Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Interview with actor, Salvatore Stella

Salvatore Stella

An interview with the star of Selective Listening, Salvatore Stella.

How did you become involved in Selective Listening?
I’ve known Tim and Miriam since we worked on The Special Effect (2010) and they asked me if I would like to audition for the role of Harrison. Before the audition I told them we would still be friends if I didn’t get the part!

What was The Special Effect?
The Special Effect has a thriller aspect to it but also deals with some mental health issues. It’s a short film with the look and feel of a feature. I loved playing Graham because I got the chance to do both physical and emotional acting.

What were your thoughts on the Selective Listening script when you first read it?
I felt the story had the right balance of humour and drama. I didn’t feel it was trying to force a particular point-of-view or statement upon you, but instead show a the day-to-day experience of a type of person that you don’t get to see very often.

How did you prepare for the role of Harrison?
Harrison is obviously very lonely and doesn’t have much contact with other people. I thought this could be one of the reasons the voices have been able to get such a foot-hold in his life. So, I started examining physical loneliness every time I was alone — on a train, in a cafĂ©, at home — and what it would be like if this was always the case.

Salvatore Stella as Harrison in Selective Listening
Tim sent me a DVD of a documentary about people with different mental health issues. It was very uncomfortable to watch, as I felt sorry for the people suffering from these afflictions, but it did teach me something essential for Harrison — there are justifiable reasons for not wanting to take medication although without it, the line between hallucinations and reality can become blurred. Occasionally it’s impossible for Harrison to know that what he sees and hears isn’t real. More personal contact from friendly, level-headed people would help him in these circumstances, which is why his mission is to make new friends. Not an easy thing to do!

Some actors like to rehearse, others like to be spontaneous on the day. What is your preference?
I think rehearsals are important, especially for physical scenes, but not too much. You need to leave something for the camera, because you will always do several takes.

How did you find the rehearsals for Selective Listening?
I liked them. Meeting the other actors and feeling comfortable with what we are doing will show on screen. Some dialogue heavy scenes we rehearsed more as Tim wanted some shot in one take.

What factors do you find most important about getting the best performance on-set?
You have to feel comfortable and in a “safe place”. You expose yourself emotionally so whatever method you use to get up to that point you would like to do without interruption or piss-taking.

What differences, if any, do you think there are when acting in a comedy or comedy-drama as opposed to an out-and-out drama?
Obviously things would be lighter on-set with a comedy but as an actor you play the character. Most good comedies don’t have people trying to be funny, they are just being the character in a funny situation.

What are the pros and cons of acting with toys as opposed to other actors?
The pros are that the toys have no egos — not that there were any egos on this set — and they don’t forget their lines! The cons are that I worry I’ll be remembered more as a puppet stand than as Harrison! I will be very upset if the toys get their own TV show!

Sal Stella as Harrison and Phil Gyford as Robin
Was there anything that you found particularly challenging about the shoot?
They only time I had a bit of difficulty was when we shot with the voices interjecting into conversations as written in the script because we had rehearsed without them and I got completely distracted. We had to film the dialogue and leave enough gaps to add in the toys’ comments in post-production. Trying to keep a straight face when working with Phil Gyford was also difficult.

Were there any behind-the-scenes moments on Selective Listening that are particularly memorable?
Any scene where the toys were animated. I have a lot of respect for the toy operators who had to work around me or inside cupboards. Filming outside attracted some funny looks. The whole experience provided a wonderful story to tell of how creative people can adapt when they don’t have a mega budget.

Selective Listening was quite an intense and fast-paced shoot. How did you find it combined with your own personal process, as an actor?
I liked it. “Concentrate on the project, get it done right.” We knew we had time and money constraints and that gave me the motivation to be as ready as I could be. I didn’t want to be the reason the shoot fell behind schedule.

What is your preferred way of working? Do you find it occurs often?
I like meeting the other actors beforehand and doing some rehearsal, but not too many takes! I find discussing the script and character with the director very useful and I was able to do that with Tim and Miriam. I’m flexible, so how I like to work occurs all the time!

Salvatore Stella as Harrison,
surrounded by the voices / toys
After seeing the film for the first time at the premiere, what were your thoughts?
I was very pleased with the result. I finally got a chance to see what the toys were doing behind my back! It does not look like a low budget film, which is a testament to the talent of everyone involved.

For the benefit of any writers, directors or producers who see Selective Listening and decide they want to work with you, what roles would you say you would be most interested in?
Of course I would be interested in playing any role in a quality film, but two roles particularly interest me — either a comedy sketch show or an action role like James Bond or The Transporter, or even fantasy or sci-fi. I have a lot of martial arts and stage combat training and I would love to put it to safe use! Whatever the case, I wouldn’t like to be type cast.

What are you working on at present?
I’m starting to be seen by people who can take my acting to the next level so hopefully I will continue in that direction. My writing has picked up as Selective Listening has shown me the quality you can get with a low budget and a top script. There are high-budget, spectacular stories in my head but they will have to wait!

Salvatore Stella has been awarded Best Leading Actor at the International Independent Film Awards for his portrayal of Harrison in Selective Listening.

Selective Listening is due for release in late 2015. Exact date to be confirmed.

The short film, The Special Effect (2010)
starring Salvatore Stella, Harriet Moran, Sarah Gordy and Phil Gyford: