Film Courage: Where did you grow up?
Jen Burry: I grew up in upstate NY in a very small town called Lyons. It’s pretty much the mid point between Rochester and Syracuse. I grew up in an old farm house on almost 100 acres of land. It was great! We just played outside all day. What more do you want as a kid?
Film Courage: Did your parents encourage acting or attempt to point you in another direction?
Jen: We had the school musical that we could participate in every year but other than that there weren’t a lot of acting opportunities so they didn’t really encourage or discourage me while growing up. Once I made the decision to go to school for acting, when I was 21, they were nothing but supportive.
Film Courage: Did you go to school for theater, dramatic arts or film?
Jen: I went to school for acting, both at American Academy of Dramatic Arts and University of South Carolina. We primarily worked on material from plays but the emphasis was on the craft of acting.
Film Courage: What’s the strangest role you’ve been asked to play?
Jen: I got to play Gertie in “Fuddy Meers” while I was in grad school. She’s a 65 year old woman that can’t speak (she suffers from aphasia) and I was also able to do some really dramatic physical work. You have to love grad school- the only time you will play a character decades older than you are.
Film Courage: Regionally, is there a difference in how acting is taught?
Jen: Not to my knowledge.
Film Courage: Who is your favorite ‘chameleon’ actor?
Jen: Definitely Phillip Seymour Hoffman. He could have one line or be the lead and I always want to see more of him.
Film Courage: You have a Bachelor’s of Science in Mathematics and an MFA in Acting. How much more in-depth is getting a Master’s? What further curriculum does it explore? Would you recommend a Master’s program to fellow actors? Where does the interest in math come in?
Jen: I just always liked Math, any kind of puzzle, really. When I was little all I wanted to do was put jigsaw puzzles together. I really didn’t know what to do upon graduation so I decided to major in the subject I liked the best. Working on my MFA was extremely challenging. There was a semester when we were working on a play during the day, taking a full load of classes, rehearsing a show at night and writing our own solo show. You truly find out how much you’re capable of. I don’t think it’s for everyone. I knew I had more to learn and wanted to be a student for another 3 years. Some people are ready to start working after under grad, that wasn’t me.
Film Courage: How do you congratulate yourself upon booking acting work? How have you consoled yourself on any missed roles?
Jen: I really don’t congratulate myself per se. I’m initially extremely grateful and excited and then want to immediately dive into the work. It can be upsetting when you don’t get a role you’ve worked particularly hard for or think you’re right for but I usually try to find the next thing I can start working on, or take a class; anything to keep myself working and not dwell on something that was out of my control. Chocolate and wine also help.
Film Courage: Your amazing website has an informative timeline that tells viewers what you’re working, going on call backs, etc. Have you received feedback from casting directors, agents, etc. on how important it is to tell people how active you are?
Jen: I really haven’t, but I think it’s important to keep the people that you’ve worked with informed about what you’re working on and have a forum for people who are just meeting you to hear about your work.
Film Courage: Additionally, your website has quotes about prior performances. Was this your idea to add this? How much has this helped sell you as a brand?
Jen: A friend built my website and he actually found those and put them up because there was a “reviews” tab. I saw it and thought- “what a great idea!” So he really deserves all the credit.
Film Courage: Are there specific things you do each day to look for/book acting work?
Jen: I feel like that’s all I do! Everything – Actors Access, Backstage, Casting Networks, Playbill, etc. I also continually look at new classes and workshops with CD”s and directors. It’s the only way to find your own work.
Film Courage: A favorite (paraphrased) quote of Film Courage is ‘Sometimes the thing you least expect will be what takes off.’ How do people respond to you from a prior viral commercial?
Jen: Most people don’t know it’s me in the commercial unless they are really good friends of mine. Once in awhile a person I haven’t spoken to in ten years will Facebook me and say, “Any chance you were you in a Summer’s Eve commercial?” It’s been great all around. But it was a great surprise. I really didn’t have any expectations for it.
Film Courage: Advice to other actors who have had a commercial go viral?
Jen: If people do recognize me they will say they thought it was really funny which is always great to hear. It doesn’t happen often cause I usually don’t look like I did in the commercial so they don’t recognize me.
Film Courage: Can you share any warm-up exercises that you physically do before either rehearsing or shooting a scene? How important is physically moving the body to preparing for a character?
Jen: It depends on the character. If the scene we’re doing is while we’re laying in bed I might do some stretches or breathing exercises to put myself in the mindset of feeling like I’m going to bed, especially if it’s 10 in the morning. Once I had to pretend I was pulling myself onto a huge branch when I was just standing on a ladder so I did pushups right up until they called action.
Film Courage: How did you first meet Writer/Director Brian Ackley and Producer Princeton Holt from the film ALIENATED?
Film Courage: When you received the call to audition for the part, what was your reaction?
Jen: I actually didn’t audition. Princeton asked me if I wanted to work together and that he had a great script for me to look at it. I read the first page and knew I wanted to do it.
Film Courage: How did Brian or Princeton pitch you the script?
Jen: There really wasn’t “pitching” per se. I always had wanted to work with Princeton and probably would have done anything he was working on. But after I read it I knew it was a project I had to work on.
Film Courage: What made you say “yes” to this project? What attracted to the role?
Jen: The struggle the characters are going through is what attracted me to the role. Continually trying to communicate with a partner that doesn’t seem to get you is exhausting and I think most people can identify with that. Do you stay and continue to try to make yourself seen and heard? Do you leave and hope to find someone that truly understands you in the way you think you should be understood? Or do you accept your life the way it is and try to find happiness in what you do have? All of these questions that the script brought up interested me.
Film Courage: At what point did you meet George Katt (your husband Nate in ALIENATED)?
Jen: As soon as Princeton gave me George’s contact information I reached out to him and we met for coffee a couple days later.
Film Courage: How much direction did you receive from the director when he arrived on set (since he lived in another state)? Was a lot of the directing in the script?
Jen: Most of the direction was via phone before shooting since Brian wasn’t in New York. After each take he’d usually have a subtle adjustment and at the end of the day we would talk about the next day and what we were shooting.
Film Courage: How was it rehearsing without Writer/Director Brian Ackley always being present? Where did you rehearse?
Jen: Since we had both spoken with Brian and knew we were on the same page it worked fine. We didn’t have formal rehearsals, but we met to work through the script and talk about our relationship and characters.
Jen: Wanting to make what she believes is a better life for her and Nate (George’s character) motivates her. One of her biggest fears is feeling stuck or trapped in her life. Another fear is losing the husband that she once knew which is her current situation.
Film Courage: How did you approach the role of Paige?
Jen: There was a lot of reflecting and analyzing past relationships I’ve been in, rather than typical research. The film deals with two people that are trying to connect in a number of ways but aren’t succeeding. Using my own life experiences where I’ve been in those situations was most useful for me.
Film Courage: Did you read other parts of the script beforehand or just your part to prepare?
Jen: I read the entire script numerous times alone and several times with George. It’s crucial to know the story that’s being told and where your character fits in that story.
Film Courage: How did you find compassion toward your character Paige? Did you relate to her?
Jen: It was easy to have compassion for someone that wants the best for her marriage and husband. She also has her own identity outside of the marriage and her own goals and passions. I really liked that about her. Yes, I related to her in a lot of ways.
Film Courage: Do you like to know lots about the story and the other characters parts of a film, or just your part to keep the character true?
Jen: I want to know as much about the whole script as I can.
Film Courage: Can you share how the 6-day shoot broke down script wise? What were the 6 days on set like otherwise?
Jen: We shot about 15-20 pages a day. We shot in chronological order, which was amazing to have that opportunity. The entire crew was in the same house the whole time, which really helped me feel like this was my house and my husband.
Film Courage: What scene in ALIENATED was the most difficult?
Jen: I would probably have to say the first scene I had with George. We had only been in the house for a very short amount of time and we had a lot of business to do in the kitchen during that scene. Once we had one scene down everything seemed to flow really well.
Film Courage: When you’re playing opposite an actor which you have a close relationship with in the film, how do you work off screen to build a rapport?
Jen: If the other actor is willing, I like to spend time with them doing really anything. It’s what you do naturally in a relationship so anything from chatting while having a coffee on break or running lines later that night together while shooting instead of by yourself, anything so that relationship can become more familiar.
Film Courage: How would you recover from the emotional scenes of the filming at the end of the day? How do you switch “off?”
Jen: I honestly don’t know if I do switch “off.” Some scenes stay with you longer than others. It really depends on the scene and the content.
Film Courage: Where is ALIENATED currently available to watch?
Jen: Gravitas will be releasing it on VOD, Cable VOD and in select theaters in March.
Film Courage: How was it working with Taylor Negron?
Jen: I unfortunately did not meet or work with him because we didn’t have any scenes together. I really wish I would have met him.
Jen: Audiences did find several parts funny. Parts of the film are funny cause if you’ve ever been in a long-term relationship you can relate to a lot of the issues that Paige and Nate are dealing with.
Film Courage: How much does wardrobe in general influence your performance? How much do you begin to feel a character once you’re in wardrobe?
Jen: Wardrobe greatly influences how I feel. It’s like if you went to the gym in an evening gown or vice verse- you’d feel out of place. If you’re character is doing yoga and you have your mat and outfit and water bottle you start to feel like you belong in that world.
Film Courage: Do you feel film and television characters should be victorious in the end?
Jen: No, not always. It depends on the character. Sometimes it’s fascinating to watch a character’s story that you don’t necessarily want or need to see win in the end.
Film Courage: You appear to always be enrolled in some type of acting course? Why is continuing education so important?
Jen: It’s like a violinist playing scales, you always have to keep up with it.
Film Courage: What’s next for you creatively?
Jen: I’m going to be doing another feature film with One Way or Another productions called “Spotless,” which I’m really excited about.
Jen Burry is an actress, known for Reunion 108 (2013), Alienated (2015), and Land of Smiles (2016). In 2014 Jen appeared in the hilarious commercial for Summer’s Eve that went viral online and was played in constant rotation on national television both on Network and Cable TV. She also played the sociopathic wife and mother Susan on Discovery ID’s Deadly Affairs. For her performance in Alienated she won Best Lead Actress at the Chain NYC Film Festival, and Best Ensemble Cast along with George Katt and Taylor Negron.