ED- The Eerie Digest looks at films from the larger picture angle. There are many actors needed to play the roles of the characters in a film. Not just the important ones, but also those who make up the big picture. These are not demeaning positions in a screenplay, but important parts that give the film ‘life’. All actors start out this way, and some distinguish themselves for these all-important roles. One such actor is Lawrence Whitener, who has played many characters during his years. Lawrence, how do you feel about those many parts that you had undertaken?
LW- My favorite actor is Robert Duvall, so I grew a full beard and long hair to get cast in his movie, ‘Gods & Generals,’ in 2000. Once on the set in Charlestown, West Virginia, I was hooked on both the technicalities of film making and the always entertaining behind-the-scenes “stories.” This started my hobby of always learning at least one new joke while on a Set, so I’m almost ready to do Stand-Up. I later enrolled at the National Conservatory of the Dramatic Arts in Washington, D.C. and was fascinated by the philosophical schism between “legitimate theatre and those other things” (meaning movies or TV). I continue to take various courses to include becoming a T.V. Director and have been directing “Media Watch with Bill Schickler” on cable WNVT-Channel 10 for the past eight years.
ED- I have seen you in two of the films that we interviewed just recently, ‘Hard to be Me’ (which we reviewed in Washington, DC’s THEARC theater), and ‘Signals 2’, which is being filmed by Roman Pictures. Tell us about the roles that you played in them and how you interacted with the other actors in those scenes.
LW- “H2BM” is a TV Pilot and I am very happy for its Crew because it is receiving honors across the country and should eventually be picked up. I auditioned for the part of the Father twice, but as I was taught by Joshua McCarthy, mentally walk away from every audition after doing your best and forget about it because you will never know why you didn’t get the part. I agreed to be an Extra in their coffee house scene so I could watch their Director at work. I have always loved stunt work and have done several “death scenes” over the years and in ‘Signals II’ I get shot twice in the chest as a bank guard. I am so glad just to be a small part of the whole entertainment industry that I always try to help out any way I can on every Set, but especially telling and learning jokes to pass the long wait times while equipment is moved and set up.
ED- You were also in ‘Loving Leah’ , ‘Washingtonienne’, and ‘Body Politic’. Please tell our readers about these films and the themes behind them.
LW- In ‘Loving Leah’ a Hallmark-CBS family film, I was privileged to watch a ‘Clint-Eastwood-Type’ Director, Jeff Bleckner, at work. He knew exactly what he wanted and how to get his shots and we were released from the Union Station Set after only 6 hours (the Industry Standard usually being 13). For “Washingtonienne” I was again at Union Station where I carried on a conversation with what I thought was a crew member only to be asked later what I had been talking about with the film’s Producer, Sarah Jessica Parker (she is incredibly tiny). This was a “Sex-In-The-City-of-Washington” HBO Pilot and since I always watch the Directors’ Monitor to see how a shot is framed, I was enthralled how the very bad complexion of one of the Principals was not picked up by the Camera lens due to correct Make-up and Lighting. ‘Body Politic’ is a CBS Pilot shot in Richmond. After spending 14 hours in the Governor’s Mansion and Capital building, I saw how not having a central Director, but two separate crews each with their own Unit Director is a bad idea when they don’t have enough equipment and kept “borrowing” from the other. Imagine waiting for hours for one piece of equipment to be “released,” but I did learn how Clothespins and Duct Tape are important accessories for Gaffers.
ED- You also played in the film ‘Paradise East’, which deals with a dysfunctional lower middle class family trying to survive in the twentieth century. That sounds like most of us today. Please describe this film and the role that you played.
LW- Certainly the most eclectic of the twelve movies I have been in. My second scene required my Criminal character to be stabbed to death by the Principal at midnight under a street light in Hoboken, N.J.. The film premiered in New York City last November and my facial expressions are so believable because none of their crew checked the wooden light pole for splinters and nails which my back discovered as I slid down across them literally “dying.”
ED- Each actor plays a pivot point in a film. How did your performance in this production signify your character’s role?
LW- As the first of five “gang bangers” separately murdered by the “Priest” character, we each had to do a close-up rape scene and it took weeks for me to get rid of those memories. I could not watch myself in the final edited scene, but the four of us did watch the other’s ‘acting’ on the Director’s Monitor and then console them afterwards. After my performance, the film’s Producer said my facial expressions “scared the hell” out of her, so I have little desire to ever visit that “dark” place again.
ED- Your performance in the Turner Productions film ‘Gods and Generals’ and in the movie ‘Vindicated’ had more substantial roles. Please tell us about these.
LW- Cast as a Virginia Delegate when ‘Robert E. Lee’ is sworn in as the Confederate Commander-In-Chief, my hair was “curled” as Gentry was while I sat next to real-life U.S. Senators who had also been cast. I was standing beside Robert Duvall, and this was my first experience learning how the camera sees only what it is allowed to because he had a box to stand on which is why you never see his feet in a group shot. It was also my first realization that movies are indeed Smoke and Mirrors because there was a battle between the Cinematographer and Lighting Director as we listened to two words for over an hour, “smoke” (which smells just like licorice) and “fans” until they had the right conditions. In ‘Vindicated,’ I play an FBI Agent, so my hair is high-and-tight which suited my reaction as I listened to the Director “reprimand” the Principal during shooting “the show-ALWAYS-goes-on” and whatever private issues he was having with his girlfriend SHOULD have nothing to do with his Character’s performance. Although I witnessed personal behavior from the two main Principals on each of these movie sets that I considered a professional disappointment, it did prove why what we do on location is truly called “acting.”
ED- You also played a role in ‘The Bill Collector’. What importance did your character play in the scheme of things in it?
LW- This was a “pick-up” scene in the latest Danny Trejo film shot in Norfolk, so he was not on location as the film was already in Editing when the Director decided two scenes didn’t join together smoothly. After not being originally cast, I was excited at being “called back” to be a ‘degenerate gambler’ since I let my head and facial hair grow long between gigs so I can cut it for one of my three looks, “Cop, Criminal, or Crusty.” I have a “crusty” Close-up for a personal-first in my career as the Director instructed me off-camera to “put your little finger in your ear and dig” with “faster” and “more” being repeated which gave me a true-to-life laughing “snort” and head-shaking of disbelieve for my performance.
ED- There are a number of other movies and television shows that you had roles in. Can you tell us about some of these?
LW- Anyone can go to IMDb or Google “Lawrence Whitener” and get my full bio, but I have played everything from a Hippy in “The Fellowship” where my laugh again got me a Close-up to a wrestler in “Delanie” which had a European release. The latter allowed me to use my real life experience as a nine-year high school wrestling coach and eight-year wrestling commissioner to train the Principal. The philosophy of wrestling to “never quit” has kept me going for the past decade through all the hundreds of auditions that only led to rejection and is probably why my favorite movie is Mickey Rourke’s, “The Wrestler.”
ED- You are performing in two films that are in production, ‘The Dead Ones’ and ‘Signals 2’. Can you tell us something about them?
LW- ‘The Dead Ones’ was filmed in Baltimore to be released this year and was my first experience with a “slow-motion” camera. Because the performance is actually slowed down, you have to exaggerate your real-time physical actions during filming. I play a Parent with a “stage-son” shot in an actual high school during its emergency evacuation. I predict the scary masks used by the principal characters will be a Halloween hit ‘Signals II’ was my first introduction to Carlos Roman and the “family” atmosphere he keeps on Set. Because my death scene required a stunt fall, I went into an athlete’s concentration “zone” and waived off his attempt to give me final instructions which is usually not a smart thing to do to any Director. However, he was experienced enough to let me stay focused and we got the scene on its first Take. His understanding of what an actor needs to do to get “ready” is probably because he has acted himself, much like Peter Berg. ‘Signals I’ was an award-winning success and I hope this sequel continues it for him and I can help his future projects either in front of or behind his camera.
ED- Lawrence, we want to thank you for this interview and wish you much luck in all your future undertakings. I look forward to seeing you in future productions and hearing from you again.