Having huge amounts of people wanting to be a part of helping to make the world be better, however each person can, will spread ripples of incalculable importance. Each single act of kindness adds light to the world. That’s the cool thing! Let’s have cruelty go back to being something that is no longer accepted! — And under that umbrella of caring for each other, let’s make sure no child/no person goes hungry -if the leaders of the world would only organize it better, with care, there’s no actual need for hunger. And have all the slavery, torture and genocide — of all beings, animal as well as human- be ended. Of course, there are so many organizations and so many people in the world who do want those things and are actively working towards them right now.
I had the pleasure to interview Jillie Simon. Jillie is an actor-singer-songwriter and producer, who also wrote and co-directed (and played the protagonist in) “Hungry”, a 23 minute short film that’s been in twenty seven film festivals to date and honored with nine awards, four of which were for Best Actress/Best Performance. She performs on stage and screen, and in the last year and a half has played roles in three independent feature films, four shorts, two web-series, one tv series and a play. She’s toured with two alternative rock bands throughout the U.S., Europe, Canada and the Middle East and has co-written songs that have aired on commercial and college radio and been in films, and one of which was Grammy-nominated.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you, it’s a pleasure! When I was a child, I always loved playing other people (or other beings, as I remember playing a kitten, and a monkey escaping an evil scientist) in various situations, making up stories with friends. And as soon as there were plays to audition for in school, I did. I also started writing songs at the age of 12. First I started writing poetry as an outlet for feeling lonely in junior high school, where I was separated from my friends and felt like an outsider. Soon after that, I asked my parents for a guitar because I loved the sound and wanted to make songs out of the words.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
One of the interesting and wonderful experiences I’ve had was performing on stage with my band LOVE ALIEN at Yasgur’s Farm in Bethel, NY, the site of the original 1969 Woodstock concert, for a Woodstock Reunion Concert. I’d always looked at the ’60’s as, not only an amazing time for music, but also an idealistic time when a lot of people were trying to change the world for the better — and to actually be performing on the stage at Yasgurs Farm, in front of 25,000 people -was a natural high. It was also very cool to be mingling backstage with all the different amazing musicians… a few people who’d played at the original Woodstock were also there.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?
Most mistakes I made, when first starting, career-wise, weren’t at all funny to me, they felt pretty horrifying -but this one was on the funnier side. When I first started to do film-work (I’d started my acting career doing theater) — I didn’t realize that you had to make sure that the mic that is taped somewhere to your body is turned off before you go to the restroom or the sound person is going to be hearing you tinkle -I was told discreetly by a sound person, and didn’t make that mistake again!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Right now, I’m working on a role that’s a lead in a mini-series, the crime-thriller “Infiltrated”, by Marvalee Peart. We’ll be shooting the pilot episode soon, and the writing is so good. My character is also very different from any I’ve played before- the wife of a Mafia boss, in this predicament of being in a very unhappy place and in a dangerous life because of falling in love with the wrong guy. We’ve also just finished “A Chance”, our second short film, which is about love, it’s a relationship story and very different from “Hungry”, and we’re excited to start it’s journey out into the world. And I’m also very excited for the rock-n-roll dramedy “The Incoherents” to come out. It was shot last year, directed by Jared Barel, written by Jeff Auer (who also plays the lead) with Annette O’Toole and Amy Carlson, and I played the supportive, yogini girlfriend of the bass player (Walter Hoffman). Based on the script and some of the scenes I saw footage of, it’s going to be a fun and terrific film.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with?
— -I worked with Marian Seldes on a play, who was such a wonderful actress and person and so sweet- when I told her it was an honor to have worked with her, she said “Thank you, it’s an honor to have worked with you!” -What a gracious lady! I also played Marlo Thomas’s character’s daughter in a play, and Marlo is very interesting and terrific to act with as well — very Method in her approach. And Eric Roberts, who played the Congressman in my film “Hungry” was so creative — he threw in a couple of totally improv-ed moments, which was super, they were funny and unexpected, which is always great to play off of. And I met the fabulous John G. Avildsen at the Chesapeake Film Festival. He was there to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award, and they screened “Hungry” in front of his film “Lean on Me”, and then we did the Q & A together, which was such an honor -and he was so fascinating to listen to. And I met my friend, the lovely Devi Snively, a fantastic multi-award-winning writer-director, in Cannes, where we and our husbands chatted and danced all night at a festival party. She mentored me as I was writing my first screenplay which was so helpful! And I’ll be playing one of the lead roles in one of her upcoming features, which I’m so excited about. We’ve already collaborated on a song for it (“Betty the Elephant”- a version is up on our music site www.reverbnation.com/tsmsf) -she had written the very clever lyrics, Thomas wrote the music and I sang it in the voice of my character in the film — the singer in a side-show band at a circus in the ‘30’s (who’s searching for her long lost twins). -There are so many interesting and lovely people — too many to mention, so I better stop here! — In every new project I work on and in every film festival I attend there’s always wonderful new friendships that form and great people I meet, that’s one of the terrific things about this business!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I recommend a sense of optimism and positive attitude through all the slow times and through the (very common) post-show blues, when a play ends or a shoot wraps. As long as you keep throwing arrows out there, something will land eventually and you will get the next phone call or email that leads to the next job. Meanwhile keep yourself well-oiled, honed at your craft and physically fit. Yoga is very helpful for balance and breathing, improv classes are great for keeping your mind sharp, and acting classes if you’re not working on anything… and sharing your home with a rescued animal is very good for being loved and needed (-and for cuddling)!
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Caring about and for each-other — humans, animals and our entire environment (-which means putting a stop to fossil fuels -that needs to happen now, phased out within, really, about 10 years time, for the sake of a future for all the children and youth). Having huge amounts of people wanting to be a part of helping to make the world be better, however each person can, will spread ripples of incalculable importance. Each single act of kindness adds light to the world. That’s the cool thing! Let’s have cruelty go back to being something that is no longer accepted! — And under that umbrella of caring for each other, let’s make sure no child/no person goes hungry -if the leaders of the world would only organize it better, with care, there’s no actual need for hunger. And have all the slavery, torture and genocide — of all beings, animal as well as human- be ended. Of course, there are so many organizations and so many people in the world who do want those things and are actively working towards them right now.
One of the organizations I love, “A Well-Fed World”, which works to nourish people and save animals, will be given any profit that “Hungry” makes. They “alleviate hunger with animal-free food and farming at the community level, while promoting global food security by re-framing animal-centric food choices and policies at the decision-making level(s).”
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. The casting director who brought you in for the audition is rooting for you. If you come in and do great work, show them your unique take on a role, and it’s a part you could be right for, you’re solving a problem for them — helping them to have a terrific candidate for the role to present to the director. And if you go in there and the casting director seems unfriendly or not at all thrilled to see you — don’t take it personally, they might be having a hellish day which has nothing to do with & doesn’t reflect on you — just stay focused on playing the scene you’re there to read, as truthfully as you can.
2. Don’t beat yourself up when you don’t get a role you really wanted. Sometimes (very often), the reason was something you have no control over. For example, I had six call-backs for a large supporting role, the co-worker/friend of the lead character in a Hollywood studio film, and found out that I didn’t get the role because they wanted the lead actress to look more vulnerable and smaller, and so they ultimately decided to surround her with very big, tall women (which I am not). — And sometimes we feel we didn’t do our best at an audition -and still don’t flog yourself mentally! -That happens, that’s life, and if you can pin-point what made you go astray, you’ll do better next time.
3. Find ways to relax more! Acting is such a competitive field, it can be so hard to get your foot in the door, and to get the auditions in the first place — so once we do, we sometimes carry our tension with us — so work hard on whatever you’re working on, but then before the audition, loosen up — do whatever works best for you -I like yoga stretches before I leave the house and a chi-kung breathing exercise right before an audition — and then have fun! You’re getting to act a scene, which is what we love to do!
4. Write something for yourself, create a role you’d like to play or find a story with a character that appeals and then make your own film or play. With today’s technology, it’s absolutely do-able. I wish I’d done that sooner because it opens up so much to you. Thomas Simon, my producing partner on “Hungry” (and composer/co-director/editor, as well as co-writer of songs for our bands and my husband), was encouraging me to write something. He showed me a couple of articles about teachers who paid out of their own pockets to get kids in their class’s lunch balances up, because the children were going hungry throughout their school-day as a result of cuts to the SNAP program in the Farm Bill. I thought, that’s a topic I’d like to shine a light on, with a character I’d like to play. From that I’ve gotten to meet so many wonderful directors, producers, and fellow actor-co-creators at film festivals, which leads to lovely collaborations and more work. It also feels very good to have raised some awareness and to have helped keep the topic going on the need to take care of our hungry children, and the need to speak up about things that are unjust -which is so important! Reading lots of scripts and screenplays and books on screenwriting — will all be very helpful for this, as will watching great films.
5. Work out anything that has any potential to be physically risky carefully before throwing yourself into it. When I was pretty young and starting out I hurt my spine in a rehearsal of a play. I was being thrown down on a spring mattress several times in the course of rehearsal and was raising a chair over my head. The next morning, I got up and then fell, blacked out for a few moments (from whats called psychogenic shock, my spine couldn’t hold me up). When I came to, I crawled to the phone and called my boyfriend (Thomas) who carried me to a taxi & took me to the hospital. The doctor said go home and rest, there’s nothing they can do about a compressed disc. After several chiropractic treatments, I was walking again (and did the play, minus those 2 moves), but I had years of pain because of that (and a few re-injuries, including one from walking off the stage after playing an outdoor concert in Austria and one of the stone steps was missing, which I didn’t see in the dark!)
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
When I was a kid, the phrase “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” resonated with me — it felt like it just made sense to be positive and optimistic and try to make the best of things. And I also resonate very strongly with this quote from writer, activist, Nobel Laureate, and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel- “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” I don’t know if I’d heard that yet when I was 18, but my first weekend up at my university, I went back down to NY to join an anti-nuclear protest. That was my first protest, I’ve been part of many since -and am outraged at the treatment of protestors in this era — protest is still a legal right here in the U.S.! We need to fight injustice, so I make those calls, sign those petitions and show up in person if possible.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
— I’m very, very grateful to my parents who, though they would have preferred I go into a field that was more secure, like psychology (-I was a double major with Theater and Psychology for 3 years, but only completed my BA in Theater-) were ultimately so supportive of me. They flew a couple of times to see me in shows I was in around the country, and also helped me out when times were very lean. And with their help, I was able to fund my first short film, which is still soaring.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
I would love to meet with Jon Stewart, as he’s tremendously awesome and brilliant and also cares about animal welfare. And we’re currently in development of a terrific script- a social thriller — based on a novel by award-winning author Robin Lamont. It’s about a reckless animal rights activist, Jude Brannock, who threatens a struggling town that’s dependent on the meat-packing plant for economic survival. It’s also about the terrible costs of high-speed slaughter- not only the inhumane cruelty to animals but also the psychological effects/ emotional damage to the human workers. The fantastic, multi-award-winning Spanish director and producer Martin Rosete, who just completed “Remember Me”, starring Bruce Dern, which will be distributed by Lionsgate, is on-board and has been working with us to get it off the ground. And if Mr. Stewart were busy, I’d love to chat with Susan Seidelman, who’s so terrific -I was fortunate to meet her a couple of times and chat very briefly, so a lunch would be wonderful, or with Shonda Rhimes who’s also incredible and very inspiring.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
My Instagram is @jilliesimon
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!
— Thanks again Yitzi!