Sam Rivman ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Visionary, a psychological thriller and indie film written and directed by Ben Proulx, screened on September 26th at the 30th annual Boston Film Festival. There was the opportunity to sit down at the festival with the main cast and the director to talk one on one about the film including actors Sophie Frieden, Evalena Marie, and Steve McElwain, and the film’s writer/director Ben Proulx.
Emertainment Monthly: First question: Visionary is obviously a really inspired and very disturbed film. How did this film make its way to your door? How did you get involved?
Sophie Frieden: I was, I think, nine. My mom got an email from New England Casting, or something like that, and she was like “there’s an audition for a little indie film”. And this is like, my third audition, maybe. My mom said “lets just go do it” and Ben came, and he said to meet him at Panera. We met him at a Panera and he had me belt out a song from Le Mis, it was “Castle on a Cloud”. So that’s how I auditioned, and it was pretty fun.
That sounds really cool!
And then about two weeks later, Ben called and said, “Sophie, you got the part”, and I was like “Really?” I was so excited.
As an actor, especially as an actor who is only nine or ten years old, it can be really difficult to portray someone with a mental disorder. How did you go about preparing for that?
Well, Ben was great. He brought me into a café. It was about three weeks after he had called me. He brought a stack of books and they were all on Autism and Autism related spectrum disorders, and he taught me everything about Autism. He told me that with high functioning Autism, they count in sprees of twenty on their fingers, and I was like, “Okay, that’s cool, I can do that.” And then he worked with me through the whole process, he was so good about it. He was so good with working with me, I was ten, I didn’t know any better.
Right, that sounds like it could be really difficult.
Do you have any actresses that you look up to or that you try to aspire to be like?
Sophia Gilberto and Evalena Marie, definitely. Sophia played young Samantha Pace and Evalena played Candice Merlot in the movie. They are two of my biggest inspirations, they are amazing. Evalena and Sophia are gorgeous and so talented. I’ve been working with Sophia since I was probably in third grade.
I thought they were great in the movie as well! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me!
Thank you as well!
So you play the role of Candice Merlot. Tell me a little bit about her character, who she is, where she comes from, a little bit of her background.
Evalena Marie: Well, she’s a famous actress in the film, so she has worked with Daniel, the director and lead of Visionary for her whole life essentially since she was fifteen years old. So she was a child star and sort of had her youth corrupted by Hollywood and has been sort of broken and damaged by that, by being exposed to Daniel at such a young age. It’s like she’s seeing into the future of Ava.
And throughout the film, we see Candice struggle with that. She sees Daniel begin to go after Ava and clearly she has some thoughts about that. What was it like as an actor to make that transition, where suddenly you have to approach it in a different way? What were some of your motivations in doing those scenes?
You know, it was actually really interesting, finding Candice as a character because working with Ben was very different than the way I’ve worked with any other director. Usually, I will play a very large part in finding the character that I’m playing in a film. I didn’t really see Candice right away. Ben was so amazing and had so much faith in me, he just believed that I could be Candice, and when he auditioned me he actually demonstrated for me what he saw in Candice. I witnessed him demonstrating for me what he was looking for and I felt like he made me like a garden and he just planted in me what he wanted to see grow. I felt like Candice was very much a result of what Ben put into me.
And we see in the film that Daniel is kind of a big creep, but Stephen in real life is a great guy. What was it like working opposite Stephen?
I mean it was amazing, he was incredible! He was a pleasure to be around on set, but he also scared the life out of me!
So it was definitely a struggle! There were times where I was actually scared seeing him around Sophie because he was so convincing and compelling in the role and it was very difficult to distance myself from that. I found myself almost feeling like the movie was coming true in many ways because the dynamic was so convincing.
Thank you for the interview!
Oh, you’re welcome!
You play a really interesting character in Daniel, we see that he’s got a really troubled past, beginning all the way back to his relationship with his mother. Talk a little bit about how he handles relationships with women.
Steve McElwain: You know, Daniel does not handle relationships with women. Bottom line is, in his character, the way it evolved is the fact that he had no father influence and he had no mother influence. He basically had a mom who was, as you see in the movie, really abusive. So Daniel Long, he did the infamous. He did what everybody wanted to do, but it ultimately was lost because he had nothing.
Clearly there is a really disturbing message in the film. It’s really powerful but it also explores the topic of pedophilia and the idea of pursuing young women. You worked very closely with the young actress Sophie, what was it like as an actor to work with her?
You know, this is your bottom line deal, man. And I hope you listen to this because you’re not going to get this anywhere else, except from this guy in college because I’m trying to help him out. Sophie and I were like best buddies on set. I had a ten year old girl school me the first day, when we got together she was like “that’s not your line, your line is this,” and I’m like “Woah.” One of the coolest things in the world is on the second set that we shot on, I’ve got this little girl next to me, and she’s like “This is really cool, isn’t it?” And she has no idea what’s going on in the movie, because we kept it G-rated for her.
What is something that you want audiences to be able to take away from Visionary and your performance as Daniel?
Be a good parent, because you do not know what’s going to happen. And that’s the whole moral of the movie, to bring awareness to Autism and to bring awareness to the fact of psychological disorders. We created a disturbing movie to bring awareness to people. And that’s what we want to do, to show people that, yeah, you’re going to be freaked out, but you should be freaked out, because this happens all around you. And God bless Emerson College for taking the opportunity to send a student out here. I hope he does well and you should be proud of him for what he’s doing, because its avant-garde stuff.
What would you say your inspiration was for making this film?
Ben Proulx: I was doing a previous film and I was auditioning girls who were children, and I had a stage mom come in and it freaked me out. And so, I decided to write a worst case scenario of that situation.
Of that situation with a stage mom?
Yes, because I had a bad personal experience with an actual stage mom.
You told me earlier that you had been working on Visionary since you were actually still in college. Tell me a little bit about how this project got started. How you got the funding going, how you got the production going…
So Brian Way was the cinematographer, and I worked a lot of odd jobs, and we got together and saved three hundred dollars here, four hundred dollars there, and had a plan the whole time to create this film. And Brian was awesome, he was there from day one. Eventually we raised enough money to get the camera that we needed, which at the time was a 7D, which four years ago was pretty cool. It’s not as cool anymore, but at the time we actually thought that we were going to be the first 7D feature film. Obviously four years later here we are, everybody and their brother has made a 7D film. At the time, we were excited because these cameras were innovative and new and we were getting really movie-looking shots. Brian Way was the one that said, “this is the camera that we need, and this is what we should do.” He was the one who really defined the visual style of this film. Brian should be making more films, and there’s nothing I want more than for Brian Way to make another film.
Well let’s hope he sees this article and takes your advice! What was it like working alongside Stephen and Sophie on this film?
Stephen is one of my best friends. We’re writing a movie right now, together, and it’s awesome working with him. It always has been. He’s a goofball, a really fun guy, and he’s just lovable. Sophie is one of the most important people in my life. Sophie is the coolest person I think I might have ever met. She has a head on her shoulders that’s so mature beyond her years and she is going to do amazing things. So she is someone to watch, into the future. And I’m talking the big picture, she’s going to do some amazing, amazing things in this world.