Tuesday, August 18, 2009

After The Fall Juliet Landau Takes On Angel

One of the downsides to working as a writer in the entertainment industry is that writers are often pigeonholed into one style of writing; as if someone who writes science fiction films can’t handle a strong dramatic period piece. It’s frustrating because a good writer doesn’t want to keep writing the same story over and over again just as a good actor doesn’t want to continue playing the same role from one film to the next. It’s a vicious cycle in Hollywood; the machine wants to suckle the success formula until its bone dry.

For many years all I wrote were high concept comedies because that was the genre of the first script I sold. It was expected and incumbent on me to continue doing what I did best, without any thought of doing what I wanted to do most. That is until I wrote my first suspense thriller, which my agent at the time assured me would sell for seven figures. When it didn’t the agency dropped me. I was hardly discouraged. In fact I followed that script with a youthful action period piece which was immediately snapped up by a network as a series and ended up affording me the opportunity to sign with an even better agency. This eventually got me a gig writing a serious bio-pic for one of the most lauded authors of our time. Not bad for a comedy writer. Of course I still write comedies. I’ve even written a pilot for a romantic sitcom on spec recently, but not because someone was demanding it from me, but because it’s what I was driven to write. The point is a good writer will always rise to the top no matter what the genre. And while some writers do like to stick with a formula they know best, others like to stretch their talent and take chances.

The same can be said for actors, too. It’s just as difficult for Adam Sandler to be taken seriously, as it is for Meryl Streep to be seen as funny. But that hasn’t stopped them from making the effort. This brings me to this week’s interview with Juliet Landau. Lately, she’s been making that effort… and then some.

Yeah, we all know she’s famous for her role as Drusilla, the psychotic vampire on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ANGEL, but she’s not just a one trick pony. In addition to being an accomplished TV & Feature Film actress, she’s also proven her worth as a voice actor and lent her talents to projects such as Ben Ten: Alien Force, Justice League and most recently Green Lantern First Flight. But that ain’t all, because Landau recently made a name for herself as the director of TAKE FLIGHT, her documentary about Gary Oldman’s music video for the band Chutzpah and for co-directing the Godhead music video HERO, which Landau also appears in. More recently she wrapped production on an adorable new kid's movie called Monster Mutt.

So let’s see… she acts, she directs and now move over literary luminaries because she also writes. That’s right, Landau has become a triple threat by branching off into the comic book milieu with a two-part installment of the ANGEL series centering on Drusilla, co-written with IDW scribe Brian Lynch. So with all that in mind, I was curious how someone with her background and talent made the transition to writer so smoothly.

Jeffrey Berman: Angel #24 is the first comic you’ve ever written, so how did you approach writing the book?

Juliet Landau: I was really excited when Chris Ryall and Brian Lynch approached me to do it. I had read all of the Angel and Buffy comics. As I hung up from our initial phone call, the idea came to me. I wrote it in script form (Final Draft) and they loved it so we progressed from there. Next, I asked Chris to send me a few of the previous issues’ final scripts. I compared and studied them against the printed comics, so that I could learn the formatting, structure, number of panels per page etc…

I wanted to play with certain themes. A significant one being, order versus chaos. The doctors/the Institution think they have all of the answers, but Dru’s very existence defies that. She’s a character that cannot be reined in. I also wanted to play with the visuals, to further the story. The Institution and the people in it are cold, sterile, stark. Drusilla is the most vibrant element in each frame. Even though she is undead, she is more alive than the world surrounding her.

JB: The two issue arc centers around Drusilla. A character, it’s safe to say you’re pretty familiar with. So what did you bring to the script from an actress’ perspective?

JL: It was fantastic to revisit Drusilla. I think I brought a core emotional understanding of the character, especially in Issue 2, as Issue 1 is primarily the set-up. Dru’s history is dark and complex. I don’t think that she is often aware of what is motivating her, but I as the actress in the show, had to be. The audience made the connection, and in this case, the reader does. We all act out, based on our past (to lesser degrees, I hope!). I think it was because of having played her, that I was interested in exploring that reservoir.

JB: Before you began writing the comic book did you do any research or speak to any other writers in the industry and if so what advice did they give you?

JL: I sort of jumped in. I was working with Brian Lynch, who had written all of the previous Angel: After The Fall books. He is an incredible talent.

JB: What did you find was the most difficult part of writing the story and how did you work through it?

JL: There was a particular thing at the end that kept niggling me. I did what I do in any creative venture… I think about it relentlessly until I get the answer. I work it and re-work it mentally until I know the way I want to go. I have been branching into all kinds of creative areas. I directed Take Flight, a short documentary film about Gary Oldman (julietlandaustakeflight.com) and co-directed Godhead’s Hero music video ( HYPERLINK "http://godheadhero.com/" http://godheadhero.com/). Whether acting, directing or writing, I find my creative process to be very similar.

JB: What did you learn about being a writer from this experience and do you plan on writing anything else in the near future?

JL: I loved it! Working in this medium really forces you to think visually. It is about communicating a lot economically, with visuals, not with words. I really like that anyway, in movies/theater because behavior communicates volumes. I have written a short film called “It’s Raining Cats and Cats,” in which I will play seven different characters and I adapted a piece that I worked on at the Actors Studio into a short as well. I wrote those prior to the Dru comics and I definitely look forward to writing more!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the great post!
    I just watched your interview with Joss Whedon. I bought it from you at comic con. I really enjoyed it. I wrote about it on my blog, if you would like to take a look. http://underworldotherworld.wordpress.com/2009/08/15/the-write-environment/
    I'm working on a book for McFarland right now about Buffy and Angel and found your interview with Whedon very insightful.


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