Barbarella here. Yesterday I posted an interview I did with Brandon Christensen, who directed Z, a film about a family terrified by a boy’s imaginary friend. He’s not the only person from that film with whom I spoke. I also had the opportunity to ask Keegan Connor Tracy some questions. She enshrouds herself in the complex character of Joshua’s mom, Elizabeth Parsons, so skillfully, I wanted to know more about her and her process.
What was your reaction as a parent to first reading the screenplay for Z?
“I can't say that it really clicked for me on the level of parenthood. It was more about the journey of that woman is what struck me.”
What was it about that character that really appealed to you then?
“Well, I think that it was just I could see her go through the stages from relatively normal, a harried mother, through, "What the heck is going on with my kid?," to "Oh my god, I'm losing my mind." And I thought that seemed like a journey that I was interested in exploring as an actor.”
Did you ever have an imaginary friend growing up?
“No, I really didn't. I know everybody keeps asking me that. My kid had one. She had one that she talked to all the time, and they had their own language and this whole thing. And then, just as she started to get older, it just sorta went away, I guess.”
Did that concern you at the time or no?
“No, 'cause it was pretty innocent. And, in fact, it was really interesting because this language that she created remained constant across time. She had words that genuinely seemed to mean things, and they had whole conversations. It was pretty interesting, I thought.”
Wow, that is interesting.
So, what was your biggest fear as a kid?
“Nuclear war. Child of the '80s.”
Yeah, me too. (laughs). I thought that Z was pretty creepy looking. Do you think you would've played with something that looked like that when you were a kid?
“Oh my god, no. I even had moments where I wondered if Z shouldn't have just been like a creepy little boy, you know, imaginary boy-friend, but once I saw the movie, and I saw how Brandon put him in kind of frenetically and sparsely, I thought it was really impactful.”
The film plays with ways that the past can come back to haunt you. If a movie were made about something from your past that returns to haunt you, in what genre would that movie be?
“Oh my gosh. (laughs) I would say it would be like one of those experimental, independent films. Not even experimental. It would be like a JUNO, you know? It would be a Diablo Cody film. Or Jason Reitman or something.”
What kind of person are you on set? Do you remain in character the entire shoot, or do you like to laugh and interact between takes?
“I love the social aspect on set, but it depends on what I'm shooting at any given moment. If I'm shooting easy scenes, I can interact with everybody. But, when I'm doing emotional scenes, I go off by myself. I make sure that I have a quiet space. I stay focused in my work so that it's present and available when I need it.”
What did you do for this, this film? You were pretty much intense for most of it. (laughs)
“That's certainly true. I mean I found lots of time to play and have fun with Jett and with Sean and with the crew, as one does. It really depends on how deep I had to go in a scene and how long I had to stay in that space. But, yeah, a lot of that film was me just digging into yucky things and staying in that space. It was emotionally really taxing.”
How hard is it for you to come out of those after you've gone really deep and emotional?
“This one took a bit. I even remember tweeting something about it just after I finally came home. 'Cause I was also away for a month from my kids and, you know, just that whole thing. It was three or four days of trying to adjust. It’s almost like sea legs. It's like getting off a boat and not quite having your legs under you. You don't feel like yourself really, not exactly. And you've been living so deeply in this person's life and in their history and in their story that it absolutely takes time to shake that off.”
And is there a process for shaking it off? How do you actually let go of that character?
“I mean I, it just takes time. It's like, you know, you have a shower, and you do that scrubby loofah thing to get that top layer off. I think it just is a matter of stepping back into your life, and it slowly sheds itself, depending on how deeply it had its claws into you. This one was deep, especially, you know, when you play lead of anything in a film, and you do that for a month, it seeps in, and if it's emotional in particular, it takes time to get that out.”
Right. So, you recently directed a film. What made you interested in doing that?
“I think I've always been interested in directing. But, to be honest, you just never saw female directors, and it sort of didn't occur to me. I also had a career that just chugged along really well as an actor. And, maybe I was 45 or something, I was like, "Holy cow, I better find other pieces of this puzzle." It’s just not a landscape that was going to continue as it was. And because of my age, my ethnicity, and just in the way that things were changing, I knew that I needed to diversify, and I wanted to. I wanted a much deeper way of being able to tell stories and being much more creative, using my brain more. All of those things are served in directing. And, once I did it, I was like, "Yeah." I just loved being able to make all those choices about the story.”
In what ways do you prefer directing over acting, and/or in what ways do you prefer acting over directing?
“I mean, when I have a good part, I love being an actor. I love getting lost in it, and really living in the skin of a character, which I really got to do in Z. Nothing can take the place of that, but being a director, I just love the intricacy of all of the pieces that you draw together and you have a vision for. It's slightly different, certainly, you know, in doing television than it is in doing a feature film, which is what I'll be directing hopefully later this year. I'm directing a horror film called THE EVIL EYE. As a feature, I get to, from start to finish, create that bubble of that film. I just love it. I love interacting with all the different departments. I love taking all of the props and the wardrobe and the look and the... It's just super appealing to me. You get to use your brain on a level that just far surpasses what you get to do as an actor.”
That's great. Um, my brain just went away for a second (laughs). If you had a warning label, what would it say?
“Watch out; salty.”
(laughs) What genres do you like to watch versus what genres do you like to perform in?
“I like to perform in all of them, and I also watch across the spectrum. For me, there are parts that you do because you need money, and there are parts that you do 'cause you're like, "I love this." I tend to love quirky. I'm always like the funny girl in the drama kind of thing. I guess I like that. I don't like playing kinda regular people. I always like left of center, quirky characters, funny characters, edgy characters.”
What's your favorite character you've ever played? And why?
“Hmm, I mean I really loved playing this role in Z. And that's not just because that's what these interviews are from. Like being able to really dig in, and take a huge bite out of something and prove the kind of chops I have. I really loved being able to do that. I loved being able to dig like that. I love comedy. It seems to be the place where I'm the happiest, although suddenly they don't really do that much up here. I just like the quirky-nature things. I loved being on A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS. I loved the whole style of that genre. I would love to do more of that.”
They say people learn from every job that they do, so what did you learn from Z?
"That I have absolutely got the deep well that I was worried I might not have in terms of the emotional work that needed to happen for that. To trust opportunity when it comes to you. I think any time you push yourself to go outside your comfort zone, there's always something beneficial that comes out from there. I really loved that about it.”
If you were the ruler of your own country, what would be the first law you would introduce?
“(laughs) Equal pay for equal work. I would ban the patriarchy.”
Ah! (laughs) Do you feel like Elizabeth was gaslighted by her husband in Z?
“Yeah, of course she was. There's that whole scene where she's really scared, and she genuinely comes to him with something and says, "Look, I know this sounds crazy, but I saw him," and he totally just lays her out, you know? Probably, that's what they did with her when she was little, right?”
Sadly, I had to wrap up my conversation with Keegan Connor Tracy and go back to staring at a computer screen in solitude. It's something I spend a great deal of time doing these days, but I'm stepping away from the keyboard right now to do something else. If you're looking for something else to do, like watch a movie, Z is currently available on VOD, Digital HD, DVD and Blu-Ray.