Originally, we were set to interview actress and producer, Katie Groshong, along side Jeff Wedding from "A Measure of the Sin" but we ended up splitting the two off and there is a good reason for that. With an amazing drive and determination, Katie Groshong is taking the independent film community head-on with her incredible talent, both in front of the camera and behind. While getting to know Katie and her adventurous spirit, it's easy to see why she is a fast up-and-coming name in independent cinema from working on such films as "A Measure of the Sin" and "Jug Face".
I just want to take a minute to thank you, Katie, for taking the time to do this interview. To get things started, would you mind telling us a bit about yourself?
Well at the moment I’ve been traveling a lot with my job and am on a tour bus typing right now. We have been from Nashville, to Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre in Colorado, St. Louis, Virginia Beach, Detroit right now, Pennsylvania tomorrow and then back to Nashville. And this is all in 6 days, so I thought I would try to get this finished while I had a few minutes. I’m originally from a tiny town, called Wellsville, Kansas which I love and is a very special place to me. I have an amazing family that I try to see as much as possible. I moved to Nashville to go to Belmont University back in 1999 and spent 2 years as a vocal major there. I had developed vocal polyps from years of overuse and misuse so instead of surgery, I decided to get into film. I fell in love with it from day 1 and have been at it ever since.
Have you always had the acting bug?
I always spent a lot of time putting on plays, doing impersonations and make believe was my best friend as a child, but I always wanted to be a country singer. I performed since age 4 at churches, competitions, and opry shows all over Kansas and Missouri. I didn't get into acting professionally until after I left Belmont University. I wasn't much for school anyways, but I also didn't want to have the vocal chord surgery because I like my low raspy voice. I discovered my love for acting by accident really. I was at a musical theatre rehearsal and had just had my wisdom teeth pulled. I was pretty drugged up and sick, but was sitting on the sidelines watching and possibly drooling on myself. I remember Jeff Wedding walked in the room and was doing castings for his first feature film, Blind, in the next room. He saw me and asked me to come audition for his film. I guess I forgot, so he sent someone to find me and have me come in. I finally went in to audition and I said something like, "you're gonna have to wait a minute. I haven't even had a chance to look at the audition and I have no idea what I'm doing". I auditioned pretty horribly, but about a month later, I got a call from Wedding telling me I got the role of Jill Fitzpatrck in his movie that I had auditioned for. My response, "I didn't audition for anything, what are you talking about? What movie?" He had to remind me and it took a while, but I finally vaguely remembered auditioning. Guess they were some pretty good drugs they gave me. I miss singing sometimes, but this was my path I was meant to find.
Did you ever have any formal training or was it a bit more serendipitous?
Wedding found me while I was in search of something, and it led me to my new path. Divine Intervention. It was pretty evident that I hadn't had formal acting training, but I had a performance side that had been entertaining my entire life. Since then, lots of training in Los Angeles and Nashville. I've started to learn more lately from real life situations. I try to look at every single thing I do as research. The feelings, the surroundings, the characters. There are so many things I want to experience. Life for me, is an adventure.
You met Jeff auditioning for one of his movies but how long have you two been working together and what has that been like?
We have worked together ever since 2001 when he cast me in "Blind", and we created GypsyRoot Productions back in 2007. We have a great working relationship, and are at a point where we don't even have to say anything before we know what the other is doing or needs. Our friendship has gone through rough patches over the years, but I am proud to say he is one of my best friends and one of the greatest people I know. Most of the time we work flawlessly together, but sometimes we have a different vision and we clash. The great thing about our partnership, is that he takes care of the writing, directing, editing, shooting, and all of the technicals. We both work on casting, marketing, festival submissions and set design. I get to do the fun part of hair, wardrobe, props, makeup, special effects, and production. We are a great team and we have wonderful people who work with us and help us along the way.
"A Measure of the Sin" wasn't the first movie you produced but the short film "Gracie: The Diary of a Coma Patient", which did very well on the festival circuit, correct? What was it like being both a producer and an actor on a project?
"Gracie" did really surprised us in the festivals circuit. We won some Best of the Fest Awards, Audience Awards and a Best Cinematography award at the Eerie Horror Film Festival. It also received a lot of press and industry praise by being honored with a Kodak Super 8 Success Story, as well as many others. We were moresurprised that people were referring to it as a horror film. We had originally tried to brand it as a romance.
Producing and acting is a lot harder than I thought. It's really difficult to deal with a problem on set and then immediately have to turn around and shoot an emotional scene. I was even slating for myself, setting up thescene and doing everyone's hair and makeup before, so it was a process. Sometimes it helped though. I would get so frustrated sometimes that I would want to cry in a scene just to get it out. We were working right up until Jeff would say ACTION… that is, if he would remember to say action. By the end of the day, you could say we were pretty exhausted. Usually we never have more than 5 people on set total, plus the actors. We shoot with a really thin crew so it takes us a lot longer, but we get it done.
When it comes to working both behind and in front of the camera on a movie, does it give you a different perspective to a project and do you think it has an affect on your performance?
The problem with that is when I'm on another set acting, it is hard to turn off my producer side. I am always noticing continuity, easier or different ways to shoot a scene and offering up my suggestions and ideas. They have mostly been met with graciousness and thanks, but I'm waiting for the time someone says, "Did I ask you for your opinion?" So yes, it is hard to turn it off. As far as actors, that is Jeff's job to deal with on set, but I'm constantly in his ear with "suggestions". Some are taken, and once in a while I just get a crazy look.
"A Measure of the Sin" is a movie where the story is told through emotions as opposed to a more traditional form of storytelling. What is it like for an actor/actress to do such a role and did it have any affect on you, personally, portraying the character Meredith?
Meredith had a huge impact on me, especially since we worked on the film for over 5 years. She was a part of me, but a part of me that I was ready to let go of. She is that inner angry and sad trapped child, wanting to escape. When we shot the last scene, it was both a sense of relief and loss. I'm forever in love with this role, but forever grateful to be rid of it. Every role you play will always be a little part of you, but there are some that just stick with you a lot longer.
For your role in "A Measure of the Sin", did you talk with Kristy Nielson about your character in order to help prepare or did you already have an idea of how you wanted to portray that character?
Yes, talking to Kristy was very important for my research of the role. Being as though she created Meredith, who better to question some of Meredith's intentions, her back story, etc. I had my own ideas too, but I really wanted to bring Kristy's vision to life and stay true to her voice. One of the things I brought to the role on my own was that almost Meredith's entire wardrobe, consisted of my mom's clothes from the '70s. I wanted to have that feeling of my mother, like those things were passed down almost exactly as Meredith's were. They all had memories: the smell, the textures, the photos I had seen of her wearing them. I also used quite a few of my grandma Margie's rings and her scarf. I thought about my family a lot while filming and tried to put myself in Meredith's shoes (which were mostly from goodwill and smelled funny).
I hear there is an interesting story between you, fellow actress Starina Johnson and the 9ft. Boa constrictor that was used on the set of "A Measure of the Sin".
All of the snakes were provided by my friend, Brandon Holt, who was our on set photographer and snake wrangler. He owned about 30-50 snakes at the time of filming and he brought Diamond, the 9ft. Boa. Starina Johnson, who played Alicia, is deathly terrified of snakes, so when we brought them to set and she got a peek of one, the water works and freak out started immediately. I’ve never seen anything like it and I felt bad for her, but now I just always want to show her a snake.
She hates that I tease her about it, but it's become a joke. I send her snake pictures sometimes and while I was doing special effects for her film, "Frank", a snake slithered right in front of me in a field and made me scream. Star had the sound of panic in her voice and screamed, "WHAT WAS IT?" I just yelled back, "NOTHING!"
I believe her response back was, "BULLSHIT, KATIE! I KNOW IT WAS A SNAKE AND I'M NOT GOING BACK OUT THERE."
Also, while we were filming "A Measure of the Sin", Diamond had a respiratory or sinus problem so every time she breathed in my ear while we were filming the scene, it sounded like Darth Vader. It made her even more terrifying at the moment. But I loved her and would even visit her but unfortunately she has since passed on to snake heaven.
Shooting movies on a digital format seems to allow for more flexibility for both the cast and crew when making a movie. As both producer and actor, do you feel that because "A Measure of the Sin" was being shot on film it presented more pressure?
Of course. Shooting film on a budget means that you only have a certain amount of takes... usually 1, but never the same shot more than 2 or 3 times. Different angles, yes, but the same shot, no. It puts the pressure on the actor to not screw up the shot and to nail their scene, and it puts the pressure on the cinematographer to get the shot right as well. If I really feel like I didn't get it, I'll ask for another take, but pressure for me is usually good. The nerves help with my performance. But when we are working with other actors on set and they aren’t used to limited takes, it drives me crazy when they waste film. I almost rip my hair out when we get those. There were a few times an actor wanted multiple takes and we were running out of film, so Jeff let the actor do their thing and just let the camera make noise without rolling the film. They wouldn’t let up until they got that other take, but Jeff already knew he had gotten the take he wanted. That was good.
Besides "A Measure of the Sin", you were part of the equally successful independent feature film "Jug Face". What was your experience like working on that movie? Any fun or interesting stories to tell?
It was one of the best times filming. The cast and crew were amazing and I love working with director Chad Kinkle. I was in his short film, Organ Grinder as well, which we shot right before "Jug Face" and is on the extra features on the "Jug Face" DVD. He had continuously told me that I didn't really fit any characters for "Jug Face", but after I asked him to just let me audition multiple times, I guess he humored me and let me at least try. I completely transformed myself for the audition by going in character, which is something I never do. It was a big risk, but I knew I wouldn't stand a chance if I went as myself. I shopped at the Goodwill and bought some horrible high waisted, acid washed, tapered and pleated mom jeans, some Velcro tennis shoes and a brown turtleneck. I also put my hair in a greasy bun and had put some baby powder at the roots to age myself a bit more. I gave myself dark circles around my eyes and had stretched my lips out some to give myself smokers lines. It was a pretty ugly sight. I walked in and in my most backwoods accent said, "I'm here to audition for that role, Pyer". Chad looked at me like I was a crazy person, squinted and said, "Katie, is that you? Whatever you’ve done to yourself, please undo it." I thought for sure I had blown it and made a fool of myself. Luckily I just made a fool of myself, because I booked the role. I was so excited to play a character role. It's been a passion of mine to do for a long time. The producer, Andrew van den Houten had told me on set, "I don't know what you did to yourself for that audition, but whatever it was you did, booked you this role".
"A Measure of the Sin" and "Jug Face" are both different in style and how they tell their stories. For you, was there a difference in how you would perform as your characters or was it more or less the same?
They were only similar in regards to them both being in a cult like setting, and trapped by circumstance. The characters were really nothing alike though. Pyer was a strong woman and a mother who had kids to keep the blood line going. Their “cult” was more of a religious sacrificial one, and that was their number one priority. For Meredith, she was a child, a young woman, scared by the thought of bringing another life into this world. She wanted out. I told Meredith from the eyes of a child. Pyer was more of a rough, backwoods, don't take no shit from nobody kind a role, but still struggling between religion and her own flesh and blood. I guess they were both afraid of “The Monsters”.
In the bio on your website, you mentioned that you moved to LA for about four years to pursue your acting career. What was that experience like?
Wild. LA was a blast, but I didn't do a ton of acting. I moved there too young and too inexperienced. If you are non union, and without an agent, you don't have much going for you there. When I want something, I usually just dive in headfirst without a plan. I moved there and lived in my car off and on for about 3 months, couch surfed and made lifelong friends in the process. Four years later I moved back to Nashville to start my production company and within a year, I had gotten my SAG Eligibility and have booked more here, than I ever did there. I loved it though, and it was a great experience that I would not change.
Is it something you think that is important for people who are interested in, not only acting, but a career in filmmaking to experience or might they be better off staying local?
I believe you shouldn't move there unless you have to. It’s a hard question and I believe everyone should follow their own path. Some have great luck with it, but it seems like most move back. Have your union status or eligibility, have an agent lined up, have money saved up and have a plan. Otherwise you will be sucked into the vortex they call Hollywood and it will spit you out used and abused.
Are there any past or future projects you'd like to talk about?
I just wrapped on my scene in the Robert Redford and Nick Nolte movie, "A Walk in the Wood"s. I am playing Lesbian #1. You know it’s not a huge role, when your name is Lesbian #1, but I got to work with Nolte and Redford, and that was one of the most amazing experiences I have had to date.
You've been a singer, you've acted, produced movies and you've even been a teacher. Is there anything left you'd like to get your hands on and try? Any challenges you have for yourself that you're looking to conquer?
I'm currently co-writing a TV Pilot, which I will be directing. I've wanted to try my hand at directing for a while now, so that is hopefully set for sometime this summer or fall. I’ve also been trying my hand at special effects and just finished my third film. I have been getting more offers with that since people have been seeing some of my work, which is funny to me. I have no idea what I’m doing but it’s like art to me and I love creating and experimenting.
Other things on my list to try this year are: Cage diving with sharks, getting scuba certified with my mom and Lego Land.
We can't thank you enough for taking the time to do this interview, Katie. Is there anything else you would like to add or any last minute plugs you'd like to give?
My film "A Measure of the Sin" is available now from BrinkVision -- on DVD and VOD. There are still a few of our 200 autographed memorabilia special edition copies left, so grab one before they are gone. Once you get your special edition copy in the mail, take a picture and tag both Jeff Wedding and I on Facebook or Twitter. We will then be selecting one or two people who will be receiving some special items from the set of "A Measure of the Sin".
"Jug Face" is now available on Netflix, but if you buy the DVD you will get the short film I’m in, "Organ Grinder", as well.
Thank you so much for taking the time to get to know me a little better.
(Jeff Wedding, Kristy Nielson and Katie Groshong)