Berkley Bragg joins us on Close-Up Culture to talk about her debut feature role in West Michigan.
The film follows Hannah (Chloe Ray Warmoth), a seventeen-year-old girl who struggles to find her place in the world. Around the time that she gives up all hope of fitting in, her grandfather falls ill. She and her brother, Charlie (Riley Warmoth), drive up the coast of West Michigan in order to visit him on his deathbed. However, their journey north takes a turn after their car breaks down in rural Michigan, and Hannah’s search for meaning grows more crucial than ever.
I understand this is your first feature film. How did you get involved with ‘West Michigan’, and what excited you about working on this project?
Yes, West Michigan is my first feature film! I first got involved with the movie when I was at Chloe’s house and Riley approached me about playing Grace. He told me he had written the character based off of me and that he wanted me to play her. One of the first things that excited me about West Michigan was being able to film in such a beautiful place. The Warmoths had always talked about how beautiful it was and I was so excited to finally see it for myself.
Your character, Grace, has some interesting interactions with the film’s central character, Hannah. What did you enjoy about playing Grace?
One of the best parts about playing Grace was getting to work alongside Chloe. She is one of my best friends in real life, and our friendship really showed in the ways Grace was around Hannah. One thing I love about Grace’s character is her genuine heart. In spite of Jasmine and Scott’s doubts about her, Grace never stopped trying to be a good friend to Hannah.
‘West Michigan’ has a great balance between comedy and serious dramatic subjects. What resonated with you about this story?
I think that the story of growing up and confronting loss resonates with all of us. Hannah is really no different in that she feels alone, even when surrounded by people. I have often felt that way, and I like how her “story” grows along with her.
At the same time, life is rarely all doom and gloom, nor is it sunshine and rainbows. I love how the story captured how even at our saddest, funny things can happen to bring us out of ourselves and let us laugh at what is happening around us. Seeing Hannah interact with her brother was very real. Siblings can lift us up, infuriate us, and be our biggest allies. But they also won’t let us take ourselves too seriously, and can provide much needed “comic relief” in real time, in real life.
The film has so many beautiful settings. What was it like shooting out in the woods? Any fun stories to share?
The locations we filmed at were some of the prettiest places I have ever been. Every place we went to looked like a postcard and each of those places has a story that I will remember it for.
I swear we all laughed between almost every take. One of my personal favourite West Michigan memories took place up at the cabin. The entire cast and crew lived in this adorable cabin up north for part of the shoot, and we definitely all got pretty close. One night we were all looking for board games to play and we decided on Code Names. It’s a big hit in the Warmoth family, and let’s just say the game got pretty intense.
What will be your biggest takeaway or lesson from working on ‘West Michigan’?
I definitely learned about being resourceful on a set while filming West Michigan. Almost everything was filmed outside, so weather was a force to be reckoned with. One night we were filming at around 2am and we were using firelight for one of our scenes. The fire kept dying out mid-scene, so after a few retakes I decided to poke the fire myself. After that take, Riley laughed and told me to keep doing it.
Can you tell us about your background and what inspired your interest in acting?
I started theater classes in third grade and fell in love with acting immediately. In fourth grade I ended up finding an acting class that was all on camera. After that I knew film was what I wanted to do. At age 13 I convinced my parents to move to LA, and I’ve never been happier.
What do you love about performing and being creative?
I think I love getting lost in another character. With different projects comes more opportunities to become someone else. I try with my craft not to “act like” or “pretend to be” a character, but rather let the character transform me so that I am literally that person for a while. There are definitely elements of escapism and getting lost in another’s story…I won’t lie about that. I think it has helped my mental health by allowing me to escape my own problems and see the world through the eyes of someone else. It also has developed in me a deeper level of empathy for those around me.
I am also an artist, and with each painting or drawing, I explore another element of reality and appreciate the beauty of what is around me, and the beauty of what is inside others (for instance when I paint or sketch a portrait). Acting has helped me be a better artist, and I think being an artist has helped me be a better actor. When one is an artist or a performer, they are observers over anything else. They often see things through a different lens than other people.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
I am heading to University in the fall. I am filled with hope and excitement about new experiences in perhaps a new place. At this moment, I am not sure where I will attend school, as I am waiting on acceptance letters. I will study art, but I am also interested in psychology. I think in that field of study one can learn so much about what motivates people and just understand the human condition. It will serve me well no matter what I do, but I believe it will especially help me in my acting.
I am very hopeful about what the future will bring, and I sincerely hope it brings more opportunities in my acting career. I am not in this business for fame, but rather I sincerely love the work and the process of creating with others something that will be around forever.