. DONNA MARIE BEARD: You are so welcome, Doug! DOUG: Could you tell us how old were you when you first thought of getting into show biz? And how old, when you actually began to DO it? Do you wish you’d started earlier? Or did things occur at just the right time? DONNA: As a kid I was mostly influenced by my parents. My Mother was a singer and an aspiring model. She had her own band for a couple years. As a child, she brought me to a couple theater tryouts. My dad had some influence as well and I hadn’t realized it until recently. He was an aspiring writer, so I’m sure that’s where both my daughter Heather and I get the gift from. My father is an avid movie watcher and the one who’s shown me from the beginning about film appreciation.My grandma Lorraine may have been the most influential of all. She would fuss over me, buy me clothes and toys. She gave me makeup to try on at a young age and she would take lots of pictures! That’s probably where it started. I loved having my picture taken. My mother taught me how to sing. At first I didn’t think I had a gift for it. But I ended up singing a solo for a Vaudeville show in first grade. In third grade I wrote for the school paper. I moved to my dad’s when I was 13. I was in the choir, but too nervous to ever sing solo or attempt to act. When I did, I shook. I had severe anxiety over performing or even speaking. Eventually, I became more brave.
I had a chance to make a CD as a singer and found someone who would give me a chance, but I needed to buy a car instead of paying for studio time. That’s kind of when my career stopped for a while. I’d just sing in church from time to time. Then I met Todd Post and we performed as a duet for a couple years. We got one of his songs on the old Dr. Demento Show on KQRS and had a cool gig at 7th Street Entry, which was amazing! I wasn’t nervous anymore. Later I got married, became pregnant and quit singing. At the time, I was happy, because I felt I’d gone as far as I could as a singer. I really didn’t pick it up again until my son was old enough to be left with a sitter for longer periods of time.
DOUG: Like most film actors, you were a stage actor first. When was your first stage role, and how did you feel while performing?
DONNA: I tried out for a play in high school once and got a callback, but didn’t take the role because of my job. Later, as a young mom, I had just joined a church in Forest Lake, Minnesota and found out there were auditions for a musical, so I tried out and got in. It was a role with a musical solo, and I was thrilled. I took up acting then. I loved the play I was in and wanted to do more. I was 26. I also thought it would be a good idea to take some acting and singing lessons. Things were good for a while, but then I needed to work more and show biz got pushed aside. Being a GOOD mom was more important. I had my second child, Heather, when I was 28. Two years later, I was a single mom. We got through it, though, and there are zero regrets! Then another round of acting came into my life. Heather and I tried out together for Seven Brides for Seven Brothers! We had a blast together! Then Heather and I did Sound of Music and she was “Gretl” and did an amazing job. The director was kind of tough on the cast though and would never let kids have a day off. This kind of ruined Heather’s love of acting. She never wanted to do it again after that show, because it was too much for her with school. I’m still mad at that director, because I really wanted the chance to see her do more as an actress and I believe she’s really talented!
DOUG: In stage work, how did you feel about the response from the audience?
DONNA: In my first couple roles I really didn’t get much of a response to tell you the truth, and I didn’t really think I did a good job. However, I didn’t give up. In Sound of Music I elicited a response from the crowd that I could really feel and be proud of. I made the audience laugh, and that was magical! I loved it, and I’m not sure if I can even describe how great it felt to be connected to the audience!
DOUG: What was the first indie film you worked in? What age were you? Do you remember any special moments?
DONNA: Well, after those plays, I realized I wanted to act. I wanted to do as many projects as possible, and film was the avenue! I officially began film acting at 37. I have no regrets. I adore my children and if I would have altered my course in any way, they either wouldn’t be here or wouldn’t be who they are now. My kids are my first passion! My first film experiences were mostly shorts, or being background for features. I really didn’t have any expectations of audience feedback on those films, since I knew that I might not even be seen on screen. I always had hope, however. I was just busy working to make a résumé and cash when I could. There was one short I was on that I can really remember going well, and I had a particular awesome experience. I met some actors through The Actors Forum and got to work on a short called Caffeine Therapy by Trucker Dryden. Paul Cram was in it as well, and he was so funny and a great joy to work with! All of the cast just had fun and all I can remember is the laughter. I recall driving home that evening looking at the Minneapolis skyline, thinking: yeah, this is what I want to do! I was exhilarated and inspired! DOUG: What was a favorite, hopefully positive, memory from working for me on Not Quite Lyin’ Eyes? Something particular that happened?
DONNA: I loved working on Not Quite Lyin’ Eyes and I’m so glad I got a chance to be a lead in an Indie film! We had many great moments and it’s hard to pick just one. I guess I need to think more!
DOUG:(Just in case anyone wonders whether we really did have a good time, there’s a blooper and outtake reel, with Donna in the midst of most of the clips.) I’ve always appreciated your upbeat personality and sense of humor. You seldom get upset, even when you have a right to. As you know, I deliberately cast you as the clueless wife of the killer in Remake, and as the equally clueless fiancée of the scheming scumbag in NQLE, in order to take advantage of your natural positiveness. It was a way of maximizing audience sympathy for your characters. How did you honestly feel about me doing that? DONNA: This is a twofold response, and it’s an oxymoron. On one hand I was worried that you saw me as a victim in real life. One the other hand it got me the roles, so I’m not sure how to feel about it. I guess I’m somewhat conflicted. I’d prefer to be seen as stronger, as an actor and a person. I think I’m getting better, because one day my grown daughter said to me, “You seem different, Mom. You’re just direct and to the point with people; maybe not as friendly. Maybe it’s because you live in a different state and that’s how the people are there.”
That occurred after I got back from California. I’d like to think that this precious life experience helped me grow as a person. Perhaps I learned to be less naïve and stronger. The largest lesson I learned is that it’s okay to not try to please everyone or necessarily go out of my way to be liked. It’s very freeing! DOUG: You’ve appeared in several indie films, besides mine. Which one was your favorite, and why?
DONNA: Actually I have several favorite projects for different reasons. Thin Ice was a shoot I was barely on as a background, but really seeing the production side of things on such a large scale was inspiring! I made a lot of friends on the set of Best Man Down. I saw many celebrities, which was exciting! DOUG: You’re now splitting time between Minnesota, Denver, and LA, and juggling a regular job in addition to show biz. Tell us more about that. It must be a hectic schedule. DONNA: It’s a challenge! I have to block times and set my priorities. I was lucky enough to spend some time in L.A. this Spring and learned a lot about how things are done out there; not only in regards to show biz, but what living in L.A. would be like and believe me it’s not easy. I got to do a couple projects while I was there, which leaves me peaceful about it, because I think if my personal life was different I could be working in California on a regular basis. However, I could work and work and work and live alone. How many more projects do I need to do until I’m satisfied that I went far enough?
But I had to ask myself, when will I see my husband in Colorado? When will I see my kids, dad, and friends? When will I get out of debt caused by going to school, car loan, and basic living stuff? I had to go back to Denver and live my life. See my kids in Minnesota; get a professional job I went to school for and carve out a life in Denver. The current hurdle I have in Denver is there isn’t a really decent film market out here. Minneapolis is better. It’s sad; there are no tax incentives for filmmakers here. There aren’t a ton of paying acting jobs. It’s so tough to start over in a different state, but I have no choice. I thought to myself once, why don’t you just hang it up and retire? You did okay. You went as far as you’re gonna go. Besides, why do you stand for this rejection all the time? Lost auditions, that kind of thing …but I notice a pattern with me. I go in phases and time periods; call them “eras.” I do acting for a while and get interrupted by life, but then come back with twice the vigilance. I can’t retire yet, or possibly ever. I will be that old gal on the set that finally got the lead part, ‘cuz it was the right time. DOUG: How do you feel about commercials?
DONNA: Some of the commercials I’ve been in have been great. I got to be a live model for shop NBC, which was really cool. I got to visit Paisley Park on a Golf Galaxy shoot I got through an agent. And; I met my husband of two years on the Grand Hinckley Casino commercial shoot, six years ago. DOUG: What kind of success are you having in getting on-camera dramatic work? What will we be seeing you in next?
DONNA: I’ve done a couple things lately. In L.A. I was on Judge Karen Mills and the episode is called The Blind Leading the Blind. It should be out in July sometime. In Denver I was in a wonderful short called Selling Paradise shot and produced by Ryan Lumley who is very awesome to work with and is a fantastic up and coming filmmaker! As soon as the film is up on Vimeo, I will share. I guess a Denver magazine is doing an article about the film and he’s releasing the film and the article simultaneously.
DOUG: Are you doing any editing work? And are you planning to produce any indie scripts you’ve written? DONNA: I’m working with Nikhil Agnihotri on a screenplay called Happy Endings. I’m on a mission to increase my editing skills. I’m taking some classes. My plan is to be able to work as an actress, writer, camera or editor on any film I end up producing. What can I say? I had a great role model to follow; his name is Doug Phillips. I have a script that I worked on for a couple years that made me crazy. It was close to getting produced, but the drama surrounding it amongst all the people involved just broke my heart. I finally got full ownership of the screenplay after five years, but I’m on the fence about finishing it. I have two other screenplays that were originally created by me and therefore can end with me. Control is very important to me, if you haven’t noticed. To answer your question; yes, there are at least four screenplays of my very own that I want to produce. At this point, I can’t find the time to act right now, but writing is another story. That can occur at four in the morning if it needs to, without the need of adhering to other human beings’ schedules.
DOUG: Are you going to keep working in stage productions as well?
DONNA: Theater is a dicey subject for me. I don’t love it. Film is much more forgiving if you make an error; can be made beautiful in an exceptional edit. It lives forever. I can keep it and watch it later. I can’t enjoy or remember a live performance I did later. If I screw up I have to fix it on cue which is cool to do and could result in a great improv, but then the moment is unsaved and lost. No one remembers. Theater takes a long time, like three months a show; rehearsal every day; and it costs more in commitment than it gives back; at least that is how I see it. I’m not particularly suited for theater either. You need to have a loud voice and be very robust. That’s never going to be me or my forte. I’m okay with that. Film is my favorite. I will take film over stage any day. DOUG: What’s your goal in five years? DONNA: Now that I’ve found my new professional job, I’ll clean up some prior debt, save for retirement and save cash for the films I will finance on my own. This is how things seem to be done everywhere, and that’s my plan in the next few years. I keep thinking how therapeutic this interview is, because you’re really making me think deeply about my future. In five years I want to have at least four screenplays written and financed, so I can just make the films. I plan to continue to work as an actress, even now while I’m working full time. I seem to be able to get one gig a month; usually a short film, but it’s more learning for me and that’s fine. I want to get a vocal coach and learn more accents as well as coaching for other issues I need to improve upon. I just want to get better.
DOUG: Ten years?
DONNA: In ten years …I just want to keep on doing the same thing. If I ever make it bigger than that; well, well …I just got lucky!
DOUG: What would you say to young ladies in their teens and early-20s who are thinking and dreaming about doing the things you’re doing? DONNA: Hmmm, what I would say to younger ladies; “Are you flipping crazy?!! Do something else!” Just kidding. If acting is what you must do, then do it and do it now! Don’t be afraid. Acting is like going into a cold pool; it won’t get better until you get used to the temperature; eventually it feels like a warm pool you get so comfortable in and you never want to get out of. A metaphor of course! DOUG: Like the lead actresses in several of my other Feature films, you’ve lived at one time at a heavier weight than what you maintain now. You had to battle back. And I’m sure it’s an ongoing process. What’s the process like, and is it partly because of the pressure on show biz women to be thin?
DONNA: I just had some pictures taken and it showed me that I still hadn’t shed weight that I’m currently battling. I haven’t really done much about it and it’s because I like eating and I hate exercising. All this hoopla about getting the endorphins pumping and feeling great seems like BS to me. After I exercise, I’m exhausted. I know I’m not in shape, but I do remember feeling in shape when I was younger; better endurance, strength; that kind of thing. I was recently at a marathon event and thought how cool it’d feel to accomplish the run. For me, being in shape is about having the ability to tap into strength and endurance; that makes sense to me. As far as the standards Hollywood bestows on all of us women: I’d have to say it’s pretty tough not to assimilate. I imagine if the times were different. Say, back in the days if a gal was chubby it meant she was well-to-do and eating well …I’d be considered pretty hot right now! But sadly, it’s 2015 and that extra weight is a bit frowned upon according to Hollywood standards. I’ve had half a notion to market myself as a petite full figured model; which wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. This would be a great way to make some lemonade, so to speak; at least until I get my weight down, if ever) I think if I were younger I’d be more concerned about my weight; but since I’m getting a little older anyway, I’ll make do with what I have until I retire as a model/actress. In a way, though, it’s kind of good for me to have to be accountable for my health and appearance. In my case the pressure of Hollywood is a necessary and extra motivation I need in order to do and be the best I can be at any age… something everybody should do to be healthy anyway. Anything that becomes unhealthy, however, is never a good thing. Binging, or not eating a healthy diet, or not eating at all, is insane and ill-advised. If a woman feels she needs to do that in order to become “thin” according to others’ standards, that’s where the line in the sand needs to be drawn. Hurting yourself just to get accepted is never okay.
DOUG: Appearance of age is another pressure on show biz women. Some actresses try to sue IMDb for revealing their real ages. Besides your personality, the other main reason I wanted you in the lead role in NQLE was because your character ages from 27 to 48 during the story, and I wanted someone with “ageless” looks who could do scenes from the beginning and ending of the film on the same shoot day without us having a nightmare of makeup continuity. And you were perfect. You’ve given away in this interview that you started film acting at 37. But your LA agent told you earlier this year (2015) that you can still pass for 30 to 35. And you’ve changed your birth year on some of your online sites from 1967 to 1979. How severe is the pressure to stay young, and how do you feel about it?
DONNA: It was great to hear someone from Hollywood tell me that I looked 30. And she told me to just not tell anyone my age, so I decided to take her advice and change the year on my Facebook. With as many people as I know, silly me … I’m not really fooling anyone anyhow (laughter). I’ve made the decision to accept and allow myself to age gracefully. I won’t be getting facelifts or Botox. I’m too vain; what if something went terribly wrong? Recently I had very dark hair that quickly revealed just how much gray hair I have; it was kind of shocking, so I now have blonde hair which blends in perfectly with the gray and lightens my face a little. I have some wrinkles, but quite honestly I’m not afraid of that; after all, look at how fantastic Jamie Lee Curtis and Meryl Streep look! I’m just going to be the best me I can be. And honey, it’s not perfect; but life in general isn’t, yet it’s beautiful anyway! DOUG: And finally: You recently launched Chameleon Productions. Fill us in about that. How will it help you accomplish your goals? DONNA: Chameleon Productions is my new baby. I’ve always enjoyed being a self-employed businesswoman and making film, so I’ve figured out a way to combine the two and bring my skill set to the real world. Chameleon will be there for businesses that need assistance with social media management, video production and website presence in order to generate leads and increase sales for their entities. I have additional goals for Chameleon; they extend into script writing and eventually into making motion pictures.
(Chameleon Productions Website and Facebook Page) DOUG: Thank you for your time today, Donna. See you in the movies. DONNA: Oh of course; it was my pleasure! Always wonderful talking to you, my friend!