Like many people, summer means movies to me – big screen tentpole star-studded extravaganzas meant to be seen with a crowd. I haven’t seen them all (like I might have in Los Angeles) but I noticed a common thread in many of the ones I did see – Hollywood South has arrived. If you’ve read this blog’s “About” page, you know that I moved to New Orleans in 2009, after almost 18 years in L. A., hoping to be able to continue my career as an actor in my family’s home state. As I made the leap, many of my friends encouraged me saying, “Watch, you’ll end up working more than ever.” I’m happy to report that in the 3 1/2 years I’ve been here, the whole state is working in the movie business more than ever.
Some of the connections between NOLA and the summer movies are tenuous at best like with The Heat. The buddy cop comedy stars sometimes NOLA resident, Sandra Bullock. The highly entertaining White House Down stars Channing Tatum who owns Saints & Sinners, a bar/restaurant on Bourbon Street with rare patio seating and an interior that tips its hat to bordellos of the past (think Pretty Baby). The film also stars Jamie Foxx who starred in the NOLA-shot Django Unchained. Though I’ve yet to see them, Mud stars NOLA native Reese Witherspoon (along with Matthew McConaughey who stars in the upcoming NOLA-shot Dallas Buyers’ Club and True Detective for HBO ) and The Great Gatsby stars another Django alumnus, Leonardo DiCaprio (I played his sister Lara Lee in Django).
Tom Cruise’s Oblivion was shot in New Orleans along with the often hilarious silly social commentary Apocalypse flick This is the End. The surprise hit of the summer so far has been Now You See Me. I loved the movie but I may be biased as I (along with local actor Douglas M. Griffin as my husband) help introduce Woody Harrelson’s character in the first 10 minutes in a scene shot in Cafe du Monde, home of the beignet. So, don’t take my word for it – the critics were pleasantly surprised and audiences kept it in the top 5 for weeks against very stiff and better advertised competition. (Woody Harrelson also stars in the NOLA-shot True Detective)
Though it wasn’t a blockbuster, the documentary 20 Feet from Stardom opened the first Louisiana International Film Festival and starred NOLA native Merry Clayton, the backup singer most famous for her contribution to The Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter. I attended the premiere and let the film take me on an amazing and emotional journey.
The summer started with NOLA-shot films Olympus Has Fallen, Django Unchained and G.I. Joe: Retaliation still in the theatres and the summer will end with NOLA-shot features Lee Daniel’s The Butler, 12 Years a Slave, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters and 2 Guns.
I did see plenty of blockbusters that had no real connection to NOLA. I enjoyed Star Trek Into Darkness, the ridiculously fun Fast & Furious 6, Iron Man 3 and it took me well over an hour to realize that Man of Steel had no action sequences or humor because I was enjoying the exploration as Superman as an alien.
I’ve always loved a darkened theatre and a bucket of popcorn on my lap and I’m a fan of many expensive, action-packed summer offerings meant to be seen on the biggest screen possible. This summer it was even more fun as over and over I could spot NOLA locations and local actors as well as many of the L.A.-based actors I’ve worked with since moving here. I’ve always liked sitting close to the screen and letting the movie envelope me. Though I got used to the idea of reality and movies blurring when I lived in the biggest film location in the world, Los Angeles, I have to say I’m still getting used to the idea that Louisiana is having her “15 minutes” as the star or backdrop in movie after movie.
As even more blockbusters like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Pirates of the Caribbean 5 choose NOLA as their location, new talent agencies and facilities open. Even the state-of-the-art Second Line Stages (the first “green” studio anywhere) has opened a second location. Louisiana isn’t right for every movie and it’s certainly not right for every showbiz industry worker’s personality, but I moved here thinking I might never work again. I moved here to reunite with my soulmate of a city. One day, the movies might pack up their tents and find another state to enrich. When they do, I will still be here – glad the industry made my leap possible. In the meantime – watch, we’ll be working more than ever.