…It would be a movement to tackle homelessness and its root causes. There are so many reasons why it happens; so many of us live a paycheck away; we’re knee deep and the distance between haves and have nots is honestly not that great. It’s one catastrophe away, one health issue, one missed rent check. And it’s getting both easier and more incumbent on every one of us to look away for our own emotional survival’s sake. I’d want to work on that. I also would love to build a huge filtration system to scrub the air.
As a part of my interview series with popular culture stars, I had the pleasure of interviewing June Carryl. June is an actor, playwright and director living in Los Angeles. She has appeared in THE MAYOR, S.W.A.T., DOCUMENTARY NOW!, BACK ROADS (directed by Alex Pettyfer) and DEAD WOMEN WALKING (written and directed by Hagar Ben-Asher. Her plays include BLOWFLY (Fresh Produc’d LA), VAMPIRE (developed at Coeurage Theatre Company) LA BETE (A One Act), and THE GOOD MINISTER FROM HARARE which received the 2017 Saroyan/Paul Award.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I grew up in Denver, oldest of three, single-parent household. My mom busted her ass getting her Ph.D. in Nutrition and Dietetics and taught at University of Northern Colorado at Greeley. Really smart woman, really determined. She moved to London on her own from Guyana to teach in London, got her Masters at NYU, moved to Denver on her own with my sister and me from New York, had a son, bought her first house, then moved us into our second. But she paid a price and died young (53). I think I was always afraid of doing anything that didn’t excite or inspire me or allow me to own my time. I kind of stumbled into acting after owning that I was terrible at almost everything in Political Science except for legal concepts. I’d planned on being a lawyer and a Supreme Court Justice or D.A., but every one of my classmates who went to law school came back miserable and I never managed to force myself to do internships and the stuff you’re supposed to do. Then I discovered how malleable the truth is and that I was good at that, which really bothered me. I wanted to believe there were absolutes: justice, right, wrong. There weren’t, there was just who made the best argument. That creeped me out. Anyway, I bailed on the last round of LSATs and figured I needed to do something less frightening.
I was lucky enough to fall into a creative writing course. I bombed, but I discovered I liked writing. I started studying English Literature and loved literary criticism, even though it was difficult. I just felt like critique made sense, looking at culture — literature in particular — as an interplay and product of power structures in language. Then I took a survey course in Dramatic Literature. I read the ADDING MACHINE and wanted to DO something like that. As it happened, this course was taught by Paula Vogel and when I turned in a short play for my midterm she invited me to join her playwriting class. I struggled. Bombed again, got my feelings so hurt when my play didn’t get picked for Brown Bag, but I couldn’t stop writing. And then I was drafted into our midterm — the class was writing a soap opera and we’d run out of actors because everyone was studying and BOOM. That was it. I was a painfully shy person all my life, perfectionist and so scared to try anything where I might fail. But I just came to life and got suddenly fearless. Did another project or two and Paula took me aside and suggested I go to American Conservatory Theater to study in their ten week summer training program. I’d been planning on getting my Ph.D. but she said school would always be there. I took her advice and haven’t stopped acting since.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
There have been a couple of really interesting things: figuring out I could make people laugh was so cool. My brother and sister are incredibly funny people, but I was always so straight laced. Not as funny as they are, but finding out I had a little bit of that magic too was cool. Most interesting experience I’ve had is getting to work with Ed Asner and Linda Cardellini on DEAD TO ME. It was a short scene. I wasn’t the point, obviously. I was just moving things along, but when I got to set and saw Ms. Cardellini I was like… Oh. YOU. And I kinda freaked a little inside. Was just like “Dear God, please just let me get the lines out.” And then Mr. Asner is escorted in and I’m TOTALLY doing back flips inside. Walking history, a LEGEND. And I have to talk to him!?!
So we’ve finished setting up and are getting ready for the first part of the scene, a walk and talk — I don’t think we’d even done a take yet, but Ms. Cardellini had been so calm and welcoming, just so clearly kind, I said, “You’re really nice.” Like I was 12 or something. I still feel like a dork for that. I don’t think she understood how big a deal that was for me, but just to be working with someone who’s about the work and making room; you just want to be there for them. And she was heartbreaking. So subtle and detailed. So after the walk-and-talk we stop in front of Mr. Asner and there’s a brief back and forth and his eyes are just TWINKLING. He kept changing it up. He played with me!!! It was a master class. I still can’t believe I was that lucky.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I dropped my big monologue in MEASURE FOR MEASURE once. It was at the San Francisco YMCA and I was Isabella; pretty big house, and we get to the big trial scene: I’m supposed to accuse Angelo of his crims, and I’m standing at the highest point on the stage, everybody’s looking at me, I go to open my mouth and the words just aren’t there. Not word the first. The guy playing the Duke looks at me from down below, nods, says, “Clearly she’s out of her mind” and kept on rolling. I got off stage after and started laughing my head off. People hurried over to me and asked if I was alright and the thing is I was. I’d just made a complete fool of myself and didn’t die. Being a perfectionist and really hard on myself — I just had to let go. I happened. It’s gonna happen. And I learned it’s okay to fail. Like you don’t die from it. You can take surviving from it. It was one of the few times I could see myself clearly as flawed and human and okay.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m currently writing a screenplay about a woman who loses her husband and daughter to a horrible crime who ends up abandoning her son emotionally while she searches for answers and some kind of satisfaction. So I’m reading a lot about restorative justice. Also going to try to write an adaptation of TITUS ANDRONICUS. Hah!!!
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I did a really small role in WHAT DREAMS MAY COME and getting to watch Robin Williams was interesting. He worked so hard to make us feel like we were part of the story: chatted with us, tried to make us laugh. It felt like he thought he owed it to us, which was kind of remarkable and heartbreaking. Like he didn’t feel like he deserved to be where he was.
Getting to work with Keanu Reeves was AWESOME! He was really nice, introduced himself to all of us in the scene — he’s like, ‘I’m Keanu Reeves’ and I’m like, “I know.’(Idiot.) I also made him laugh — I’m sure he wouldn’t remember it, but I kept interrupting him while we were running lines because my character was supposed to be surly.
Alex Pettyfer is an AMAZING director. He’s kind of an old man inside; like having your dad around nodding and telling you you’re okay and you can do it. He knows how to get good work out of you. Same with Hagar Ben-Asher. Open, kind, empowering people and they just seem to see you and make you feel safe.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Stay busy. If you’re not in something, write something, direct something, read. Know you’re in for a long haul and either get comfortable with that or get out. Don’t stay if you’re bitter. It’s supposed to be fun otherwise what’s the point. HOWEVER: DON’T GIVE UP. If you’re not ready to quit, don’t, because you will only make yourself and other people unhappy. It’s been the hardest lesson for me, I think: patience. And I’m still grappling with it. It really is a very few who get tapped early and even they didn’t just luck out. “Early” is so relative; they’ve been exercising those muscles, getting good at their craft. It’s not freak accidents.
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. 🙂
It would be a movement to tackle homelessness and its root causes. There are so many reasons why it happens; so many of us live a paycheck away; we’re knee deep and the distance between haves and have nots is honestly not that great. It’s one catastrophe away, one health issue, one missed rent check. And it’s getting both easier and more incumbent on every one of us to look away for our own emotional survival’s sake. I’d want to work on that. I also would love to build a huge filtration system to scrub the air.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- It takes as long as it takes — Bryan Cranston. Viola Davis. Octavia Spencer.
- Don’t give up because it hasn’t happened yet; give up only if you don’t genuinely love it anymore. Know when you’re really done and when you’re just feeling frustrated. I worked at an ad agency for a hot minute as a temp. My boss met me in a gold lame shirt and black puffy pants. She’d been an actor, wasn’t done, but decided she needed to make money — and was the angriest person I’d ever met.
- Writing is HARD. I didn’t get my first real recognition for a play until 2 years ago and I’ve been writing for at least 20.
- BE PREPARED AND TAKE NO ROLE FOR GRANTED. I blew an audition recently because I didn’t look at the sides ahead of time, thought it was a couple of lines at best and that I would just paint my toenails and that would be the character. Turns out she was a major role and I’d gotten the wrong sides, but since I hadn’t actually read it thoroughly I didn’t notice until I was in the room.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My mom’s best friend Lajeune loved the quote, “Do what you love, the money will follow.” It’s taken a long time to get to a stable, safe place and I’m still working toward set, but I always somehow manage to get by and I’m living a life a absolutely love.
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? Can you share a story about that?
My mom: she was so stubborn; she was an immigrant AND black AND a woman. She saw the challenges of being black in the United States and it didn’t stop her and she infected us kids with that determination. My sister and brother are two of the most brilliant and inspired minds I’ve ever encountered. I do a lot just to make them proud and am so proud and lucky to be related to them.
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. 🙂
Viola Davis. I wrote the screenplay for her.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m @junecarryl on Twitter and Instagram.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!
Thank you for the chance to chat! It was an honor.