Over fifteen years removed from her beloved portrayal of Drusilla on the TV shows Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel, actress Juliet Landau is now using the vampire genre as a vessel to explore deeply personal subjects in her directorial feature debut, A Place Among The Dead.
Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge spoke to Juliet about this ambitious and revolutionary project – which features cameos from the likes of Gary Oldman, Ron Perlman, and Joss Whedon – as well as her upcoming role on the fifth season of Amazon’s hit drama Bosch.
Q: Season 5 of Amazon’s “Bosch” launches on April 19. I know you aren’t allowed to give too much away, but can you talk about your excitement for this role and your admiration for the show?
A: I was so excited when I got the call for Bosch! I had seen every episode and I love the show! Titus is beyond brilliant as Harry, as well as Jamie Hector, Amy Aquino, Madison Lintz and Lance Reddick. I love that Harry is such a moral character, but he’s human and flawed. He’s meticulously obsessive and will grind on a problem until he gets the answer. My husband says I’m a lot like his character in that regard!
My creativity was immediately sparked by the beautiful writing. There were so many layers, so much dimension to Rita Tedseco, the character I play. I instantly became fascinated by all the facets of her. She’s a court reporter, living with a secret. I won’t divulge the secret now – no spoilers, but I can say she’s rife with contradictions. She’s totally different from any other character I’ve inhabited.
Q: Titus Welliver, who plays ‘Harry Bosch,’ has had some high praise for your work on the show. What was it like working with Titus and the rest of the team?
A: That’s so lovely of Titus! Working with him is a dream! He’s not only breathtakingly talented, but he’s also warm, smart and has the best sense of humor! We spent quite a bit of time in a courtroom, but that’s all I’ll give away plot-wise for now.
I was also particularly excited to work with Michael Connelly, from whose mind and imagination the Harry Bosch books and series were born, as well as Eric Ellis Overmyer, who I’d wanted to work with since The Wire, Daniel Pyne, whose work I’ve always loved, Tom Bernardo and on and on. It is seriously a wonderful working environment, one that fosters creativity and focused freedom.
Q: I heard you did a lot of research for the role. How important is the research process for you? And which role do you feel you did the most preparation for in your career so far?
A: I love doing research and gathering information. The more work and preparation I do, the more free I feel on stage, on set, or even in a recording booth.
For Bosch, I had many different avenues of research. Regarding the court reporter aspect, I watched many YouTube tutorials and grilled a friend who works as a court reporter. I listened to the entire series of Bosch audio books. I started with Two Kinds Of Truth, which is the storyline Rita is a part of, then went back sequentially from the beginning. I watched many documentaries and read four books on the secret life component of Rita. I also talked to the homicide detective who was 2nd in command for 25 years in South Central Los Angeles.
It’s hard to say which role I’ve done the most research for. I guess the least would be for episodic guest star roles. The lead time is short, but even for those I cram!
Q: We are extremely excited to see your directorial feature debut, “A Place Among The Dead.” What did this film allow you to explore about yourself? And why did you want to do it through the lens of the vampire genre?
A: Thank you so much! A Place Among The Dead is about the repercussions of growing up under the sway of narcissism and evil. It questions, if you come from evil, will you continue to go towards the dark side in life, or can you make a change and go towards the light?
I chose to make my directorial feature debut searingly personal, to invite the viewer to do the same. As they say, the more personal, the more universal. All great work provokes conversation and can even provide healing. This is the stuff I am after, as it seems you are, James, in what you write about.
My husband and I scripted the movie as a meld of fact, fiction and the fantastical. I play an alter-ego version of myself, as do the following actors who have what I like to call, “cameos on steroids”: Gary Oldman, Ron Perlman, Robert Patrick, Lance Henriksen, Joss Whedon (my old boss from Buffy) and Anne Rice, appearing for the first time ever in a film. In doing this meld, I shine a light on myself, my father, Martin Landau and my mother, Barbara Bain, with the hopes that the spectator opens the floodgates to become the participant. The point is to make an entertaining movie, to open up broad discussion, to examine societal taboos and to give voice to what has affected many.
I opted to use the vampire genre partly because its an ever-enduring cultural / global phenomenon, partly due to my role on Buffy The Vampire Slayer and spin-off show Angel, partly cause the vampire is the greatest metaphor for the draining narcissist, but mostly to lull the audience into a sense of safety, in order to explore unsafe, radical ideas.
Q: It sounds like an ambitious and revolutionary project. When did you start to form a vision of this project? And how did it change over the process of production?
A: It’s been a few years from inception to completion. The project evolved beyond our wildest dreams. As each remarkable person said yes, the script deepened. Gary Oldman became the conduit, which turns the story, in both a philosophical and narrative sense.
My husband Dev comes from a similar background, minus the Hollywood/ fame factor. We were interested in exploring the “agreements” we all make with our parents, how these become the voices in our heads, which inform our choices and can lead to destruction.
While developing the film, we read a number of studies. These studies concluded that 80% of the voices / thoughts in everyone’s minds are negative, even for those from healthy upbringings! That is a staggering percentage.
I’d never seen a movie, which tackled these themes, or in which the VO sounded remotely like the thoughts running through my head.
We recently held in-house screenings and this has been the most exciting part of the journey! The response has been so powerful and beautiful. It’s everything we’d hoped our special movie would illicit. We did one for a theater full of young people from the Midwest. They were electrified and galvanized by the film. The Q&A was on fire. They kept asking if their teacher had told us the inner thoughts they’d confided in him and if that’s why he brought them to see the picture. He didn’t even know what the movie entailed and of course, hadn’t shared their private matters!
We held 3 other sneak-peek screenings in LA, London and NY, which included industry notables such as Rian Johnson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi), David Greenwalt (Grimm), Jim Kouf (National Treasure), Jodie Foster (Money Monster), David Grossman (12 Monkeys TV Series), April Webster (Star Trek Beyond), Eryn Krueger Mekash (Ratched, American Crime Story) and many, many more!
The entire audience, many who came out crying, stayed to talk about the film unprovoked for an hour and a half afterwards. All three times discussing the nature of evil, their experiences with it, their own childhoods, their parenting, their unhealthy relationships, the voices in their heads which drive them and the times they’ve ignored red flags. People were also discussing their fear of aging and the pressure to stay young and attractive, which is another current that runs through the picture. I truly have never experienced anything like the outpouring of intensely personal stories shared at a movie before.
This remarkable cascade has continued. I just had dinner with a friend who I’ve known for over a decade… a very capable, strong, exceedingly successful woman, who said she wanted to tell me her story / the struggle she’s had. She said she has never talked about it, but the bravery of A Place Among The Dead made her feel compelled to do so. I have been getting calls and emails daily with similar stories and sentiments. I’m honored and humbled by the response.
Q: Gary Oldman, Joss Whedon, Ron Perlman, Robert Patrick, Lance Henriksen and Anne Rice all appear in “A Place Among the Dead” as well as your upcoming docu-series on vampires, titled “The Undead Series.” Did any of these A-list figures surprise you with their insight into – or connection with – the vampire genre?
A: Yes! I have to say, it is very cool that all of the people who worked with us on A Place Among The Dead came back to work on The Undead Series. The series is a bit like Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, but this is VAMPIRES IN COFFINS GETTING BLOOD!
We have 26 other interviews including Willem Dafoe, Tim Burton, Nathan Fillion and many others. I think I was surprised in every interview. The interviews are extremely relaxed and intimate. As a result, everyone goes to all kinds of places and shares stuff I haven’t seen them talk about on camera before. I just finished cutting my first pass of episode 1. I’ll be starting with Patrick Sheffield, who edited the BAFTA nominated Tim’s Vermeer next week. This is how we worked on the feature and will be resuming our process on the series.
Q: Do you have any other upcoming projects or plans you can tell us about?
A: Well, we’re in prelim talks with a few of the biggie distributors on these two projects. The interest and momentum is exciting, but what’s most important is meeting everyone to decide the right home for our babies!
Deverill and I are also writing a companion coffee table book to The Undead Series called Book Of The Undead. Dev’s shooting the stills along with Gary Oldman, who is shooting tintype portraits of many of our interviewees on his camera from 1853.
I’m about to start a starring role in an Indie directed by William Malone called Thallium’s Box. William directed House On Haunted Hill with Geoffrey Rush and Feardotcom with Stephen Rea. We’re developing the look of the make-up and costume design at the moment. The role is extremely physical. I’ll be using my background as a dancer to communicate a lot in this one! She’s an achingly enigmatic character. As it turns out, we’ll be shooting in a location we used for my feature. Out of all the locations in LA! I think it will feel like going home.
For me, everything in life is about connection and communication. I feel so fortunate as an actress and now as an emerging filmmaker, to use my creativity to engage in and awaken dialogue.
Title Photo by: Deverill Weekes
Make-up & hair: Jonet Williamson
Stylist: Rebecca Penton