Interview with actress Amber Chaney by Megan Serencha
You’ve probably heard of The Hunger Games by now. If you haven’t, shame on you! There’s a nifty search engine that goes by the name of Google that can give you the low-down, or if you’re a bookworm like me, you now have an incredible trilogy that you can sit down and read…. in one night. An absolute page turner and one of the most anticipated adaptations to hit the theatres, The Hunger Games is at the top of the box office and winning everyone over. For those who don’t know, Amber Chaney portrays Lavinia, a red-headed Avox girl who has had her tongue chopped off for a traitorous act in the film. She serves as an Avox to Katniss and Peeta; she will forever be a slave to the capitol for her crimes.
1. The Hunger Games is one of the most hyped up and anticipated films of the season. What did it feel like when you found out you were officially cast as Lavinia in the film?
1) I found out I had been cast while I was in my dressing room getting ready to go onstage for a play. It was a theatre in Marietta called Theatre in the Square, that has now since closed, and I felt it was a huge accomplishment for me to break into that caliber of theatre in Atlanta. Getting a show at Theatre in the Square was a rite of passage. I cannot even begin to tell you the excitement that rushed through me when my agent told me I booked Hunger Games. I couldn’t believe it. It was like the acting gods were just shining a light on me and holding it there. It was mixed, though. The project was top secret, so I was jumping up and down at my dressing table, but had to keep it to myself. That’s tough! You want to scream. “I’m gonna be in the HUNGER GAMES!”, but then you would get sued… so you don’t.
2. Your character doesn’t actually speak! What was it like to try to convey emotion and connect with the audience without being able to speak? Did you find this challenging? How did you prepare yourself for this role? Did you actually read the books?
2) I read the entire series three times. I read it once just to read it. I read it again and took TONS of notes, made a diagram of each of the tributes, their districts and what each district represented, mapped out how I thought Panem was shaped and where the districts were, a route that Lavinia and her son (I decided the boy was her son—it raises the stakes) took, decided what horribleness she was trying to flee from—what secrets there could have been (and I think it has something to do with the boy she is running with), and mostly where she finds her courage to flee. You see, we never got to see a script before filming. There was no telling what was going to be included or not, so I just prepared for anything. I read it a third time to catch mistakes in my notes, and any nuances I could pick up on. I wanted to be a Hunger Games nerd. I was so nervous; I didn’t want anyone to be able to throw something at me that would stump me. When you prepare like that, it’s easy to convey what you need to whether it’s verbal or non.
3. What was your favorite part about playing Lavinia?
3) I loved the moment in filming where they announce the score of eleven for Katniss. As the character, feeling that elation… that moment of ‘I knew she was the one’… it gives hope that all the struggle was not in vain. And as an actress, it was a great moment and challenge to convey that without being broad or open about it, because Lavinia is not allowed to show her emotions. It’s tough for me that that moment is not in the film, and I see why that relationship had to be cut to save time. But I played it!
4. You’re not a newbie, you’ve also starred in Somebodies and The Walking Dead, another major television hit. Each one of your roles is completely different. Which of those roles posed the biggest challenges for you? What advice would you give to aspiring actors/actresses regarding playing a character that is totally different from your own character?
4) Every character has its own set of challenges, and I dare say that playing a character very close to yourself can be the most challenging of all, in that you have to get VERY honest about who you are and where your vulnerabilities come from. I think you have to decide when you start to work on a character that you are going to put your actor hat on now and be fearless. You can’t be timid about your choices, and you can’t question yourself while you’re making your choices. If you decide your character walks with a limp, do it… if it makes sense to you it will make sense to the viewer. As long as you have done your homework and your decisions aren’t arbitrary, you can justify anything. And if the director hates it, listen to the direction and try and split the difference, but be fearless. I asked Gary (Ross) if he would mind if I had all the Avox characters in a specific stance when we were idle and waiting to be commanded… he thought about it and said, “lemme see”. I had this pose that I picked up on from watching martial arts footage where the hands are behind the back and the head is down. Very non-threatening; very submissive… the Avox costumes have a large key-hole in the front from collarbone to navel… he said, “that’s great but I can see everything.” I felt a wave of embarrassment flood through me, because I was so exposed… and I smiled and said, “maybe the hands go in front.” He laughed and said, “show the other girls”. It was a good little triumphant moment to not let the fear rule. When they yell cut, you can call grandma and let all your insecurities out then! And I did.
5. At what moment did you realize that this is what you wanted to do with your life? Was there a defining moment or situation when you decided that this was it? If someone was looking to pursue a career in acting, what would you tell them is the most important thing to remember?
5) I was always performing for someone. As a little kid, I would stand up on the retaining wall (the stage) at my Nana’s house and sing songs into a flower (the microphone) to anyone or no one. In my mind, as a kid, I always had a special audience that was always happy to come watch me perform. I was the first grandchild and the only child until I was about five, so I think it was a way to have some human contact even if it was imaginary. At 17, I decided that I really was suited for it, and that it was THE thing that I was going to pursue. I went to school at Georgia State, at first, and then at age 20 decided it wasn’t enough. I moved to New York to focus solely on acting. I would say that you have to devote your life to it. If you really want to be an actor (not famous) you have to eat, sleep and breathe the craft of it. You can’t expect to get good at anything without practicing it over and over and over and over again. Anyone can memorize words on a page. You have to really work hard to be an actor.
6. How did you begin your career and get everything started? Was there ever a point where you considered giving it up?
6) I got my first credit on Law and Order Criminal Intent. I was an extra that got bumped to an under five, which promptly got cut! I don’t think I got credit for it, looking back. I was young and naïve, with no agent and no union membership, so there’s no imdb record of that one. But it was pretty much the ONLY credit on my resume for the next two years. I think just about every actor at one point in the year says, “what have I done?! I’m broke, I have don’t have enough experience to get a ‘real job’, and I played Ophelia (or Hamlet, if you’re a guy) better than anyone else in my class (ten years ago)!!” And then the pity party goes on for about two days to a week. Then you realize you are being ridiculous and get over it and go audition for a play. There is a great quote that goes, “if you can see yourself doing anything else, do it!” I am one of those people who cannot picture themselves doing anything else. If it was taken away from me, it would break my heart… shatter it.
7. As an actress, you have to be ready and capable of dealing with the potential of rejection. Some people find this disheartening, though it doesn’t seem to phase others. Is there anything that helps you deal with the stress that comes along with that?
7) The rejection comes in so many different forms. There’s: not getting the part, getting the part and then they recast, getting the part and not getting any footage shot, shooting all the footage and it all getting edited out, and of course doing all the work and not getting paid the amount agreed upon. I think all of these come with their own special brand of blind-sidedness. The best way, I have found to deal with these rejections, is to first remember that it almost never has to do with talent… when circumstances are out of your control, they’re out of your control. All you can do is resign yourself to it, and look at the positive that did come out of the situation. And then call your best friend and cry about it all night… you’ll be doing it for her next month!
8. If you could give advice and suggestions to someone just beginning their pursuit an acting career with limited experience, what would you say to them? Would your advice be different for someone who has more experience?
8 ) I have no business giving advice to anyone who has been in the business for even a few years. We’re all peers. I don’t care how big a star you are or how much money you make. At a certain point we’ve all had the same experiences in the casting room. For someone who is just starting out, I would say training, training, training, training. But make sure whoever you train with is reputable. There are a LOOOOOOOT of people out there who have no business teaching anybody anything about scene study. Do your homework and check up on their credentials.
9. Everyone has something that inspires them to become better, perform better, do better. What inspires you?
9) I get inspired by seeing a great performance. Plain and simple. A great scene… Annette Benning beating herself up for not “selling this house today” in American Beauty, Meryl Streep high as a kite and mimicking the dial tone of the phone in Adaptation, Dustin Hoffman yelling at his agent that he played an endive salad that knocked the critics on their asses in Tootise. I see it, and think, “that’s what I want to do”. So, I do.
10. I imagine you have had guidance, support and a little assistance along the way. Is there a particular someone or something that has really kept you motivated to progress? Was there anything that helped you that might help an aspiring actor/actress?
10) I think no matter who you are and no matter what your profession, you have teachers that will appear out of thin air just when you need them most. I have had a handful that have talked me down from the proverbial ledge a few times. Times when my confidence is shot or I struggle with trusting myself. When you feel low, and can’t argue, that’s when you can be really receptive to advice and actually take it. I had three teachers in acting school and one in Atlanta that I can credit that with. But mostly my biggest support system is from my Nana. She’s my grandmother on my father’s side. Everyone in my family has been supportive, but she has gone above and beyond. She always has. She makes sure I don’t go without when times get hard. I get very emotional when it comes to my Nana. She is my rock.
11. What actors/actresses have inspired you to continue down this career path? Is there anyone that you admire, respect or adore that has served as motivation to continue chasing your dream?
11) I have TONS of actors that I admire… Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Annette Benning, Clive Owen, Dustin Hoffman, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Tina Fey, George Cloony, Steve Carell, Anthony Hopkins… the list could go on forever. It inspires me when artists do projects that mean something to them.
12. It’s hard to break-through in this industry. Do you think it takes a certain type of person to break-through and make it big? What personality type, characteristics, and qualities do you think would be helpful for an upcoming actor/actress to have?
12) I don’t think “making it” has to do with anything other than people willing to invest money in you. Anybody who wants to be famous and can get connected with the right investors can “make it” regardless of talent or social grace. Staying power is a different story. Once the newness has worn off is there something to keep fans coming back for more… a skill, a talent, a belief or conviction, specific do-gooding… I think if you get that chance to get in front of the right people, you have to make sure you are very prepared, and strike the right balance between confidence and humble grace. The rest is all up to the money/fame gods.
13. What’s the most important thing that you have learned through your career?
13) You have to love it. You have to love what you are doing or you will be eaten alive by your own frustration. You may as well just become a professional gambler, because all you will be doing at every audition is rolling the dice, if you don’t approach the material in a way that moves you. It can’t be about trying to get fame and fortune. And it can’t be because mom wants me to live out this dream. It has to be because you love it. The actual work is the only thing that is real. Everything else is smoke and mirrors.
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