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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 Masuccis name rings a bell or her charming smile looks familiar, it might be because shes 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.
Masuccis 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 caf 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 wasnt going to be a career for me. Its difficult to really have a long-term career in it unless youre a choreographer or a teacher. So I quit ballet when I was about 16 or 17. Id 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, thats 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. Ive 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 Im in the process of getting together and making. Its about two couples boyfriends or husbands meeting for the first time, and all the weird stuff that ensues when the people get together. Its more of a psychological film than anything else. Were still in the process of getting the LLC together and getting investors. Well probably begin shooting on the Jersey Shore this summer. It should be fun.
LIH: Will you be directing it too?
EM: No, maybe Ill 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 didnt know if I wanted to major in theater, because college is very expensive, and I didnt 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. Theres 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 wasnt 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, Id 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 Ive 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 Ive been in are indie stuff, which is how the progression goes. Youre not going to be cast in a big movie if you dont have any credits.
LIH: Have you flown to Los Angeles for any productions?
EM: Most of the work I auditioned for was shot here. Im 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 lets see her for this part, and a lot of things in the industry happen in LA. Im 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 its a hard city to get involved in because there are so many more people acting there. The weathers great, and its a good atmosphere to live in, but I wouldnt 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. Im a New Yorker and a New Jerseyan.
LIH: You live in Manhattan right now?
EM: Yes, I live in the East Village. Its just easier to get around up here than if I had to take a train from Jersey. Its more expensive, but its a sacrifice thats worth it.
LIH: Youve chosen to be in a very competitive field. How do you persevere through the rejection?
EM: Oh, you get rejected almost every day. Youre not wanted every time you go on an audition. You just cant take it personally because usually its a very silly thing that doesnt make you get it. Its not really about who you are, its 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 dont have? Or What are their talents? And really, whats gotten me through it was realizing that theres nobody exactly like me out there. Ultimately when you get a job, its 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, Im a member of the top three unions: SAG, AFTRA, and AEA - Actors Equity - which covers the theatre. Theyre not required, but they have insurance and cover you for a lot of things, so theyre 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 wasnt 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, thats a lot of responsibility.
EM: It was. We only performed in theatres with about 100 seats. They werent 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 Im 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 cant 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, its easier to play because its 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 its not as pronounced any more. I did have to work on that because you dont want to be categorized into just one thing. Sometimes I go out for roles as southern women. Its 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, its 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 youve been in.
EM: Yes, its the first major motion picture that I worked on. The producers were from London, but its considered a Hollywood film since its 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 didnt 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. Its just a couple of scenes, and not a major character, but its a speaking role, and theres plenty of dialogue. Its a very dark film, and my scenes have been featured a lot because theyre a little more of a brighter, light-hearted part of it. Theres a lot of nudity in the movie, and theres 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 didnt 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 cant 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 cant recall my first exact speaking role.
LIH: What was the favorite role youve 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 womens studies research for the summer. So its really outrageous and really out there. It was a funny idea and the directors were amazing.
LIH: What was your favorite scene youve 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. Hes such a good actor that you immediately get in a zone when youre with him. It was a lesson, because the other actors were so good that they just made me better. I fed off their energy. Theyd done so many movies, so I took in what they were giving me.
LIH: Youve 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 friends wife. His friend died in the Iraq war and hes 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 youve been in?
EM: Yes. Its funny because its 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 wasnt 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: Ive 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. Ive 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. Youre just making each other laugh take after take. And then when it cuts, youre all laughing and you go back in it. Theyre 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 dont know enough about it yet. I like more serious elements, too. But if youre 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 theyre just people, and they struggle with being famous, too. They cant 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! Ill 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: Theres a fun film I did called Witches of Oz thats still in the process of being released, that I have a small part in. Christopher Lloyd is in the cast. Its 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 doctors wing lady, and was there for more of a comedic effect. Since Ive been back from the holidays, Ive had a lot of meetings with various people. Im feeling that I think its going to be a good year. Things are still percolating. Nothings really set in terms of what Im working on next, but theres a lot of good vibes out there. This is actually a good time for television since its 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 arent that many on television, so its a small window that gets accepted. But to get in a pilot is great because its good exposure.
LIH: Is there an off-season for you?
EM: Theres downtime of course. But if youre motivated, you have to keep going. Its easy to be lazy and just say, Ill wait for my agent to call and wait for them to give me the job. But no, you cant do that. I have a really good teacher who preaches to me that you have to keep making it work, even if you dont 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. Youre not going into the office at 9 a.m. and then staying there until 5. You have to get yourself going. You dont always have a job, but what you do in-between jobs matters, too. And then theres 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 theres always something to do. Theres 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 fianc, Efrem Kamen. Ive been around Europe. I studied abroad in Spain when I was in Fordham. The coolest places Ive been are probably Japan and Australia because theyre so far away and so different from living here. People just function in a totally different way over there. Im into yoga; thats 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 fianc an actor, too?
EM: Thank you. No, he works in finance. We met through a mutual friend. Hes not in the business at all, but he admires what I do, and what artists do. He likes to DJ, but thats about it.
LIH: Do you have a date yet?
EM: We dont have a date yet. Were both so busy with our careers. If you say youre engaged, it basically means forever anyway, so were not in a rush.
LIH: What would your dream role be?
EM: Im not going to compare it to another movie, but it would be a role where Id 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 hes 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 dont have a specific plot in my head, but Id 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 its 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. Its 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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