“Do Not Wait for Opportunity” Words of Wisdom with Director and Actress Leslie Zemeckis

“If I waited for someone else to give me money and produce ANY of my films none of them would be made.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Award-wining director, best-selling author and actress Leslie Zemeckis. Leslie is launching her new award-winning documentary “Mabel, Mabel, Tiger Trainer” this March with Cinema Libre Studios, to coincide with Women’s History Month. The film reveals the empowering story of Mabel Stark, the world’s first female tiger trainer who was rejected by her family, escaped poverty and abuse in rural Kentucky, and ultimately found her true passion in the eyes of a tiger. Screenings and Q&As take place on International Women’s Day in Beverly Hills at Laemmle Music Hall on March 8 . Additional screenings will be at the Chicago History Museum on March 25, and an invitation-only screening and Q&A at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City on March 27. The film will also be available on DVD and streaming beginning April 10.

What is your “backstory”?

I am a working actress, who fell in love with telling stories through documentaries and books. With no prior knowledge except my belief I knew how to convey a good story I directed and produced a documentary about the history of burlesque Behind the Burly Q that was acquired by Showtime. I then went on to write a companion book that did so well I am now on my third book, all about women; former American pop culture icons.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your acting/directing/performing career?

Well tracking down and filming former burlesque strippers, now in their 80s and 90s was a challenge. A very famous one, Sherry Britton, lived in NYC and was in her late 80s when I interviewed her. I had to woo her for six months before she would see me, she felt her beauty was gone and she had done another movie where she was not happy with the results. I called constantly, sent her pictures of my kids, promised I would not wear any makeup when I finally interviewed her. She finally agreed. I get to her apartment — very swanky in NY — and she was still absolutely gorgeous and vibrant. We remained friends, and I called her on the day she died just hours too late. I always regret that. She taught me no matter the age, you can be a vibrant, sexy, independent woman.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I have a book coming out in the Fall about two very famous showgirls from the 1930s that no one has delved into their stories before. I also am co-starring in a film with Steve Carell out at the same time.

Who are some of the most famous people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

Well I’ve worked with Tom Hanks, Colin Firth, Steve Carell. I’ve shot Fabio, Carrie Fisher, Jeffrey Tambor. I have interviewed and shot (for a personal project) Speilberg, Robin Wright. The stories remain personal.

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

The amazing older women I interviewed for Behind the Burly Q, strippers from the 1930s and 1940s. It was like talking to 19 year olds. Their bodies had changed, but not their minds, their determination and their integrity. Most grew up in really tough circumstances and they made something of their lives, despite people accusing them of being prostitutes. They knew they weren’t doing anything “wrong.” And they tried to turn their 11 minutes on stage into art. They conducted themselves with dignity despite what anyone thought of them being “strippers.”

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in Hollywood?

Do everything, be interested in everything. Don’t wait for someone to hire you. Go create your own destiny. Don’t listen to “no.” Don’t only go the “accepted” route waiting for a representative to make a connection or get a job. Do it yourself.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I bring new understanding to women, formerly stigmatized and marginalized because of their professions; strippers and “freaks” and animal trainers so we can look more objectively at them and consider them people not just by their looks.

Leslie with Husband Robert Zemeckis

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

To not to wait for opportunity. If I waited for someone else to give me money and produce ANY of my films none of them would be made.

To try different aspects of the business. I would have never thought to pick up a camera and make a film. And I’m so glad I did. I’ve discovered a whole new passion.

To be more focused and not distracted. Social life will come and go. Work is everything. IF you love it.

TO say “no” more often. Time is limited, you can only do so much. I have been asked to direct other films that don’t move me. I won’t because it takes away from my family.

To say “yes” more often. Volunteer. You never know what is around the corner. I’m always surprised when I say yes I’ll do this or that. It gets me out of my comfort zone and I grow.

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. :-)

Martha Stewart — genius of reinvention.