I recently got the chance to talk to Edward Singletary about his role in ‘Joshua Tree, 1951: A Portrait Of James Dean’. Here, Edward talks about how he got involved in the project in the first place and his love for the industry…
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film?
Let me start by saying that ‘Joshua Tree 1951’ is “A Portrait of James Dean”, but it is not a bio pic or a documentary, it is its own beautiful picture painted by its writer and director, Matthew Mishory. The film takes us on a wild ride with James Dean before he became famous in 1951, when he was in college. The film focuses on the effects that Dean had on the people in his life at that time and the lasting impressions he made on them before his rise to stardom.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the movie…
In the film I play the role of Roger, Roger is a composite made up of a couple of people, but largely based on the real life Rogers Brackett who was a very close confidante of James Dean’s from the beginning of his career. I feel my character Roger represents the Hollywood machine of the time, which oddly enough is not that different from present time.
How did you get involved in the project in the first place? I understand you were both the producer and casting director on the project…
Matthew and I met about five years ago when we launched our company Iconoclastic Features. We were working on a different project together, a feature of ours that he had written called ‘Portland’. While we were struggling to raise money, during the “Great Recession”, Matthew came upon this material that he thought would make a great short subject, I agreed. The funding for the short was in place, so we shot the film. When we got back from the desert, where we shot most of the footage, we were so completely blown away by how beautiful the footage our DP Michael Pessah shot. We knew we had something much bigger. It was then that we decided to table the first feature and move on with making ‘Joshua Tree 1951’, our companies first feature film. Matthew took to his computer and cut very short teaser trailer using the footage we shot in the desert and put it on our website. The teaser was picked up by some blogger and within weeks it went viral to the tune of about 50,000 to 60,000 hits. We couldn’t stop the momentum, investors came out of the woodwork. We knew then that this movie wanted to be made. With my producing team, Randall Walk and Robert Zimmer Jr, we began the journey of pre-production and getting the feature in the can exactly one year to date from wrapping the short film project.
In independent film you wear many hats. I was an actor, a producer and the casting director on this project. It was not something I want to do all the time but I’m glad I did it. Not only did we save a lot of money that we could put on the screen, but I learned a lot about being on the other side of the table.
How would you say this film tries to stay true to the ‘legend’ of James Dean?
I’m not sure the film “tries” to stay true to the day by day life of the legend of James Dean, but I know it stays true to the spirit of James Dean and who he was as a formidable presence in people’s lives. Because the film is so unique in style and the way in which we tell the story, we definitely took some liberties. It’s a little fact, a little fiction and a little rumour. It is an artistic interpretation, a portrait if you will.
The film stars James Preston, Dan Glenn, Dalilah Rain, Erin Daniels, Rafael Morais, Edgar Morais and Clare Grant – with Matthew Mishory onboard as director – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set? Any good anecdotes?
We had an amazing cast. I really liked working with James Preston, one of Hollywood bravest young actors, not to mention one of the most physically attractive. One particular memory about the shoot was when I read in the script the scene where my character Roger lays next to James Dean (Preston) poolside in a lounge chair with his shirt off. When I first read this I thought, “okay, I’ll just go on some kind of crazy diet and try to look not like a complete blob next to this Ambercrombie model”. After several weeks a starving myself, working out and trying to produce the movie, I finally came to my senses and realized, “wait a minute, I’m the producer!” I produced a very large terry cloth robe to wear in that scene!
Let’s talk a bit about you Edward. What made you want to get into the industry in the first place?
I started acting at a very young age but I didn’t start acting professionally until my mid thirties. I studied with a gentleman by the name of David LeGrant, he was out of the Actors Studio in New York. He was an actor in the Directors Track at the studio and would always run over to Strasburg’s class to sit in so he could learn from the master. David is one of the best acting coaches on the planet in my opinion. He ended up teaching me way more than just acting. I grew as an individual and as artist in that class. I had quite a bit of success with commercials a couple of television spots and a few independent films, but then I realized that I was tired of waiting for the phone to ring. I started working with first time directors and students, people I knew in my social circles who wanted to make films. I became a student of film by making them. Everything I know about acting I learned from David LeGrant, but everything I know about the other side filmmaking, I learned from my young filmmaker friends. Add in all my connections from years of putting myself through acting classes bartending and a producer was born.
Given that you’re both a producer and casting director, as well as an actor – what advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a career in the industry?
I would have to say that the most important things in staying and surviving in this industry is to study first, if you want to act. Most importantly, be yourself, be an individual no matter where you end up in this business. I would add, that if all you want to do is act and you don’t want to produce or direct or write anything, at least take the time to learn how that side works. I’m so glad that I have, as an actor, the working knowledge of the making of a film. It makes auditioning so much easier!
What’s currently on your I-Pod right now?
I have lots of classic rock on my iPod like Jefferson Airplane, Led Zeppelin Heart, but I also enjoy my electronic music from the 80’s like Yaz and Erasure. I’m also down with DJ Tiesto and Dead Mouse. I’m kind of all over the place musically.
If you could have dinner with three guests – (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
- Dorothy Parker – Because of her incredible mind and wit.
- Grace Slick – Because she has lived more life in one lifetime than anyone I know.
- Lee Strasburg – Because I love to talk about acting and I teach actors too.
If you could choose a literary character to will into existence, who would you choose and why?
The only literary character that comes to mind is Hamlet. And the reason is kind of crazy, but a friend of mine claims that he contacted William Shakespeare from the great beyond and Shakespeare told him the true reason that Hamlet’s ghost reappears later in the play. I really want to confirm with him. I told you it was crazy, but for some reason the answer “haunts” me ….sometimes.
What’s coming up for you in 2013?
I’ve just completed my first foreign language film titled ‘Adam’. This film is a multinational effort between myself and an up and coming Israeli director, Segev Gershon-Green. I added to the mix the multi-talented Edward Gunawan from Indonesia, and I couldn’t be happier with the result. ‘Adam’ addresses the very real and current realities of kids growing up different.
I’m also pleased to announce that “Team Dean” has reunited and joined forces with James “Duke” Mason, grandson of legendary actor James Mason, to develop a new political suspense thriller titled ‘Disappear Here’. I’ll be playing a Republican Senator whose son vanishes mysteriously just before his bid for the White House.
In addition, I’m developing a script with my father Edward Singletary Sr. It is based on a true story of a young African-American boy who was brought in by the LA fire department after falling on his bicycle in front of them. The boy became the longest-serving volunteer in the history of the nation having served LAFD for over 30 years. It’s a heartwarming story spanning over three decades of strained race relations in Los Angeles.
Thanks for the interview!