by Linita Masters
Sweethearts in the 1960’s, their interracial relationship was pulled apart by intolerance and war. Ann is finally living her life on her terms and now has the courage to attend her high school reunion. She finds Michael, the high school athlete and war veteran , at a VA hospital where she in reunited , after 50 years, with her first and only true love. Their story, is a true love story.
“Come Away with Me” stars Ellen Gerstein (Shamelesss, Southland, The Whole Truth) as Ann Chambers and Charlie Robinson ( Hart of Dixie, Night Court) as Michael Blake. Screening at Hollyshorts festival this short film was also selected for the Diversity in Cannes Short Film Showcase and was winner of the Platinum Remi award at WorldFest Houston.
Gerstein’s moving portrayal of Ann is imbued with a genuine sincerity as she searches for ways to reconnect with Michael. Charlie Robinson won the well-deserved WoodHole Film Festival Jury award for “Best Actor in a Narrative Short for his portrayal of Michael Blake. Robinson gives us an array of emotions in an incredibly subtle and authentic performance.
Besides starring in “Come Away with me”, Ms. Gerstein also shows off her impressive directing skills, by creating a discreet and beautifully serene backdrop for us to experience this private moment between Ann and Michael. A park bench on a lush green manicured lawn surrounded by trees, the only sounds are their voices and a train in the distance. Gerstein unselfishly gives cudos to the keen eye of her Director of Photography, Polly Morgan. Not originally being written for an interracial couple Gerstein’s thoughtful selection of fellow Actors Studio veteran and friend Charlie Robinson to portray Michael adds another layer to the characters relationship.
Gertsein wore one more hat for “Come Away with Me” as songwriter, writing the lyrics to the films original title song “Come Away with Me Tonight”, which is beautifully performed by American Idol season 11 contestant Hollie Cavanagh.
Ellen Gerstein and Charlie Robinson share a wonderful charisma. Together they create, not just one moment, but a myriad of tender little moments which collectively, in 17 minutes, will have you believing in true love.
“Come Away with Me” is screening at Hollyshorts Film Fest, Tuesday August 18, at TCL Chinese Theatre Hollywood, Golden Age Block 12:00pm.
I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down and talk with the talented and funny Ms. Gerstein about her film, directing, acting, and her upcoming projects.
Ellen on Directing:
“I really enjoyed directing this film because this is the first thing I directed that I was also in. Directing and acting in the film was different from just directing. My character (Anne) has a lot of feeling and transitions and then I’d have to get behind the camera and see how it worked and then I had to get back in it as Ann. I liked it very much and had a very good time with it. I also got the film I wanted. It was the film that I saw in my head and it was great. But to do it again, I’d give myself more time. Just one extra day. We filmed it only two days. I could do it in two days. I did do it in two days. But to enjoy it even more, I would have given myself another day. Polly Morgan who was the DP was incredible and we worked so well together and that was great. Polly used subtle movements. I wanted to show that Michael’s life is there, on the bench , with no movement.. Julie Janata edited it and produced it with me so I had a good team. I don’t like in your face, hitting things with a hammer. I like it coming in subtly and then you take it as you take it. I think the audience should interpret it from where their coming from in their lives, they interpret it how they interpret it. I don’t want to tell them that. I didn’t want to put a Hollywood ending on it. I just wanted to make something that’s real in your heart and unfolds real. Some people like it and some people won’t. People who have seen it, have told me that it touches their heart.”
On Ann Chambers: “It wasn’t really written that way as a play. In my head, it wasn’t written or anything. But as my work as an actor I felt I (Ann) got sent away to college and my parents wanted to send me away. And I lived this life that I was supposed to live. A life that was a little bit better echelon. I probably married a couple of guys that were well to do. I just pleased society and my folks. I felt that my family had passed, and it seemed like it was now or never to live the life that I wanted. I now have the courage to go back with hopes of rekindling this romance which is my one true love. When we dance, I feel like I’m in high school again and I feel like he loves me and he looks so calm and so in love. But he can only talk about the trains because that’s all that he knows. He’s confident in that. I think that when he talked about the trains after we dance, I think he was telling me that he loved me. He said it in such a soft way. It was different and I’m thinking that he’s telling me that he loves me. In life Ann is a hero just for doing that. In Life no one knows what’s going to happen and it’s not always the way that you think it will be. And at least Ann did get to see Michael. I think I have a good way of getting to a character. . I felt so close to Ann who had the courage. And the character Ann and I had a similar experience and Ann Chambers gave me courage. I believe that doing what you really want to do is what success is all about. I felt so close to that.”
On Michael Blake: “Michael is Ann’s Hero. He keeps going back to the trains, because he knows those trains. I don’t think anyone sees him. I think people come and say hey Michael and…Blah…blah…blah. Michael was in Vietnam and he has PTSD which nobody knew what that was back then and a lot of them went to mental hospitals and they still didn’t know what it was. So he is in the VA hospital and he also has Alzheimer’s. I think it’s important to put projects out there like that because people are suffering from both of those and I just wanted to show that it’s here in society and put it out there, here is this wonderful war hero and this is what happens. He reads, he’s happy and taken care of but he can never be what he was before. I just wanted to represent that, I can’t comment personally about either one and am not a professional, so I don’t want to make comments, but I wanted to show that as part of society. I just want everyone to be aware.”
On writing the title song: “I was walking my dog and I realized that in the 60’s when you went with someone, there were two things: you went steady and wore the man’s ring around your neck and you always had a song. I thought that the song has got to be the third character in the scene. It’s important, and has to be the thread through the film. I write a lot of poetry, and the song just came to me. The tune came to me too, but the challenge was to get the dog home before I forget everything. I forgot the tune but I had the song. And then I called my friend who had done music who gave me a few names. Catherine Gerlich ended up just nailing it and then Hollie Cavanagh, from American Idol, sang the heck out of it. Luis Gonzales. Who plays horns for Earth Wind and Fire, set down the horn tracks. It came together really well and Ralph Guzzo produced it. We tried to get the song to have that sort of vintage sound. I love it!”
On Charlie Robinson:-“It was not written interracial. It was written as a one act play and when I read it and I did it with someone at the actor’s studio, I kept thinking I want to make this a movie. Not the fault of the actor who was a terrific actor, but the character was like a poet, a Tennessee Williams type of guy who you would have never seen holding a ball. Where I thought this guy should be like Mr. Football, Mr. Basketball, Mr. Athlete and after 50 years he’s still got that look, sexy! So I thought not interesting enough, not real enough to me and he needs to be an athlete and he needs to look good. Well Charlie and I have known each other for 25 years over at the Actors Studio. So I called Charlie up. I said, “Charlie, I’m going to send you a script and I’m not doing it without you. You’ve never done a character like this before”. He kept coming into my mind. He said ok and he said he loved it He goes “who’ll be directing it? I said,” ME”. He said,” Who plays Ann? “Me. It’s all about Me, Charlie.” I told him to tell me when he can do it because I wasn’t doing it without him. Later he said ‘I’m glad you pushed me because I love this character and he was perfect.’ Charlie didn’t overdue it.
We did a little bit of a documentary and they were talking to Charlie and I asked Charlie, why did you take this part and Charlie is a kidder, and we have a good sense of humor , and I said is it true that you took the part because you got to kiss me.
So I had to kiss him a hundred times and I finally had to say Charlie stop already. It did have some laughing and kidding and you can see how we used to laugh a lot together. It sounds funny that on a film like this we had a lot of fun. We could get right back into the mood and there was no problem. We work well together. The rehearsal process was interesting. I have a thing where I look at the script cause of script analysis and character study and I write down everything that’s inside the head of the character. I do it for me and I do it for the other characters. So we met once and read through it. When we met the second time, Charlie told me all about his life and I told him all about my life. And after that it seemed to connect. He understood where I came from and I understood where he came from and that really bonded us. I couldn’t have asked for a better Michael and friend. “
On Acting: “I was born in the Bronx. I thought everyone was born in the Bronx. I was raised in Miami. I went to school in the South and then I went to NY where I was a social worker for 6 years with the welfare department and then I remember quitting that job and going to acting classes. I remember the phone call home, to tell my parents that I was leaving my secure job to take up acting. All I heard was gasping, moaning and crying on the other end. Then I went to Lee Strasberg’s studio and I studied with Lee for many, many years. He had his studio in NY and another in LA. So it was 6 months in New York and six months here (Los Angeles). I’d never been here (Los Angeles) before so I said I’m going to take the 6 months here and I went back and forth. But you gotta settle somewhere and you need to either put your feet down there (New York) or you need to put your feet down here (Los Angeles) I thought “NICE FLOWERS”. So I stayed here.”
On Strasberg: “OMG. He was such a genius. Lee was the moderator when I first started. He was brilliant. He really knew so much, I was so fortunate to study with him for 5 years. He was terrific. Nobody is like him. He was really about the work. He would say “Use your Will” He always said that you have a will, use it. I saw a lot of people come through the actors studio, Harvey Keitel was in the class, Lainie Kazan, Barbara Hershey, Terri Garr. I also studied script analysis with Stella Adler, cause she had the best script analysis class. Stella worked a lot with the imagination, Lee works with personal experience and when you make something personal, it shows, you don’t have to have a line or anything it just shows. I am known for people coming to me with scripts all the time for script analysis, it’s like a road map. I also coach and teach acting.”
On upcoming projects: “When I directed Waiting for Ronald in 2003, I had so much fun. I mixed up the cast from disabled to non-disabled and it worked so beautifully. I mentioned that because I wrote a feature on Waiting for Ronald called Just South of Normal. I also wrote a pilot on that which I think I am going to shoot as a webisode. That will be my next project.
People keep asking me, what’s going on with Edgar and Ronnie. I said I have it all written and me going to refine it a little bit then I am going to start shooting some of it. The feature is different, but the webisode is Ronnie and Edgar. It’s them after Waiting for Ronald. This is about two developmentally disabled best friends who move from the institution, where they have been living, to an apartment. The story follows their journey of living a new life. I play the landlady!”
Learn more about the film “come Away With Me” at its website: comeawaywithmethemovie.com
For more information on Ellen Gerstein go to Ellengerstein.com
Info on Hollyshorts and screening schedule go to Hollyshorts.com