In a previous post, I wrote about badass female protagonists. Tracey Birdsall is no exception to that list. She’s the badass star of the science fiction film “Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter” (released on VOD recently via Sony) and the upcoming “The Time War” (currently filming). She’s also known for her roles in soaps “Young and the Restless” and “Loving”. Let the badassery begin.
Loren Kleinman (LK): Discuss transitioning from soaps to sci-fi? What are some similarities between the two?
Tracey Birdsall (TB): I would actually say that soaps are almost exactly the opposite of sci-fi in preparation and in execution. In a soap, or in most drama, the character is a well-formed being with anticipated obstacles or arcs and transitions. In sci-fi, we have new experiences, new realms, extreme weather elements - in addition to non-human or non-existent characters and possibilities that make the imagination (and the belief of this imagination) the only instinct we can rely on. The approach is more childlike and raw, and the journeys are often life or death of a world or many worlds. In drama (or in soap), the role is memorized, prepared and lived. In sci-fi, the memorization and preparation is only the first stage of bringing the character to life (oftentimes many months prior to character preparation), followed by a realization and acceptance of your surroundings and truths - which you must believe in order to bring it to life… then followed by your acceptance of the stakes, and belief of what it means if you don’t achieve your goals. Take all of that and venture out into the elements, and it all comes to life - while you fight for survival against all odds. It’s high stakes acting in impossible situations - with hope - tethered only by your imagination…
LK: Based on this transition, can you also talk about how your role as a model has helped you in your feature and TV roles on the screen?
TB: Growing up in this industry requires not only a lot of training and perseverance, but also a strong will and food on the table. I didn’t choose to do print work or commercials; moreover, I did them so that I could afford to do what I was driven to do (film and television, not to mention endless training and coaching - which gets quite expensive.) Although many of my cohorts were driven to work in restaurants to pay their bills, I found that by doing print work and television commercials, I could pay the bills and have the time I needed to study and pursue my craft. It wasn’t a choice, it was a solution.
LK: What interests you as far as a script is concerned? What's been the most challenging script you've had to interpret and why?
TB: I’ve been working on a film right now, The Time War, for several years on and off. It’s by far the most challenging script due to time travel. There are various versions of my character with different identities that are brought together through time to band together and rise to battle against Adolf Hitler who is using time travel technology to re-write history and improve upon his own genetics - not to mention take over the world. It’s become so complicated in execution, as many times these various versions have to interact with each other. I’ve had to give each of them nicknames so that I can readily decipher how to portray them - and even that can be very tricky… This film simply boggles my mind! It’s sci-fi, time travel, and very very dark.
I love a script that is intelligent and that takes me on a journey. I love complex characters, intelligent and emotional journeys. I adore a project that can suck me in by the 5th page, and I’m still stuck in it on page 70 - it’s a real test. I love anything that pushes me (and the audience) to extremes. As an actor, I love a project that utilizes so many of the tools in my toolbox. Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter was such a project as it not only pushed me to extremes of vulnerability and strength emotionally, but also the physical extremes. On top of all of that, she was such an empowering woman who rose above unsurmountable obstacles… It was an amazing journey to live.
LK: Can you talk about your dedication to the indie scene? What's attracted you to the indie film industry as opposed to more commercial?
TB: There is so much opportunity in indie film - to create rich characters, and that’s not something we often see in studio films. We have the opportunity to create and to focus on making the best film that we can without the restraints - albeit on a budget. We can spend months, even years, getting into the nuances of the characters. I’m more than open to do a studio film; however, I just don’t see the opportunity for it that often - for strong women lead roles. That said, Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter is being distributed by Sony, and they see the value in our product. As actors, we really just want to work and create and emote. We want our work to be seen and distributed worldwide - and we are doing that… I have a stack of scripts I haven’t read yet with opportunity written all over them, so I prefer to create rather than wait. That said, I’ve never turned down an amazing role… I just keep going…
LK: How has the indie scene contributed to you playing roles like Sienna, the action heroine, in Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter?
TB: I don’t have to prove myself in the indie scene… I’ve done it over and over. I do have to show up, work hard, deliver a better performance that they had even hoped for, and then do it all over again. People (Producers and Directors) don’t choose me because I’m the most beautiful or I’m the most talented or I’m the “up and coming”; moreover, they choose me to lead their films as I have a ridiculous reputation for being one of the hardest working actresses out there who will study and meticulously prepare and deliver. I will live the role as my life, and I will breathe that life into the character. I also thrive on chemistry and will do whatever it takes to make a connection with the other actors on set - thus bringing even more to their performance. I’m a very sacrificing actor and I love the punishment that ensues when a director (Neil Johnson comes to mind here) pushes me to my exact limits - and then some. I thrive on it. Many actors would not want to endure what I have to go through, thus the role comes to me. It’s kind of a perfect world, in that way…
LK: Can you talk about working with sci-fi director Neil Johnson (Rogue Warrior, The Time War) and how that relationship started?
TB: Neil and I were in touch for several years prior to working together. We were familiar with each other’s work. He contacted me one day and suggested we meet for lunch and discuss perhaps working together (which rarely turns to anything - so I didn’t have my hopes up.) He was, at the time, in post-production of a couple of films that he shot back to back (Starship), and asked if I might be interested in voicing a spaceship computer. Sci-Fi geek that I am, that was a really exciting proposition!
Over the next few months, I was receiving a lot of awards for several films that were working their way through the festival circuit prior to being released. Neil and I used to discuss at length our work ethic, our “everything in” ideals when it came to how hard we both focused and worked. It was only a natural progression that would see him having me lead up his sci-fi feature Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter. The upcoming The Time War sees even a bigger vision - only possible with people so highly dedicated to their craft. I’ve never before seen an indie film, or director, with such epic vision as this. It’s truly extraordinary.
LK: Who's your favorite action heroine and why? How are you alike and how are you different?
TB: I’ve always watched anything with an action heroine. I love those films! Growing up a tomboy had my focus on strength, capabilities and skills more than dresses and boys. So many of these heroine’s come to mind, but my favorite has always been Linda Hamilton in The Terminator. She simply inspired me at the right age. Having always been a gym rat, she unknowingly inspired me to work harder and to be more. Her character was inspiring, and her performance was amazing. I met her once at the local gym and was able to share that with her… surreal.
I watched Wonder Woman a couple of days ago, and absolutely loved her performance and the film. When you ask me my favorite however, Linda Hamilton still is at the top in my mind.
Watch the trailer for “Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter” below.