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03/06/2012 - By Paul Williams
Photo: McKay Imaging (mckayimaging.com)
Perfecting her craft and acting out
December 2, 2011 will always be a date with special meaning for Elizabeth Masucci. That night, “Shame” debuted in the United States. Not only was it a critically-acclaimed motion picture, it was the first major film that the professional actress had worked on. If Masucci’s name rings a bell or her charming smile looks familiar, it might be because she’s less than a decade removed from raising the curtain on her acting career at Holmdel High School. On the heels of developing an affinity for ballet as a child, she became interested in the performing arts as a teenager. Masucci pursued theater in college at Fordham, and produced and acted in several New York City plays shortly after graduation. She has proven herself to be a versatile actress in various roles on TV sitcoms, appearing on “Person of Interest,” “Are We There Yet?”, “Royal Pains,” and received insider buzz acting in independent films due out in 2012. She also played a major role in “Virgin Alexander,” which won best feature film at the 2011 Las Vegas International Film Festival.
Masucci’s rise can be attributed to her innate acting talents as well as her dedication to her craft. She constantly enrolls in classes to help her refine her skills, and understands the value of making and maintaining connections to stay above the fray in her competitive, yet rewarding, career. To accompany her acting prowess, she has also penned a short film that she plans to start shooting later this year. Masucci stayed in Manhattan after college and has adapted well to life in the city. As I traveled nearly 120 minutes by train for our interview in New York, I understood why she chose not to commute from Monmouth County! In a dimly lit, busy café not far from Penn Station, Masucci, unfazed by the constant flow of people around us and cacophony of voices, music and car horns that was our soundtrack, discussed the path, challenges, and future of her career and her life with Living in Holmdel.
LIH: You were a Holmdel resident for a long time. Were you born and raised there?
EM: I was actually born in Staten Island. When I was about one or two years old my family moved to Holmdel. My parents look ed for a good to wn to rai se children in throughout New Jersey, and Holmdel was one of them. I went to school there from kindergarten through my high school graduation.
LIH: Were you involved in drama clubs when you were younger?
EM: I was a ballet dancer when I was growing up. I went to a ballet school in Red Bank for a while, and when I was in high school I was involved in their theater and drama clubs. I was in a lot of the plays in high school.
LIH: Did you know back then you would gravitate toward the acting field?
EM: Yes, because at a certain point I started to feel like ballet wasn’t going to be a career for me. It’s difficult to really have a long-term career in it unless you’re a choreographer or a teacher. So I quit ballet when I was about 16 or 17. I’d been taking acting classes since I was 13, so I was used to both. I still wanted to be performing, and theater was the next closest thing.
LIH: Are any of your family members actors?
EM: No, not at all. I think I have one cousin that plays guitar. In terms of art or performance, that’s about it in my family.
LIH: So without a family background in the arts, what inspired you to become an actor?
EM: I always liked performing and portraying characters. I like not being myself, transforming, and telling stories that entertain people. I’ve always been that way since I was little kid. It just really excites me.
LIH: You like telling stories. Do you write as well?
EM: I do, yes. I just wrote my first short film, “By the Sea,” that I’m in the process of getting together and making. It’s about two couples’ boyfriends or husbands meeting for the first time, and all the weird stuff that ensues when the people get together. It’s more of a psychological film than anything else. We’re still in the process of getting the LLC together and getting investors. We’ll probably begin shooting on the Jersey Shore this summer. It should be fun.
LIH: Will you be directing it too?
EM: No, maybe I’ll experiment with directing later on, but not right now.
LIH: Where did you attend college?
EM: I went to Fordham. I majored in communications and minored in theater. I didn’t know if I wanted to major in theater, because college is very expensive, and I didn’t know if I was going to make it a full commitment. I took some theater classes, like acting and playwriting, and by the end of four years I had enough credits to minor in it. I did a few of the smaller theater productions for the school. When the students wanted to direct something, I was in their productions. But I did take classes outside of college at another studio from people who were actually working in the business. I feel like I learned more from being outside of school and taking those classes from people in the profession. I think, for the most part, everything is like that. You need to go out there in the field. There’s only so much you can learn in a classroom.
LIH: Once you graduated college, had you already acted professionally?
EM: My first gig was actually during my senior year of high school. I got a commercial agent from a showcase in the city. It was for a Japanese latte commercial, so it wasn’t even in English. They dubbed our voices over. Natalie Portman actually was one of the other actresses in it.
LIH: Natalie Portman?
EM: Yes, she was at Harvard studying psych, so she was in-between jobs at the time. I think her career was flourishing, it was a fluke thing and I just happened to be there. She was very sweet and well-spoken. But yes, I went out for some commercials while I was in college so, by the time I graduated, I’d had been on a set before. After college, I got an agent that works in TV, film, and theatre, which was very helpful to me.
LIH: Is that more what you wanted to gear yourself toward?
EM: Yes, commercial work is good for some money, but in terms of building
your career, TV and film are much better.
LIH: So what types of productions did you work on?
EM: Right out of college, I mostly did commercials. I did some for Walmart and Time Warner. Then I started working on some indie films. One of the best I’ve done so far was “Virgin Alexander,” which won some awards. It was the best feature film at the Las Vegas International Film Festival, and it won awards at some smaller festivals. I had a lead role in that, which was pretty cool. Then I had some small roles in indie television pilots. So a lot of productions I’ve been in are indie stuff, which is how the progression goes. You’re not going to be cast in a big movie if you don’t have any credits.
LIH: Have you flown to Los Angeles for any productions?
EM: Most of the work I auditioned for was shot here. I’m just now starting to make my way to LA for meetings and things like that. Once people see you in one thing, they say, ‘ok, now let’s see her for this part,’ and a lot of things in the industry happen in LA. I’m just now starting to get the bug to go over there.
LIH: Can you envision yourself moving out there full time, or would you rather stay here?
EM: I would move out there full-time if I was working. But it’s a hard city to get involved in because there are so many more people acting there. The weather’s great, and it’s a good atmosphere to live in, but I wouldn’t just up and move. I would have to have a job. And even then, I would ultimately want to end up back here to raise a family. I grew up here. I’m a New Yorker and a New Jerseyan.
LIH: You live in Manhattan right now?
EM: Yes, I live in the East Village. It’s just easier to get around up here than if I had to take a train from Jersey. It’s more expensive, but it’s a sacrifice that’s worth it.
LIH: You’ve chosen to be in a very competitive field. How do you persevere through the rejection?
EM: Oh, you get rejected almost every day. You’re not wanted every time you go on an audition. You just can’t take it personally because usually it’s a very silly thing that doesn’t make you get it. It’s not really about who you are, it’s more about what they envision for the part. In the beginning it was discouraging to see a lot of pretty girls and I used the think, “What do they have that I don’t have?” Or “What are their talents?” And really, what’s gotten me through it was realizing that there’s nobody exactly like me out there. Ultimately when you get a job, it’s just right for you. Your energy, the way you look, and how you speak fit the part.
LIH: Are you a member of any unions?
EM: Yes, I’m a member of the top three unions: SAG, AFTRA, and AEA - Actors Equity - which covers the theatre. They’re not required, but they have insurance and cover you for a lot of things, so they’re good to be a part of.
LIH: In addition to your movies, have you produced or acted in plays?
EM: As soon as I had graduated college, I was anxious to get things going. I started producing at my own pace, and did them on a really low budget. I would have fundraisers in the city and invite friends and family to see them. Every couple of months we produced a new show. It was a lot of work, and it wasn’t very lucrative, but you do it to get yourself out there, and to get the experience.
LIH: How many people worked on the productions?
EM: We usually had about four or five actors in each show. Then there was a director, light designer, set designer and stage manager. I was acting in them, too, so it was a double-whammy. I was paying the bills, dealing with the business end of it and then going to rehearsals. It was pretty stressful.
LIH: At 22 or 23 years old, that’s a lot of responsibility.
EM: It was. We only performed in theatres with about 100 seats. They weren’t on a large scale by any means, but it just threw me into the business. It was a good experience.
LIH: Which play was your favorite to work on?
EM: “Italian American Reconciliation.” Playing the main character was very challenging. Ultimately, I was probably a little too young to play her. She was a New Yorker, and had an edge to her, so I was comfortable with that since I’m from this area. But she was divorced, had just an older sense about her. I really stretched myself as an actor, which was scary, but it I liked the challenge of it. At the end of it I said “Whoa, I can’t believe I did that!”
LIH: As an actress and native from this area, is it difficult to move away from a New York typecast?
EM: When I get a role as a New Yorker or someone from the tri -state area, it’s easier to play because it’s in my blood. When I first came here I was 17; I had to work on getting rid of my accent. Of course, it still comes out naturally at times, but it’s not as pronounced any more. I did have to work on that because you don’t want to be categorized into just one thing. Sometimes I go out for roles as southern women. It’s always fun to learn other accents, too. Once you can learn to do a standard American accent, which is probably one of the most important things to do, it’s fun to learn another accent. As soon as you put on another one, you feel like a completely different person.
LIH: The movie “Shame” came out at the end of
2011. I understand that was the first major movie you’ve been in.
EM: Yes, it’s the first major motion picture that I worked on. The producers were from London, but it’s considered a Hollywood film since it’s being considered by the Golden Globes.
LIH: How did you land your role in it?
EM: My agent called me and said he had an audition for “Shame” and Michael Fassbender was going to be in it. I went in, and I got called back for a little bit of a bigger part. I had some dialogue with the director, and then I got a call back about an hour later. It was like any other audition process.
LIH: Did you know at the time it was going to be considered a major motion picture?
EM: No, I thought it would be pretty big since Michael Fassbender and Steven McQueen were both involved, but I didn’t think it was going to be on this large of a scale, or be considered for a Golden Globe.
LIH: Can you describe your role?
EM: I play a business woman who is with her friends in a bar and Michael and his boss try to pick us up. We give them a little bit of a challenge. We end up having a little bit of an interaction at the bar. We flirt and make some jokes. Then ultimately I end up going home with him. It’s just a couple of scenes, and not a major character, but it’s a speaking role, and there’s plenty of dialogue. It’s a very dark film, and my scenes have been featured a lot because they’re a little more of a brighter, light-hearted part of it. There’s a lot of nudity in the movie, and there’s a lot of intense things going on. So my scenes are a bit of a contrast to that.
LIH: Was there a premiere for “Shame?”
EM: Because it was considered a big-budget indie film, it didn’t get a distributor right away, so it went to all the film festivals. I went to Toronto film festival, which was kind of like a premiere, because it was a screening and no one had seen the film yet, and there was a red carpet. The New York film festival was probably the biggest because it was the first film screening in New York, where it was shot. I went to that, and I got to do the red carpet there for the first time.
LIH: What was your first speaking role?
EM: I feel like everything happened so fast, I can’t pinpoint one. I started doing a lot of student films when I was a senior at Fordham. Some of them went on to win student awards and things like that. Student films were the best way for me to learn. They were very laid back because everyone else is learning too. But I can’t recall my first exact speaking role.
LIH: What was the favorite role you’ve played so far?
EM: For theatre, definitely my role in “Italian American Reconciliation” since I had to work so hard at it. For film, my role of Lo in “Virgin Alexander” was my favorite one. It was an ensemble cast and it was a comedy. So there were so many characters that it made shooting it a lot of fun. We all lived together in a house in Saratoga for about four weeks while we shot it. My character pretended to be a prostitute while doing women’s studies research for the summer. So it’s really outrageous and really out there. It was a funny idea and the directors were amazing.
LIH: What was your favorite scene you’ve acted in?
EM: Definitely my scene in “Shame” since it was such a big film and you feel the energy on set. And Michael Fassbender is so incredible; he just has that star quality about him. He’s such a good actor that you immediately get in a zone when you’re with him. It was a lesson, because the other actors were so good that they just made me better. I fed off their energy. They’d done so many movies, so I took in what they were giving me.
LIH: You’ve also acted in the new CBS hit “Person of Interest” last year. How was that experience?
EM: It was more of a co-star role for just one episode. I played one of the/victims, but not the direct one. The guy who was getting in trouble on the show, I played his best friend’s wife. His friend died in the Iraq war and he’s helping me out with some money and is taking care of me, things like that. We were being watched through a camera. It was a pretty cool role.
LIH: Did you enjoy being on a show like that? How was it different from any other production you’ve been in?
EM: Yes. It’s funny because it’s such a New York show, being shot in Thompson Square Park near my apartment. The set was on location, and we just shot it. It wasn’t in a big studio with lights and backdrops and all that.
LIH: Would you like to pursue more jobs like that since you enjoyed it so much?
EM: I’ve done a few TV shows these past couple months. I was in episodes of “Gossip Girl,” “Royal Pains,” “Are We There Yet?” and “The 22” -- a Robert De Niro produced show. I’ve had small parts in each one. This is a good stepping point for me to be a series regular and I can get experience. Being on comedies is definitely fun and edgy. You’re just making each other laugh take after take. And then when it cuts, you’re all laughing and you go back in it. They’re brighter and more fun.
LIH: So is comedy your favorite genre to work in?
EM: Yes, doing TV comedy is definitely a fun thing, but I feel like I don’t know enough about it yet. I like more serious elements, too. But if you’re going to go in for the day, everyone is really nice on a comedy set. We all just want to laugh.
LIH: You see a lot of famous actors and actresses. Is there anyone left you would still be star-struck by?
EM: Working with them, you realize that they’re just people, and they struggle with being famous, too. They can’t sit down and have coffee somewhere without being looked at. If I were to meet Meryl Streep, I think I would be a little wowed and say, “Oh god, Meryl Streep!” I’ll still always have that thing for people that I look up to.
LIH: Are there any films or productions that we can look forward to seeing you in this year?
EM: There’s a fun film I did called “Witches of Oz” that’s still in the process of being released, that I have a small part in. Christopher Lloyd is in the cast. It’s like a sci-fi spin on some of the Oz stories. Two movies, “Putzel” and “Theo” are still in post-production. In “Theo” I played a female interrogator, so I was much more aggressive and trying to get information out of the kids that were in it. She was a tough character. In “Putzel” I played a receptionist. She was a doctor’s wing lady, and was there for more of a comedic effect. Since I’ve been back from the holidays, I’ve had a lot of meetings with various people. I’m feeling that I think it’s going to be a good year. Things are still percolating. Nothing’s really set in terms of what I’m working on next, but there’s a lot of good vibes out there. This is actually a good time for television since it’s pilot season. All the writers pitch shows to the networks, and they shoot the pilots. There are about 50 pilots in New York, and there aren’t that many on television, so it’s a small window that gets accepted. But to get in a pilot is great because it’s good exposure.
LIH: Is there an off-season for you?
EM: There’s downtime of course. But if you’re motivated, you have to keep going. It’s easy to be lazy and just say, “I’ll wait for my agent to call and wait for them to give me the job.” But no, you can’t do that. I have a really good teacher who preaches to me that you have to keep making it work, even if you don’t have the job. You have to stay in class, work on your voice, stay in yoga and keep putting yourself out there. You have to keep yourself busy. You’re not going into the office at 9 a.m. and then staying there until 5. You have to get yourself going. You don’t always have a job, but what you do in-between jobs matters, too. And then there’s the business end of it. You have to keep reaching out there to passing directors. You can be a really good actor, but you can still be savvy on the business as well. So there’s always something to do. There’s always an e-mail, a postcard, or a ‘thank you’ to send to someone just to remind people who you are. There are a lot of us out there.
LIH: What do you like to do in your free time?
EM: I like travelling with my fiancé, Efrem Kamen. I’ve been around Europe. I studied abroad in Spain when I was in Fordham. The coolest places I’ve been are probably Japan and Australia because they’re so far away and so different from living here. People just function in a totally different way over there. I’m into yoga; that’s my favorite thing to do. I like working out, but yoga is more of an enjoyment than going to the gym. It grounds me and gets me focused.
LIH: Congratulations on your engagement! Is your fiancé an actor, too?
EM: Thank you. No, he works in finance. We met through a mutual friend. He’s not in the business at all, but he admires what I do, and what artists do. He likes to DJ, but that’s about it.
LIH: Do you have a date yet?
EM: We don’t have a date yet. We’re both so busy with our careers. If you say you’re engaged, it basically means forever anyway, so we’re not in a rush.
LIH: What would your dream role be?
EM: I’m not going to compare it to another movie, but it would be a role where I’d really have to transform myself and just unleash all my feelings and emotions. I keep thinking of Michael Fassbender in “Shame” because he really goes all the way, and he’s not afraid to really be gritty and ugly and feel the truth of the character. And I would like to go that far in terms of being in a lead role, to just to just immerse myself in the character. I don’t have a specific plot in my head, but I’d want to be able to go as far as I can go with the character to be in full service to the story. Whatever the story is, you have to able to go as far as you can. Whether it’s to change your weight or cut your hair, actors have to transform and become whatever it is to help the story, to the extreme limit. It would be something where I research the character and go all the way with it.
LIH: Elizabeth, it was pleasure to meet and speak with you. We look forward to keeping an eye out for your upcoming movies. We wish you the best of luck and continued success.
EM: Thank you.
Il Buco, NYC. It’s where I got engaged
Michael Jackson, Madonna
“All About Eve”
The sound of gum chewing
Three people you would like to dine with:
Meryl Streep, Elizabeth Taylor, Pablo Picasso
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