Some people can act, some people can write, some people can direct, but a rare few can transition seamlessly between these art forms. One exception to this rule is mult-talented artist Derek Magyar who made his mark as an actor and is now producing and directing both theater and film. But his biggest achievement, perhaps, is giving back to the community of artists in Los Angeles through his involvement as a CalArts alumni and his latest projectAuditionLoft.com.
Magyar realized his passion for acting at a young age, influenced by his filmmaker father and his mother, the head of an artist colony. You may recognize him from his breakout role as “X” in Boy Culture which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, or from his film roles in projects including Train opposite Thora Birch and Fencewalkers directed by Chris Carter. Or perhaps you are a fan of his role as Commader Kelby on Star Trek or his appearances on popular shows includingCriminal Minds, Boston Legal, and CSI.
We were thrilled to sit down and chat with Derek about his recent directorial debut for the film Flying Lessons, his latest role opposite Ed Harris and David Duchovny in Phantom, and how he thinks his project AuditionLoft.com will give up and coming actors the opportunity to break into this competitive industry.
PPLA: You produced and directed your recent project Flying Lessons starring Maggie Grace? You were originally interested in acting in this project, tell us how this change came about?
DM: It was a project that had lived with me for quite some time. One of my best friends wrote the screenplay. He’s a writer and at the time he was working for Ryan Murphy in the development department. He showed me the screenplay which he had written some time before that and it had been a finalist in the Nichols Fellowship which is a very prestigious honor. He wanted me to initially read it and really pay attention to the role of Billy which was evenutally played by Jonathan Tucker. He thought I would respond to the role and I did respond to it when I first read the script. However, as time went on, I became very focused and dedicated on getting Flying Lessons made and the closer I got to the project the more it became something that was really coming from my heart. It became very specific in terms of a vision of how I saw it and the next thing I knew I kind of realized, or we realized together, that instead of having me as a backseat director that I would direct it. Directing is something that’s been in my family. My father is a filmmaker, a wonderful filmmaker and a professor of film, and it’s been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and there it was, this opportunity.
PPLA: How did you find the difference between focusing as an actor, where you’re more focusing on your role and what you bring to that role, and focusing as a director and producer where you’re juggling the whole story?
DM: There’s no comparison to be honest, none, zero. It’s a whole other world! Directing is encompassing every element of a project to make it work. When you are acting you’re able to focus specifically on your character and on your character’s relationship to the other characters and it’s a much more internal exploration, at least it is for me, whereas directing encompasses every sort of exterior physical element. It includes making sure that people’s costumes work, to making sure that the editing is done right, to making sure that that visually the texture and the tone is in alignment with the whole story. It goes on and on and on. I continue to learn about the process. For me Flying Lessons was a real incredible learning experience, and I’ll be the first one to say that I made mistakes on Flying Lessons and mistakes that I will not make again because I learned from them in a very positive way. I also made really great decisions on Flying Lessons that I’m going to stand behind as I continue to progress as a filmmaker. Like I said, it really was a life changing experience and also it changed me as an actor. It doesn’t change my approach to my work as an actor- it’s just always been an exploration of connection for me by finding myself within the character and exploring it from an inside place and letting it breathe from there- that doesn’t change. What does change is the awareness of the process of filmmaking, of what matters and what doesn’t matter. You know the camera angles and certain things that are going to look better or not better for the performance because a lot of things are technical and that certainly helps my knowledge vastly in terms of technicality.
PPLA: Now having done both, do you think that you would ever want to direct and act in the same project?
DM: You know, I would consider it. I’m considering it in the project that I’m working on now, but I would want to do a very small role. I am really glad that I did not play the role of Billy as well as direct Flying Lessons. I just couldn’t have done it, it’s too much of a commitment for me; it’s very encompassing. I think directors that are able to act and even star as leads in the film are extremely admirable. It’s ‘Wow’ you know because I think it takes a lot of experience and a lot of time to be able to do that and to really separate those two things which I’m not ready to do yet.
PPLA: How do you feel Flying Lessons has been received since it opened?
DM: I think it’s being received pretty well. I’m not one to pay attention to reviews so much. I don’t really worry about that. I know what the film is and I know what the film isn’t, and I know what I’m proud of and I know where my actors did an amazing job. It was a real character driven piece, and I was blessed to have an amazing cast. I walk away from Flying Lessons standing really proud. I’m proud of my actors, I’m proud of my core team that I worked with, and I can’t wait to take everything that I’ve learned into a second film. I want people’s response to Flying Lessons to be positive. I want them to find something in Flying Lessons that they can relate to, that they can connect to personally. I hope there’s an element of that for everyone even though there won’t always be. I feel like I’ve achieved success when I hear from just one individual person that they were able to relate to Hal Holbrook storyline or relate to Maggie Grace and the mother/daughter relationship and that’s really what it’s about for me. It’s about those responses to the film, not critics. I’ll let the distributors care about things like that.
PPLA: What’s the next project you were just mentioning, where you are considering possibly acting and directing? Can you tell us about that yet?
DM: Well you know, my very next project is one that I’m working on solely as an actor, it’s a project called Air Disturbance. It will shoot in Los Angeles and it takes place on an airplane obviously. It has a great cast that’s still coming together with Dylan Walsh, Robert Englund, Rob Schneider and Juliette Lewis. It’s got a wonderful director Joe Dante, who’s very famous all the way back to Gremlins to working with Steven Spielberg, so I’m very excited to dip into that project and that world. My next project as a director is a little bit up in the air but I will be directing again soon. I don’t know when I’m going to take it on, as I said it’s a very big undertaking for me and it really takes control of my life completely so it’s something that I need to be prepared to spend 6-8 months on non-stop, so we’ll see when that happens this year. I did a workshop this year directing Romeo and Juliet at my Alma Mater CalArts and it was fantastic. CalArts was an amazing experience for me, and it’s a school that I want to give back to, so I’m doing a production of Romeo and Juliet that is going to utilize student actors as well as professional actors working together. It will try to bring the CalArts community more and more to the forefront in Los Angeles. So I did the workshop with it and it was very successful, and I had a blast doing it and the actors really enjoyed it as well as the faculty at CalArts so I’ll be doing the full version of the show some time in 2013. So that will definitely be the next project I helm as a director although it will be theater. I love theater more than anything. I actually started a theater company when I graduated CalArts and that company is still up and running.
PPLA: Which theater company is that?
DM: It’s called Filament Theater Company and it’s a small group of artists, experimental, and it’s a place to just explore and create art. It’s a wonderful outlet.
PPLA: Well it sounds like a really great opportunity too for the students that are there studying at CalArts to get to work with a real working director and real working actors on stage.
DM: I want to give back and for me giving back is letting CalArts students know what it’s like in the real world. I can teach them that as we’re working through a production. I’m also going be teaching some classes to students that have just graduated as a guest teacher. I want to let them know the reality of what happens when you get into the real world, so I’m very excited about that. I’m also very excited to say that I have started a new company that’s going to be launched eary 2013 called AuditionLoft.com. It is something I’m very excited about.
PPLA: Can you tell us more about what Audition Loft is as a website and as a venue for actors?
DM: It’s a place for artists to do many things but the core focus being a physical place for actors to come in and put themselves on tape for auditions that they have. These days it’s very difficult for casting directors to make time in the day to see all the people they want to see, and there are lots of actors being asked to go put themselves on tape. The quality that actors do when they just kind of sit there on their Mac or home computers is never that fantastic, so I want Audition Loft to be there to provide a way for actors to put themselves on tape whether it’s for Hawaii 5-0 or a Spielberg film or a non-union project. At the same time, they’re able to have a half hour in the room- and you can get more time but the base fee will be for a half an hour- and they get someone reading with them who is a professional actor. So you have someone really great reading with you not just someone who is blankly saying the lines. Also the person operating the camera will be experienced at shooting actors and shooting on a Canon 5D which is an amazing camera that they shoot television shows and feature films on. The quality will look exceptional and it will give each actor a stronger shot of getting the job. In addition, Audition Loft is also going to be about a creative space for artists to come in and create art. There will be headshots that we’ll be operating through the space for a very affordable price and we’ll be helping edit demo reels as well. We will help actors that can’t get work or representation who have managers and agents saying ‘please show me some tape, I need to see what you look like on camera’. We’ll provide a service where actors can come in and put together scenes and create a respectable reel. It’s the first step that they need and it’s often the hardest step, but if we can help actors get that first step going, if we can help artists in any way, then we achieve our goal.
PPLA: That is something that I personally know a lot of actors would really love to have. In terms of your own acting, you just worked recently with Ed Harris and David Duchovny on Phantom. How was that experience?
DM: It was amazing, they’re great actors! David was somebody that I have not met before but I was very familiar with his work because of Chris Carter who is someone that I am very close to. Chris Carter created the X-Files starring David Duchovny, so I had heard great things about him. Ed Harris was a graduate of CalArts. He graduated from their masters program so I walked in there very excited and frankly nervous to work with two absolutely incredible actors. There are more actors in the film that are really great but those two in particular are phenomenal talents. Ed Harris is just mind-blowingly brilliant; it’s just daunting how brilliant he is. I’m just very lucky to have had the opportunity to have done a film with them where every single scene I had was with David Duchovny and the majority involved Ed Harris. It was amazing, and I was just so blessed.
PPLA: Looking forward, do you have any actors or directors that you hope to work with?
DM: There are so many actors that I’d really love to work with but I would say that my list starts with Daniel Day Lewis, Sean Penn, and Phillip Seymor Hoffman. Those men are phenomenal, all three of them.
PPLA: How do you approach your acting career and what advice to you have for our fans reading this?
DM: You know I do have an old school approach to acting in the Stanislavski sense which has been morphed into so many different ways now. I believe that you have to inhabit the character physically and emotionally to achieve success, to portray the character properly. We can only do as much of that as we’re allowed to based on the material that we have and actors like Daniel Day Lewis and Sean Penn, these guys are getting to pick roles that are such incredible vehicles to lose themselves in and explore a whole other world. That’s amazing but it’s a little harder to do when you’re doing say a few lines on CSI MIAMI, but your job is to do as much as you can do for the role you are in.
To learn more, please visit DerekMagyar.com