Ken here, with an interview of Alexis Kendra, writer and star of THE CLEANING LADY.
THE CLEANING LADY follows Alice (Alexis Kendra) as she goes about what seems to be her extremely successful life. She's got a great career, is beautiful, has money, and a married boyfriend. She's obsessed and she knows it. She seeks help but always ends up answering his calls. An incident happens in her apartment and the property manager sends up the aforementioned cleaning lady, Shelly. (Rachel Alig) Over time, they become friendly until everything takes a wrong turn.
This is a pretty great low-budget horror movie. Deeply written characters that experience pure misery and a couple toss-in characters too! If you asked me to liken it to other movies, i'd say it's a somber TEETH, mixed with a happier AUDITION. You can see it now On Demand, Digital HD and DVD, now! Get out of the tub and give it a watch.
Without further ado, the wonderful Alexis Kendra.
Ken Lewis: Hi Alexis, how are you doing today?
Alexis Kendra: I’m good. How are you doing?
KL: I’m fantastic, thanks. To start off, can you give me a brief synopsis of THE CLEANING LADY and your role in it?
AK: The Cleaning Lady is about a lady named Shelly who is horrifically burned. She becomes increasingly obsessed with the woman in the apartment she cleans.
KL: In the beginning, Alice (Alexis Kendra) comes off as a weaker character but at the end of the film she’s clearly a fighter. I was wondering what your favorite aspect of writing or playing Alice was?
AK: Director Jon Knautz and I, we put our heads together. We wanted a female protagonist that was likeable and identifiable. She’s attractive, has her own apartment, is well put together and she’s in love. She has a great career that pays for this lifestyle she has. Then you dig deeper. You start to know this woman and you start to see how sad she is. You see she’s in this love affair with a married man. She’s not just in a love affair, she’s in a twelve-step program in order to try and stop seeing him. That’s how hard it is to stop for her. As an actress stepping into this role, I have to buy into something that has a little bit of meat to it. I really appreciated her flaws and I liked that she was in this program. I was able to enjoy playing her because she was multi-dimensional and I was able to have a lot of fun with that.
KL: Absolutely. She stands in stark contrast to your standard, typically affluent woman. She has great depth, as does Rachel Alig as Shelly. They were really well written and felt believable. I think you did really well in this regard Alexis.
To play the opposite of my first question, what was the hardest part of this shoot for you?
AK: I wore so many hats by choice. I wrote the film. I produced. I had a lead role and I was also production designing. I had a really great group of people to work with. Wearing that many hats at once made it really hard to compartmentalize things. One minute I’m acting, working for John and giving whatever I can as an actress. Then the next moment I’m overseeing people ordering pizzas or making sure the catering is arriving. Then I’m telling my art director that everything she did in the bedroom is incorrect and we need to redo it immediately before we film. Meanwhile I’m still in costume, makeup running down my face, because I was just crying for a scene. It was total ADHD I think. It was crazy and thrilling but I don’t know if I’d wear so many hats on my next project, to be honest.
KL: That was what I was going to ask you about next. You have such an eclectic portfolio. You started In theater, you were in the soap opera DAYS OF OUR LIVES, and here you write/produce and star. I love your daring nature. Was that something you intended all along? To learn every nuance of film or was it more of a jack-of-all-trades deal where you were willing to work any job to get on set?
AK: I didn’t intend any of it. I wanted to be an actress growing up. I spent over a decade going on auditions for roles that were unfulfilling in the end. Nothing I was super proud of. John Knautz (director of THE CLEANING LADY) asked if I knew who Lena Dunham or Brit Marling were and I admitted I didn’t. He showed me their films, starting with TINY FURNITURE for Lena. Then he showed me SOUND OF MY VOICE and ANOTHER EARTH by Brit. He told me how tiny those budgets were, they were literally made on a micro-budget. I remember having a conversation with John and he was saying “There’s literally no difference. If they did it, you can do it.” I never thought I could before. I didn’t think I had the talent, the confidence, or ability. Once I stepped into it and started writing screenplays and actually doing it, I was able to build my confidence. I saw that I really enjoyed it and now I’m a filmmaker.
KL: You’re only missing one hat, that’s the director’s chair. Do you have any interest in that one?
AK: Sure. Everyone wants to be a director.
KL: It’s true, I admit I want to direct movies too. Director's largely get the credit in the end.
This is my last question regarding THE CLEANING LADY. In order for us the audience to buy into everything you’re selling on the screen you really need us to believe in Alice and Shelly’s relationship. It grows from a naïve innocence that obviously evolves into something much worse. Did you become fast friends with Rachel Alig upon meeting? I saw you worked with her first on GODDESS OF LOVE, was it simply you knew of her body of work and utilized her?
AK: I love that you just made that connection. You’re the only one that’s noticed it. When you find a good actor, you try not to let them go. She was one of those for me. I auditioned her for GODDESS OF LOVE and it didn’t’ work out. We ended up with a smaller role for her but she was so badly underused. She’s amazingly talented and I felt like I’m going to give her this small role for one damn day? I wanted her on my set though. She blew us away during her audition. I gave her the small role and she came in for one day and nailed it with a great attitude, happy to be there. I just looked at John and said we need to use her in our next film and he agreed with me. We didn’t know what our next film would be at that time. Then we created THE CLEANING LADY and she was the first one who popped into my mind. We’re not tight friends off-set but on-set we laugh a lot and get along. She’s super busy honestly and it’s really hard to get together outside of work but she’s an absolute pleasure.
KL: It’s acting. You both sold the depth of relationship that’s needed for us to buy into what happens next.
You were in VALENTINE’S DAY, it’s a small part but there’s a ton of celebrities in it, directed by Garry Marshall. I wanted to know if there were any good stories or unique experiences you’d like to share about being on that set?
AK: I shot for five days, which was amazing because the residual checks are so high. I was in the movie for three seconds. It goes to show how much gets edited out making a movie. My favorite story involves Garry Marshall. I had a general meeting with him and he was so real and relatable. I mean he’s one of the most famous movie director’s I’ve ever met to this day. I’m such a fan of his work. He expressed this thought where it must be hard to be an actress and running to auditions, trying to make it. He gave me this advice. "He said every day, this is what I do." This is someone who’s made it and is a multi-millionaire right? "Every single day I give myself permission to cry. All the failures, anything that I wanted to have-and I couldn’t obtain. I allow myself to cry over all of it. I set a timer for ten minutes and at the end I move on the best that I can." I was amazed Garry Marshall said that to me and it was very comforting. That’s my favorite story.
KL: That’s wonderful. He really showed you how human he is by sharing something like that with someone new to the industry.
You got to act alongside some big names in Hollywood there. You also got to act alongside icons like Kane Hodder and Tony Todd in HATCHET II. I was wondering if that has the same kind of impact for someone that appreciates horror like you do?
AK: Tony Todd was really cool. I believe he’s a Shakespearean actor and I studied Shakespeare briefly at Oxford. We had this really cool quick connection. I was a bit impressed. He does Shakespeare and he is in some of the darkest horror movies. I think if you act in Shakespeare you can do any material you’re given. To be honest with you, I only started watching horror about ten years ago. I’ve seen all the regular horror movie everyone has seen. I saw on the set I was surrounded by people in horror. At the end of the day, like we talked about earlier, they’re just human. They eat Twizzlers and want to know where you’re from. It all felt really great and normal. Just people doing a job.
KL: I just interviewed Tony a few months back (here)and he is easily one of the most likeable personalities I have had the pleasure of interviewing. I have nothing but good things to say about him. Then again, I’m a horror buff so I would have liked him regardless of anything he had to say.
You’ve written and starred in two feature films, GODDESS OF LOVE and THE CLEANING LADY. I was wondering which hat you preferred, writing or acting?
AK: Venus (GODDESS OF LOVE) was my dream role. John and I always say we make films for other people and that’s true. That being said, I wrote Venus for me. An actress at the time, I had never done anything behind the camera or led a film. Venus is written for the audience. She’s totally psychotic. I had never had so much fun in my life playing a role than that one. I could die and I’d be like, check that box. I knew I would never be cast in that role. I mean, who’s going to hand me that role? Uh, no one. So I wrote it myself. Brit Marling and Lena Dunham were huge inspirations for me to look outside my box and attempt something like that.
KL: It reminds me of Sylvester Stallone in some ways. That’s how he broke into films, though he did start with a soft core porn movie I believe. I’m thinking that’s not the path you were looking for. (Laughs) He wrote ROCKY and refused to sell it unless he got the role.
AK: Well, I’m pretty sure that got a lot more attention than GODDESS OF LOVE (laughs) but I don’t care. I absolutely already have had my dream role. I’m thrilled and very grateful I was able to do that.
KL: You come across very accessible and humble, I really appreciate that.
What’s your favorite horror film or films and why?
AK: OK, I’ll have to name a few. Does anyone just name one?
KL: There’s a few but it’s admittedly extremely rare. Mostly I get a run of three to four good ones.
AK: I would say TALE OF TWO SISTERS, AUDITION, MARTYRS, and ROSEMARY’S BABY would be my top four.
KL: WOW! I love the eclectic nature of those shout-outs. You are the first person I’ve interviewed who even mentioned MARTYRS. I suppose, because it’s a brutal film but I love it to death. I always bring up INSIDE to people wanting to start dabbling into current foreign horror films.
AK: The French know how to do horror really well. INSIDE was awesome but totally brutal. They probably could have pulled back a little bit, I think but I’m still a fan.
KL: It’s completely brutal, especially that ending. To me though, MARTYRS is worse. If I’m offering up a foreign horror film to check out, I usually start with INSIDE and if they like that then we can delve as deep as they like. (Laughs)
I read that you have a few orphanages in India. Free plug time. I was wondering if you could explain what got you into that specific charity work?
AK: Honestly, you’re the most thorough interviewer I’ve ever had. I can’t believe you found that out about me. No one has ever asked me that. You’re fantastic! Please interview me any time.
KL: You’re awesome, thank you for that.
AK: Yeah, I went to India in my early twenties and I saw a bunch of dying, malnourished children. I was like, I’m not going to just go back to L.A. and do Pilates, right? I couldn’t. It fucked up my world. I was sitting there with a napkin and a pen figuring out how much it costs for one of these things. How many kids can I get in one? Long story short, I now have had two for over ten years. It’s crazy. There’s only room for 5 children in each, so it feels like home. That’s all we could afford to finance. That’s basically it.
KL: It’s beautiful. It shows the depths of your horror loving heart. (Laughs)
I loved interviewing you today Alexis, if you ever do want another interview it would be my absolute pleasure. I’ll save this last question to let you tell our readers what to look out for next from Alexis Kendra.
AK: I mean, we’re shopping scripts. It’s the worst answer ever. We’re in the worst part. We have all these scripts, we shop them, and then we make another one. That’s where we’re at. Trying to get financing right now. I’m sorry, as an independent filmmaker this is the role. It’s how it is. Tons of work, then you have all this free time, then you’re making another movie before you know it. You’ll see something from us again soon, I am sure.
KL: Good luck in everything Alexis. I hope you have a great one!
AK: Thank you, you too!
Til next time Kids
Ken Lewis (AKA: Freddy Beans)
See all me writings: www.freddybeans.com
Contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org