IN CONVERSATION WITH MICAELA WITTMAN
Interview by Marie-Pauline Cesari & Jana Letonja
Quintuple threat Micaela Wittman will next be seen starring in the LGBTQ+ coming of age film ‘Remy & Arletta’, based on her bestselling book and true life story, which had a sneak peek preview at Outfest 2022 and will be screening at the Palais at Cannes this month. Up next she will also be appearing in Netflix’s ‘Shirley’ opposite Regina King and Lucas Hedges.
How did you get into the film and television industry, and what inspired you to become an actress, writer, producer and a director?
Every once in a while I think it would’ve been cool to finish school and have a consistent job or it would be kind of fun to be a mom and have a family. To be someone who goes to work, has a family, maybe travels sometimes. But then my next thought is always “That would be a cool story to tell. If I experienced that life, I could make a movie about it”.So yeah, I can’t really escape it. It was just what I’m meant to do, no matter how difficult being in this industry can feel at times. The urge to be an actress was all I could think about growing up and then becoming a producer, writer and director followed shortly after, once I realized it was better to have a say in the roles you’re accepting.
This is a question you are probably being asked a lot, but do you prefer being in front of the camera or behind it?
I’ve actually never been asked this. My ego wants to say I enjoy being in front of the camera more, but I’m actually pretty introverted and performing is very intimidating. There’s something about locking myself up alone in a room for 12 hours and editing a film that really scratches an itch in my brain. It’s like putting together a puzzle, but the end result is an entire movie, which is incredibly rewarding. Acting vs. writing vs. production really activate different parts of your brain. But all of them help you access meditative states, which I enjoy. I guess that’s called ‘being in the zone’.
How did you choose the projects you have worked on so far and what was your motivation for taking on these roles?
I feel like right now I’m in a place where I’m proving myself as an actress. I did a comedy, then a drama. Next I want to do a thriller or a horror film. I don’t know who I’m proving myself to, maybe just myself. I feel like once I’ve established myself a little bit, I’ll get to branch out and see where my taste really settles. At the end of the day, genres aside, the only thing that matters is connecting to the material and the character.
What was it like to be the director, the producer and the lead actress on your film ‘Clairevoyant‘?
I’m a bit of a control freak, so it was nice. I got to micromanage the end result and see every part of how a film is made, the tangible and the ethereal. It was such a great crash course for me. I even know what all the electrical equipment is called now.
How did you prepare for your role as Claire in ‘Clairevoyant‘ and what were the main differences between playing a fictional character in a mockumentary and acting in scripted television shows?
I used to think I was a lot like Claire. Nervous, timid. I even used to think I wasn’t very smart. So when I played Claire, I just channeled a part of myself that I tried to hide. I really think I used some of my real life experiences to play her, even though my friends kindly say I’m nothing like her.
The great thing about doing a mockumentary or a comedy for that matter is that if something isn’t working, you can throw it away and just improvise. We would have whole scenes written up and if it flopped on the day, we would scratch it all and make something else up. This gave us so much freedom and I think people underestimate how much a screenplay should get changed as it evolves into a completed film. It’s impossible to get a movie to turn out exactly as you’ve imagined it in your head or exactly like the script. And since ‘Clairevoyant’ is a comedy, if something wasn’t landing, we weren’t going to force it because it needed to actually be funny.
You will next be seen starring in the LGBTQ+ coming of age film ‘Remy & Arletta‘, based on your bestselling book and true life story. How did you experience the success of your book and its film production?
Throughout pre-production, I kept thinking “If something falls through, we just won’t do it. If we can’t cast the perfect Arletta, we won’t do it. If we can’t find a great DP, we won’t do it”. A couple weeks in it became apparent that this movie was happening. I always liken making a movie to pushing a wheelbarrow with a bunch of valuables in it up a hill and then when you make it to the top, you have to push it down and hope nothing falls out and nobody gets hurt. Movie making is a very spiritual process because I feel like God talks to me the most during this time. Things that look like problems or mistakes are actually what’s best for the film revealing itself. I don’t feel like I can really take credit for it all the way because I am just the vessel that it comes through, but I’m grateful it all worked out and I’m grateful the story means something to people.
This book is based on your own life. Which medium was more cathartic for you, writing, acting or producing?
Ultimately acting is the most cathartic. Every role I do changes me. I tend to take roles that exemplify a piece of my shadow self. Taking a role lets you look at that part of yourself, live it out shamelessly and in turn heal.
Can you tell us about your collaboration with Arthur De Larroche on films ‘Clairevoyant‘ and ‘Remy & Arletta‘, and how working with him has influenced your approach as a director and actress?
Arthur has a deft touch with actors that is really great to watch. He values actors on a deep, human level instead of expecting us to be tools that will help him achieve a version of the scene that exists in his head. He doesn’t want you to be a robot that can get it perfect on the first try, especially when dealing with emotional and sensitive material. He’s great at helping actors find themselves in the character and giving them freedom over their performance, while also doing what the movie needs.
What does it mean to you to have ‘Remy & Arletta‘ selected to be screened at the Palais in Cannes this year?
It’s such a large, iconic event and I’m just grateful to be included. I’m a little nervous, I’m trying to learn as much French as possible before I go. There’s a certain freedom of being and generosity in French culture that you don’t always see in America. They’re not afraid to be passionate and show emotion. That’s my experience at least. I’m just really excited and honored.
What can you share about your future projects?
I think you can expect something very different from what I’ve done in the past.
How do you spend your free time, if you are not on set or writing?
I had a strange childhood growing up, so I didn’t really get to blossom or learn much about myself or the world. So I’m trying to play catch up. I like learning new things. I’m currently teaching myself French and the piano. But it’s not all work, I also like to watch TV. I’m currently watching the original ‘Quantum Leap’. It’s a great show.