I LOVE BEKKA & LUCY: Emmy nominee Alexis Denisof on his new series and his George Harrison video – Exclusive Interview Part 2
The actor talks about working on his new show and more
In part 2 of our exclusive interview with Emmy-nominated actor Alexis Denisof, he talks about working with I LOVE BEKKA & LUCY creator/director Rachel Holder, costars Jessica Taylor Kennedy and Tanisha Long, working for a new streaming video site, and being in a George Harrison music video.
ASSIGNMENT X: What can you say about working with creator/director Rachael Holder?
ALEXIS DENISOF: Well, inspiring is not a good enough word. Here’s a young African-American woman who grows up in Jersey, not seeing herself on TV, not represented in media, films, or television, and decides at a young age, as she becomes a writer, that she’s going to do something about it. And now we have this story of Bekka and Lucy, two young women of color, and while I’ve been nominated for an Emmy, which I’m thrilled about, and ultimately my storyline is a love story, this show is not a romantic story. This is an examination of friendship. And it’s an everyday friendship, it’s a beautiful friendship. It’s tested by the romances in their lives, and it’s experiencing the difficult transition of one or both of them possibly finding their partners, and the strain that that puts on their friendship, but a wonderful, fresh, new, authentic voice, with unflinching honesty and delightful humor. [Holder] has a great instinct for what works on screen. So it was a thrill to watch her really be born in, really, her first outing on screen. She had written a tester of this as a very, very short, almost monologue-to-camera version that was a couple of minutes long as a calling card, in order to get the show funded that did eventually get funded as I LOVE BEKKA & LUCY. So she was off working on this for awhile. But this was really a coming of age for her. And I’m excited to have been part of her journey. And I’m excited for the possibilities that this opens up, what this means for our industry, that Rachael Holder’s voice is now part of the dialogue.
AX: How was it working with Jessica Kennedy Parker, who plays Bekka, and Tanisha Long, who plays Lucy?
DENISOF: Wonderful. Wonderful actresses. First of all, they had terrific chemistry with each other, but also, they were so much fun to work with, and they had just a perfect sense of these women. They brought so much of their own instinct and sensibility in their own experience as women of color, and they made such a great partnership with Rachael, and watching them all blossom together on set was such a joy. I think we were always [making] each other laugh together, which is a good time. We had fun on set. You hope that that will translate. It usually does. In this case, I think Jessica and I had a kind of unspoken understanding. We could make a few basic understandings about a scene, and then we just felt free to play with each other. I love that. It was perfect, to know enough that you could have fun with it, and not have it too set. So it was pretty cool, I think – [the environment] was supportive and entertaining, and I think the results show that as that relationship progresses.
AX: Where did you shoot I LOVE BEKKA & LUCY?
DENISOF: L.A., in and around. Glendale and somewhere further out, like Porter Ranch. But basically, L.A. And Reseda – some cool stuff with Reseda.
AX: As far as the distribution for I LOVE BEKKA & LUCY, did you think, “Oh, good, I’m working for Stage 13,” or did you think, “What the heck is Stage 13?”
DENISOF: Upon being offered it, it was a puzzlement, because the actual delivery of the final product was extremely unclear at that point. What was to be Stage13.com had not been announced. Warner Brothers Digital had been working hard to put this platform together which is a unique studio and network, where they make media, produced by new voices, for a multicultural audience, but they also distribute, but they also make deals with other distributors. So it’s a little bit of everything, with a slant towards a multicultural [creative base and audience]. I was thrilled, having already shot the thing, to find out that’s where it was going to be airing, but I didn’t know at the time that I accepted the job, so that was a bit of a risk, and I did have to sort of think about, “Well…?” Because [Warners didn’t want to announce the existence of Stage 13 early], it hadn’t been announced , and they were extremely hush-hush about it, because they didn’t want any leaks about this platform, but they had been secretly producing a raft of shows, one of which is the one we made, which is I LOVE BEKKA & LUCY.
AX: Was doing Bryan Singer’s science-fiction series H+ on YouTube Premium a similar experience of, “Where are we running?” Because at the time you did that, YouTube hadn’t yet entirely established itself as a platform for Hollywood-produced narrative content …
DENISOF: I think that was one of the earliest, bigger-budget, high-production-value attempts at digital short form streaming series. And I am also proud of that one. I think ultimately the format was so experimental, and the concept of watching something in that way was a little ahead of its time, and I think it was hard to justify the cost. But Bryan Singer’s production company put that together through Warner Brothers, I think, and it was beautiful, a very interesting science-fiction genre piece, with a flexible timeline. I think ultimately that flexible timeline, while interesting, may have confused the viewers. But I think now, moving forward through time, we’re at a point where there’s such a proliferation of content through mobile devices and laptops, televisions now are hooked into streaming content, and it’s such a more available thing that to take that content and upgrade it into quality stories with quality production values, it’s a no-brainer. i think you’ll see a proliferation of this now, moving forward.
AX: Do you think that comedy may lend itself more easily to short form than drama?
DENISOF: I don’t think so, actually. One of the other shows on [Stage 13], TWO-SENTENCE HORROR STORIES, works fantastically. You can create suspense, you can create horror, thrillers,documentaries – no, I wouldn’t confine it in that way. It’s just finding the voices, authentically, interesting characters, or people, if it’s reality, or integrity, integrity of storytelling. This generation now who are watching things on all the multitude of platforms online are very savvy. They’ve seen way more content than I did by the time I was fifteen or eighteen or twenty. When I was a kid, there were a few channels, and you had to beg to get a look at them, and I didn’t know the difference from one to the other necessarily, and it all pretty much looked the same, and there wasn’t that much to choose from.
But now there’s a vast array of things to choose, and the viewers of all ages really know what they’re looking at, and they quickly decipher whether it’s for them or not. And they know what your intentions are. And that extends into, I think you’ll see advertising is going to have soon become, in a sense, more honest and upfront. We’re seeing that in a lot of things where [viewers] want to be spoken to plainly. “This put streaming devices into the hands of so many people that it can only change the content that’s in them as a result.
AX: Does not having commercial breaks and a precisely-required running time give you any freedom as an actor, or is that more an issue for the writer/director?
DENISOF: I do think it’s more an issue for the writer/director, but I would say for myself, I just wanted to make sure that the character popped in some way within those ten to twelve minutes if possible, because I couldn’t rely on twenty-three or forty-two minutes of time to do it, especially given that the primary story focuses on the friendship of [Bekka and Lucy]. So I thought it was important for the character to make the impact, in those brief moments, that it be significant. So without it being over the top, I just tried to find some clear moments where, as an audience member, you could just somehow feel that you saw right into his soul, whatever that awkward moment of seeing that might be. So I did look for those as much as possible in each episode, so that it would track throughout. The episodes, strung together, make a beautiful hour-and-a-half story that holds as one story. And indeed, at its premiere atr SXSW, where it was teh first digital short-form series to be included in the television segment of SXSW, which was an extraordinary honor, that’s how it aired, as all one [piece], with just brief moments of going to black between episodes. And it plays beautifully that way. It plays wonderfully [also as individual] episodes that I think have the fun of people send [them] to each other and they have all of the traffic in its just streaming short form, social media, et cetera. So with that in mind, I did try to find at least one, if not more than one, moment where you got a really clear shot of the character in the headlights, whether that was him withering or having a beautifully open and courageous heart, or whatever it might be, so that as the audience moves from one episode to the other, they could keep hold of who that man was.
AX: When the whole of I LOVE BEKKA & LUCY was put together for SXSW, was it like an episodic movie?
DENISOF: It just felt like movie where there were slightly extended moments of going to black, almost an editor’s choice. We knew that that was because it was in between episodes, but because the credits were taken out, it just flowed.
AX: Is Season 1 of I LOVE BEKKA & LUCY closed-ended, or could there be a Season 2?
DENISOF: There is a Season 2. The question is, what will it look like? And another benefit of short form is that it lends itself as a testing ground. Things can stay in short form, and repeat for a multitude of seasons, but they can also be seen as an opportunity to springboard into a longer form. So at the moment, there’s a conversation about that – will I LOVE BEKKA AND LUCY become an extended form, or will it stay in short form?
AX: So it’s been picked up for a second season, but there’s discussion of exactly what it’s going to be?
DENISOF: I think that’s fair to say.
AX: I only recently learned that you were in the “Got My Mind Set on You” music video. Did you get to work with George Harrison?
DENISOF: Well, there are two videos for that song [the version Denisof is in is labeled Version 1 on YouTube]. The first one, which was shot by the music company in the States, and the band and a bunch of animatronic animals or something. The record company said, “Oh, no, you’re making George look old, he’s in a rocking chair, these stuffed animal heads, Granddad’s cabin or something. We need something young and fresh.” So they sent it over to a production house in London, which is where I lived at the time, and they conceived a different video, which was shot in a videogame arcade. And that’s the one that I was in, and the storyline is pretty classic – young guy sees young girl and tries to win [ballerina figurine] out of video arcade to give to girl, and the gag is that inside the arcade is a miniature George Harrison and band playing the song, and then the song ends with young boy wins said toy and presents it to young girl, and song finishes. So that was the second video which was also released, and forevermore there has been confusion about which is which. It was one of the first things I did, I think it paid all of five hundred dollars, and I was super-excited, because I thought I would get to meet George Harrison. And it turned out that the band had shot all of their stuff on a stage weeks before we ever went to the studio to shoot the video. So it was one long, long day, and done. I’ve been teased about that video ever since.
AX: Any new work with Joss Whedon coming up?
DENISOF: I mean, the phone hasn’t rung. Obviously, I would be thrilled. It goes without saying, anything with Joss is the best job ever. That means I’ve had lots of best jobs ever. But I am greedy. I’ll always take another.
AX: Any other new projects we should know about right now?
DENISOF: No, I wish.
AX: And what would you most like people to know about I LOVE BEKKA & LUCY?
DENISOF: For a small investment of time, it’s an enormous payoff in entertainment. It’s funny, and heartwarming , and surprising, and well worth taking a look.
Read Part 1 here.
Original article at Assignment X.