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Cats can teach actors to focus, and they help me now that I write because they give me a sense of proportion. Dogs may pretend they like a chapter because they want you to feed them. Cats, by and large, don’t care. If you won’t feed them, they’ll go out and kill something. Or tear up the couch and stare at you so you understand it was your own fault.
Some of my best villains have been based on cats because their narcissism plays into the criminal mind so well. But pets can help you depict character quickly and easily in other ways, too. What does it tell you if a person doesn’t like animals—or, better yet, if animals don’t like him? I don’t remember the name of the mid-80s film, but Clint Eastwood portrayed a cop with two children in New Orleans, and one scene showed the family dog stuffed into the dryer. That told us all we needed to know about how evil the bad guy was.
Robert Crais gives PI Elvis Cole a feral cat as a pet. The cat has been injured and will bite on a whim, but Cole feeds him and puts up with the attacks, which shows us w
hat he is like. So does his naming the cat “Cat.” Linda Barnes gives Carlotta Carlyle a cat, too.
In one of my stories, ex-musician (another itinerant profession, like actors) Megan Traine has two cats. One has double front paws, so she named him “Clydesdale,” or Clyde for short. Naturally, his sister is named Bonnie. She can gauge whether a man has boyfriend potential by how he and the cats react to each other. In my novel, Who Wrote T
he Book of Death?, protagonist Beth Shepard misses her cat, but she’s sharing living quarters with a man who is allergic to cats.
A year and a half ago, my wife and I ended the year of mourning for Persephone, who died at age twenty. It’s the only time in our twenty-six years together that we haven’t had at least one cat, and my daughter remarked that the place felt strange and empty without one. We searched PetFinder and discovered two cats that a shelter said were to be taken as a couple, and saw they were already declawed. We wouldn’t declaw a cat ourselves, but hey, we had new living room furniture so this was a plus. So were the pictures posted on the site, even though Jewel was hiding under the cage so all we saw was a fuzzy gray mass. It turns out to be a pretty good likeness.
Ernie, a strawberry blond Maine Coon, has the temperament of a miniature golden retriever. He greets everyone who comes to the house, plays with anything he can lift, a
nd even fetches his toy mouse if we throw it. Within three days of moving in with us, he decided he liked to nap below my monitor and, since he’s a total guy, he urges me to write more car chases and gunfights. We call him The Wonder Cat.
Jewel the Heart Breaker, on the other hand, is so shy that only my daughter has ever seen her—running for the basement when that strange woman walked in the front door. She’s the first Himalayan we’ve ever had, and she loves to sleep with us. She also has a vocabulary of at least 35 distinct sounds, including chirps, barks, burbles, and squeaks. Both cats have that sense of irony that made people suspect they were witches in the Middle Ages, and they will groom each other or hang near us for hours. When I’m just staring at the monitor or talking to myself, Jewel will throw a cross-body block into my leg and launch a monologue. Then she’ll jump on the desk and insist that we both look out the window, which seems to give me the distance to figure out how to fix whatever the problem was that had me stumped.
Ernie’s personality has become that of a sidekick in my WIP, and Jewel is definitely helping me with the women’s dialogue. If Ernie is a guy’s guy, Jewel is the girlie-girl of the cat kingdom. They’re definitely a couple, and I know they will show up in one guise or another in many more stories I have yet to write.
In Who Wrote The Book of Death?, someone wants to finish off the writer instead of the book. When PI Greg Nines agrees to protect a woman from death threats, he assumes that her name isn’t really Taliesyn Holroyd. Unfortunately, he also assumes that she’s really writing a novel. She assumes he’s stopped drinking after his own wife’s murder. What else they don’t know could bury them both along with the book. Visit Steve Liskow’s website.
Betty Dravis: Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, Jenny. Christy Tillery-French, co- founder of this select band of female authors, appointed me as celebrity interviewer of the group. As you know, the Dames usually interview people in the publishing industry, but since I co-authored a new book Dream Reachers, they think it will add fascinating variety to interview people from the other arts. You are one of the most popular artists in Dream Reachers and were so helpful to me and Chase Von during its production that I wanted to interview you again for this edition.
Jenny, you have done so much in the entertainment industry, I’m sure our readers will enjoy you as much as your current fans do. I know from your section in Dream Reachers about your father’s job choice, but can you tell us a little about that and how you went from there to being such a successful actress?
Jenny McShane: I wanted to be an actress since the age of three when I tortured neighborhood kids by performing on a ledge in my basement with an empty paper-towel holder as my microphone. I asked my parents for a piano when I was in second grade. I had a deep desire to get whatever it was inside out, I think! Most people who know me say I like attention, but I think it is more than that––I like to see people happy. I think music and entertaining lets people momentarily escape whatever stress they may have. When I see people’s faces respond with a happy gaze, it makes me happy. Entertaining helps me to escape, as well, and gives me a deep inner peace.
Betty Dravis: You chose your career for an admirable reason, Jenny, but it looks like it chose you, too. I have to grin at the image of the “little girl you” in that basement. I bet you get a lot of “mileage” from being the “daughter of a pig farmer”…and a lot more laughs, all good-natured and in the right spirit, I’m sure. Nobody can argue with success. I’ll get into some of your movies and your leading men later, but can you tell us about when you first started singing and playing guitar? I understand you formed your own band for a while, but that you recently joined an up-and-coming band with a very unusual name. Do you mind sharing about how you met “Harry the Dog” and where you’re currently performing?
Jenny McShane: I do, oddly enough, get a lot of mileage out of the Pig Farmer’s Daughter line. My mother gets so upset, especially when they included Pig Farmer’s Daughter in an interview The New York Times did on me. “Couldn’t you say Hog Farmer’s Daughter, Jen?” she asked. “It sounds so much nicer.”… I think the funniest thing that ever happened with the pig stories was meeting Smokey Hormel. Smokey was the son of the famous Hormel family, which is where I drove with my family to take our pigs when it was time for them to go to market. Smokey became a guitar player in Bruce Willis’s band. I started playing guitar and singing when I realized I could get out of some more work.
When we were growing up, my parents made a music room for us in the house. Mom and Dad loved to listen to me play the piano at night after chores. I honestly liked playing but knew it would also make them forget about extra things that might need to be done. My father is one of twenty-two children. His brothers and sisters and mother were all very musical and I was in heaven when I went to my grandma’s house and heard them all singing and playing various instruments together. It was so beautiful. My grandmother played the violin and was an expert tap dancer, so she was always the highlight of the show.
It was such a sense of achievement when I learned to play guitar and piano and could sit in with Dad’s family and keep up. I took piano lessons at the convent next to the Catholic school, from Marguerite McPartland, another Irish lass. The piano was great, as you can read music and it helps you learn other instruments easily. I can play accordion and guitar based on the basics of the piano lessons.
I did have my own band, called Little Ruby, for a little bit seven years ago. I put it together to keep myself busy when I wasn’t working in acting. In April of this year I joined a band called Harry the Dog and the Traveling Soul Circus. My boyfriend is from England and has a whole crew of English people in LA who really stick together like a posse. He is friends and a big fan of Harry Bridgen’s band. I accidentally ran into Harry at an English pub called Cat N Fiddle on Sunset. I overheard one of Harry’s friends saying they were looking for a female guitar player because a girl in the band was going on tour with Pink. When I heard Pink, that grabbed my attention! I am a big fan of Pink, so I asked if I could audition to be in the band and Harry agreed. I took Bruno Frasca, the expert guitar player in the band, to Chateau Marmont and proceeded to play the piano and the guitar for the guests that were there that night. The last song I played on the guitar was “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers. All the other hotel guests joined in; even the actor Josh Hartnett enjoyed it and was singing along. Needless to say, I was invited to join the band. I am on guitar and back-up vocals for the group. I also helped the band write and record a very cool song titled “American Man.”
Betty Dravis: That’s a fun, interesting story, Jenny. Best of luck with the group! I haven’t had the good fortune to be in the LA area to see you perform, but I’ve seen YouTube videos and photos on various Hollywood websites. You certainly are a good singer, pick a mean guitar and your energy is endless. How do you keep in such fine shape? And please give us some links to your various websites.
Jenny McShane: I do have a lot of natural energy. I think it was growing up with all the manual labor. Now I have to work out at least five times a week just to feel like I am doing something. It makes my spirit positive to run, lift weights, ride a bike, etc. I think if you are an entertainer it is your responsibility to respect your fans and show them you have morals and drive. I love to watch Rocky as many times a year as I can; it inspires me. Drive and being in great shape is something I admire in any performer. Who likes to drive a dirty car? is how I look at it! I love that Clint Eastwood is in top shape to this day. Any of the performers I admire are always in great shape in person!
I have my own website which is http://www.jennymcshane.com But I need to get some updates on there! I also post my current gigs on my FaceBook page.
Betty Dravis: I hear you loud and clear about updating your website, Jenny. That seems like an endless task, especially for someone who does as much as you. I’ve seen five of your movies: Furnace, which is your latest (with the very handsome Michael Pare); Shark Attack, in which you starred with Casper Van Dien; The Watcher, starring Keanu Reeves, where you played the lead female detective; Shark Attack 3, where you co-starred opposite John Barrowman; and Stag. I expected Stag to be an actual stag party, which is not to my taste, so was pleasantly surprised to see that it was about something tragic that happened at the beginning of a stag party, rather than going in-depth with a so-called “sex” movie. It has some nudity, but is more of a thriller, IMO. How many movies have you been in, Jenny? Dream Reachers goes in-depth on this subject, so keep it brief. Then tell us about some of your modeling jobs. I’d love to hear your take on that, as I’m sure our readers will.
Jenny McShane: I have been in about twenty movies, but only on four television shows. I never keep an exact tab, though. The movie Stag has a real message. The film is quite scary as it shows kids and adults that some of our decisions can end up affecting our entire lives. After filming Stag, I met a director in London who told me his eighteen-year-old son had been drunk driving and hit and killed two people and would be serving the rest of his life in prison. The character I played in Stag was difficult to play. The original script had the back-story that was not included in the movie. The mother of the two sisters in the movie was dying of cancer and since they didn’t have insurance, they stripped to get the money quickly to help the family.
Modeling is the way I started in the business. There is some misinformation about modeling. Modeling is a job description and every model isn’t perfect. The majority of modeling I did was commercial as opposed to editorial. Editorial models were stunning, in my eyes. We commercial models were basically girl-next-door types. I did a lot of Budweiser/Anheuser Busch ads and catalog shoots, as well as Target and Dayton Hudson ads when I started. I also did a lot of industrial shoots for various companies, including Fingerhut, 3M, etc. I don’t consider photos that I do now to be modeling, but rather publicity for my likeness.
Betty Dravis: That’s a modest appraisal, Jenny. I can see the girl-next-door in you, but I also see the “stunning” that you see in others. In fact, you look so different in so many photos and movies that you’re like a chameleon…which is a wonderful attribute for an actress, so keep on doing what you’re doing. But back to the acting, who was the first big actor you met and what were your feelings at the time? Cowboy actor Jim Davis was the first one I met. He was quite popular in the 50s, if I have my dates straight, but I remember him more as J.R. Ewing’s father in the later Dallas TV series. Meeting him was impressionable, but it didn’t move me nearly as much as meeting Clint Eastwood later, a story I relate in Dream Reachers.
Jenny McShane: Oh, Betty, I love the story of how you met the iconic Clint Eastwood. He’s one of my favorite actors. The first actor I met was Kyle T. Heffner. I met Kyle in a café in Chicago, during one of my mother’s visits. He was the third lead in a film I loved–– Flashdance! He also starred on Golden Girls and Seinfeld. He was working in Chicago in a play with Brian Donehy, another actor I loved. My thought when meeting him was: I have just met somebody who can tell me how to become an actor because he is one! Since then, Kyle has coached me on any role I really wanted. I think it was meant to be, as he knows everything about me and keeps me the person I first was… And I guess I do that in return, now that I have had some success. I keep him in check and he does the same for me! Being in the business for a long while now. I have seen people get big breaks and totally screw them up with bad decisions. I think the acting profession can be compared to gambling: There are no guarantees and it feels like you are walking a tight rope at all times. I don’t think there is any performer who has had smooth sailing. My profession isn’t an easy life.
Betty Dravis: I’ve heard that you’re well respected in Hollywood for your dependability and professionalism, Jenny. That says a lot for what you’ve learned. What is your routine when working on a movie…your schedule? Which role was your biggest challenge? And are you between roles now? If so, what do you do to fill the time while waiting?
Jenny McShane: My routine when I am working on a movie is to get my environment situated and feel at home first. Next I try to get into the community and find some down-home people to hang out with after work. As a performer you can’t take a drive with a stranger, so it takes a little bit of detective work. But I usually find some good people and end up keeping in touch years later. I like to find out about the places I am working in, if I can, and what the people are like and what makes them tick. One of my first movies was shot in Moscow, Russia. Wow, did I go through some scary moments there. The Russian people are very scared of “The Americans” and don’t trust us, so that was a very uneasy time. I guess it was like being a skunk and thinking you could go hang out with the cats after work.
I have had the amazing opportunities to work on films in Bulgaria, Russia, India, London, South Africa and Canada. I am between jobs right now and I know a lot of fellow actors are, as well. Work is very lean out there right now, but it is for everyone, so I am keeping busy with my band until I land the next gig. The people at Gibson Guitars have been amazing by giving me different guitars every time I play with my band. That inspires me to play as much as I can because I love Gibson Guitars. Currently the band that I am playing in, Harry The Dog and the Circus of Lost Souls, is doing a series of four concerts at The Unknown Theater in Hollywood. The Unknown Theater is four years old and is a nonprofit theater similar to Steppenwolf in Chicago. If you haven’t seen the theater, you have to go just to admire the beauty of the place.
I have a few bites on the line, in fishing terms, as far as jobs go, so as soon as I land a job, my vacation is over. I pray that our economy and world come to peace, the troops come home from Iraq and we can all have a great Christmas and end 2009 with a bang!
Betty Dravis: That’s my prayer, too, Jenny… I suppose most actors do similar things to fill the time, but now tell us what you love about acting? What do you hate? I’d enjoy seeing you in a hit TV series…one that would make you a household name. What are your thoughts about that? This curious mind wants to know…as I’m sure our readers do.
Jenny McShane: What I love about acting is getting paid to do something I love which I know a lot of people would love to do. I meet people everyday that are doing manual labor just to support their families and give their children education and opportunities they never had. I also love the actors I admired when I was growing up and have now had the opportunity to work beside.
There is nothing I hate about acting! I love it all! I would love to be in a hit TV series. I had a blast in an episode of Don Johnson’s TV hit Chase Nash; I played guitar and sang my rendition of “Desperado.”… I have a great casting director fan that is a fan of April Webster. I came close to getting two TV series with April Webster. I think I will when the timing is right. It has to be the right fit. I wish I could play a gunslinger in an old Western. The character has to be totally ME, so hopefully it comes my way soon. I am a big fan of The Mentalist and Mad Men. Those television series fit the actors in the cast like gloves! Hopefully, one of those talented writers reads this and thinks of me…
Betty Dravis: You have certainly met a lot of big names…people you led us to while creating Dream Reachers. Chase and I are grateful to you for introducing us to the famous photographer Jim Marshall, who photographed huge talents, like The Beatles, Janis Joplin, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix…too many to list. In fact, he was the only photographer used by The Beatles near the end of their career. You graciously gave me his phone number and he was so helpful, putting me in touch with the right people at Rolling Stone magazine when we needed to use a picture of Tanya Tucker on one of their old covers. What a charming man! And you put me in touch with Mike Regan, VP of Marketing and Acquisitions for Melee Entertainment, when we needed permission to use movie stills from Avi Lerner, the BIG producer of Slumdog Millionaire and other huge box-office hits.
But for your next question, what advice do you have for aspiring actors?
Jenny McShane: Be prepared for the opportunity. Know your craft and then make the steps to go for it. If you want something bad enough, you can get it!
Betty Dravis: That’s great advice, Jenny…thought provoking… Do you have a current mentor? If so, tell us about him or her and about others who have influenced your life…your career.
Jenny McShane: My current mentor is Jonathan Brayley (my boyfriend of six years) who came from England to be an actor. He is a great film editor and now is directing a documentary. He never studied to be an editor. He met people from England who wanted to see him succeed. I believe that if you are a nice person and passionate about what you want, it happens triple fold. My boyfriend never had the opportunity to become an actor, so he gives the actors his best performance as an editor.
I have also learned to never give up! Another one of my mentors I had the good fortune to meet is the great attorney Robert Shapiro. He and his family have a large number of people they have helped through the years. The Shapiros lost their son to an accidental overdose a few years ago and have created a foundation to inform and help other families who are dealing with similar circumstances. Robert Shapiro is a strong man who has seen it all and keeps fighting to make the world a better place and set a good example for the human race.
Betty Dravis: I’ve read about the Shapiros and they are true humanitarians. Thanks for sharing their story. But LOL, Jenny, this question was going to be about Jonathan. Since you beat me to it, I would like to know more about his current project.
Jenny McShane: You knew I wouldn’t go long without talking about him, didn’t you, Betty? Thanks for your interest… Jonathan is currently directing and editing a documentary about the state of the United States economy. He traveled to most of the states to interview people who have survived tornadoes, bombings, Hurricane Katrina, etc. before the economic crash happened. It is a great piece that shows us that we can get through this economic crisis if people who had everything taken in all those other disasters are still standing and surviving.
Betty Dravis: That sounds like an inspiring, uplifting project. Tell Jonathan I wish him great success and to let us know when it’s released… But now for the fun question! I waited till near the end to put you on the spot, but do you mind sharing the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you in connection with your acting or your music?
Jenny McShane: The most embarrassing thing that ever happened to me while acting was when I fumbled a line and actor Don Johnson screamed at me, “Where did you go to acting school––in the barn?” LOL… If he only knew… But he pushed me to give the best performance, so I’m not complaining.
That brings to mind another embarrassing thing, but this is a hard one… It’s something John Barrowman said on film, but before I tell about that, let me say that John is an amazing actor and singer. He has won Tonys for his Broadway and West End performances. The award I most admire and envy is the Tony for the opening of Sunset Boulevard (on the West End with Patti LuPone). John is one of those actors who likes to keep the crew on their toes at all times and, to my understanding, never encountered any farm atmosphere, if that makes sense; like mosquitoes in your hotel room (which you find out later were recently emptied Bulgarian Army Barracks) or other situations like that. Well, I am used to this as I grew up in that atmosphere, so when actors were freezing in Russia, I was taking my peanut butter jar out of my pack with my long underwear and having a nice sleep.
So with that said, the crew on Shark Attack 3 was a little upset by the fuss John was creating and he sensed it, so he wanted to bring them back by jolting them with a line I have never heard in any movie! The crew and the director laughed for more than a half hour at that line. It was so weird and out of the blue that I didn’t know how to respond. I never thought the line would be left in the movie––but it was! I heard that Lions Gate purchased the movie without watching the whole thing, so it was a blooper that the editor kept in the movie. The line was so often repeated that it actually made the movie and made Lions Gate a lot of money because no one who sees it can believe it. They repeat it and then everyone has to see the movie themselves to hear it with their own ears.
I can’t repeat it in polite company, and I don’t know the links where your readers might hear it themselves, but there are takes all over YouTube. Look under Shark Attack 3. Incidentally, the director Eli Roth sent me an email recently informing me that Shark Attack 3 (AKA Megalodon) has a cult following because of that line. I had heard that and I still think it’s very weird. I do have to say that there were clips of John and me on England’s popular Jonathan Ross Show; it was in front of one of my favorite actresses Emma Thompson and they didn’t show the line… Thank God… That showing helped my name and likeness in England.
Betty Dravis: I heard that infamous line in the movie, Jenny, and I think it was too crude of Barrowman, joke or no joke! But if it helped the movie sales in the long run and no harm was done to you, then…all’s well that ends well. Speaking of endings Jenny, your last question may take a bit of thought, but it’s a simple question. I polled my friends and they agreed on what most women would like to know: Of all your co-stars, which one is the best kisser! This would also be a good place to share a few impressions of your other sexy co-stars, if you don’t mind.
Jenny McShane: That question doesn’t take much thought at all, Betty! Hands down, Don Johnson is the best kisser ever! Don Johnson has that Elvis thing going on! I think he will make the ladies melt until he’s a hundred!
As for my other co-stars, Casper Van Dien and Keanu Reeves were hilarious. Keanu invited me to a premier of another movie he had done after The Watcher: The Gift, at Paramount Studios. I didn’t know that Casper Van Dien, my co-star from Shark Attack, was there, so when Keanu quipped, “I guess all your boys are here tonight, McShane,” I burst out laughing.
I was also surprised when Keanu asked me how it was…working with Casper Van Dien. I hope this comes out right… I mean, Keanu Reeves was about to make sixty million dollars for Matrix 2 and 3 and he still has a deep caring and curiosity about others. What?? That blew my mind. Keanu has to be the nicest actor I have ever worked with, hands down. I heard that he split his back profit on Matrix with the crew! Isn’t that awesome?
Michael Madsen is another giving and amazing actor. Michael is so nice to the crew and actors and is just fun to be around. John Barrowman and I had a blast in Bulgaria, chasing each other on go-carts. Ja Rule, Danny Trejo, and Michael Pare on The Furnace were all amazing…. And I can’t forget Tom Sizemore! What a character! Who needs to watch movies when you have that character on your set––living and breathing…
I am also honored to know and learn from Danny Trejo. He has been in the business a long time and is finally shooting the hugest movie of his career, with Robert Rodriquez directing. Cheech Marin and Don Johnson are in it. It’s called Machete!! How weird is that? It’s interesting to think that the same Danny Trejo who helped Ja Rule and me learn better angles and fighting stances in The Furnace is now going to be a megastar! Which reminds me––Cheech Marin is amazing too. He is a big guitar player and so are Don Johnson and Keanu Reeves. I have found with most actors I have worked with that music and acting run hand in hand.
As long as I have my guitar, I can always play at the beach for lunch, if all else fails!
Betty Dravis: Wow, Jenny, all those stories are fascinating. You certainly have an exciting life and I doubt if you’ll end up singing for your supper…but come to think of it, that’s what you do with Harry and the Dog. Hmmm… I’ve enjoyed our time together, Jenny. Thanks for sharing your life with the Dames of Dialogue and our readers. As you so often tell others, you rock!
Jenny McShane: This was a fun interview, Betty, and thanks, Dames, for having me. Keep writing those awesome books. You all do, indeed, rock!
Author Betty Dravis and celebrity interviewer and poet Chase Von have together penned an inspiring collection of interviews with people who not only dare to dream but strive to make their dreams happen, ranging from mega movie star/director/ producer Clint Eastwood to politico Ted Kennedy along with a plethora of actors, actresses, poets, artists, singers, dancers, musicians, photographers and more. One of this reviewer’s favorites: the interview with Debra D. Griffin, author and photographer, who lost her battle with cancer. Debra’s inspiring words: “Smile and keep a lot of smiling faces around you. Keep busy; take this time to do all your favorite things. Sing and make a joyful noise.” Very poignant words from a gifted woman.
One common denominator that stands out with this collection of interviews: the belief that life is a gift. These talented people understand and appreciate they are each unique unto themselves and blessed with life, which inspires them to reach for their dreams, some of whom have made it, others who are well on their way.
Dream Reachers is an intriguing read which will motivate those readers who until now might not have taken that first step toward their dream to reach out and grab for it as well as those working toward their dream to keep going. All readers will enjoy the stories behind the interviews and the powerful message each interview delivers.
The authors generously donate a portion of the profits from the sale of this book to the Breast Cancer Care Research Center.
For more info: http://bettydravis.com