Thursday, November 1, 2018

Grace - Marisa Vitali Interview

Photo Content from Marisa Vitali

Marisa Vitali is a Brooklyn based actress and producer. She found acting at an early age, and after graduating from NYU Tisch she pursued a professional acting career. Soon, she became disillusioned with acting and was attracted to the instant gratification of clubs and drugs. Marisa found herself in a treatment facility at 25 years old for heroin addiction.

Marisa says acting saved her life, knowing she had other options besides a life of addiction. In treatment, she met Lawrence Sacharow (Broadway Director THREE TALL WOMEN) who was on staff and casting his Off-Broadway play THE CONCEPT, which chronicles addicts in treatment. Marisa was cast in his show and Lawrence became a mentor, encouraging Marisa to pursue acting fulltime. She joined Michael Howard’s Master Class and found a channel for the guilt, shame and resentments that she carried into recovery. Marisa credits working on THE CONCEPT and honing her acting craft as the two things that kept her clean.

Since then, Marisa has been seen in films on the festival circuit, television shows aired on HBO, ABC and ID Discovery, and in NYC theater. She has been in numerous commercials and is the voice of many audiobooks for She was a lead in the Official Cannes Film Selection YOU & I, directed by Christopher Scott, opposite Blake Gibbons.

Marisa produced, wrote and acted in the short film GRACE, based on her struggle with heroin addiction, and is in the final stages of preparations for a festival run. She is in development on a feature film loosely based on the short film.

Marisa is a member of SAG/AFTRA and AEA; and is on the programming committee at NYWIFT (NY Women in Film and TV). 

Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that acting was not just a hobby?
I actually always saw acting as a way of life. Having grown up on Pacino and Scorcese, there was a romanticism surrounding being an actor, living in NYC, waiting tables, studying acting, auditioning and performing in black box off off off broadway theaters. There was an honor for the craft in that “struggle.” There is a day that comes when you realize the “struggle” is all of your own illusion and then it becomes about understanding what it truly is that you desire.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to have a life in acting?

I would ask: Is this what you really want? What is your intention of having a life in acting? I have made a lot of sacrifices to have the creative life that I do. You have to know deep down that no matter what this is the journey you are setting forth on. Through thick and thin so to speak.

What was the most magical thing that happened during production?
WOW! So many serendipitous moments that happen when you’re making a movie. For me it was coming “Full Circle.” My award winning film GRACE was inspired by my first year clean from heroin and here I was shooting GRACE in my hometown, in the diner I worked in my first year clean. It was a real AHA moment. When I first got clean from heroin I always felt that acting had saved my life, as it filled the gaps between therapy and 12 step meetings. It gave me a sense of purpose and confidence. It was the first time I was able to use all of the hurt, pain, anger and resentment that I carried and create art with it and move people who were watching my work. Here I was doing the same thing with GRACE, over a decade later. It was so humbling how everyone came together for this little film. Such a moment of Continued Gratitude for me…

What was the most difficult scene in the movie to shoot?
I can’t say there was on scene that was the most difficult as we had a very rigorous shooting schedule grabbing everything in one to two takes. We moved super fast. Even if there was something that was difficult we just kept moving through it. I did want to leave the film open ended so those final shots were extremely important to capture that feeling of: “What Happen’s to Janice Now?”

In your new film GRACE; can you tell my Nerd community a little bit about it?
Of course! GRACE is inspired by my first year clean from heroin addiction and starts a conversation of Recovery.

Today, Janice will face her high powered ex-husband in family court for the custody of their daughter. As head waitress at the Depot Diner, staying clean and doing the next right thing is her priority. When Johnny, her boss makes a decision that affects her ability to appear in court. Janice has to face her demons of addiction and choose whether to stay clean through life’s adversity or “screw it” and use…

How did you approach playing Janice?
For me it was extremely important to shift away from the self indulgent human nature of: This is MY Story. And having brought on my director as a collaborator to write the script I already allowed the preciousness of it all to be lifted. In that way I was able to get to work approaching this role, like every other role I work on.

What were your inspirations for character development?
Outside of my own personal story, the elements that I added came from the years on my journey in Recovery. I have always been most moved by the women who have lost custody of their children due to addiction and I knew that the character of Janice was the woman to tell the story. As for the other two female characters Melissa and Bridgett. I wanted to create a trifecta. Both of these women are two different parts of Janice’s psyche. Bridgett is a reflection of her addict self run riot and Melissa is a reflection of her Recovery self.

What are some of your current and future projects?
I just recently launched the GRACE transformational YouTube channel for Creatives: I am in Pre-Production for the indie feature CARBON by Claire McClanahan that we will be shooting early 2019.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another movie, who would it be and why?
It would be such fun to introduce Johnny to Lily Dillon from The Grifters as she would give him a run for his money.

What is one unique thing I am afraid of?

When you looked in the mirror first thing this morning, what was the first thing you thought?
Here we go…Let’s do this!

Can you define love in your own way?
Wow! Its such an over used word. For me Love is an action and Love is unconditional. that no matter what you are loved for who you are as you are. Of course there are two sides there is the giving and the receiving one is usually easier to do than the other and that’s where the work comes in. To Love is an opening up of the heart. A shedding of the ego to allow compassion and empathy to come forth as we are all going through something. To be vulnerable is true beauty.

If you could trade places with any other person for a week, famous or not famous, living or dead, real or fictional, with whom would it be?
Edie Sedgwick. During her time at The Factory.

If you had to go back and change one thing, if you HAD to, even if you had “no regrets” what would it be?
To have a sibling.

Tell me about a favorite event of your childhood.
When we brought home my first dog. Tutu was a shitzu and she was so tiny we had her in a little cardboard box in the backseat of the car. I was so fascinated with her. She was so furry, adorable and so lovable.

What do you usually think about right before you fall asleep?
I just close my eyes and focus on my breath. This allows my mind to putter out any remaining rambling thoughts for the day. If there’s anything of importance I may make a note for the following day or just let it go. I continue to focus on the dark and my breath to fall asleep…..

What did you do for your last birthday?
Paid homage to the Topanga Fairies and broke bread with the Hare Krishnas.

Which incident in your life totally changed the way you think today?
The day I stopped using heroin changed my life, my perception of myself, how I saw the world and my life’s purpose.

  • GRACE is inspired by my first year clean from heroin.
  • GRACE was shot in my hometown Northport, at Tim’s Shipwreck Diner, the diner I worked in my first year clean.
  • GRACE starts a Conversation of Recovery
  • GRACE was a Finalist at the Academy Award Accredited USA Film Festival
  • GRACE has screened at 21 film festivals with 4 Awards.
  • GRACE has won 4 Awards.
  • GRACE is currently screening at Colleges & Universities throughout the country, followed by a Q&A with myself Marisa Vitali.
  • GRACE had an Amazon sponsored screening and raised $19,000 for local youth services on Long Island.
  • GRACE is an educational curriculum for High School Health classes.
  • GRACE is the inspiration for the GRACE transformational Youtube channel for creatives.

GRACE tells the story of a recovering addict trying to create a new life for herself. Janice has been trying for years to keep her act together, so that she can get custody and have her daughter back at home with her. She finally has a chance to prove that she can be the mother she wants to be, and prove to herself that she has truly recovered from addiction.

Janice just celebrated her first year clean from drug addiction and is ready for the next step: custody of her daughter. Janice’s powerful ex husband not only has custody of Grace but is also an addict deep in his addiction. Janice has gathered her courage to face the day, the court, her ex husband and her daughter.

On the day she is scheduled to go to court, complications arise. Now her job is on the line and with probation hanging over her head, Janice must make a life changing decision.

She wonders if this is too much for her. Can she even handle the responsibility of being a mom? Will she do the right thing or will she say screw it and go back to using? Today, like every other day of the past year she has been clean, she must make that decision. But this time, the stakes are higher.

While honing my acting skills in class, I was inspired by a teacher I was studying with who gave us a Call To Action. We ALL have a story to tell...So tell it!

I had always written my story, about how I started using heroin, in many different forms; from stream of consciousness, a play, a screenplay even as a short story but I always stopped at the same place. I was never able to see the ending...

After receiving the Call To Action, I woke up the next day and started to write. The story just flowed out of my pen, I couldn’t keep up....I couldn’t write fast enough. The story that was flowing was not about my active addiction, but about my first year clean in recovery. I realized THAT was the most difficult time for me. A time I had to face the truth of what my life had become without a drug to hide behind. I also found, that family and friends, didn’t want to talk about it and acted as if nothing had happened. There was an unspoken expectation that because I was not using everything was “FINE.”

I felt like a turtle without a shell, raw and emotionally exposed. This was the story I wanted to tell in the film Grace. Anyone can watch a film and learn how to shoot a bag of dope or smoke a crack pipe. I wanted to tell a story of hope and recovery and bridge a gap between addicts and non-addicts to start that conversation of recovery. There is something to be said about how we can all be a little more compassionate for one’s struggles to overcome against all odds.

If I can reach one person with this film, I feel my job of being of service is complete.

Thank You for your time and your generosity of spirit!
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