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Juror in the spotlight: an interview with Casey Ruggieri

Our lead judge of January, Casey Ruggieri, is an interdisciplinary artist: actor, writer, director, mentor & activist.

Having performed on many notable films and TV shows (David Fincher's Gone Girl, House of Lies, Tales of Halloween, Kroll Show), Casey has always found the time to help, guide and mentor younger artists.

In the following interview, Casey shares her thoughts about acting, the Hollywood industry and most importantly some useful tips for actors.

You recently had a pretty difficult task - to select the Actors Awards' winners. What was this experience like for you?

Choosing the winners for the Actors Awards was all at once an exciting and daunting undertaking. I was highly impressed with the pool of talent within the selected films. It was a pleasure to watch these performers on screen. Each performance had stand out qualities that made it obvious as to why they were selected in the finals. Yet it was challenging to choose ONE winner. My hat goes off to all of the performances and I am eager to see what comes next for each of the nominees!

As someone who has been part of the LA film industry for a while, you probably have some insights regarding trends in both indie filmmaking and in the studio system. In your opinion - what are the elements that make a film successful and prominent? What is "trendy" nowadays, and did you find that in the winning films from last month?

Whether a film is being produced by a small independent company or one of the big studios, I believe what makes a film a standout and memorable months or years down the line is simply STORY. Is it compelling? Can we relate to it? Does the story move us to tears? To rage? To something altogether separate from ourselves yet entirely human? I cannot entirely speak to trends in film now (especially since, thanks to "reality" tv, things change constantly, and in my humble opinion, not necessarily for the best), but what I can speak to, on a purely artistic level, is what does indeed make a film successful, sought after, and even, with certain films, transcendent. And that, I believe, is the STORY or substance of the piece, and then how it is put together, or the STYLE and TONE with which the filmmaker chooses to tell that story. I don't entirely believe you need box office names to make a powerful, memorable, successful film.

Casey Ruggieri in David Fincher's "Gone Girl"

How did you get into acting? What was your inspiration?

I think I have always been acting; telling stories, making believe, imagining other lives, since I was small. As a child I tried on many masks and played at being many different fanciful and frightening things! I can without a doubt say my inspiration to imagine and play pretend came directly from two things: the marvelous literature and illustrations I was exposed to as a child (thanks to artistic, writerly parents), and my magical Aunts and Uncle on my mothers side who spun gold out of stories, played the piano, enticed the night creatures at Halloween to come out and play, flew vibrant kites that seemed as dragons in the summer skies; and above all encouraged me to explore my imagination. An artist does not exist in a vacuum. And a child's imagination cannot grow without the magic and encouragement of the adults in their lives. I am eternal grateful that I had such playful artists and lovely dreamers in my life as a child.

What was your first gig like?

If I recall, my first paying gig as an actor was a spot in a furniture commercial. It was so much fun and I remember just falling in love with being on set. In fact, I now call being on set "my happy place".

Casey Ruggieri in "Tales of Halloween"

Obviously, you’ve gone a long way since that first gig. And from every film experience, you learn a lot. What did you take with you from the most recent film you worked on?

I think every project you work on, no matter big or small, you have an opportunity to apply what you've already learned as well as pick up new skills or tactics. So much of working on a film is collaborative and the "job" doesn't end when the director calls cut. In addition to applying your craft on set, I think it's invaluable to be part of seeing the project through afterwards as well. Especially if its a smaller film or something you are really proud of. As an actor, you can, and should, be a promoter as well. These days it isn't too difficult to promote your films on social media and encourage people to see the work, attend the PR events for your film, and generally stay proactive. It makes a difference and it shows directors/producers/etc that you are a team player and someone to work with again.

During your B.S.A studies, were you also acting? If so, what was it like, to study and perform at the same time?

During my studies in college, I was fortunate enough to be able to be a film major with a screenwriting concentration, in sound production and photography, take some humor and sci-fi writing classes, and be in theater and directing classes as well. It was a whirlwind of activity! I graduated Magna Cum Laude and looking back now, I am thankful that I delved into so many subjects and areas of interest. Arriving in Los Angeles as a creative person striving to work in the film business, you quickly learn the necessity of being able to "wear many hats". If I could give any advice to young people heading to college or moving to a big city to work in the arts, it would be to involve yourself in as many aspects of the business you endeavor to be a part of as possible. Since we must carve our own path, the more knowledge and experience you can arm yourself with, the more equipped you will be to succeed!

With the cast of "The Garlock Incident" at Shockfest Film Festival

How did your experience in acting influence your writing? Is there an integration between Casey the actor, and Casey the writer?

Casey the writer is always lurking within Casey the actor, haha! And Casey the director is always there telling them both what to do! All kidding aside, I do think one skill set informs the other and vice versa. Artistically speaking, at least for me, it all blends together and informs the work I do, sometimes, in the most pleasantly surprising ways.

Having performed on many notable films and TV shows (Gone Girl, House of Lies, Tales of Halloween, Kroll Show) what are some of the most important things you learned to do/ not to do when working with directors?

I liken Directors to snowflakes, no two are alike. Meaning, each has his/her own personality, style, and way of communicating with crew and talent. The best thing you can do as an actor is do your work to the best of your ability. Directors have a hundred things on their mind at any given moment during production. Don't be another "thing" on their mind. Do your job. Be professional. Give them no reason to fire you and all the reasons to hire you again.

Casey Ruggieri in "Kroll Show"

And what would be your advice for young actors?

On the flip side of that coin, I might encourage directors, especially newer ones, to take an acting class or sit in on castings from time to time. I think a lot of actors find that a lot of directors don't have the language or "actor-speak" to communicate effectively while on set. I've also found that many directors who do communicate well and "get" actors, have often times been actors themselves... or waiters... like 100% of actors. Waiting tables is the great leveler. Ha.

What is your dream role?

What's my dream role? play a massively imposing, mind-blowingly fast moving body of water (ha...fanciful and frightening things!).

How do you prepare for a new film/show? What is your process?

It's hard to talk about process for me because I feel like it's a constant process. I am always learning new ways of trying to accomplish the task at hand. And for me, I don't think it's ever "done", and by that I mean if a character is alive, then it is a person. And like a person, a human, we are never complete. There is always work to be done.

Screening of The Last Course at the Valley Film Festival

Aside from your acting career you’re the head mentor with “Young Storytellers”, a non-profit that works with elementary level students, teaching them about screenwriting, and G.R.O.W.T.H, which is an LA based after school program working with at-risk teen youth, that you helped shape at its inception. What motivated you to become involved in those?

I enjoy the collaborative nature of the classroom, and the energy young people bring to bear with regards to the issues in their lives. I thrive in environments of learning and of communicating knowledge. And kids are honest. Especially teenagers, believe it or not, they don't hide anything with their sarcastic wit. I love that.

Casey Ruggieri in The Last Course

What's is next for you?

What's next for me? Hopefully more. More exploration. More experiences. More opportunities to learn and grow and share. An artist doesn't exist in a vacuum. And it is my intention, or perhaps realization as I grow older, to live as an artist, is to strive to be the gardener for other imaginations.

Follow Casey:

Facebook: @caseyruggieri


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