I recently got the chance to talk to Helenna Santos Levy about her role in the newest installment of the ‘American Pie’ franchise, ‘American Reunion’. Here, Helenna talks about what it was like working with the cast and crew on-set and how she got into acting in the first place…
Hey Helenna. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me about your new film, ‘American Pie: American Reunion’.
Of course! Thanks for inviting me to chat!
What’s the general plotline surrounding this installment?
Well, all of the characters from the original ‘American Pie’ return to East Great Falls for their ten-year high school reunion. Some things have changed, some have stayed the same and of course a ridiculous amount of hilariousness ensues!
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the movie…
I play an overly enthusiastic fan of the now famous NFL sportscaster Chris Ostreicher (Chris Klein) and I geek out on him at a very inopportune moment. It’s a small part, but such a fun one to play.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place? Had you seen any of the ‘American Pie’ films before you signed on?
I was a big fan of the franchise and an even bigger fan of Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg who wrote and directed this fourth theatrical installment. I’ve admired their work ever since the first ‘Harold And Kumar’ and it was definitely a dream come true to be able to work with them. In fact, I’ve blogged a lot about how much I admire the two of them and their balls to the walls (sometimes literally) comedic sensibilities.
I had actually reached out to them after I produced, wrote, directed and starred in the comedic web series pilot ‘The Day Player’ which is what introduced them to my work as an actress. As fate would have it a couple of years later, there was a part I was right for in ‘American Reunion’. I booked the role after going through the audition process, but it was great that they knew my work prior to me reading for the part.
How would you say this installment is different and unique? Why do you think the franchise is so popular?
I think the fact that Jon and Hayden wrote and directed this installment is perfect because they are such big fans of the franchise. I’ve seen them talk in interviews about the fact that it’s because of the first ‘American Pie’ that they wrote ‘Harold And Kumar’. I think their genuine love for the characters and the world of the films is what makes ‘American Reunion’ so special. They really wanted to do justice to a franchise they loved and they did an incredible job!
I think the franchise is so popular because the first film was fearless in the same way that a lot of teenagers are. It talked about so many things that people could relate to about growing up; the ups, the downs, the incredible awkwardness of that particular time in your life… And the casting was, and is, fantastic. You really feel like you know these characters. Also, because so many people grew up watching this franchise, Jim, Michelle, Oz, Heather, Stiffler etc… seemed like your old high school friends, which is why the idea of a reunion is genius!
The film stars Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Tara Reid, Seann William Scott and Mena Suvari – with Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg onboard as directors – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set? Any good anecdotes?
I was only on set for a couple of days so I didn’t see a lot of the cast while there, but I did spend some time in the makeup trailer with Mena Suvari. I’d been following her on Twitter for a while and it was so lovely to find out that she is just as genuine and sweet in person as she is in her tweets. In fact, it was Mena and Monty the hairstylist who introduced me to “the Honeybadger” from Randall’s Animals on YouTube. So hilarious! I’m really involved with new media and I was surprised that I hadn’t actually seen his videos yet. They are so funny!
Jon and Hayden were absolutely incredible to work for. I think they might be the nicest people in Hollywood. Seriously. These guys are just awesome. They’re so positive and energetic. Their passion is completely infectious. I really hope to work with them again one day soon.
Let’s talk a bit about you Helenna. What made you want to get into the industry in the first place?
Like Michelle in ‘American Reunion’, I too was a band geek. I played the violin, French horn, and trumpet, and was in all the choirs I could be in while growing up. I also went to band camp. Although it wasn’t really a hub of sex education the way that it was for Michelle’s character! I ended up majoring in ‘Jazz Voice’ my first year of college and thought I’d focus on a career as a singer like Norah Jones. A friend of mine ended up convincing me to audition for a musical and to my surprise I booked the lead role. That was it. I was hooked. I realized that as an actor I would be able to tap into all of the things I loved: singing, writing, directing, producing…there are no limits to what you can do artistically. I made me feel so alive! So, I made the decision to get my BFA in acting.
Also, once I decided to really focus on acting, I realized that I’d been a closet drama nerd all through high school but never realized it! In fact, I would have movie nights by myself and watch three or four films back to back with a bowl of popcorn in hand. I think I’ve watched ‘Reality Bites’, ‘Harold And Kumar’, and ‘Almost Famous’ a million times, and I’ve always had an intense love for the horror genre, especially anything with zombies.
You’ve been in a number of different films and TV projects – which actors/actresses have been your favorites to work with so far and why?
It’s always a trip to be able to work with actors you admire. When I did a guest star spot on ‘The Dead Zone’ for the USA Network it was really cool to work with Anthony Michael Hall who I loved in ‘The Breakfast Club’. I ended up being in a van submerged in water for two days straight pretending to drown while screaming and being moved around by hydraulics. He was so great because after we’d done a take he’d check in with me to see how I was doing since it was all pretty intense. And honestly, I loved it! The intensity I mean. I love comedy but there is something incredibly awesome about being in such an intense dramatic situation and feeling like you are fighting for survival. While I’d never want to experience that in real life, it’s definitely cool to commit to a scene like that one hundred percent and feel whatever emotions arise. It’s one of the most fun things about being an actor.
Also, as I said before Mena Suvari was just such a lovely person. I’ve admired her work for a really long time and it was so great to find out that she is not only a phenomenal actress, but also a wonderful human being.
If you could have dinner with three guests – (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
- Joss Whedon, because I have been such a die-hard fan since the very first episode of ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’. I would absolutely love to work with him one day. I think it’s so fantastic that everyone knows who he is now with the success of ‘The Avengers’. Before, I would wear my ‘Joss Whedon Is My Master Now’ t-shirt and people would ask me who he is. Now people stop me on the street and say they love my shirt. The man needs and Emmy and an Oscar already! He is so brilliant.
- Jim Morrison, because I am obsessed with The Doors. Absolutely obsessed. I’m kind of a closet rocker chick. I was a ‘band-aid’ like Penny Lane in ‘Almost Famous’ while I was a teenager and a complete fan girl for male rockers. Aside from the sexiness factor, I think his poetry is phenomenal. He’s just so freaking rad.
- The Dalai Llama – I don’t even think I would know what to say to him really, I’d just want to be in his presence sitting across from him. He is incredible.
I just realized that I was thinking about having dinner with each of these people individually, but man, this would make for an interesting dinner party!
What is your favourite holiday destination and why?
Hawaii! I spent a couple of years as a toddler in the Philippines and I think that I just got acclimated to hot weather and gorgeous beaches.
What is your favourite word?
What’s coming up for you in 2012?
There are a couple of projects that I’m in talks with to be attached to but unfortunately I’m not able to discuss the details yet. I will say however that I’m really excited about both of them because they are two totally different types of characters in two very different genres. One’s the type of comedy that you would see on a network TV show and the other is something that you could see on AMC or HBO.
I have also produced a number of online projects and the latest series I produced with my husband, Barry Levy, called ‘Girl And Boy’ has been making the festival rounds. It’s an animated comedy web series in the vein of ‘South Park’. It’s ‘high brow potty humour for the lowbrow comedy lover’, and has been getting great response!
My blog is also something that I’m giving a lot of focus to in 2012. I write for ‘Talk Nerdy To Me Lover’ which is a popular blog focusing on nerds, sex and tech. I’m known as the ‘artsy-fartsy blogger’ and I discuss my experiences in the world of entertainment etc…I’m also a big advocate for actors creating their own work and I’m part of a panel of great geeky ladies called ‘Geek Girls Create’ that goes around to all of the Cons, ie. ComicCon. It’s all about women creating their own work and inspiring others to take their careers into their own hands. Most recently we were at Comikazee and WonderCon and are planning on attending a number of the other Cons coming up.
Overall, I’m hoping 2012 will be a year where I keep growing as an artist and I hope that I can continue to work with people at the top of their craft. It’s the absolutely best when you can watch a brilliant director or actor and learn from them. I just hope I keep getting more opportunities this year to learn and grow and be a part of more cool stories with awesome people!
Thanks for the interview!