Catherine Carlen is an award-winning actress and lifetime member of the Actors Studio. She currently has a recurring role on The New HBO Series “Sharp Objects” with Amy Adams and directed by Jean-Marc Vallee with a 2018 release date.
Catherine with director Jean-Marc Vallee
Corey: Would you talk about the moment when you first realized you wanted to act?
Catherine: I didn’t start out wanting to be an actress. I started out wanting to be a teacher. I grew up in a little town called Cookeville, Tennessee, about an hour outside of Nashville. I always wanted to be a teacher. I used to set up a chalkboard in the carport and invite all the neighborhood kids over and teach them all kinds of different things. I mean, I don’t know what I was teaching them, but I was very busy. Drawing a picture of a cat and telling them that was a cat. I loved playing fairies and I would teach them all how to play fairies. I was always the Queen Fairy, of course.
In Cookeville, Tennessee, you didn’t really talk about acting. I didn’t even know what acting was. There was a play in the Girl Scouts and they cast me in it. And I was so scared to play the part. I dressed up like my mother, and I think I acted like my mother- I was petrified. I did it and it was kind of fun, but it didn’t turn me on to it. I was like, ‘okay, I did that.’ I went back to teaching kids. I was always teaching them, how to draw things, I would collect rocks and teach them how to paint the rocks. I was very much into nature. So I kept being this teacher as a young girl and when I finally grew up and went to the University of South Florida. And then I also went to the University of Tampa. And I studied education and preschool education. And I actually taught disturbed kids and physically handicapped kids. I really loved that. But I still didn’t think anything about acting.
And then there was a talent search. I was sitting on the campus of the University of South Florida and this guy came over and he said, “I’m a talent scout for Burt Reynolds.” He was doing the movie “Deliverance,” which is a long time ago, and he said, “You would be great in Deliverance. You could be in the movies.” I said, “I don’t want to be in the movies. I want to be a teacher.” I had no desire to act in a movie.
I ended up in New York City when I was 22 years old. Everything changed for me.
In Atlanta, I had been teaching preschool at a small private school with my good friend Kim and we went on vacation that summer to New York City, her hometown, to visit her family. We drove across the country and when we got to New York City, we stayed with her mother on the upper Westside in her fabulous doorman building. Her mother worked for a man at William Esty Advertising Agency. Her boss was the head art director, one of the VP’s- he was a big deal over there, Mr. Forgione. He was 24 years older than we were.
Her mother was the head of casting there. She said to me, “You should be an actress.” I said, “No, no, no, I’m a teacher. I teach preschool with your daughter. We’re going back to teach. I’m not an actress.” She said, “Oh, you could be an actress.” I didn’t even care what she was saying. I just wanted to go with Kim to the disco that night and have fun. Then Mr. Forgione called her in the middle of a casting session we were sitting in on and the red light went on the phone. All I could hear her say was, ”Yes…I will send her right up.”
And the next thing I know I am in this really big office on the top floor with her boss Bob Forgione. He had just cast
Farrah Fawcett in a commercial. It was back when they had moviolas- a device to see the film when you are editing. Bob had his moviola playing in his office when I walked in. He thought I wanted to be an actress too and started telling me how I could be one. I was wearing a white jumpsuit very low cut, clogs…I was a very free spirit. I said, “I have no desire to do that at all. Long story short, we fell in love one night and I stayed with him and my friend drove all the way back to Atlanta alone and never forgave me. I never went back to school to teach. I stayed with Bob, lived with him, married him and I became a model. Really modeling was just so I would have my own spending money.
I was a model on Seventh Avenue in the Garment District and I modeled for Giorgio Sant’Angelo. I did all his fashion shows. And he used to say to me, “You should be an actress, you always are talking.” I said, “oh no.” He said, “Yes. You are more an actress than a model.”
First of all, to them I was short; I was only 5 foot 8. I was a size 6, and that was “fat.” You had to be so thin. You had to be at least size 2 back then.
He told me, “You’re funny. And you’re such a character. You need to be an actress.” He made me the grand finale in his shows. I was always the one who would drop the mink coat and be in a bathing suit, jump in the water and the boys would pick me up and I would laugh and steal the show. I had a really fantastic time working for him. And the thing is, Bob said, “You can do whatever you want, but you can never be an actress.” I said, “Why?” He said, “Because…you’ll either make it and leave me, won’t make it and I’ll have to hear about it for the rest of my life or you will fall in love with acting more than me, so you don’t get to do it while you’re married to me.”
That did it. Once he said that to me, I thought, ‘What is this acting thing that they are all talking about?’
My very first time taking any kind of acting lesson- I plopped the newspaper down on Seventh Avenue, I had picked up Backstage and I looked inside and there was this tiny ad, so tiny and there were all these big ads for all the acting schools. This tiny little ad said, “David Brooks. Private acting coach.” And I thought, “I’ll go to him.”
So I called him and I went for this secret private lesson. I would sneak over there and he lived in Manhattan Plaza, that building where all the actors live. He was an older man and he started teaching me. He had a big grand piano in his apartment. I used to go do monologues for him and I never told anybody. It was a secret, and I loved it. I loved doing the monologues and I loved becoming other people. I loved living in imaginary circumstances. Finally, he said to me after many months of doing this with him, … “You’re going to have to go to an acting class now and do scenes with other people.” I said, “oh. No, I can’t act with other people. I can only do monologues for you. And I can’t do it anyway because my husband will find out and it will be a disaster. “ He said, “You have to. That’s what’s next. There’s a place called HB Studio you could go to.” I’m like, “Oh, no, no I can’t do that.” But it stuck in my head.
My husband and I went out to L.A. He shot a lot of commercials there and we would come out to L.A. for 2 months at a time. We stayed at the Regency Apartment Hotel. I don’t know how it happened, but I convinced him I could go up for some casting director he was working with at the time: “Well, let me just meet her. I don’t really want to act. I just want to meet her.” He didn’t know about David Brooks, the acting coach in NYC. So he finally said I could meet her and she said, “Oh you could read for this pilot.” I didn’t even know what a pilot was. It was kind of a bimbo secretary, so I read for her and she said, “Oh, that’s awful. That’s the worst thing I’ve seen. You need to learn how to act. You could really be a good actress if you learned how.” So I told her, “I’ve been taking secret acting lessons with this guy in New York. I can’t tell Bob.” She said, “You need to go to this lady.” And she sent me to some private acting coach in L.A. I said, “I don’t know if we should tell Bob.” She said, “We won’t tell him.“
So she gets me over there to this acting coach and I tell the coach my whole story and the lady tells me the same thing: “You need to get over to HB Studio. You need to study with Uta Hagen”. So when I came back to New York, the cat was kind of out of the bag. I begged Bob. I said I will still work downtown as a model. I will do everything, I will pay for the classes (he had a lot of money), but I said I’ll do anything, just let me go to class. He was really pissed, but he said okay. And the love affair with acting began.
with LL Cool J
I went to HB and I started with Deborah Headwall, she was a huge inspiration to me; and with the wonderful Bill Hickey, I loved it all.
I loved the classes. I loved the other actors. I loved playwrights. I found the passion for acting and that was the thing Bob had originally said, that I will make it or I won’t make it or I will fall in love with it more than with him. He was right! I was madly in love with acting! So in love that nothing else mattered. Nothing. I didn’t clean the apartment anymore. I didn’t cook anymore. I didn’t care about anything but doing the scenes and working on them and doing the exercises out of Ms. Hagen’s book. I had no idea that I would get the honor to study with her one day. And Austin Pendleton taught me also; he substituted for some people sometimes.
I moved us to West 12th Street just so I could walk to HB. My husband was mad as hell at me for moving. But it was smoking pot days, so just give him a joint and he would forget about it. I did a lot of extra work then. I was on the set of some extra job and I met this girl named Ava, and her boyfriend was a guy named Billy. We were smoking pot or something up on the roof, and then Ava said, “Billy said he is going to this wonderful acting teacher named Susan Batson and she’s really intense.” Ava and Billy were both dancers. I was acting like a dancer in this movie, but I’m not a dancer. Anyway, Ava told me about it and I said I want to go. That’s how I started with the incredible Susan Batson. Carl Ford, her son, was a baby back then. We used to feed him candy and keep him downstairs of the apartment, so we could act all night. There was a crazy fabulous group of us. Claire was in it and Ava, David, and Billy and we would stay up all night acting and I was so addicted to it. HB Studio and Susan, that’s all I did. I would forget to buy groceries and Bob is getting madder and madder, I’m not cooking. I’m just…we didn’t have agents or anything. We weren’t auditioning, we did little plays. We did lots of little plays like off Off Off Off Broadway, down in the Village. I was addicted to acting.
Then there was this girl that I met in Deborah’s class named Amy. I never saw her again, but I really thought she was like a real actress. She was really intense. We were doing this play one time, and she put this rubber band on her arm, to cut off her circulation. I didn’t know it, but after the play, her arm was black or blue or something and I told her, and she said, “Oh I have to take this off.” I said, “Why do you have this on?” She said, “It helps me the way it makes me feel when I’m acting.” I thought, “Oh, that’s what I should do.” It was such crazy times.
Amy said to me, “We need to audition for The Actors Studio.” I said, “What’s that?” When she told me, I said, “I want to audition for Uta Hagen’s class.” So we made a pact with each other that she would help me audition for Hagen’s Class. And then we would do The Actors Studio audition first and it sucked. I wasn’t in it, I was not in it…when we went to Uta Hagen’s Audition, what happened was crazy.
We were doing “The Days and Nights of BeeBee Fenstermaker” by William Snyder. In the scene, I’m coming over to see her and apologize to her for something and I would always bring her real flowers. At the Actors Studio, I had the real flowers, and I was really prepared, maybe too prepared. I knew everything already that was going to happen. I knew she would take the flowers and smile at me and then I would say my next line. There were no instincts happening, it was all planned out. I was not living in the moment at all. But when we did the scene for Miss Hagen, I am in the wings, waiting to go on and I suddenly realize I forgot the flowers! I was so upset. I just started crying.
I don’t know where Amy was…off preparing somewhere. I am crying hysterically and looking around the props they have there and I see these really old dusty plastic flowers and I decided to use those. But I was so upset. So the scene starts and I knock on the door, I’m not crying anymore but it’s all there just ready to come out and I enter and hand her the flowers and she took them and threw them down on the ground really hard. And I immediately started crying. I was trying so hard not to, I was trying to hold it together and get through the scene, I felt so embarrassed and so upset, I was having a real moment for sure and I guess Miss Hagen thought I was really acting because she let us into her class. She passed us.
We started our first class and I told Miss Hagen eventually and she laughed and laughed, she just thought it was so funny. She said, “Well, something real happened to you that day.” At this point, I am just so happy. I am going to Hagen’s class and Susan Batson. Susan would say you got to keep working toward the Actors Studio, and I would say I don’t want to go, I don’t care, I just want to do this. I studied with Miss Hagen for 5 years, in her Master Class. That was like the late 1970s. It was so incredible. It was life-changing.
And then I decided to come back out to L.A. I had to leave that husband, cause you know we totally fell apart. I was in love with acting and not with him- just like he’d said.
At that time in NYC, I was doing a lot of work than in small plays and background and very small roles. I got to be the stand-in for Jessica Lange on “Tootsie” for 9 months. Dustin Hoffman was like taking a master acting class every day on set. I was working on scenes from class and he would do them with me in front of the crew. It was incredible. I did a fun role on “Ghostbusters” and it was cut not because of me but because of the story. And a great role on “Nighthawks” with Sly Stallone and that got cut too for the same reason…so I thought I should move to LA. Maybe I will have better luck and they won’t cut my parts out there. So off to Hollywood I went.
I also had a nice career going in the ‘80s, on Night Court guest-starring with John Laroquette. I did a pilot with George Clooney. A Series for ABC “Our Group” 64 episodes…Did wonderful plays and films and life was good. I was just running around and doing my thing.
Actually, I got approval from Miss Hagen to teach. I called her and told her I was thinking about teaching acting and she said, “I think you would make a very good teacher.” I needed her blessing. I started teaching my private acting sessions with lots of well know actors and stars. Word of mouth spread fast and I was coaching all the time. I also taught at The Lee Strasberg Institute and had a private Master Class on Saturdays in a Large Theater in Hollywood.
And then… I met “Him” (Biff Johnson) and we fell in love and we were pregnant with a little girl very fast. I kept coaching people but I was an older woman having a baby, I was like 41, I didn’t want to act anymore. It was taken out of me, just removed. I was in love with a man and a baby now. When it was removed, I kept teaching it, coaching the people I was coaching. But I didn’t want to be in front of the camera, I just wanted to take care of the baby, I just wanted to buy baby clothes, feed the baby, anything with the baby. That went on for a very long time and my energy all went into being an acting coach.
Now we were living in Ojai. We had moved there for the perfect place to raise our darling baby girl “Carlen” ( named after my dad “Billy Carlen”), we loved it there, it was so beautiful we had ponies and rabbits and dogs and cats hamsters you name it. We had a great life there. My husband was very successful. I was a mommy, and this is what I do all day. I was still coaching and clients were driving to Ojai to see me for sessions and I did phone sessions and all. But something happened.
I went to this movie. It was called “In the Bedroom” with Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson. And it wasn’t Sissy that did it, it was Tom. His performance was so incredible to me, that I leaned over in the movie theater to Biff, and I whispered, “I have to do it again.” And he said, “What honey?” And I said, “I have to act again.” And he went, “Oh no.” Because he knew what that meant. And that meant we can’t live in Ojai anymore.
So that’s what we did, sold it all and moved back to LA and it wasn’t so easy to get back into the business part of it. Like, I was old now, you know? I was 50. It was like no one’s going to let me back in the game. All those women in L.A, who was 50, they had never left those agents. I went back to my old agent and they were like, ‘you left.’ It was like I was being punished or something. But basically, I get it now. They couldn’t get them to work so why would they take me on. When you are over 40 in Hollywood you are invisible. So they’re just not going to bring me on.
Then I thought, well, I’m going to do it anyway, I guess I have to find a place to do it. And there’s no HB Studio here, you know? And I didn’t want to take classes. And I thought, I should go to the Actors Studio…and then I didn’t really want to do that either, I’m telling you the truth. I really didn’t want to be rejected. I really didn’t. So I thought, I’ll go and audition for a theater company. And I went an auditioned for all of these theater companies and I got into them and then a movie star client I was coaching asked if I would help out this younger woman. And I said, doing what? And she said she’s doing an audition scene at The Actors Studio. And I said, oh, okay. And I did because she had been a client for many years and she wanted me to help her friend. And I started working with her on this scene, but I didn’t really want to do it. It was a Paddy Chayefsky scene, from “Middle of the Night”
She played Betty and I was her Mom; she would come to my house in my little studio, where I coached people for rehearsals. But I wasn’t coaching her; I was just acting with her. And I remember I cut out all of my lines. This is just so funny to me that I never wanted to audition so I just cut all my lines. And I would turn my back to the fourth wall (audience). Something about all this, I think I just didn’t want to be rejected. And at the last minute, my movie star client that got me into all this had gotten us a director.
I said, “A director?” She said, “yes, and we’re going to go to a theater and rehearse. “ I went, “Oh, Shit…” And then it all changed. Once I heard there was going to be a director, I went, ‘Oh, I have to get the right shoes.’ This is because Uta Hagen always taught us that you can not play these parts like Blanche in tennis shoes. You can’t do it. She had taught me that. I had to get shoes. And the character worked at a bakery so I need to go to Thrifty to get those kinds of shoes that look like work shoes. I was obsessed now, with aprons and all this stuff I needed. And now I’m really going to do it even though I’m not going to change my one line but I was like all over it.
We get to the rehearsal space in Hollywood in this tiny dark theater with this wonder Director and I felt it again. I felt oh shit I have to do this. We did the scene and she said, “Why aren’t you auditioning?” And I said, “I don’t know…well, I’ve cut all my lines… I don’t know, I hadn’t really thought of it. “ She said, “Well, you should,” I called The Actors Studio at that moment and I talked to Helen. I didn’t know Helen at the time. And I said, “Could you please add me to the list for auditions not just as a helper.” She said, “It’s not so easy.” I said, “Well, okay. Just forget it.”
Helen said, “No, I can do it. Where did you study? “ And then I listed all the people I’d studied with. Uta Hagen, Susan Batson, and all the others. Helen was very sweet and added me to the list. I knew that wasn’t enough of a scene for them to pass me to finals but I thought I am back doing what I love. The few days we had left I worked hard on the work. Writing a Bio of my character and really working on the play with a passion now. The love of acting was back and I was on fire.
The scene went great for me I was really in it living in the moment and loved every second of it. And when I was on the stage I heard a very clear voice that I thought someone in the audience said. It said, ”You are One”…later I found out no one said that. It was a voice inside me knowing that I am an actor and have to do it to be who I truly am.
The girl I was helping got the famous Actors Studio letter that said, keep working on your craft and come back in a year. My letter said we’d like to see you do another scene with another partner right away. So I called my friend John Diehl who’s a great actor, who I coach too. And I said, “John, I have this great opportunity, what are you doing right now?” He said, “Well, I’m doing Sam Shepard’s play “Lie of the Mind,” I said, “Well, good, you know that part then.” And he said, “yeah.” I said, “Good. I’ll play the other part, the wife.” He said, “Okay.” He said, “What are we going to do?” I said, “We’re going to audition for The Actors Studio.” He said, “Well, whatever you want to do I’m there for you” He didn’t care. He didn’t even know actually that he was auditioning, he just thought he was helping me out.
I got obsessed as I do about acting. I went there every weekend I would drive to Ojai where he was living then. We practiced in his little shed in his back yard and then I made him come to L.A. for rehearsals, and that happened because I found you. I knew that I had to work on this to the fullest, I had to bring it all backup and you remember that. I was so scared. So I thought, “I’ll get with Corey, Corey knows the work. You were working for Black Nexxus at that time, Susan Batson’s studio in LA. I had just called there and you were there, so it was just perfect. I knew you as a young boy and here you were all grown up. So I start to remember all of it, I remember us going in and doing private moments, shucking the peas, having the little doll, and listening to music. I remember all of it. And it really got me back into what it was that I loved to do. Then came the audition and then we got in, which was so fantastic.
Later on, at the Studio you and I had that fantastic experience… Doing our scene which was so fantastic. That was like maybe one of the greatest things that ever happened to me, it was that we were doing the work that they believed in, what the work is really about there. To hear that from Marty Landau and Mark Rydell was really so incredible.
with Mark Rydell
Corey: You and I were outside the back door preparing and what we didn’t know was that the scene that was going before us went badly in some way and everyone was very upset about the level of the work. It was a setup because we went in and set up and went right to work and I remember it suddenly got much more crowded in there. The floor was full of people sitting, ready to watch.
Catherine: We were in a hotel room (in the scene), and I thought they were in our hotel room. They were in our room.
Corey: Yes, I had to step over people in order to make my exit.
Catherine: We just took our time, and we were just like ‘in it,’ ‘in it,’ in it.’ I think that’s the whole thing about acting for me, is being In It. I think the magic of it is being in it. Whatever world that is that we’re in. That period, that launching place and the confidence that I got from Mark and Marty, to be in this business again.
Now listen, I stepped out one more time. My husband retired and said we didn’t have enough money to live in LA and we are going to have to go. So I took us to Cookeville, Tennessee. I moved us back there to my hometown because I thought we would be okay. And Mark and Marty and I were doing “Sunshine Boys,” at the old Tiffany Theater at that time. Marty said ‘don’t go.’ Mark said, “What? Are you crazy? You are not going to be okay there.”
I said, my husband wants to go and there’s snow and there’s this house and my daughter’s going to be in the 6th grade. I’ve got to go. It’s going to be okay. I’ll go to New York to the Studio there.” I’m thinking Tennessee to New York, what am I hopping over there in my own private jet? Not! I mean I don’t know what, but I thought it would be okay. And I had to take care of my family.
But it wasn’t okay. We left there after 18 months and we came back to LA once again because of this acting thing. There was no “Nashville” going on in Nashville at that time. There was nothing going on. Actually, it’s funny, the Nashville agent I got, “Misty” when I was there, she was an assistant as that time, she opened up her own boutique agency and she just got me a job after all these years. She got me a lead role in a short film. It’s a great film. But nothing was going on there back then. I did one tractor print job- I’m on a tractor driving around mowing a yard. I mean there was nothing going on. And once we came back to LA, I was so humbled. But I was also so grateful because I had a home to go to. I had The Actors Studio. I went right back to The Actors Studio, everyone embraced me like I hadn’t even been gone. They would say things like, “How long were you there…?” Eighteen months, it was like making a movie…a long movie.
I have had blinders on since I’ve been back. And the blinders created work. It was like they finally, “THEY”- whatever this business is, they figured out what to do with me. Directors started finding me.
I was so happy to be in the Art again. I was teaching at the Lee Strasberg Institute again. And going to The Actors Studio. I was teaching a private class, a class that I had in a theater on Highland in Hollywood. It was a big class. And then I moved it into the house we were renting. I told them all what I thought they should do to be in the business. They all wanted to work and get agents. And I said, make good students films for AFI, UCLA, USC, Chapman, I named them all and I said you get the footage and then you will make a reel so you can show the agents and managers.
Well, I took a bath that night and I thought, I heard a voice as loud as my voice right now and it said, “You should do that. “ And I thought, Oh no. No-no-no. We’re not going to do that. And the voice said, “Yes, you are.” I got up the next morning, and I started looking at the things I had told them to look at, Actors Access, LA Casting. I said, ‘Well, I’ll just look.” And I looked and there was a part that was like, written for me. A mother, the husband died, the children are older…at Chapman. And I thought, “Well, I’ll just audition and see.” “I’ll just try.” Because I couldn’t get back in the business either, no one wanted me. My reel was from the 80s. So I went to the audition for the student film, and the director wasn’t there. So I left. So I called on my phone, and I just thought I’ll call and see what happened. I called and he said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I just stepped out to the bathroom.” So I went back to do the audition, and I got that part. It was called, “Late Christmas,” it was a fabulous part. And I loved it.
And I loved doing the work on it and in a very short time, and every director was named Michael. It’s always been very spiritual with me, this whole Acting thing. The Michael’s were all wonderful, one was younger, one was older, and they were all from different schools. USC, UCLA, Chapman, I didn’t do AFI, but I did a lot of other ones. I even the L.A. Film School. And I got all the footage, and just like I had told my students I made a great reel. I did everything I told those kids to do, which none of them did by the way but maybe one. I then showed the reel to one of the movie stars I coach (the one who had me help her friend audition at The Actors Studio) She looked at it and said she knew a manager that might be interested. She turned me on to that person. They looked at it and they said, “You’re really good, and I know about you, my husband’s at The Actors Studio too and yeah, we can try it. And we started and that’s how I got back in.
When I got back in, it’s been a struggle for sure. Because I’m over 60 now. And that is a hard age group for anybody, but it’s really hard for women. And for an actress who isn’t famous, it is really hard. People say, “…you are always working, why do you get to work so much?” Who knows the real reason why you get to do what you love to do. I do know, I work very hard on every audition I go on. And I do know, I believe, a lot of times that I’m just supposed to do that part. There’s just something. You really can’t explain it. It’s a spiritual thing. You just feel it. I just become that person and I feel it deep in my bones. It is a gift to drop into another person’s story and be able to tell it. And that’s what happened on the HBO show “Sharp Objects” with Amy Adams I am doing right now. The director is the fabulous Jean-Marc Vallee. I knew I was supposed to do this part. When I went to the audition for the casting director David Ruben I felt that feeling deep in my bones, “I’m supposed to do this part. I had seen the other series he had done for HBO “Big Little Lies” and I knew his style and tone and I knew I was a good fit for his new series. I have a feeling we might get a second season, I hope we do.
So you see It really started with the student films, then I had to do co-stars, and then I got a Guest Star. And all along the way, people would say, always the same thing, “You’re never going get to do that.” “You’re not going get to do a guest star.” ”Yes, I will.”
“You’re not going get a recurring guest star role. “Yes, I will”
You will never be a series regular. “ “Well, you know what? I’m going to do that too.” Telling this story to you is kind of a wild experience for me right now. Because what I notice about it is people were always saying, “You should,” or “You’re not going get to.” Or “You shouldn’t.” There’s something always going on around that. I think that the greatest thing for me at this age is that the fear of acting has been lifted. It was always the fear along the way that stopped me. The fear of not getting it. The fear of not being good enough. The fear “they” won’t like me. The fear of being broke. Whatever the fear was. There was always a fear around it.
Now I don’t have any fear about it at all. I don’t know if it’s that I got old or what. But now it’s like I’m totally fearless. I did that movie “The Automatic Hate” a couple of years ago totally naked. Stark naked. And everybody was like, “Oh, you can’t do that!” I went, “Yes, I can.” They said, “Well, you need to lose weight, you need to get in shape.” I went, “No, I don’t.” You know, this is a hippy mommy who lives out in the woods, upstate NY, Woodstock area, and she’s been like this forever. She gardens without her clothes on. It’s not a big deal. She wears a hat, she has garden gloves, and some shoes on, but it’s a beautiful day. She’s just gardening. But it was such a big deal for everybody that no one would do it. And that was shocking to me.
It was like being with Susan Batson back in the day when she would say, “…if you’re really an actor, you’ll take your clothes off and you’ll act.” I couldn’t wait to take them off. I was ripping the clothes off because I wanted to be real. And then everybody was huddled in the corner scared to death, holding their clothes on them and those people aren’t acting anymore. So I know there’s some kind of …I don’t know what it is…abandonment of self to do this art form, I don’t really know what it is but whatever it is, there’s something very deep about acting. You have to go deep if it’s going to be good. And God only knows, I love those deep waters. I don’t think I’ve had a part that’s tapped the deepest part of me yet, but I think I will get to. I don’t know how or when but it will happen before I die.
See there are these people that are out there that are like-minded, those kinds of directors that get it. They get you. They look at you and they go, “Oh yeah.” Every job I get, I ask the director about it. “Why did you choose me?” They say, “Oh I knew. I knew the minute I saw you.” They know.
I fucking love it. This Jean-Marc Vallee thing (Sharp Objects), first of all, Amy Adams. She’s like knock it out of the park fabulous. She’s so so so focused. So smart. Such a giving actress. Open, committed, you have a scene with her and you’re just in heaven. She’s really in it. And in between takes, she steps out and laughs and talks about her kids. That was shocking to me. I’ve had the honor to do a couple of scenes with her and I just loved them. And working with Jean-Marc Vallee is so crazy, Corey, he’s like…first of all, he used natural light. So he’s not lighting. So there’s no crew lighting. There are no lights. So you’re on all the time. It’s like a big play going on all the time. Don’t worry where that camera is. It doesn’t matter. He could be across the street, I’m not kidding, and you’re still doing your scene in the other room. He might turn around and shoot back where you are and shoot you doing whatever you are doing you just never know. The PA’s are running around going- “He’s going to come! He might come! He might turn around be ready!” I’m sitting there going, ‘I want to be here for him. I really do. I want to create an atmosphere that he needs for the story he is telling.
I’m one of the gossips of the town, it’s a recurring guest star role. There are three of us. And we all play best friends from childhood. We are Patricia Clarkson’s friends, who are the mother to Amy Adams and we’re also the Posse for Elizabeth Perkins character, who plays the BFF to Patricia Clarkson. There were days when it looks like I’m not even in the shoot. But I am fully there for him because I know he is creating a piece of art. And this is his process. Amen. I‘m in the process. I want to do the process. I love the process.
Today is different. I know that I need to have respect now as an artist. That is the most important thing to me now. Because God only knows that you and I know how to do it. It’s not about running around trying to figure out how to do it. We know how to do it, this acting thing. And it’s not about running around getting jobs either. It’s just about having respect for yourself as an artist and as a person. If you’re needed for something, then you’re needed. If you’re not needed, that’s not rejection. It’s just that you’re not needed at that moment. That’s a big change for me. I’m either needed or not needed. It makes it a lot easier.
Corey: Are you still teaching?
Catherine: Yes, My coaching’s the same way too. I don’t sell it, you know what I mean? I’m not one of the gals in town really pushing it. It’s word of mouth. I’m very low key about it. I have some really powerfully talented people that I’m coaching right now.
Portia Doubleday, she’s on a series “Mr. Robot”. My coaching has always been word of mouth. My coaching is different for each client. We are figuring out what the scene is about, what the story is and all that stuff, how they’re going to do it, and how to get through it. You know, there’s the practical side of being in your trailer and showing up on the set and all of that stuff is really difficult for a lot of young girls and young guys. And I have beginners too and I really guide them. I send them all to Bobby Moresco’s Actor’s Gym here in L.A. Because I think if you can’t get into The Actor’s Studio to have a place to work out, you have to work out. And I send them over there to Bobby, he wrote Crash, won an Academy Award for that, and he’s also a director and a writer and quite phenomenal. And he runs a session over there on Saturdays like the Studio kind of runs, actually, I like how he runs it because he’ll say “Would you like to just hear from me or do you want to hear from the group? It’s a wonderful workshop and writers, directors, actors, everybody in there working on their craft. So there’s a real place for me to send new people, and I can go when I can for inspiration when I can.
I to go to The Actors Studio as much as possible. I did moderate once for Lou Antonio at The Actors Studio. Martin Landau had asked me and it was an honor. The Studio had given me the gift of confidence as an actor, it has validated me as an artist. I think that’s what the big thing was for me.
I needed acceptance from Mark Rydell and Martin Landau at The Actors Studio because I had such great respect for them as artists so when they gave it to me I felt like I was doing the right thing and was worthy of doing it. I am heartbroken that Martin Landau has passed away and I will always have him in my heart. He taught me so much over the years. And was a true mentor to me. He said that you have to trust yourself and allow yourself to keep going deeper even when you think you know what it is. He always said that acting is all about choices. He said acting is not showing.
with Martin Landau
Bad actors try to cry. Good actors try not to cry. Only bad actors play drunk. Good actors play sober. How a character hides his feelings tells us who he is. Martin Landau was a brilliant actor and a kind loving man. I hope I can continue to pass on to young actors all that he gave to me. There’s something about this job that is very important. It’s not like being a dental hygienist (not that there is anything wrong with that job) but this is an art form that is passed down through the ages. The legacy of it all is very important to me. The whole thing of how we got to where we are, where you are teaching and I am teaching, as actors and as artists is just…the sacredness of it is so important to me.
I think that’s the most important thing for me is sacredness. It’s like church. It’s my church. It’s an incredible art form. I was talking to an actress about the Group Theater and how it all broke off and the kind of the secret code of it all, and you can hear it from different people. And you can go to some people and not get the real code. But I’m open to all of the codes because I’ve studied with them all and I loved them all. But if I stayed with just one concept, it will trap me. That’s why I like all of it. I was talking about Sanford Meisner and about how his number one thing was to listen. To really learn to listen to is huge. If you just work on that for years would be a good thing. I want to be teachable. I want to be open to the art form to try different things. Do you know what I mean? Let’s try something new. To really trust our incredible instincts.
With Jean-Marc Vallee the other day on the set of “Sharp Objects”
I had to do this scene where my job as the actor was to tell the story we call that the exposition of the scene and it is always a brutally hard job, and it was Amy’s coverage. And when we turn around on me, he comes over to me and he gets on his knees and he whispers”, I want you to be more like a gossiping woman but I want the “real” you are doing too, I know, I want you to “go under”, Yes,” go under.” Then he gets up and turns around and we’re ready. There’s no lighting. And I thought, “I think I know what he means.” So as we start and I’m saying all these names I’m gossiping about, and I started to whisper like a secret to them as I told them the truth of what I think really happened in the town. And after the take, he gave me the thumbs up, like I got it. But the art form of all of that. It’s so intense. Who teaches you that you have to be open and take that in and decipher it so quickly. So you’re deciphering through what?
You’re deciphering through all of those master teachers we had.
It’s like a legacy of people. All the books we’ve read. All the movies we’ve watched. All the jobs we’ve had. All the music we’ve heard, the art we’ve seen, all the literature we’ve read, everything going through you at once, and then that’s how it comes out. I mean, that to me is breathe taking, what other art form does that happen in?
That is why I am madly in love with acting.
Catherine Carlen Biography:
Born and raised in Cookeville, Tennessee, she found acting in New York City in the late 1970s. There she had the privilege of studying with such legendary teachers as Uta Hagen, Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg, Sanford Meisner, and Susan Batson.
Her TV Career started with Guest Starring Roles on: “Night Court”, “Married With Children”, They Came From Outer Space”, the “Sunset Beat” pilot with George Clooney, ”Passions”, “The Bold and the Beautiful” as well as being a series regular on ABC’s “Our Group” and “The Starlet” on the WB. She was seen on “Desperate Housewives”,”90210”, “The Young and The Restless”, ”The Mindy Project”, “Brooklyn 9-9, ”Recovery Road”, “Weird Loners”, “How to Get Away with Murder,” ”NCIS: LA” and as a series regular on “37 Problems”.
She began her career in Sidney Poitier’s “Hanky Panky.” She followed that with Ivan Reitman’s “Ghostbusters,” and Bruce Malmuth’s “Nighthawks” with
Sylvester Stallone. Catherine played Kate Bosworth’s Mother in Michael Polish’s Film “90 Minutes in Heaven” with Hayden Christensen. She is a lead in Justin Lerner’s Award-Winning Film “The Automatic Hate” playing Adelaide Clemens Mom with Richard Schiff, Ricky Jay, Joseph Cross, and Deborah Ann Woll.
Catherine starred in the award-winning Film “Running out of Time in Hollywood.” She also starred in Gabriel Olson’s Award-Winning Film “The Bridge Partner” with Sharon Lawrence, Beth Grant, and Robert Forster. She worked on Chris Freeman and Justin Jones Film “Rivers 9” with Elisabeth Rohm, Jamie Kennedy, and C. Thomas Howell. She played Daisy’s Mom “Donna” in Neel Upadhye’s Wonderful Indie Film “Dating Daisy”.
She starred in the Award Winning cult classic “Chopper Chicks in Zombie Town” directed by Dan Hoskins.
Catherine is a sought after acting coach and trains actors privately in Los Angeles.