The yet to be distributed My Name is A by Anonymous is shot with the immediacy of a documentary film, telling the story based on the true crimes of Alyssa Bustamante, a fifteen year old girl who confessed to the thrill kill murder of a 9 year old neighbor girl. Director Shane Ryan turns the camera inward, onto the accused, focusing on the events that lead up to the murder, following a group of four teenage girls (Alyssa, the Sidekick, the Performer, and the Angst), all from different backgrounds, and with different interests, and whose paths will lead them to stand over the dead body of the little girl, holding the knife that killed her. My Name is A is a raw and honest and poetic portrayal of life gone wrong, with performances from some great talented young women. As part of a series of interviews for the film, Alex Damiano took some time out to talk about the work she id on My Name is A by Anonymous.
Alex: Well, as far as how I came to find the project, it’s honestly foggy (what with the amount of submissions going back and forth in any given week), but I want to say Shane found me on Backstage West. Or vice versa. Either way, his people set up the audition and we just hit it off immediately. He explained, abstractly, the intended direction of the project and what I considered a fantastic opportunity for showcasing the furthest most extremes of human emotion, the addressing of the absolute unpredictability of human response to any array of factors; the commonalities and completely randomized, personal methods of “dealing” (mostly seeking some sort of control, be it pain, food, life or whatever else).
Was the element of anorexia a part of the script, or did this come about after you were cast? And was it a subject that you worked into your performance with ease, or with difficulty?
The prevalence of the eating disorder, melding that into the character was by my own election. It’s rare to have as much creative input into the inner workings, the actual soul of a character, and while not a purely method actor I saw my own familiarity and truth in relation to anorexia as a fit to the beginning strains of an even greater madness. A unique spin to one of the showcased personalities. It was “easy” only to the point of being, again, familiar. To actually address it was, at the start, suddenly daunting. The first “rule” as an anorexic (bulimic, or otherwise specifically disordered person) is secrecy, whether completely or just of the lesser glamorous points.
I’m not a classic bulimic, I should point out, however I think the dramatic points of that disorder are so immediately overwhelming, the feast and famine and fear and love relationship of it; I think most eating disordered people (and I generalize) do not so much “hate” food as they come to “resent” it. Sort of a mutually abusive relationship; I love the idea of you and I want all of you and with no uncertain simultaneity wish you were dead. Something like that. It became, in third person, cathartic, and while I didn’t realize it at the time it led me to realize another point of purpose for my existence and eventual larger successions in this industry: to shine a light on all that darkness in a very real way. To just pull back the curtain and, as a functional, accomplished human being, explain in truth— deep, progressively more personal truths to humanize a subject largely unaddressed beyond Lifetime-movie-style films, commercials and definitions. The really ugly side, and then the light at the end of the tunnel.
There really isn’t a point of absolute “recovery”, mentally speaking; it’s always there. I apologize if I’m being vague; I truly dislike mass generalizations, as the greatest factor in the difficulty in treating disorders is the very personal manner in which each is planted, nurtured and allowed to essentially consume the grounds. That same very “ungeneral” quality is also that which makes a strict definition, even of my own experiences so.. inconsistent. I could compare it to the unpredictability of a storm, but metaphors are like cats, or lawn gnomes: one is enough (same goes for similes).
BadRonald: One of the scenes that left a great impression on me was the one where you were examining your reflection in a window. Suddenly you pound yourself in the torso. It made me jump, literally. The pain you seemed to be inflicting on yourself was such a cathartic image, and showed, in no uncertain terms, the angst of your character. Shane had told me that he came running after he heard the commotion you were making while filming this scene, off on your own. The moment is brutally honest, but also very moving, at the same time. Can you tell me about this scene, and how you built it?
The reflection scene was both random and real in the sense of visually drawing out the strain of logic, the part of self that knows that the parasite, the disorder is something wrong, unnatural. The illogical act teaming up with sensibility in a brash act of revolt. Against what? Itself? Simply, constantly aware of my own reflection, and during these days of previously uncharacteristic honesty, allowance, request to speak and literally “act out” without consequence, I just allowed “The Madness”, the picture of disorder to take over, to just go into a full on battle with its assumed nemesis, its own shell which it purely distrusts as a thing that, left unchecked, would certainly become something awful and overgrown and sickening. So it’s two very contradictory ideas, two separate religions (feast, famine; mortal, ethereal; filth, purity) thrown into a temporary ring, a quick spotlight, provoked and allowed to have a full go at each other to no point or purpose but to stand their ground. Their unyielding, unmoving ground until death do they part, followed by the deafening silence the follows any real, epic battle. As for all of this, I think Shane has a great sense, desire to capture honesty in its best and worst lights, whether from experience or drawn to life from observation and an even more intense drive to allow his own vision to intertwine and develop rather than forcing a direction to the point of hollow emotional chords.
BadRonald: Watching the ritual of vomiting, and the scenes in the shower were strikingly honest, and the scene where your character is raped by her father – these scenes are bold and harrowing. Baring yourself to the camera, both inward and outward -- was that difficult? Shane had commented to me that he nearly stopped shooting a scene at one point, because he was worried the "father" was going too far, and maybe upsetting you. How did these scenes play out for you, and what went through your mind?
Alex: Now, for the scene between Mr. Arcangeli and I, that was equal part invention and method, going to that very dark, dark unknown place, feeling those feelings and carefully giving them leave to possess the scene. Definitely, on more than one occasion in the span of this production, I had the whole of the production team worried over the affect the subject matter might be taking on me. I have a strong hold on the line to pull me back to the surface (which I assured all those involved) and so I really have no qualms with exploring the darker, more treacherous waters of the human condition. I think, having really skipped a great lot of the bourgeois, petty, conformist rituals of teenagehood (between the dramatics inherit of being a young, aspiring theatre actress, model, and the more constantly present illness), self-appointed solitude gave me the basis for an incredible sense of self, and, in that, a bold willingness to lend myself to artistic analysis of all things outside of me (be they extremes of melancholy or absurd giddiness in any character outline, the space between the apparent, more Freudian layers is what turns me on.)
BadRonald: I see this film as an important piece that shows, quite honestly and openly, the secret lives of particular girls in our society. They may not end up doing the crimes that Alyssa Bustamante has been charged with, but still, that veil of truth is there. The hokey Lifetime movies always show these tragic events from the pity end of the parents, but never delve into what makes the troubled girls unhappy, or unsettled, or bored or whatever they may be. No one ever wants to see the story from this angle... and we should! I have two little girls, and I, as a father, worry about how hard it is to be a girl today -- what with Disney and Hannah Montana and Bieber-spazzoids controlling the image market. What were your influences?
Alex: The “spazzoids”-- as you put it – and their position of leadership and emulative qualities to American youth, it all comes down to exposure. We’re all collaborations of acquired knowledge, so in the instance of a girl growing up with absolutely no other outlet to culture beside Disney-MTV-Teen Vogue Magazine, then she has no choice. But that’s such an extreme idea; in this day and age, we have the entire world and its history and its artistry literally at our fingertips. The issue is, for all the focus on ideas like “different” and “unique”, there seems to be an underlying feel of mass conformity. “Gee, [Lady Gaga] sure is unique. Let’s all wear dresses of luncheon meat!” And so it goes down the line to the Miley-Cyrus-whoevers, which is just that much more regrettable given, again, the great, much more timeless characters available to take leads from. We all emulate; the goal is not to become a cheap copy of an already substandard document. I was lucky enough to grow up in a home in which culture, art and intelligent expression were things of consistency, with a brilliant father (himself an actor turned lawyer) who, to this day, I’m convinced knew absolutely everything worth knowing, engraining in me an equally unquenchable thirst for knowledge and great desire to leave infectious positivity, genuine peace and love as my toppermost lasting influences on the world.
The distractions will always, have always been there; it goes back a strong sense of self, the absence of fear in being a little bit alone in your own generation for sake of a greater purpose. Be Yourself; Work Hard; Be Nice to People. And balance. Balance is key, between Love, Career, Knowledge (Study) and Meditation. If you get those in order, everything else falls into place. Your best self becomes natural. Young people, especially, need to have knowledge of balance in theory. Specifically, as for my direct popular influences, my inspirations are equal parts Audrey Hepburn and John Lennon, with a hint of Marlon Brando for quirk and dry wit, and Harpo Marx as a reminder that powerful silence speaks incredible volumes.
BadRonald: You’be been pretty busy since filming My Name is A. What's next for you?
Alex: The past six months for me, beside modeling as the constant aside, were spent exclusively in traditional, live theatrical performances with little desire for self-promotion (to the point of using a handful of different, invented stage names. Temporary removal from self and necessary reset.) I needed to remind myself of my roots, my first love and reason in this industry, to feed off the energy of a live audience. Lots of Shakespeare, a musical, a bunch a tiny independent pieces. Currently, I’m working on a handful of commercial endeavours and just beginning to step back into film, with newly invigorated, polished, passionate, less frantic energy. I’m always superstitious to speak of specific eggs before they hatch, but suffice to say the reasons for optimism and tangible fruits of labor are palpable. The best is yet to come.
BadRonald: Thank you very much for talking with me, Alex. I appreciate the time, and congratulate you on a great performance. I'm hoping that Shane can get this film seen, because I think you al deserve to be recognized for the brilliant performances all of you put out.
Alex: Thank you.