Call Answered: Cady McClain: "All My Children" + "Butterflies" at Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema
I first came to know Cady McClain, two-time Emmy Award winning actress, from her days on "All My Children" as "Dixie Martin." This was 2000/2001. From the moment I saw "Dixie's" storyline, I was hooked on it. Cady was so compelling, I wanted to see more.
It's a dream come true to have the opportunity to interview Cady! We do go back to "Pine Valley," but first we talk about the short-film she directed which is being featured in the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema. I loved diving into this aspect of Cady's career. It was fascinating to learn about her desire to be a director. I also loved talking theatre with her. There are so many aspects to the dynamic Cady McClain and I got to cover so much of it!
Cady McClain's directing skills are featured in the Carlotta Summers' short-film Butterflies, which explores the life of an ordinary girl who is being bullied in school. This beautiful short about finding your inner-strength will be shown on August 4 at 6pm at UA Midway Theater (108-22 Queens Boulevard, Queens, NY). Click here for tickets!
1. I first came to know you as an actress when I watched you on All My Children. What made you want to move into directing? I started studying directing in the early ’90’s with Curt Dempster of Ensemble Studio Theater. It was a moment when I realized it was a calling. It was not minor. However, my mom put a major kibosh on it, as my work was providing for her during her long bout with cancer, she felt directing was not a path that would compensate me enough. I think she also felt it would be really hard for me as a woman. She literally begged me, then made me promise not to pursue it. It was a very painful moment for me, for sure. I did everything I could to continue to be a creator outside of acting after that: all kinds of writing, performance art, fine art, music…After I finally wrote a short film script, friends and family strongly encouraged me to direct it and doing so was a revelation. I was back doing something I loved with every fiber of my being. In the seven years since, I have directed (and produced) six short films, two web series (with two Emmy nominations for one of them), an award-winning documentary feature, and a full length stage play that I also filmed with multiple cameras, live. I am definitely making up for lost time.
2. How do you feel being an actress has helped you be a stronger director? I have a huge amount of empathy for what the actors are going through. I get what they need and what they don’t need on a core level that you can only have if you have sat in the hot seat as long as I have. It also doesn’t bother me if they are ever reactive to me in any way. I know it’s all nerves on their part and never take it personally. At the same time, I have learned that what they need is someone who is totally confident in what they are doing, all the time. I strive to be that for them. I say, “I will build the structure, so you can have the freedom.”
3. How did Carlotta Sumers' short-film Butterflies come your way? I had been working on developing the project with Carlotta for some time in various aspects. At a certain point, it just seemed right that I step into the directing shoes. I knew the world we wanted to build and what we needed to accomplish in a short period of time. After a few conversations, it felt like the right move for us both. I have continued to produce the project with her throughout. I also edited the film, but shared my editing process with Carlotta so she could have a voice in it. I felt that was important as this was such a personal project for her. It’s important to me to honor the artist who initiates the story, especially if it is their personal story. I don’t think it’s right when directors take over and change the vision when someone else has lived that truth. For me it is more a matter of deep listening, and then working with all the departments to find a way to reveal the truth of the story in the most authentic way possible.
4. What do you relate to most about this film that made you go, I need to direct this short? I loved that Carlotta was so sensory in her descriptions of the visuals in the script. I have experienced my own traumas in life and know that when you are recovering you seek solace in specific sensory moments. It’s like, hiding in a detail and nurturing the comfort that comes from it. My goal was to bring that to life for the audience. I wanted the viewer to be able to feel the petals of the flower, to smell the early morning, to feel the cold of the school locker area…To recall the poetry of sensory emotion. I also really like stories where a person finds a strength within themselves through their own deliberation. I like to watch people think and make decisions on film, not just react, but consider. I also really believe in helping more young women see themselves as the hero of their own journey, and Carlotta’s script definitely told that story beautifully.
5. What are your hopes for this film as it is starting to get out there for people to see - meaning, do you want some kind of social growth to result from people seeing this film? Are you hoping this film helps expand your career in a certain way? Was this a film you just needed to be part of for yourself to get something out of you? I think I can speak for both Carlotta and myself in that we hope the film will get seen by more young people in high schools, so that it can have an effect on them while they are going through what is often a very difficult experience. To that effect we’ve been seeking organizations that would help us make that possible. Carlotta also has a beautiful full length film she’d like to make someday, which of course I would love to direct. Ultimately, however, I think there is value in making work and letting it forge a path you might not imagine. The work tells you where it needs to be and what it needs to do in the world, to some extent. So I try to be in service to it, in that regard. If its success allows me to direct more, then that is a beautiful thing.
6. My favorite line in the film is "I have the right to exist." It's said over and over throughout the movie. When was there a time in your life that you had to tell yourself this everyday? This is Carlotta’s line, so I think she might want to have some input on this answer! For me, however, it resonated, certainly. I had two parents that put a lot of doubt into my head based on what some might consider pretty outrageous actions. So it has been a very long journey of getting those messages out and new messages that are more truthful “in." Knowing one has not only a right to exist, but a purpose in this world, is essential for me when it comes to moving my life forward. To some degree I think the character of "Melanie" finds her purpose when she concludes a certain butterfly cycle (I don’t want to give away the story!)
7. What was the hardest scene to direct? The hardest scenes were inside the schoolroom because we had so much to do in so little time. I had to make decisions really quickly and not worry about anything else. I actually love these kinds of situations because it forces you to get really creative…to really dig into yourself. It’s also an important leadership moment because you need to know that you have built commitment from your team. I am happy to say our team worked themselves to their utmost, and brought every ounce of their creativity and effort to the shoot. I am extremely proud of the whole group, and have to make a special shout out to our DP AJ Wilhelm and first AC/swing Christopher Bye, our sound recorder/mixer Brian Lydell, and our makeup/wardrobe team Aria Ferraro and Julie Michael. They brought their “A” game and they brought it 100%. #madrespect
8. You just directed a new play called Paint Made Flesh. What can you tell us about this experience? What is one truth about yourself that you have struggled to face? I love this play so much. It is so important to me, like, “in my gut" important. It’s about reclaiming one’s power to create, despite whatever obstacles or even the reception of one’s work, and it is through the main lens of a woman who is having this experience against two important relationships with highly creative men. We did four performances in Chelsea and filmed on the fourth night. The goal is to move the play to a larger venue, but also to test a new way to bring theater to a wider audience through the medium of film. With the short amount of time we had to work, I didn’t know if we would catch lightening in a bottle but I think we have. I am wildly proud of the work we did together. Check out www.paintmadeflesh.com for some pix and awesome quotes from the audience.
The question about “what truth in myself have I struggled to face” is an interesting one after the question about the play! Ha! Love it. Getting personal! Bring it! I learned a great deal about myself in doing this play. The biggest thing I learned is that I have, in my past, allowed my need and my pain to blind me to the actions of certain people. I have been too forgiving, shall we say. As I care for myself…I see that I’ve allowed some people to be too close to me, when I should not have. So that was a big learning moment. The truth is, I am actually complete and capable and sustained by a force within me that is a spiritual force. And I can lean on that and be supported by that. It guides me to the people I should be around, who can be truly supportive, rather than people who don’t really know how to do that without also being hurtful or manipulative.
9. I can't do an interview with you without talking about All My Children, the show I came to know you from. What was the best part about playing "Dixie"? What was the most challenging part? Where do you think “Dixie" would be today? It was such a different world back then. Hard to describe to people who don’t know the era, right? There was no internet! Network TV ruled all! So being a star on a leading soap opera was a really big deal! On the other hand, I was so deep into just doing the work and taking care of my mom I didn’t really realize how big a deal it was.
The best part was when the writing was great and all the actors, directors, and producers, and writers involved were all on board to do great ensemble work. That was totally awesome….an incredible feeling I strive to achieve with all my work now.
The hardest part was dealing with the petty jealousies of others. That was annoying and stupid. Jealousy is a sign that someone wants what you have, but they aren’t willing to do the work to get it themselves. I wished those people would have just worked harder themselves, rather than try to take something away from me. Some totally low brow BS happened then that I don’t tolerate when I see it come up now.
“Dixie” today would probably be a matriarch on the show, with great great grandchildren, LOL! They kept growing her kids up so fast; it was nuts! But I would imagine she’d be a professional woman balancing work with her love of family. She was a big “family" person.
10. I have a feature to my interviews called "I Can See Clearly Now," where I try to clear up misconceptions. What do you feel is the biggest misconception out there about yourself that you would like to clear up right now? I think some people like to say that when you live in Los Angeles it means you don’t know what it’s like for the rest of America, that you are a “Hollywood Liberal” and therefore have drunk a certain kool-aid that makes you one-sided when it comes to your belief system. The truth is, I may have been born in LA but I lived in NYC for 25 years, so I have the effects of both towns on my psyche. I am grateful that they were not small towns, because they gave me access to international art/theater/film, which helped me learn about what life is like in many places in the world. It opened my awareness and consciousness.
That said, I suffered a great deal of personal pain and loss starting at a very young age, so much of my young life was about recovering from some serious trauma. I did not grow up with privilege of any kind. No one paid for my life. I worked for everything. So although my life may look glamorous from a certain angle, how I achieved it is from not taking on others limiting beliefs of what I am “supposed” to be so that they will feel more comfortable around me. I learned that many societally imposed concepts of “who I should be” are actually really controlling and limiting.
All that said, I will never be able to convince certain people that I am not a jerk. And that’s okay. I can live without their love. But I do try to live by a moral code, and now I strive to only be close to people who live by a moral code, as well. And I don’t hang out with people who don’t like dogs.
More on Cady:
Cady McClain is a two-time Emmy Award winning actress, director, producer and writer, who has worked for over 30 years in film, television, and theater. Independent films include Soldier’s Heart, Home Movie (released through IFC), Alma Mater, and Retreat. Studio films include My Favorite Year and Pennies From Heaven. Television credits include Law and Order SVU, Cheers, and St. Elsewhere. She was a two time Emmy winner for her roles on All My Children (Best Juvenile, 1991) and As the World Turns (Best Supporting, 2004).
During her 25 years living in New York City, Cady enjoyed performing in historic theatrical productions Off-Broadway such as David Ives’ The Red Address at Second Stage, Much Ado About Nothing at Lincoln Center Theater, and A Comedy of Errors at the Hudson Guild. In addition to performing in a one-woman show of Wallace Stevens poetry called Inventions of Farewell at the Here Theater in NYC, she is particularly proud of a short one-woman show she wrote, produced, co-directed, and starred in called Mona7, which dealt with the after affects of abuse on a young woman through collaged video by Tal Yarden, surrealist word play, and viewpoints movement.
For the past year she has been shooting interviews for her documentary on women who direct: Seeing is Believing: Women Direct. Interviews include Sarah Gavron (Suffragette), Anne Makepeace (documentarian), Dorothy Canton (Mad Riot Productions), Lesli Linka Glatter (Homeland, Mad Men), Bethany Rooney (Pretty Little Liars, co-author Directors Tell the Story), Joanna Kerns (Jane the Virgin), Jann Turner (Chicago Fire), Jon Wells (ER, West Wing), Oscar winner Lee Grant, two time Oscar winner Sarah Kernocahn, one of the highest grossing female directors in film Betty Thomas (Dr Doolittle, The Brady Bunch Movie), and many more.
Recently, the short version of the doc received a Jury Award from the Newport Beach Film Festival, and the one hour version received the Audience Award for Best Full Length Film from the SOHO International Film Festival.
Other directing credits include Venice the Series, for which she was honored with a Daytime Drama Web Series Emmy Nomination (now available on Vimeo); the short film “The World of Albert Fuh,” which premiered at the SOHO International Film Fest, won Best Comedy Drama Short at the Indie Gathering Festival, was an official selection of the LA Indie Film Fest, was awarded an Honorable Mention for “Best Director” by the Los Angeles Film Review, an “Honorable Mention” from the SaMoIndie FF, and received an Award of Merit by the Best Shorts Film Festival; and the short film, Flip Fantasia, which enjoyed acceptance into the Macon Film Festival and gained a remarkable FB cult following of over 80K. She also writes, directs and edits her original online character Suzy F*cking Homemaker, which was picked up by Prospect Park for additional promotion of it’s online distribution of All My Children.
Her producing work includes the short film Val-en-tina, starring her husband Jon Lindstrom; an Asian/American piece of experimental theater in New York called Ghost Light: The Haunting, and an L.A. based Diverse/Gender Equal short film festival at the Electric Lodge in Venice, CA titled, One Night Only.
Other behind the camera credits include working as an Associate Producer on the festival multi award-winning film How We Got Away With It, (distributed by Devolver Digital Films) and as just about every position other than director or actor on the short film, Discedo, (including special effects makeup, script supervisor, and production assistant).
As a writer, her memoir, Murdering My Youth, is an in-depth look into life as a child actor and her struggles to survive an alcoholic family system. It was released in the spring of 2014. As a result she was featured in TV Guide and invited to do a feature interview with Cameron Mathison on Entertainment Tonight. Always interested in contributing to the wider conversation about topics ranging from women’s issues to national tragedies, she has written articles for The Good Men Project, HLNTV, Policymic, Ms Cheevious, AND Magazine and live blogged the People’s Choice Awards and the Golden Globes.
Cady also does audio books, winning an Earphones Audiophile Award and recognition from Entertainment Weekly, Audiophile Magazine, and Publishers Weekly for her reading of Emma Cline’s incredible debut novel The Girls.
Education includes formal acceptance and study at NYU, SVA, and The New School for Public Engagement. Unable to follow a traditional program of study, Cady chose subjects such as international literature, fine art drawing and painting, art history, writing, and creative arts therapy. Combining elements from all her studies, Cady created a workshop she calls Dreaming Into Art. This workshop was developed in order to help both the novice and the thriving professional artist to overcome internal blocks to find the most compelling story within themselves. She has taught this workshop at The Wisdom House in Litchfield, CT, the Elizabeth Seton Center for Women in NYC, and the 2014 “Write the Dream” conference in Kansas City, where she was also the keynote speaker.