Acting Brando

Outside of an Elmwood area P.J.’s Coffee, operating the on-board microphone of my Macbook Pro, I conducted the most enjoyable podcast interview I had ever done, before or since. This was several years ago, when the local independent movie King of Herrings was making a festival run. This was a casual meeting with two of the actors and behind the scenes guys: Eddie Jemison (lead actor and co-director) and John Mese (supporting actor and producer). I was taken with how intrigued they were by my observations on their little black & white film, from framing of shots to themes and subtlety. Initially nervous, they quickly set me at ease. It was like talking with two old pals.

We three are Facebook friends now, running across one another’s posts every now and then. They like to update everyone on their kids while I frequently share articles on Zack Snyder flicks. While both maintain busy schedules, they often take time out to email with me about what’s going on. Not that we’re super close mind you, but it’s a good thing to be in the loop with them nonetheless.

John recently has begun performing a one-act, one-man play on Christian Brando called Wild Son. I thought this would make for a good opportunity to catch-up and learn more on the Hollywood career acting process.

And, indeed, it was.

And, of course, John makes one feel at ease and at home. Like a pal.

Bill: It’s been a while since my college theater classes, so please explain the mechanics of a one-act play and why you chose to perform this story that way.

John Mese: I have no idea. Honest. My buddy Champ Clark wrote this thing from some real life interviews he actually did with Christian …and kind of out of the blue about three months ago he asked me to read it. I really liked it.  Then he asked me do a staged reading of it in front of a bunch of high falutin’ people. This is where  Beth Henley, who gave us that great quote, saw it — about halfway through the reading the material was overwhelming me and the audience. I decided right then and there, if Champ would let me…I was going to do it.

Bill: We met during the press rounds for King of Herrings, and what struck me about your personality was how romantic your storytelling was. About Baton Rouge and LSU days to current film and television work, you just seemed to love it all, for better or worse. Is this an accurate assessment? What keeps you motivated and enthusiastic?

JM: Wow, thanks man! I don’t know, I guess I am sort of a romantic… and with King of Herrings, well… there was a lot to be romantic about. I mean it was written by Eddie Jemison and starred him, David Jensen, Joe Chrest, Wayne Pere and Carl Palmer. These were all guys I went to college with… we had a lot of amazing times together way back when, so making a film together 20 years later… yeah, that was romantic.  And yeah, “I do love it all, for better or worse.” Of course the good times are always easier to love in the moment… but the tough times give you their own gifts and usually they make the story and your character a whole lot more interesting.

Bill:  In the teaser video to your one-man, one-act play Wild Son: The Testimony of Christian Brando, you appear to play the troubled man as a stumbling, “who gives a crap!” type self-destructive. Being that the infamous Mulholland Dr. murder is at the center of this play, what would you say was Christian’s reasoning for what he did and his behavior after pleading guilty?

JM: It’s really odd to me to try to describe him from the outside. I’ve been telling his story, in his own words for a while now, and ever since I memorized it over two months ago… I’ve been saying it out loud at least once a day. From the inside it feels like Christian had a very impulsive personality. I think when you look at the upbringing he had (which he gives a lot of really interesting examples of in the play) it’s kind of easy to understand why he made most of the choices he made.

Bill: Christian was the son of Marlon Brando. You’re a professional actor and a parent, too. Do you relate at all to Marlon in his son’s situation? Do you see yourself in both men’s shoes, juggling the father/son perspectives?

JM: When I first read it I was vaguely aware of most of the events in the play, just like most people who come to see it. But after I started working on it…I started to understand more and more about Christian and his Father’s specific relationship to one another. I’m currently reading a book that is all about Marlon’s upbringing and I can see a lot of parallels in the way Marlon was treated as a son… to the way he treated Christian. Listen, they both had kind of terrible childhoods… the biggest difference is Christian grew up the son of one of the most famous people on earth…and that was a double edged sword in and of itself. But yeah as crazy and out there as their world was… I can understand the parent/child dynamics and how they’re not very far from what happens between me and and my seven-and-a-half-year old daughter Bean on the day to day. (laughing) Marlon and Christian just took things a bit further than me and Bean.

Bill: Recently, you performed Wild Son at LSU. How did it go? Will there be any engagements coming down south of the lake?

JM: In the words of my old acting teacher John Dennis from LSU who passed away several years ago: “It was gangbusters!” I mean, listen… Champ and I had only put the show up a total of four times (including the reading) in Los Angeles… and these performances were all at a coffee shop (and once in my friend’s back yard) in front of about 35 people. Doing it at LSU in their black box studio space was kind of a big jump. It was the first time we were in an actual theater… and it seats 130. We had a packed house and it was a lot of people I’ve known for most of my life, who were all very into it. I mean, from lights up I could feel them with me. Listen, even my mom liked it and she doesn’t like foul language. I could not have walked away feeling any happier than I did. To your second question, I definitely want to get down there and do it again in Baton Rouge…and in New Orleans.

Bill: Hollywood South has been going through many ups and downs as of late, with the ever changing tax credits and all. I’ve read some online complaints from independent artists feeling bias or lack of attention. For an actor and filmmaker/producer such as yourself, how important is it to show people that the process of making a project realized is worth it? Do you feel that Louisiana is doing all that it can to nurture in state creatives?

JM: I wish I was more in touch with the scene there. I really do. You have to realize, I moved away from Baton Rouge before any of the production incentives there ever existed. I remember when I was a kid, they shot a movie called The Toy in and around Baton Rouge… it starred Richard Pryor and Jackie Gleason… and man, let me tell you, people couldn’t believe it: “They’re shooting a movie! Right here in Baton Rouge!” It was unheard of… and a very big deal. Now it’s so, so, very different. I’ve shot, I believe a total of 5 films in Louisiana but only one of them did I actually get cast there locally… while I was home visiting my family. The other films I was cast in Los Angeles or New York — all this is to say, I don’t really know a lot first hand of what it’s like to be in the game down there. I can say this… I really want to shoot a script I’ve written called, “The Husband Killer” in Louisiana… I want Louisiana because that’s where I set the film when I wrote it… and Louisiana would be perfect… but if there’s anyway we can save a little money getting it produced there of course that would be great… and attractive to producers. I’m aware of a lot of locals who have taken advantage of some of the “nurturing” but mostly it’s working for big budget films. My understanding is this time around they have some new incentives for lower budget films. Is it enough? Again, I don’t know the game there well enough to speak to that.

Bill: What do you think of Val Kilmer’s Marlon Brando impression? Have you seen his Mark Twain play?

JM: I’ve never seen Val Kilmer’s Brando or his Mark Twain… But I loved him as The Ice Man!

Bill: What’s next for you after Wild Son, or rather, how do you follow up playing Christian Brando?

JM: By booking any job I can, big or small. That’s always the way, getting a job…is the JOB…for an actor like myself.  But right now we are working on getting Wild Son up at a theater out here in Los Angeles for a legitimate run… you know, so we can get some more press and make a name for ourselves… and then the hope is that we can take the show around to lots of different cities. I mean, the father/son story is universal, and Wild Son is almost like a Greek tragedy with lots of funny off color stories mixed in… and I guess because it’s set inside a very famous Hollywood actor’s home, a lot of people seem to be interested right from the get go. Plus…and I just have to say this: It’s good! I mean, it’s really, really good! I’ve been acting for almost 30 years now and I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever been in. People really want to hear this story… and are very taken with it after they do. I feel blessed as all hell that at least for now, I’m the one getting to tell it.

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