To mark the anniversary of the release of the indie hit film Clerks(1994) from writer/director Kevin Smith we talk to actress Marilyn Ghigliotti who played Veronica; one of the female protagonists in the film.
Born in New York, Marilyn started her acting career in local theatre after moving to New Jersey before getting her big screen debut with Clerks in 1994. She has since gone on to play a variety of roles in indie horror, comedy & action films. 20 years on, we ask her about the experience of making the film as well as her life and work since.
“I have many moments of dreading getting up the next day to go to work the day job, but I’ve never had those thoughts when I have to get up at anywhere from 4 – 6 in the morning to go on set. Never, because I love every moment of the experience.”
“Asking me to pick a favorite role or character is like asking me which is my favorite child.”
Can you tell us about what led you to become a film actor?
Well a change in my life, a divorce to be exact. I’d always had creative interests when growing up, but I never knew or thought it’s something to make a living from. Even though it’s what people were doing, it’s not how I saw it and I grew up in a modest middle income home where you worked hard to get what you needed. Other interests included dancing and drawing, but were never encouraged or cultivated. So when growing up I was encouraged to get a secretarial job because it was safe and secure, but also not rewarding. So (I was) doing the usual; work, get married, have children and then it disintegrated. I started to search for myself and found my way into acting and I can’t be happy anywhere else, unless it’s also the hair/makeup and photography that I do, but acting is at the top of the list.
How did things change when you moved from the stage to the screen?
The only thing to really change is the way it’s delivered and the way it’s shot. The work and preparation will always be the same into delving into the character and finding them within yourself and what makes the character come to life. With any kind of acting, you need to be honest and real. But on the stage you almost feel a bit unnatural because you’re trying to reach the audience all the way in the back of the theater for them to hear and see you and still make it seem natural. With film it’s all about the subtleties and (making it) as natural as possible, because the camera will pick-up so much. It’s been told that comedy is harder than drama, which it is. But I also feel that out of all genres, horror has to be the hardest. It’s so easy to go over the top and cheeky. But if the film isn’t calling for that, it’ll wind up as a disaster.
Any tips for aspiring actresses wanting to get into independent film acting?
Training is so important I feel. People watching movies are so critical of the actors and think they can do better until they have a camera and all eyes on them to perform and remember all the lines that they have to deliver in the way the director wants them to and to hit their mark and do certain actions at certain times and at the same time on every take as much as possible so that the shots match up for continuity. People have NO idea how much is involved in this business in general, never mind as an actor, director or any part of the making of a film. Training in all the various (areas) will help. And it doesn’t have to be college. There’s plenty of training that doesn’t involve college. Getting training on set is also great by starting out doing background extra work to get to know the etiquette of being on set and knowing what happens. But it’s also learning that there’s a lot of sitting around and waiting, but not your time to slack off. That’s the time to pay attention to what everyone is doing and learn from it and not take the time to be hitting up on the person you just happen to spot and try to make a date with. Being on a film set is the best training ground you can get and if you can happen to get hired to do some grunt work when they don’t need you as an actor, it’s a great time to do that and start making some connections in the business to show how invaluable you are to them in the future.
What do you think makes New Jersey the source of so much creative talent?
It’s really quite hard to say. I can’t really say that it is or isn’t, but when you do start to take notice from where people are, it’s hard not to notice how many NY and NJ people have made a name for themselves in the business.
What is your relationship with technology? Do you regularly use a smartphone and/or table
As soon as technology started making its mark on the world I knew that I would have to get comfortable with it and self-taught myself on the computer and have kept up with the times. I wouldn’t say I’m a genius, but considering the fact it’s something I had to do in my adult life, I’m not bad for no schooling on it. I have a smartphone and tablet. In this business, (a) smartphone is necessary because when you’re busy, you need to have access to whatever means possible to get your sides for an audition that you might need to do on a moment’s notice or have to record your voice for one as well to send out as soon as possible; so one has to keep up with the times.
What was the experience like for you as an actor making the film ‘Clerks’?
It was frightening, exciting, challenging and uncharted territory; but an experience to never forget. Memorizing lines is always a fear for me and with film, sure there are second takes, but you want to get it right on the first one. You don’t get the rehearsal time with film that you get with stage, so the process is going to be much quicker in learning and doing the process that you’re used to doing for the stage and hopefully get the same result if not better. But I was happy that I did have some familiar ground in working with Brian (O’Halloran) since we’ve worked together on the stage a few times prior to Clerks.
What can you say about working with Kevin Smith compared to any other directors you’ve worked with?
(I) worked with Kevin at a time when we were all finding ourselves in a new area in this business and now Kevin has 20 years’ experience and finding his trademark. I’ve worked with many others that were starting out and to many who’ve been doing it for many years; usually in my background extra days. But the best sets that I’ve worked on is where there are no egos and it’s a collaborative effort on all parties and everyone puts in the time and effort, be it big or small and no one is on eggshells. For me working with Kevin was a great experience and I treasure those moments in the convenience store in the very late hours shooting and barely getting any sleep while I was also working. I have many moments of dreading getting up the next day to go to work the day job, but I’ve never had those thoughts when I have to get up at anywhere from 4 – 6 in the morning to go on set. Never, because I love every moment of the experience.
Can you tell us a little bit about your work outside of film?
I still do currently have a day job as they say, because I don’t work enough as an actor to make a living as one. I work as a stylist at a salon, but I also do freelance work doing hair and makeup on weddings, film and infomercials as well as some photography mostly doing headshots. Always being creative.
If you weren’t an actor, what would you most like to do?
When I got into the salon business 32 years ago, honestly I thought that’s what I was going to be dong the rest of my life and did think that I eventually would be working the trade shows and such, until my life took the turn I talked about earlier.
What has your experience been like as a woman in the film industry and how do you feel things have changed since you started?
I don’t know that the successes or none that I’ve had as an actor in this business really has to do with the fact of whether I’m a woman or not. At least I haven’t looked at it that way. I’ve had many challenges. One of them being that although I gained exposure early on in my career, I didn’t gain notoriety in the sense that people were killing to work with me. And honestly I don’t blame them. I was new and years down the road I realized I wasn’t ready. I also had tremendous fear. I remember being at Sundance with Clerks and seeing that things were looking very positive on this being picked up and that our lives could be changed forever. And my fear of losing my anonymity was very real. Very often people criticize actors for hating the paparazzi for their constant relentlessness to get that shot of the “celebrity” where ever it is, but a good majority of the actors in this business are not in this business because of the fame and fortune, because let’s face it, it’s a crap shoot and your odds are better in Vegas. Most of us get into it because we can’t see anything else. It’s a passion that was ignited in us that is too difficult to let go. But there’s also a lot that comes with it and that’s when you find out who’s strong and fearless, almost.
What is your favorite acting role/character to date and why?
Asking me to pick a favourite role or character is like asking me which is my favourite child. They all have special moments for me, because they all had a piece of me for different reasons; some more challenging than others and some more real than others. But I’ve tried to have diversity with the roles that I’ve done through the years so that I can try to un-stereotype myself with the people in this business. But honestly, can’t choose.
You have recently started some voice work for audio books; how do you find this experience compared to film acting and is this something you wish to pursue?
I’d always been interested in possibly doing some voice work and with technology today, it’s made it easier to get started with working on audio books. The voice area in the business is very hard to break into, but with more and more books going into the audio world, there are places where one can stand out among the low volume of people that were doing this work exclusively but on a higher exclusive level. I find that now I’m using skills that I’ve acquired with the experience that I’ve gained as an actor. Before, I was storytelling visually, but now I get to do it audibly. And as I edit what I’ve narrated I can hear what works and what doesn’t so that now I can even better judge myself and my work.
You have spoke about wanting to try your hand at directing, can you tell us any more about this?
Directing is something that I’ve thought about for a long time and about 13 years ago I had a friend do a short film that I was helping out with in several areas is where I found that I could direct. I made sure not to give my input, unless needed or asked, but I also found that I knew more in more ways that I ever imagined. Also with Technology today, the ease of making one’s own project and the many things available as well as wanting to just work, I feel it’s time. But I also want to do it right. So I’m not going to just take it (and) run, but I won’t take my time with it. I have to make sure that I have the full effort needed. So I have some projects that need to be finished and handled before taking on a full on film project. It’s not something to do half assed.
You have appeared in several horror films; how do you find working in this genre as an actor compared to the other work you have done?
I’ve done several horror films, but playing the lead in a short horror film recently gave me the full on impact on how hard it is compared to comedy and drama. I want to give authenticity to the role and not be overly campy or cheesy, unless of course the role calls for it. But this one didn’t. And I had moments that I had to keep an intensity for several hours on end to film different scenes and then the different angles on one especially when there are also technical issues that come up. Not easy.
You are appearing at some conventions, how do you find the experience of interacting with fans?
I love going to the conventions and meeting everyone there; from the fans to those that I’m a fan of as well. Talking with the fans and knowing that in some small way you’ve helped them in their life and made a difference or impact. Many have told me they were inspired to follow their dreams, or it’s fond memories they got to share with someone that has since passed. Just so many wonderful stories.
What can you tell us about your involvement with ‘Clerks III’?
I’m in it! lol. Honestly, all I know is that I will be reprising my role as Veronica. I haven’t seen a script, Brian is under gag order to not reveal anything even to me. Back when Kevin was writing Clerks, I had many ask me about it and if I would be in it, but they as usual are barking up the wrong tree. We as actors, unless have a stake in the pie, have no say on what we well be acting in. When Kevin was doing his tour with Jason on the Jay and Silent Bob animated feature and doing their Q & A’s were asked who would be coming back, I was told my name was mentioned. I told the fan, send me a link, while keeping my reps informed on anything that was happening regarding Clerks III. A link was sent to me where Kevin had indeed mentioned my name attached to the role of Veronica and after messaging him on (facebook), because that was my only way of contacting him, he confirmed with a quick response that I was indeed in the film and that once things are in full mode, contracts would be sent. But as many know, filming has been postponed a few times already. I get all of my updates with google alerts.
You can see Marilyn in the action/sci-fi Starship Rising which is now available online as well as the soon to be released horror Lake Eerie; starring alongside Lance Henriksen(Aliens/Terminator) and Betsy Baker(The Evil Dead); screening Sept 6th 2014 at Horror Hound’s film festival in Indianapolis. She will also star in the upcoming horror/thriller Dracula’s War; playing Detective Jekyll.
Find out more about Marilyn’s work on the links below:
Please also check out my interview with fellow Clerks cast member Scott Schiaffo (Chewlies Gum Guy)