The Chico Movie Examiner recently conducted an over-the-phone interview with actress Kelen Coleman about her new film, “Cassadaga,” which releases to limited theaters and VOD on Oct. 11. Those who watch “The Newsroom” know Coleman as Maggie Jordan’s roommate, Lisa Lambert.
In “Cassadaga,” Coleman plays Lily Morel – a post-lingually deaf artist who loses her younger sister in a tragic accident. She moves to Cassadaga, which is known as the “psychic capital of the world,” and participates in a séance as a way to seek closure. Instead, Lily contacts the vengeful spirit of a murdered woman. As the spirit becomes increasingly angry and violent, Lily must figure out how the woman was murdered – which leads her to a killer who turns his victims into human marionette dolls.
Check out the full interview below.
David Wangberg: I know you’re from the East Coast, but had you been to Cassadaga before doing this movie?
Kelen Coleman: I hadn’t. I had been to Florida many times; I’m a big Disney fan. I come from a family who went there for every family holiday sort of thing. I’m a big fan of Orlando and Florida. I hadn’t been to Cassadaga, though.
DW: I had never heard of it before this. You guys actually filmed it there, right?
KC: We filmed it around Cassadaga. I think, maybe, one scene took place in it, but Cassadaga’s actually so small. It’s, like, a few streets – it’s very, very small. So, we shot around it mostly, but we kept going to the town to look at it and get the vibe for it and see all the signs for the psychic readings and all of that, which was very interesting.
DW: So you had to recreate it, when you were down in Florida – not so much film it in the little town?
KC: Right. It was mostly recreation, but it all kind of looks exactly like it. So, we were pretty much shooting next door.
DW: Well, and that’s good that you had it in Florida, too, because I know there are several films that will shoot in California, but they mean it for Texas, or something like that.
KC: Exactly. It was very cool that we got to shoot in the place of the movie. It gives you a little bit more of a realism aspect, especially when you go to the town. You get that vibe; you get that sense of what the place really is and incorporate that into the movie. It’s very cool to be there.
DW: Did you guys talk to a lot of the townspeople to get more information about the area, or did the director and writer already know a lot about it?
KC: Yeah, they already knew, because the writer was from there – not Cassadaga, but he was from Florida. And they were always telling me things about it and giving me the down low. We went there, and I didn’t see too many people out and about that day. Pretty much, we had to start shooting as soon as I got there. So, it was really more about the writer and his interpretation and his take on it and what he knew.
DW: Your character is deaf, but she can read lips. Was it a little difficult to stay in that mode while filming, or was it pretty simple?
KC: No, it was the first time I had played someone with post-lingual deafness. As a fully hearing person, I don’t know what that’s like, so I tried to do some things that made sense to me and made me understand it more fully. We did some exercises – just a few of the cast members – where I couldn’t talk to them or answer their question unless I was looking at them. It was interesting, because I would constantly mess up. They would say “Kelen!” and I would look over and go “Yeah?” but I wasn’t allowed to, because I wasn’t looking at them to be answering them. I had to look at them for reads and not because I heard them. It had to be because they tapped me on the shoulder or something like that. I had to keep that in mind while shooting that I had to read lips, and I have to search for what this person is saying. And my character was post-lingually deaf, meaning I lost my hearing when I could already speak, and I was 14. So, how hard would that have been – to keep my speech intact? Are there certain words that would be a little rounded? It’s definitely something you have to constantly think about.
DW: Yeah, and the first thing that came to my mind was, I went to an elementary and middle school where one of my teachers had same kind of thing, and I hadn’t talked to this person in well over 10 or 15 years.
KC: Oh, wow! Was your teacher able to speak pretty much intact, or was it a hearing impaired speech?
DW: She was pretty clear to understand, but her voice was a little deeper. So it could have been part of the deafness taking part of her voice, as well. But you could still understand her clearly, and you just had to look at her when you’re talking. I actually had a couple times where I tried to look away while talking to her, and she would just grab my chin and pull me back.
KC: Exactly! I actually had that happen in the movie at one point – I had to improve. Someone looked away and was talking to me, and I was in my zone as Lily, and I was trying to do it correctly and accurately. The person looked away, and I had to grab her face and go, “Right here. I read lips.” That was because the actor actually looked away from me, and I had to get them back to looking at me. I had to know that Lily can’t hear them, even though Kelen can. And it was very difficult, and they were adamant about keeping me speaking normally. There are some places in the movie where I put in a slightly different sound on a word, or in the way I speak, due to being hearing impaired. I tried to keep it really light, because they said “This is a movie, and they’re making it that way to where you can still understand the person.” So, I tried to make them happy but also, at the same time, sneak in a little bit of that for myself.
DW: So, that one scene is improv. Did it just happen to where she looked away, and they just kept it like that?
KC: I think there’s two moments in the script. I think one was scripted, I’m not sure, but there’s definitely one moment in the movie where the actor looked away, and I had to have her look back.
DW: OK. And my last question is going to be about “The Newsroom.” The last episode felt like it was a series finale, not a season finale. Was that because it was filmed before the renewal came in?
KC: Well, the renewal has not really been official. I don’t think Aaron [Sorkin] had any intention on making it a series finale. But he is a very busy man; he’s doing a lot of different scripts right now, and I think that he is figuring out his schedule. So, I know that HBO wants him to do another; I don’t know if it’s been for sure. I heard that it is, but it’s going to happen at a later time than we would have started normally. I don’t know why it seemed that way. It did seem that way, but I think there’s still a lot that can go on from the show from there.
DW: Yeah, news breaks every day, so he can bring a lot into it.
KC: Exactly. I mean with the government closing the other day, that’s a great way to start the show.
This concludes the interview, but the Chico Movie Examiner would like to thank Kelen Coleman for taking the time to talk about “Cassadaga” and “The Newsroom.”