I recently got the chance to talk to Suzanne Quast about her role in indie film, ‘The Grief Tourist’. Here, Suzanne 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 Suzanne. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me about your new film, ‘The Grief Tourist’.
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film?
‘The Grief Tourist’ is a dark psychological thriller. It centres on Jim Tahana (Michael Cudlitz) who has a dark mind and a dark hobby. He is a “grief tourist”, someone who travels with the intent to visit places of tragedy or disaster. Every year his week-long vacations from work are spent going to grief tourist locations in the lives of different serial killers he is fascinated with. His latest obsession is Carl Marznap, a serial killer from New Orleans, LA. Jim’s journey to New Orleans leads to rancid sexual impulses, and his weakening grip on reality deteriorate into a violent despair that will ultimately unlock an unspeakable secret festering within him.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the movie…
I have to say first of all, this was and probably will be the craziest role I will ever play. I can’t imagine booking another role where I’ll be required to wear a prosthetic penis (that’s right I wear a prosthetic penis). I play a transsexual prostitute named Iris. Being a female playing a pre-op transsexual male was a challenge in itself. I did a lot of research on transsexual and transgendered people. Not to mention I tried to get my body in the right kind-of shape so that the audience would believe my reveal when I’m wearing the prosthetic. Hence why I said this might be the craziest and challenging role I will ever play. My character, Iris lives in the motel room next to where Jim Tahana (Michael Cudlitz) stays while in New Orleans. Iris forces Jim to deal with some of his deep rooted issues. As an artist I loved sinking my teeth into this role. I learned a lot about this character and I can only imagine how difficult it would be to feel like you were born in the wrong body, and to not only deal with how confusing that would be to your younger self growing up but to your family and friends as well.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
A few years ago I shot a film called ‘Trunk’ with Zachery Ty Bryan, where I played a drugged out drifter. I set up a meeting with him sometime after that to pitch some ideas I had about a film. It was at that time I met his business partner Adam Targum and learned about ‘The Grief Tourist’. Adam said they were still looking for one of the supporting leads and asked if I was interested in auditioning. I was all for it, but he told me I should read it first before I agree to audition because the content was heavy and it was a very complicated character. I read it and I thought wow this is a role of a lifetime, vulgar yes, scary as hell yes, but I have to try. To be honest I didn’t think I had a shot in hell, at booking it, my only goal was to do a great job in the audition and make Zachery look good. Well the rest is history…
How would you say this film is different and unique?
I didn’t even know there was such a thing as grief tourism. It was just recently coined “Grief Tourism” in the mid 90’s, so this movie is the first of it’s kind. I think it uses grief tourism to explore a dark mind and helps us understand why Jim Tahana is the way he is. This film makes you think about the role of nature vs. nurture. Without giving away too much about Jim, I think it explores the question “was Jim broken” or did something or someone break him”.
The film stars Melanie Griffith, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Michael Cudlitz, your good self, Nayo Wallace, Eddie J. Fernandez, Brad Bufanda and Waymond Lee – with Suri Krishnamma onboard as director – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set? Any good anecdotes?
First of all, I loved working with everyone on this project. It was an indie film, and everyone was 100% committed and felt passionately about this project. Frank John Hughes wrote an incredible, dark script. And our director, Suri was extremely hands on, leading up to shooting we had endless discussions about our characters. This is why I love working on Indies, especially when you have a director like Suri, because he really wants to know how we feel and what we bring to the role, which lends itself to a wonderful working environment. But as I have said the subject matter is dark, so we got to know each other pretty well. And with my character being a prostitute, a transsexual prostitute at that, we had many interesting conversations about how “sex” worked. We would laugh because the emails and conversations that took place between all of us were rather risqué, but they had to be.
Let’s talk a bit about you Suzanne. What made you want to get into the industry in the first place?
As a little girl I wanted to be the first woman in the NBA – hahahaha… I was a really good athlete but I was also in the school plays. I am from Kentucky, and to be honest no one around me was interested in the arts. I was a tomboy, and didn’t really know how to break into the entertainment industry. My mom suggested pageants, as she had done them, but that didn’t feel quite right. Keep in mind that I had been on only one vacation my whole life and it wasn’t until I got a volleyball scholarship to Bentley College, right outside Boston that I was like wow there is a whole world out there, I can be and do whatever I want. I studied abroad in Florence, Italy and I remember coming back from there changed; I got in touch with the creative side of me and knew I had to act. My parents weren’t exactly thrilled at first and made me promise to graduate, which I did, but now they are my biggest supporters.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a career in the industry?
Study study study! As Malcolm Gladwell said in his book ‘Outliers’, it takes 10,000 hours to become a master of anything. I joke around that I am still working on my 10,000 hours. The great thing about good acting is they make it seem easy, but it truly is a craft. Go to school, take class, do whatever you can to learn. Also go see theatre watch TV and films; it’s your job. I would also say get out there and act; get involved in local theatre create your own projects, do workshops. Don’t sit around and wait for opportunities, try to create your own. I also think that it’s important to stay true to who you are, in this business people are constantly going to be telling you should more like this or like that. Listen to all advice, but at the same time fearlessly be yourself; and in my experience this business favours the bold. There is only you, and own that. And finally know that acting is still a business. You are the product so think about what that product is and the best way to market that product.
You’ve been in a number of different films and TV series – which actors/actresses have been your favorites to work with and why? Any good stories?
My favourites to work with…. Hmmm, well to start I would have to say my husband Sean Carrigan. He truly is one of the best actors I know, he can do action, comedy, really anything. We have a production company, Woodhead Entertainment, if you want a good laugh you should check out our website http://www.woodheadentertainment.com and watch all our funny videos. We have generated over 6 million hits and have created quite a buzz. I produce and have cameos in them while my husband and one of the business partners Dan Perrault are the face of the company. The director Tony Yacenda is brilliant and is definitely a director to be looking out for.
Another favourite would have to be working with Michael Cudlitz. He is truly amazing. He is such a talented actor and gives so much. I learned a lot from him on ‘The Grief Tourist’. He and I have a pretty gnarly sex scene so we got to know each other pretty well… hahaha
Jon Bernthal worked on Woodhead’s last project that I am in and produced called ‘Timmy Muldoon And The Search For The Shadoweyes Bandit’. I have to say watching him work was wonderful. He creates such interesting characters. He is bold and makes really cool choices. Jon is my husband’s best friend, so there is never dull moment with the two of them around.
Cuba Gooding Jr. was also in our project ‘Timmy Muldoon’ and he is fantastic. He is quite funny and effortless. He is obviously an Oscar winner and so to be a part of something he is in was really cool! He is a pro!
And lastly I was a guest star on ‘It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’ years ago and working with Danny DeVito was awesome! That show was so much fun to work on, because there is so much improv, they are constantly throwing out new ideas or ways to try a scene as we are shooting. It was pretty cool because Fred Savage was the director!
What’s currently on your I-Pod right now?
So sad to admit it but I don’t have an iPod! But on my iTunes I have everything ranging from Rascal Flatts, Jay-Z to Dave Matthews Band and The Lumineers. I truly love all music except for head banging rock.
If you could have dinner with three guests – (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
Definitely Meryl Streep, I think she is the greatest actor of our time and I would love to listen to anything she has to say. Next Marilyn Monroe, I think it would be fascinating to be in her presence and meet one of the most famous women to ever live. Lastly, hmmmm this is tough either Eddie Murphy, I think he is one of the funniest men of our time; or Howard Stern, I feel like he would have amazing stories!
If you could choose a literary character to will into existence, who would you choose and why?
Hmmmm, perhaps James Bond — he is a man who fights for what is right, is sexy as hell all while having an amazing sense of humour.
What’s coming up for you in 2012/13?
I’ll be guest starring on ‘Bones’. I had so much on set, it was good to work such talented actors and a great director. We are submitting our project, ‘Timmy Muldoon And The Search For The Shadoweyes Bandit” with Cuba and Jon and a young actor named Owen Teague – (who people should be on the lookout for) to a number of film festivals. I am also in the middle of shooting a pilot with my business partner called ‘Serial Surrogates’.
Thanks for the interview!