Karen-Eileen Gordon Painting

The Artist Who Interviews

May - July, 2012
Artist who interviews

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An Interview with Actress
Karen-Eileen Gordon

Karen-Eileen Gordon 1
(Anthony Mongiello Photography)

All the productions you've been in are nothing short of amazing. For those just getting to know your career, please list some of these.
Thank you kindly, Sir! I've been fortunate to work on amazing productions, both mainstream and independent. And as my "team" reminds me, I've also worked my booty off to be in the "right place at the right time with the right skills"--potent combo, yes? Yes! It's impossible to choose favorites. I used to hear people say that and think, "Oh, come on...really?! (with hand-on-hip, in skepticism)." Now I get it. Each acting adventure really is a unique entertainment snowflake. Distinct gifts and challenges; I've loved them all. As I write this, I have two projects hitting the screens (one big screen, one small). Those are the ones that I get asked about most right now, and I'm extremely proud of each: a recurring role on the Starz original glittery-dark-delicious television drama MAGIC CITY, and an independent feature comedy in which I have the female lead, A FREE BIRD. Other projects that people love to ask me about are HBO's CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, Disney's HANNAH MONTANA, Fox Television's TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES and 20th Century Fox's remake of the Tom Hanks cult-classic, BACHELOR PARTY (titled, but of course, BACHELOR PARTY 2). It's absolutely true that "Curb" shoots without a script...I get asked often about what it was like to meet/work with Larry David, and how it felt to film with no lines. Larry was generous and supportive, and filming with no scripted lines was thrilling. It's The Extreme Sports version of acting. IMDb lists 57 titles for me to date...I add into that mix a spicy slew of theatre, delicious I've-Lost-Count voice-overs, and a few dozen ridiculously fun commercials. I'm really looking forward to what's next.

Karen-Eileen Gordon 2

Karen-Eileen Gordon 3

Way back to the beginning, what inspired you to go into acting?
My father has always been a huge home-movie guy, which used to embarrass the stuffing out of me. We have 1000s of hours of footage. Now, I couldn't be happier--what an undisputable record of things. In that footage, it's shockingly clear that as even as four year old, I was a total ham: mugging for the camera, doing "Taaa-daaaaaa!" hands. So, to answer your question, if we're going all the way back to the beginning? The evidence is strong that I came onto the planet already inspired to be an actor. (When people ask me how long I've been acting, I half-jokingly respond, "from the womb.")

My big path-illuminating moment came during a performance for my college senior talent show. Let's back up for a sec to high school: I was a debater, and competed in an event called Humorous Interpretation (H.I. for short: basically, a modified version of a one-woman show). I'd memorize a 10-minute section of a book or play. Remaining in one position, I'd perform the entire piece moving upper body only, changing voices and facial expressions to become every character. Competition was national. There was very little audience in the competition room until final rounds; I was used to small-to-zero audience response, and didn't take it personally.

Fast forward to college: for that senior talent show, I did an H.I. piece by Mike Nichols and Elaine May from ADAPTATION, embodying 17 characters. When I exited stage, the next performer halted me in the wings and said, "I'm not going out there, into that!" I had noooo idea what she was talking about. I had immersed in the performance, and was unaware of the audience feedback (a naughty habit that I had to break when I started acting professionally). This performer physically turned me around so I could take in what was happening behind me: standing ovation from the packed house. Surreal. Shocking. I remember overwhelm. And indescribable gratitude. Right there, I felt myself choose acting. So, technically...the inspiration for me to go into acting was my high school debate coach. She was my first creative mentor; her name was Rhoda Radow. And, the response of my college classmates in that senior performance sealed the deal.

Karen-Eileen Gordon Free Bird
(Total Bun Productions LLC)

Karen-Eileen Gordon Free Bird 2
(Total Bun Productions LLC)

Karen-Eileen Gordon Free Bird
(Total Bun Productions LLC)

Karen-Eileen Gordon Free Bird 3
(Total Bun Productions LLC)

Please describe some of your recent projects, including "Free Bird."
In the film A FREE BIRD, I play TAMMY. Tammy's a southern, trailer-park whirlwind with a heart the size of an ocean. She's street smart, and gets very discombobulated in the area of love. She's trying to get her common law husband to step up to the relationship "plate." The results are hilarious.

"A Free Bird" was shot on location in-and-around Atlanta, Georgia. We also spent a week filming in Panama City, Florida, where the story takes place. The original working title of the film was actually PANAMA CITY. It was written/directed by the enormously talented Gregg Russell, who deservedly has some fancy accolades to his credit: George Foster Peabody and British Academy of Film and Television Arts award-winner. Gregg and his producer-wife Vickie came up with the idea for the project while on a road trip to the area. Their company, Total Bun Productions, produced the film in association with Atlanta-based ECG Productions. Gregg describes the film as "one man's misadventures living in a world that unfairly discriminates against those of limited intelligence, judgment and ability."

Even from the beginnings of the audition process, I found Gregg to be one of the most inclusive humans I've ever worked with. I love accents and dialects, so Gregg sent me mp3 files of native Florida panhandle women speaking--which I studied to create Tammy's voice. This was before the first audition! The morphing for Tammy was intense--so enjoyable. I became a blonde for the first time in my life, got my first-ever spray tans, wore tons of frosted make-up and nails, had a wardrobe that made me blush. And Gregg wanted Tammy as round as possible...I used that as a fabulous justification to fill out some of my curves, LOL! Dream instructions, HA! Tammy has a very different physicality than I do, and that was great fun to play with.

I'd never spent more than a day or two in Atlanta, and while filming I fell in love with it. Except for the heat. The heat kicked my butt. I had a cocky attitude going in, all sassy-mouthed: "I grew up in Florida, so I can handle some heat." Wrong, wrong, all-kinds-of-wrong. We began filming in June, and all air conditioning shuts off during takes because the sound needs to be recorded "clean." At my initial set location, it was 98 degrees in the house--without lights from set. I got heat stroke that very first day, and proceeded to wander around for the rest of the shoot with a bag of frozen peas on my head. Someone has a picture of me sticking my head in the kitchen freezer. I wish we had that behind-the-scenes footage...hilarious.

Another wonderful thing about making this movie was the improvisation. We used a lot of improv both in rehearsal and on set, and if it worked well it got written into the script. Tammy was originally designed to be a comic voice, slightly larger-than-life. That shifted to a more dramatic tone, and Gregg eventually placed Tammy as the anchor point. She's the "emotional glue" of the story, keeping all the wild-and-wacky men in the film grounded in reality. She walks a fine line. As an actress, it's a super-cool challenge.

Another recent project was the futuristic thriller MAN WITHOUT A HEAD, written/directed by music video director Johnny Roc. My character is VOJUBY, a French renegade artist. We shot in the rickety, ominous-looking house where THE MATRIX filmed, and that was an amazing energy. I had the privilege of working with Shannyn Sossamon (A KNIGHT'S TALE, KISS KISS BANG BANG) and Rhys Coiro (ENTOURAGE, 24), and improvising in French. Lovely. The film is in post-production, and should start moving into the world sometime in 2013.

Another recent project is doing beautifully on the festival circuit, moving audiences and garnering awards as a result. I'm so pleased to have been involved. The dramatic feature is called TOUCH, written and directed by the gifted Minh Duc Nguyen. It's about the power of human touch, told through the unusual love story between a Vietnamese-American nail technician and an American mechanic. SO gorgeously shot. I've seen it more than once, and weep-and-laugh every time.

Karen-Eileen Gordon 4
(Mikel Healey Photography)
Karen-Eileen Gordon 5 (Kevin McIntyre Photography)
Karen-Eileen Gordon with Kiss Cover (Kevin Miller Photography)
Karen-Eileen Gordon 6
(Kevin McIntyre Photography)

Which is a greater passion for you, acting or writing? Please explain.
Acting is a huge passion. I wish I could convey the level of glee I feel when I'm "in it." All my brother and sister artists know. Time stops. There's just...joy. If we could harness that energy, the planet would transform in a blink. My passion for writing is equally strong. That's a recent awareness, and I see myself doing both for the rest of my career. When I began acting, I had supreme confidence in my ability to interpret other people's words. In contrast, I was extremely shy about putting my own words out into the world. It's much more vulnerable, in my opinion, holding our personal words up for viewing. Now that I feel secure in my own voice, I'm excited to express my writing. I recently performed in my first story-slam, reading original work before a theatre audience. Delicious. And I've started blogging, which is ridiculously fun. I'm expanding my one-woman show (I produced a short-form version in Los Angeles several years ago, at The Whitefire Theatre), and the scripts and stories that I've marinated in my mind for decades are pouring onto pages. Very freeing.

At this point of your career, what would be a major accomplishment?
Such a great question. I think storytelling is an essential element for life on earth. Actors are storytellers. There are so many films and television shows and works of theatre that impacted me tremendously...giving me hope when I'd lost it, reminding me of things I'd forgotten, helping me laugh or cry. Those experiences (what people get from immersing in a story) affect lives in a very real way. Being able to create work that affects somebody the way I've been affected? Something that transports them, or lifts them above their life so they can get a better perspective? That would be a mighty accomplishment.

Another major victory, one that I'm working toward, would be to produce original content through my own production company: stuff that makes people roar, sob, talk, question.

And, representation that's bicoastal. Or even better, I'll dream-out-loud even bigger: representation that's global! A team that I can grow with for the next 60 years...that would be a major accomplishment. I love the idea of having long-term relationships with people who want to go on the journey with me. I plan to live to be ancient. My firecracker grandmother just turned 100-years-young, so I have strong DNA on my side. My mother is from the Bronx, and it's often assumed that I'm from New York (which I consider a high compliment). I feel part "New Yorker"--though I've yet to live or work there. I feel that in my future for sure.

If you could work with anyone in entertainment, who would it be?
I have a massive list. A huge scroll of actors, directors, producers, writers, editors, cinematographers, agents, managers, publicists, hair-and-makeup wizards compose my "Wish List." I would be beyond thrilled to work with any one of them.

Which actors, directors, or filmmakers have been of greatest influence in your work?
Anyone who tells a fantastic story impacts me, and I take that forward into everything I do from that point on. Here's the only way to describe it: I want to say a massive thank you to everyone involved with every movie and television show and stage production I've ever seen.

Karen-Eileen Gordon IMDb Article

Karen-Eileen Gordon  - Magic City 1
(John Cox Photography)
Karen-Eileen Gordon 8 - with guns

Karen-Eileen Gordon 7 (Photo by Amy London)

The article, "10 Actresses to watch in 2012" lists you as one of these rising stars, what are some of your upcoming projects (projects that you are able to talk about)?
It was so thrilling to be included on that IMDb list. I am constantly amazed at how in-use IMDb is by industry (casting directors, producers, agents, managers, publicists, etc.). A casting director recently pulled up the list while I was in her office for an audition. It has real impact.

I'm involved in a wonderful project that I can tell you absolutely nothing about (yet), because I was required to sign a 17-page non-disclosure agreement (NDA). There have been several of those in my career world lately. I love the quirkiness of this business; it makes me giggle. I've never seen a document more specific than this recent NDA. They told us every place they were monitoring (IMDb, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), and basically said, "Don't even tell your grandmother--because we're watching you." HA! As soon I get a green light, I'll post it. I can say this (I checked with the producers)...my character had to fall from the top of a very, very, very tall building.

Here's a project that's both upcoming-and-ongoing...let me talk about the Starz original series MAGIC CITY, to the extent that I'm able.

On "Magic City" (set in 1959 Miami Beach), I play FLORENCE. She's a tough-smart-funny New York dame, the long-time executive secretary to series star Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Jeff plays IKE EVANS, owner of the luxurious (and fictitious) Miramar Playa hotel. On Administrative Professionals Day (April 25 in the U.S.), the Starz Network released a photo of Flo in action, thanking her for "keeping Ike in check": yfrog.com/ntocgerj   Adorable and hilarious. She and Ike have a great relationship, which the audience gets to experience as the series unfolds.

"Magic City" officially debuted April 6th of this year (2012). In an astounding move by Starz, the show was renewed for a second season before the pilot even aired; season two begins filming in Miami in the summer of 2012. The first season has eight episodes, and I'm honored to have worked on all eight. Created/Written/Executive-Produced by Mitch Glazer, the story is told from the point of view of the owner of this fictitious, luxe Miami Beach Hotel (Ike Evans/Jeffrey Dean Morgan). This country and the world were on the brink of such massive political and cultural change at that junction. All of that collides in the hotel, and in Ike's world. The pilot is set on New Year's Eve 1958, which is the night Castro ousted Batista. Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack were royalty. The mob was all over the beach. Prostitution and gambling were everywhere. Glittering celebrities all wanted to play on Miami Beach. It was a dream destination for the average American family. The labor movement was heated, and civil rights battles were brewing. It was a pivotal time--and the series captures all of that.

The show is shot entirely on-location in South Florida. And the Miramar Playa, this breath-taking hotel, was recreated on massive yacht bays. Gigantic chandeliers, sunken marble lobby, fountains, authentic 1959 furnishings--it's mind-bending. Fans tell me that by the third episode, they are addicted. Ike, in order to preserve the dream of his gorgeous hotel, makes a deal with a devil: a mobster named Ben Diamond, nicknamed "The Butcher" (Danny Huston). His wife, a former Tropicana showgirl (Olga Kurylenko) and his three kids (Steven Strait, Christian Cooke, Taylor Blackwell) have no idea how hard he's struggling to break that dangerous tie.

Here's an interesting tidbit I can share. I can tell you that the girdles that women wore then? I'm amazed they weren't carrying around mini oxygen tanks. When I say that every detail on that set is authentic, I'm being literal. Florence's clothing is "true 1959," from outermost to innermost layers. And her silver glittery cat-eye glasses--I never wanted to take them off. The prop master had to gently wrestle me to the ground to get them off my face at the end of every shooting day. I hope the world audience has fallen in love with the series and Florence the same way I have. I think they will. (Shameless plug: to send Florence and the show some love, please tweet to @magiccity_starz and #MagicCityTV and tell them, or go to the Magic City page on Facebook and leave a comment, or to the IMDb page for Florence's character and comment there.)

Karen-Eileen Gordon 10 - God Girl

Karen-Eileen Gordon Blog

What are your sources of inspiration both in life and in acting?
I'm a God Girl; I get huge inspiration from my Spiritual life. In the world, I find inspiration can come from anywhere...people, books, music, nature, media, billboards, dreams, overheard bits of conversation, watching pets play, even traffic!

Describe how you got started with a blog? What specific topics do you frequently write about?
What really lit a fire under my booty to start the blog was watching the film JULIE & JULIA with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. I related to Amy's character (based on the real-life Julie Powell), writing her words out into the Universe--with no idea if anyone was reading. The light bulb went on: it was okay to write, and then let it go. That took any perceived pressure away... just in case I was the only one who ever read my stuff. I write about behind-the-scenes acting adventures, quirky experiences on-set, the actor's world (so fascinating to me, what goes on behind what we see on screen).

In your blog, you mentioned that you were almost beaten up because of religion. How has this affected your view of religion? How would you define yourself in terms of religion?
That incident affected my view of religion profoundly. As terrified as I was at the time, I could clearly sense that the young lady who was threatening me was on-fire-convicted about her beliefs. Her methods were horrifying, but I envied her passion. As a result, I felt a drive to learn about ALL religions, and how everybody viewed everybody else. I wanted to be able to put myself (even in a small way) in someone else's shoes. It made me more open-minded.

If you could change anything about humanity or human nature, what would this be? Why?
That we could allow others to have strong beliefs that are different than our own, without wanting to harm them physically or emotionally.

Karen-Eileen Gordon 11 looking back
(Kevin McIntyre Photography)
Karen-Eileen Gordon Film Festival
(John Cox Photography)

Looking back at everything you've done, would you change anything?
Here's a fabulous statement...I wouldn't change anything. It took me a long time to be able to look back at all of my past and thank it. To keep only the lesson. There were definitely deep, dark, bottom-of-the-pit times. I've not met a human yet who doesn't have those experiences (I have a friend who calls them AFGEs: "Another F*cking Growth Experience"). I spent a chunk of time wishing I could have do-overs. Until they make time travel accessible, I can't go back. I do, however, have total access to (and control over) what I tell myself about the past...and how I view it. Since I love who I am today, I can say merci to all steps on my journey. That's very new.

What is success?
Success to me is being in gratitude. Focusing on things that evoke happiness. Practicing that, during the full spectrum of life's circumstances. It's about being comfortable in my own skin. Adding light and love to the planet. Leaving people/places/things better than I found them. Loving what I do. Having enough to spare and share, while doing it. Cherishing my family and friends, and my life. Giving back.

Describe a cause, or an issue, that you are deeply passionate about.
Having been the recipient of a ton of help throughout my career, it's important to me to return the favor. I'm deeply passionate about that. Being of service and giving back. I'm always open to new ways in which to do so; it's constantly evolving. I love questions from fellow actors and artists, brand-new or veteran, on my blog or Facebook Fan Page or on Twitter.

Political leaders in the world... Who needs a good dose of chocolate for their troubles?
If I thought chocolate would actually help the process, I'd be dropping bars of organic dark chocolate all over the globe, tied to little balloons. FABULOUS idea, Marc. I vote that you start that company, and I'll leap on board immediately. It will become my favorite charity on the planet. :)

Karen-Eileen Gordon 12
(Total Bun Productions LLC)
Karen-Eileen Gordon 13
(Total Bun Productions LLC)

You are well educated, what were your favorite topics in University, even in High school?
My absolute favorites were French & Spanish language. If had a college re-do, I'd be a Romance Language major. I'm crazy about 17th century Dutch art as well, Rembrandt and Vermeer. I logged countless hours during college in museums, gazing at masterpieces and being transported. And here's an interesting favorite...one of the most fascinating college courses for me was called "The Black Death." Cheery, right?! The entire course was about the black plague that wiped out more than a third of Europe's population between 1348 and 1350 (some estimates are as high as sixty percent). We read original transcripts from clergy and townspeople that survived...what they did to live through it, how they rebuilt. The disease was spread by rats that got into sacks of grain brought into the towns...but they had no idea, then. I'm writing a project based on the events.

Other than being an amazing actress, do you engage in any other forms of art? If so, which ones?
I love to do original designs on clothing, with paint. I'm a fabric paint geek. I've had enough folks stop me when I wear those pieces that I'm pondering how to make them available. I also love to design stationery. Funky-cool-quirky stuff...it feels like play to me, so I wind up with something that I think looks really fun--and my team of tough "critiquers" agrees. I'd like to think about how to make those designs available somehow. And I adore music. I'm composing/recording some original stuff.

With acting, what are your motivations? (and/or) How do you prepare for a part, either psychologically or spiritually?
Psychologically, my overall motivation is always to fall in love with my character. Whether she's Mother Teresa or a serial killer--I see my job as an actress to be falling in love. Once I do, I have access to an ocean of ideas about the character's inner landscape. While I'm definitely the one bringing these women to life, I view them as separate, fully formed beings. Spiritually, I behave as if I'm the channel for a real person to "come through." I do tons of research, in every form I'm able to. Sometimes that means working the job the character would work. Immersing in her religion. Getting into her wardrobe, or her geography. I do a lot of meditation around a character. Meditation for me can be passive (i.e., sitting and breathing quietly) or active (walking, running, yoga, etc.). I know I've hit the "sweet spot" when I can hear what I imagine to be the voice of the character, and we start to converse.

Karen-Eileen Gordon 14
Karen-Eileen Gordon Red Carpet
(Albert L. Ortega Photography)
Karen-Eileen Gordon 16
(Anthony Mongiello Photography)

Describe some tips of being a good actress.
This is another great question, because you're basically asking, "How can I be the best actor I can possibly be? How can I be the most full version of myself?" Swap out the word "actor" for anything, and that excellent question applies to humans across the board.

Here's a good one: It's a fabulous idea to be wide open to feedback/critique, and not take any of it personally. As an actor, everything is collaboration. Nothing gets to a place where people view and enjoy it without an entire village involved. Actors are supremely well served if anyone can share an opinion with them. People are allowed to have whatever thoughts they want. That doesn't mean their opinions are accurate, that doesn't mean you have to agree with them--but they're allowed to have ideas about your work. And if you can let that in peacefully, there are grains of truth in unexpected places. I had to develop the skill of filtering, because when people first started to give me their opinions I got defensive--and then I couldn't hear anything. I came from the unusually grand freedom of solo-performance and improv, so I was NOT at all used to directors telling me what to do. Now I thrive on feedback. I consciously worked that "muscle" of being able to let it in peacefully.

Here's a gem that would have been helpful to know from the starting gate (and I operate this way now): every actor is basically the owner of his or her own business. Actors are solo entrepreneurs, and they are their sole product. Addressing the business side of "show business" is not a luxury; it's crucial. That means know everything you can about your product and your buyers, how to pitch, how to market. Get a tracking system in place to let you know how effective your efforts are. Make sure you're updating your awareness of the market, of your "inventory," and of the health of your "books." Get help from people who are experts in this area if you need it--there are many.

Here's another tidbit that helps me every day: actors need to have lives. Balance is precious. Nurture your relationships. Have hobbies. Take time to play and dream that is not acting related (it will fill your "acting well," I guarantee it). Stay grounded...and by that, I mean be willing to ask for/receive help when you need it. Know what areas of your life and skills need growth. I think actors who want to be their best are in what I call a "mentor sandwich." That means they have found a mentor--someone farther down the path who's willing to guide them. Then they are the center of that "sandwich," doing their artistic thing. And finally, they've found someone not as far down the path as they are...someone to whom they can give back, and offer advice/counsel. Mentor Sandwich. Yummy.

Karen-Eileen Gordon 17
(Mikel Healey Photography)

What advice would you give to anyone starting out in acting?
Take advantage of everything available to you in our age of media abundance. Search the internet for videos on how to begin, and interviews with people on your Wish List. Many groups offer live-streamed Q & A sessions with everyone from actors to directors to lawyers. Watch the special feature/deleted scenes/interview stuff on every one of your favorite movies' DVDs or Blu-rays. Talk to anyone you know who's working in the business and gently pick their brains--ask for suggestions. Get connected to a teacher/coach who makes you feel supported, and who will challenge you to strengthen your skills.

I would also suggest to anyone starting out that they make a few lists, in whatever form works for them: write this stuff down, make a collage, speak it into a smartphone:

1. Favorite movies, television shows, theatre productions
2. "Wish List": Actors/actresses/writers/producers/directors/ agents/managers/etc. with whom they'd like to work
3. Shows currently on air or on stage with which they'd want to be involved? What role or job?
4. Shows or plays NOT currently on air they feel had a role/job perfect for them?
5. Which Casting Directors are involved (especially for #3)?

It's so helpful to get clear about what kind of artist they'd like to be, who inspires them, how others perceive them--in addition to how they see themselves. That's ever-evolving stuff, of course--and important to actually ponder. I get really happy thinking about all the baby fledgling actors out there, just starting their journeys. Exciting. And a "baby fledgling actor" can be 18 or 68, by the way. Never too late to start the creative dream journey.

Thank you Karen-Eileen!

Karen-Eileen Gordon Official website
Karen-Eileen Gordon Official Website

Karen-Eileen Gordon IMDb Website
Karen-Eileen Gordon IMDb

Karen-Eileen Facebook Page
Karen-Eileen Facebook page


Actress Karen-Eileen Gordon

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