Stana Katic: Her Journey to The Rendezvous & Sister Cities
Most people who get time off from work use it relax. Since she’s been starring as detective Kate Beckett on the ABC hit show Castle, actress Stana Katic has a tendency to use her hiatus time between seasons to go do another acting job. For the Castle 2015 hiatus, she used it to do two: The Rendezvous and Sister Cities. Read on to see how these projects fit into the still rising trajectory of this talented & beautiful star.
(…)Artistic processes are all about making choices all the time, and the very act of making a choice is the distilling down and the getting to the core of what it is that you care about and what you want to say, really.
The above quote is from five time Oscar-nominated writer and director Mike Leigh. This idea of actors making choices in what roles they do may sound unlikely to some. Don’t actors – especially early on – just take what they can get? Well, yes and no. In terms of what auditions come their way an actor has no control over it. However, even early in the game an actor makes decisions on what they will audition for. (For more on actors choosing roles:www.backstage.com – advice for actors ).
What strikes me about the Katic resume is that there aren’t any roles where she’s just there as eye-candy – and there’s no doubt she’s beautiful enough to play any number of roles that require nothing but the ability to be hot on film. This speaks to the choices Katic didn’t make when going to audition and makes what she did do a snapshot of what’s been important to her early on as an actress.
In examining her body of acting work and her public persona, one can see Katic doing exactly as Leigh describes. Her work shows a steadily building arc that gives a picture of her not only as an actress, but of her larger artistic sensibility and spirit. These two new projects fit right into this arc, and appear to be creating a point that will allow more of who she is as an actress to shine.
Let’s look at the roles she’s doing in the first of these new projects.
Katic started filming this project soon after she caught the world by surprise and married long-time love Kris Brkljac. Directed by the Sundance award-winning director Amin Matalq(Captain Abu Raed) The Rendezvous is an action adventure film and love story (A love story…what a perfect gift for actor right after getting married!) co-starring Raza Jaffrey ( Homeland) and filmed mostly in Jordan. Also in the film is Darby Stanchfield (Scandal and Castle)! (Deadline)
Other recent news about the project is that the the film’s score is being done by Austin Wintory. He is a grammy nominated composer for his work on the video game “Journey” as well as the scores for Jaffery’s last two films. He’s done the music for many video games, which seems a perfect fit for a action/adventure film about a noble quest! I’m already in love with the music I’ve heard from his other projects. You can listen to some samples of his musichere.
The Rendezvous is based on a Sarah Isaias novel called A New Song, which you can find onAmazon as a book or digital download. It’s a great read – a love story and a quest that takes the duo all across the Middle East!
Pop the name Stana Katic into google and you’ll get this blurb: “Stana Katic is a Canadian-American film and television actress of Croatian Serb descent. That’s four different countries in her cultural mix. Katic, who speaks fluent Serbian, French, Italian and (obviously) English, has also publically expressed interested in travel and learning about different cultures. Aside from the some of the normal places westerns normally think of in terms of traveling: France, Greece, Italy… Katic also has taken trips to – by western standards – more out of the way places like India and, as she discusses in this interview by The Guardian, Mongolia!
I went to Mongolia with my mum and we lived in a yurt for almost three weeks. We travelled north via Khövsgöl and we also travelled in the Gobi desert in the south. We drank every sort of milk, from yak’s milk to camel’s milk to horse’s milk, and experienced the local traditions – they have an annual festival called Naadam, where they showcase archery, wrestling and horseback riding… We also participated in a child’s hair-cutting ceremony (Daah’ Urgeeh). It was wonderful to be able to share the experience with someone close to me. Mongolia hasn’t fully transitioned into commercialism, so some of the authentic, older experiences are still available to people travelling through the countryside.
Doing a project that sent her over to Jordan to film for six weeks seems right up her alley! What a great way to explore yet another part of the world!
Other things one can gleam from Katic’s roles and interviews – include the following:
Art Over Finance
The idea of “art over finance” (a statement Katic made last year when asked by TVLine about doing a season 8 of Castle) is something that Katic has held for a long time. Commercialism simply is not her first priority in choosing her work. She’s far more interested in telling a good and challenging story – a point she makes in this interview at the 2015 Independent Spirit Awards.
In that interview, Katic mentions it being her fourth time at the awards, but her interest and commitment to independent film goes back much further. The first feature she starred in,Truth About Kerry (made 2004, released 2010) was an independent film and the majority of films (as in not including television roles or other projects) she’s done are as well.
There is one project in particular stands out as a super “risky” choice for an independant film. The first hiatus after a full season of filming Castle (2010) she went off to make the independent film For Lovers Only. In a KTLA interview, one of the commentators asks how – despite being advised otherwise – she chose to follow her heart and do this small no-budget indie picture with “a bunch of creatives.”
Some might say putting the art of a project above the idea of what kind of money you’ll make doing it isn’t good for building a career, but it’s done well for this guy:
It’s not about an opening weekend. It’s about a career, building a set of films you’re proud of. Period. — George Clooney
Somewhere Between Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren…and Sigourney Weaver
It’s quite an array of women, but really, they all apply. I think of Audrey’s style, slender curves and features, but Sophia’s sensual beauty and passionate energy. I know Sigourney Weaveris from a completely different era of film than the first two, but back in the 1940’s the idea of a woman physically kicking butt and taking names was unheard of – especially in film. In the film franchise Aliens, Weaver turned broke through that limitation in a huge way. She’s then turned around to play the intense, dramatic character Dian Fossey in Gorillas in the Mist. Her comic turns also apply – like the role of Gwen DeMarco in Galaxy Quest. Also, she fits in because she’s tall. Weaver is 6? tall, Katic is 5’9? – as is Sophia Loren. Audrey Hepburn was shorter, but at 5’7? she’s still above average!
In acting roles Katic gravitates to strong, smart, and sensual women who have, or assert their autonomy in the story. Finding roles where the woman are strong and have their own story – as opposed to being there to service the man’s role – isn’t easy. Earlier this year theWashington Post reported on a study that pointed out that not only were there fewer lead roles for women in film than there were in 2002, but that in a sample of 100 movies, women were most likely to be a supporting character there to help others, while men were more likely to get into fights.
The sense of a character having physical strength, great intelligence and worldly authority – while also being thoroughly sexy and at times emotionally vulnerable – is something Katic can been seen doing weekly in her signature role: the smart and tough NYPD detective Kate Beckett on Castle. We’ve seen Beckett terrify suspects in interrogation rooms, take out bad guys on the run and with one look turn Richard Castle (played by co-star Nathan Fillion) into a puddle. As for getting into fights…
However, Beckett wasn’t Katic’s first run at at being badass. She’s played a number of roles that had the unusual mark of being a female character whose fighting ability was equal to her beauty. In 2005 Katic plays Marianne in Pit Fighter (2005). A low-bugdet (less than a million action film with a ton of physical fighting scenes. Katic’s character doesn’t actually fight, although she does get into a gun battle where she shoots a man and gets shot.
The overall story told in Pit Fighter isn’t linear, and is mostly about…pit fighting. Nevertheless, within the film Marianne starts out as an idealistic naive freedom fighter who is taking medical supplies to a rebel South American faction. She falls for the lead character who betrays her and her cause. At the end she’s become a calculating woman who takes a huge risk to get back what was taken by criminal means. The man that betrayed her ends up sacrificing his life so she can finally fulfil her original goal.
Marianne is the trigger to the lead character’s lost memories and her story is part of building his, but in 2008 Katic is the lead in another B-movie called Stiletto. The film is a non-stop action movie where the body count is high – and a lot of those bodies drop at the hand of Katic’s character Raina Mavias. Raina is motivated by avenging the rape and murder of her sister. The relationship tangles include Virgil Valados (Tom Berenger),the head of the Greek mob who is her former lover, and Beck (Paul Sloan) the corrupt police detective Virgil hires to find her. Unlike in Pit Fighter, this character does more than fire a gun.
With this film it’s fair to say that Katic had broken through the whole women don’t get into fights” on film thing! She never gets quite that bloody again – but she doesn’t have to. Instead she goes on to play characters who are physically capable of taking care of themselves. In The Librarian: The Curse of the Judas Chalice (2008), she plays Vampire Simone Renoir. Simone isn’t just a sensual singer with a french accent, she is a kick-ass vampire on a mission to destroy the vampire who created her. (Irony there is less blood involved in her playing a vampire than a live person!) She and Librarian Flynn Carsen (Noah Wyle) team up to find The Judas Chalice – but also fall in love.
Then in The Spirit she played the Rookie.
Now, of course, she’s the fabulous Kate Beckett on Castle! So much for women not getting into fights on film! The two-time People’s Choice winner, shows that a strong, badass female character can win hearts as much as one playing the passive victim.
Not being able to be physically strong on-screen is just one aspect of the stereotypical female character that Katic has managed to overcome. She’s also steered clear of those two dimension roles where an actress is merely eye candy or there to serve the male character’s needs. Even when not the star she’s managed to play strong-minded women with their own personal missions in life. She plays these characters showing all the areas of the woman’s life. Therefore Katic doesn’t shy away from roles asking her to incorporate the sexual element of the character into a performance.
Not all actresses are willing to bring her level of honesty to that part of a role. It’s so easy for an actress to get branded as “the beauty” or “bimbo” if she plays roles that allow the character to show a sexy side, that it’s safer to steer away from it. Her character choices are not ones for say, The Hallmark Channel. For Katic, stories where the women are complex, dealing with their own powerful agendas while being affected by the issues of sex and love have become a speciality.
Even in her guest spot television roles you can see her characters have strong personalities and are facing conflicts involving issues of love and power. There are two shows that come to mind immediately. The first is Rita Sullivan on CSI Miami. Rita isn’t a “nice” girl, but she fell for an even worse guy. She attempts to murder him – not for the things he did to her, but because he refused to help save the life of their son. The second truly haunting character in this vein is Colette Stenger on 24. This was a two part episode where Katic is a powerful women who brokers deals for stolen information to terrorists! Colette falls in love with intelligence agent Theo Stoller (Henry Ian Cusick) but the conflict of interest destroys their relationship as he betrays her. The arc isn’t huge – it’s not a lot scenes over two episodes – but the story and performances are compelling enough to have inspired two fan videos. Fan videos for characters who weren’t even main characters! (You can see them hereand here (play this in HD!)
Pieces of The Rendezvous Puzzle
What does all of this have to do with The Rendezvous? Everything. It’s an action-adventure movie, so being able to hold her own while escaping from the bad guys will come in handy! Rachael ends up pursuing an important document with a man very different from her – while also falling in love with him. We now know Katic has played all sorts of women falling in love – not just Kate Beckett.
The descriptions of the film make an even stronger case. The basic structure listed on IMDB is good start: “A miss-matched couple embark on a frantic search for the Dead Sea Scroll hidden in the ancient city of Petra.” Fans on twitter asking Mr. Matalqa about the movie got an even clearer picture:
For those who don’t know the movie Matalqa is referring to, here’s a quick description:
Charade is a 1963 Technicolor American romantic comedy/mystery film directed by Stanley Donen, written by Peter Stone and Marc Behm, and starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. (…) The film is notable for its screenplay, especially the repartee between Grant and Hepburn, for having been filmed on location in Paris, for Henry Mancini’s score and theme song, and for the animated titles by Maurice Binder. Charade has received generally positive reviews from critics, and was additionally noted to contain influences of genres such as whodunit, screwball and spy thriller; it has also been referred to as “the best Hitchcock movie that Hitchcock never made,” as he never made a screwball thriller.(www.en.wikipedia.org)
Wow! I’m sure Castle fans recognize the phrases listed in the genres. Coupled with the larger story of this quest, and Katic working with a wonderful director and sizzling hot co-lead Raza Jaffrey, this movie has all the earmarks of being a deliciously fun and sexy adventure!
A Woman’s Story
Both The Rendezvous and Sister Cities fall into the independent film category. There’s no big studio backing like those of the giant comic book franchises that come out every summer. This freedom that independant film has allows for telling unique stories, and stories that are often ignored by the studios. They are however, very different films. The Rendezvous is pulling from Katic’s experiences playing a strong, smart & alluring woman – and displaying more of her romantic comedy flair. Sister Cities, a play described as a dark comedy, uses more of the actress’s dramatic chops.
Both films do have a story that tells of a woman’s experience and point of view. This is something Katic has a strong interest in and enjoys, a point she made at the 2012 Woman in Film Crystal & Lucy Awards:
…As a future filmmaker I think it’s important to kind of be amongst other women who are creating pieces, telling tales (…)Storytelling, especially in film, is difficult. It’s a wonderful effort to try and tell tales that are centered on a woman’s story. Stana Katic at the 2012 Women In Film’s Crystal + Lucy Awards 2012. (Youtube Video 2012 WIF Awards)
I would be remiss to discuss Katic’s commitment to women’s stories and issues without mentioning the work she did in Truth about Kerry. In this small indie film, Katic plays Emma, a woman who’s best friend Kerry dies while on vacation in Ireland. The film deals with the intense bonds of friendship that can exist between women, the questions people have about their sense purpose in life, and depression…. Aside from all those plot points mentioned above, the film also has a much deeper and chilling message. It’s about how our society deals with women and people who have mental illness. In 2010 Truth About Kerry won Best Original Screenplay at the LA Femme International Film Festival. After watching the film I can see why it won. It’s an intense message about what we’re willing to believe about women.
At this point I need to give you a SPOILER WARNING. If you haven’t seen the movie Truth About Kerry and don’t want to know specifics about the film or it’s ending, please skip the paragraph that follows this trailer and go to the section, “Sister Cities.”
What makes this film so powerful is the way it lulls the audience into believing that Kerry committed suicide. We see everything through the eyes of Emma (Katic). At first think Emma believes Kerry was murdered. She refuses to believe it was an accident or suicide. We also see her being full of life. As more and more of Kerry’s story is revealed, we learn Kerry had a history of depression, had some dissatisfaction with her life, and was having problems with her boyfriend. When Patrick, the man no one likes, who’s also suffering from depression, is shown to be in the clear, Emma breaks down and tells her fiancee that Kerry tried to kill herself when they were in college. She feels guilty for not being on the vacation with Kerry as they planned because then she thinks she could have stopped it.
Once Emma and fiancee leave Ireland, the audience is shown what really happened to Kerry. She was brutally raped and murdered by Joseph, a man no one suspected: the friendly bar owner in the village that everyone loves. It’s the last few minutes of the film, but when you learn what he did a bunch of pieces fall into place that you hadn’t even looked at before. Like the fact that another girl – a local girl – turned up drowned in a lake – just like Kerry did on the beach. That deaths by water are blamed on “evil mermaids” by the villagers. That the waters were, “dangerous” and many people had drowned there. You realize that Joseph is serial rapist and murderer and are left with the fact that because Kerry wasn’t perfectly happy and had in her past been depressed enough to try suicide, even her best friend came to believe Kerry must have tried it again.
Truth About Kerry hits hard. How often has a woman’s mental history been used to explain away rape and murder…. Currently in the news is the story of Sandra Bland, a woman who was found hanging in her jail cell. She had a history of depression – but was also in the process of turning her life around. Literally on her way to a new job she was excited about when stopped by police, her mental history has been used as a reason to believe being held over a weekend in a local jail cell over a traffic violation would cause her to kill herself. A film like Truth About Kerry advocates makes us look at our own prejudices and assumptions about women and depression. You are left questioning why is was easier for Emma – and viewers – to believe Kerry killed herself? More than a story about women’s friendships, Truth About Kerry it takes a look at the larger societal issue of how we view women who have suffered from depression.
Now, without giving away the actual plot of Sister Cities, it’s fair to say that it shares a similarity to Truth About Kerry in that not only is it about women and their relationships, but it forces us to look at uncomfortable social issues and consider the way we view things. It’s also a film based on a woman’s writing, and features many strong roles for women. In short it’s exactly the kind of film Katic has said she’d like to support and has demonstrated support for by choosing to work on Truth About Kerry.
This isn’t saying the two films are alike. Sister Cities, aside from being dark comedy and not straight drama, is production-wise much larger in scope than Truth About Kerry – and not just financially. Filled with proven creative entities, it is far from being a first time film project. Just look at this information from the film’s press release:
SISTER CITIES, starring two-time Academy Award nominee Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook), Stana Katic (Castle), Jess Weixler (The Good Wife), Michelle Trachtenberg (Killing Kennedy), Troian Bellisario (Pretty Little Liars) and five-time SAG nominee Alfred Molina (The Normal Heart).
Based on the internationally acclaimed play by Colette Freedman, which was both a critical and commercial success in the United States and Europe, Sister Cities tells the story of four estranged sisters, as different as the cities they were named after, who reunite to mourn after their mother’s alleged suicide.
Sister Cities also stars Amy Smart (Justified) and Tom Everett Scott (Sons of Anarchy)
Sister Cities is produced by Cannonball Productions, directed bySean Hanish (Return to Zero) produced by Paul Jaconi-Biery, Sean Hanish & Eleonore Dailly, and executive produced by Kelly Kahl and Alfred Molina
This is an amazing group of people to have on one project! The director and all the producers but Dailly worked on Return to Zero, which is also a drama that deals with people going through a painful life event. Dailly’s skills as a producer have been noted by the PGA in their making her a Debra Hill Fellow, “a unique award granted in the name of pioneering and visionary producer Debra Hill.” (IMDB). The casting of Sister Cities speaks for itself.
With the number of good roles for women being scarce in Hollywood, it’s great to see a project like this being done. It would be hard to find a more a more women-centered story than four sisters dealing with the suicide of their mother! Sister Cities is unique in its story and something I’m sure any actress would be thrilled to be a part of. Still, the part of Caroline, which Katic is playing, has a particularly interesting physical challenge to it. I’m sure she’s more than up to the task!
The online magazine Chatelaine notes Katic’s resume has an impressive list of skills that lend themselves to physically demanding roles.
She’s skilled in fencing, scuba diving, archery, falconry and horseback riding, and she’s studied martial arts. She’s fluent in Serbian, French, English and Italian. She even learned Navy Seal knifing techniques for her role as a Russian assassin in the 2008 film Stiletto.
On Castle she’s known for liking to do as many of her own stunts as possible. One well-known instance is in season six. The episode, “In the Belly of the Beast” had a scene that involved Beckett being physically tortured by having her head repeatedly dunked in a vat of ice water. Stunt double Shauna Galligan tweeted out that she was called in for that scene, but Katic chose to actually do the scenes herself. It took hours to shoot! The water wasn’t iced in real life, but being shoved under water for countless takes is a demand that most would have used a stunt double for! She’s mentioned on various occasions that she is a Method actor, and it’s things like this that show her total commitment to her craft.
These Milestone Moments
At the beginning of this article I stated that The Rendezvous and Sister Cities are milestones in Katic career, which they are. They represent a new tier of work in terms of the way Hollywood works. However, I hope that this brief look at her work leading up to these projects shows the value in all of her work. Each project an actor does enhances the work of that artist and becomes part the foundation that they can build upon for their next role.
This quote from Katic is advice she gave to a USC student asking about how to keep from getting discouraged:
If you’re a musician, just play your music, you know. If you’re an actor, just keep acting, if you’re a writer, keep writing. And find different ways to keep putting you, yourself, your work, out there. And find different ways of collaborating with really interesting people. (from: An Evening with Castle – Andrew Marlowe & Stana Katic at USC)
As we have seen, that advice is not something she just said, it’s something she lives. I would say she also took this advice from the most Oscar-nominated actress of all time, Meryl Streep:
Integrate what you believe in every single area of your life. Take your heart to work and ask the most and best of everybody else, too.
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