I recently got the chance to talk to Shanna Forrestall about her role in new action film, ‘Olympus Has Fallen’. Here, Shanna talks about how she got involved in the project in the first place and about meeting Morgan Freeman on-set…
What’s the general plotline surrounding the film?
When the White House – (Secret Service Code: “Olympus”) is captured by a terrorist mastermind and the President is kidnapped, disgraced former Presidential guard Mike Banning finds himself trapped within the building. As our national security team scrambles to respond, they are forced to rely on Banning’s inside knowledge to help retake the White House, save the President and avert an even bigger disaster.
Tell us a bit about the character you play in the movie…
I play Mary Jane Fuller, the president’s aide who gets swept up in the chaotic events when the White House is attacked and is held hostage with the President and his key staff. I’m happy to say I was terrorized a lot in the film by one of my dear New Orleans actor brothers Sam Medina. It was fun for us to work together!
How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
I got a call from my agent about the audition. I had already auditioned for two roles, which ended up going to star names – Ashley Judd and Radha Mitchell, so when I got the call about this role I was excited. I was on a “short list” of actresses called in to audition here locally.
How would you say this film is different and unique?
Many action films are extremely predictable, full of flat one liners and bad CGI and special FX. I feel like this film is different, because it’s actually GOOD. There are some very talented actors in this film, as opposed to many action stars which cannot act their way out of a paper bag, and I think it makes the film feel more real and helps you to care about the status of the characters in the story.
The film stars Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Finley Jacobsen, Dylan McDermott, Rick Yune, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett and Melissa Leo – with Antoine Fuqua on-board as director – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set? Any good anecdotes?
Oh wow. Well, I have to start with Antoine Fuqua. He is an amazing director, and I was privileged to work with him. The level of focus and commitment he brings to the set is incomparable.
Also, I was able to meet and work a little with Morgan Freeman – (pictured right), and that was an absolute joy. He was everything I’d ever thought he’d be. I don’t get star struck often, but I have to say I’d marry Morgan in a second if he asked. He’s a gracious and beautiful person.
I also worked closely with Dylan McDermott, Aaron Eckhart and had the opportunity to see Gerard Butler a lot on set and they were all great guys. It was fun to see everyone again at the premiere.
But, in looking back at the ‘Olympus’ shoot, I made some dear friends that I believe I will stay in contact with for years, and one of them was Melissa Leo – (pictured left). Melissa won an Oscar as the Mom in the film ‘The Fighter’. Working next to Melissa was a real life changer. She is such an incredible actor, and it was so inspiring to see a woman so absolutely committed to her character and her work. She was always on point, always thinking and pushing… always making the role and the film bigger than it was. And I will admire her forever for that. It was a beautiful experience working with her.
Let’s talk a bit about you Shanna. What made you want to get into the acting industry in the first place?
You know, I had done some acting in high school and college, etc., but I really had no experience with the film and production industry until 2004, which for us living in New Orleans area, was “pre-Katrina.” And I had heard maybe a little about the tax credits, but didn’t know how anything worked. I was invited by a lady I knew to be an extra on a made for TV film set.
I went just because I was curious, and that day changed my life. I was chosen to be a featured extra, which meant instead of sitting around in the holding area like most of the extras that day, I was the waitress who brought the French fries to the stars of the film.
That day being exposed to the “machine” that film is I saw the many layers that make up a set and simply fell in love with the creative side. I knew right away I was going to act and produce. The next week I went and got an agent and started studying with a professional coach. I haven’t looked back. I am very grateful to say that I have worked. I’ve been able to find work in commercials, industrials as well as film and TV over the years.
After Katrina I was afraid that the industry was dead in Louisiana, and I went back to Toronto for six weeks to check out the film industry there – (I had lived there before), but we were lucky that Hollywood cared about New Orleans and brought back work to help us save the industry. So I was able to return home to continue working.
I also took a few years to learn the industry and then started producing as well. My first short film, ‘Where Strippers Go To Die’, was an absolute labour of love and was a 20 min short film with very high production value that we shot in two days. It almost killed me, but I learned a lot. Now I consider these experiences “film school”. I have since produced several other shorts, 9 episodes of a highly successful reality show and a short documentary and commercial project that shot in southern India.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a career in the industry?
Be sure this is what you want. It’s difficult. I’d be lying to tell you any different. Even though I feel like I’m where I want to be in my life…acting and producing…only. I was only able to go full-time last year and it’s been years of sacrifice, rejection and an absolute labour of love.
Like my acting coach Jerry Katz says, “If you can do something else, do it. Acting is the hardest thing on earth.”
I think the hardest thing in the beginning is patience…we always feel like we’re ready before we are…and can’t understand why we’re not working as much as we want to be. This many years in I can say simply that I have sooo much to learn. Every day in class, every rehearsal, every day on set is a learning experience, and I am looking forward to the day that I can look back at 10-20–30 years on set and all of the knowledge and memories that go with that.
You’ve been in a number of different film and TV projects – which actors/actresses have been your favourites to work with so far and why? Any good stories?
Actually Kris Kristofferson was one of the most memorable people I worked with. He was a very humble and brilliant man – (a Rhodes scholar) who showed special kindness to me when the AC went out in my trailer during a middle of summer film shoot in Louisiana. I got to spend a few hours with him and loved hearing stories about his family and his life.
Also, I made so many memories with the gang on ‘Olympus’. Keong Sim, Jim Ingersoll and I became really good friends during the shoot. Keong was very close to getting engaged at the time and we talked a lot about our past, relationship, our families. It was a beautiful bonding time and I will consider them dear friends forever. Keong is now one of the stars on ‘Monday Mornings’ and is happily married to a beautiful lady.
The film was also very traumatic and hard work for us – (we were all taken hostage and killed) and so I think this also helped us to connect on deep emotional levels on our time off. We were able to reconnect just before the premiere in LA for ‘Olympus’ a few weeks ago and it felt like a family reunion.
What’s currently on your I-Pod right now?
I am kinda obsessed with Paloma Faith and Maria Mena right now. Mena’s lyrics just capture me. And I’ve also been listening to the new Justin Timberlake album…. Pretty fun stuff!
If you could have dinner with three guests – (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
- Ghandi – because he inspires me daily as I try to think of creative non violent ways to affect my world.
- Marie Antoinette – to get the real story.… LOL
- Wiley Mahurin – a dear friend of mine who died a few years ago. Sometimes I wish I could just sit down and talk with him. Tell him what’s going on in my life and get his wisdom of many years.
If you could choose a literary character to will into existence, who would you choose and why?
I’m reading Anna Karenina right now and I think she’d be someone I’d like to sit down and visit with. She lived such a life of tragedy and passion, and I think after her experiences she’d have lots of valuable insight about life and love.
What’s coming up for you in 2013?
Well, I’m kind of in the middle of shooting 10 episodes of my new show for Investigation Discovery that will launch in May 2013. So that’s exciting. I’ve also got some film projects coming up and a few more I’m waiting to hear back on. I’ve been auditioning a lot. I think it’s going to be a really great year.
I also have a fun Syfy movie coming out sometime soon I think. It has to do with crazy magical alligators who shoot spikes out of their tails, and… let’s just say that hit their mark with me. All in all I’m just putting my head down and pushing forward. I believe that I’m at a pivotal point in my career, and I’m not letting up. The best is yet to come.
I also have two feature films in development that I want to produce. I am on the hunt for funds for those as well, and one of them would shoot partially in India, so I am planning a trip there later this year to do some scouting/research.
Thanks for the interview!