Tracey Birdsall talks about her role in Neil Johnson’s, The Time War

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Tracey Birdsall with Neil Johnson on the set of The Time War

indieactivity: How did you get connected to the ‘The Time War’ project? Did you have to audition?
Tracey: I haven’t auditioned in about five years… I’ve been too busy working! The Director (Neil Johnson) and I had been working together on a previously successful international release (Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter), so working on his next project was the next best choice.

I have quite a stack of scripts in my email to read for other projects, I just have to find the time to get to it. One of the scripts in particular was written by Director David Worth (the Director of such action classics as Kickboxer and Bloodsport), whom I worked with a couple of times in the 1990’s, so I’ll probably read his project next.

indieactivity Interview with Action Star Tracey Birdsall

indieactivity: ‘The Time War’ is another lead for you. Do you feel an immense amount of pressure, knowing you’re ‘carrying’ a movie?
Tracey: As long as you’re prepared, there is no pressure in life. Pressure only comes from not working hard enough in preparation for a project. I actually truly enjoy working with all of the other actors, and I try to bring something to the table on those days that they weren’t quite expecting – it’s kind of magical.

indieactivity: What part of the story challenged you when you read it? What drove you to get on the project?
Tracey: It’s not really a project anyone would say “no” to unless they weren’t up to the task. It’s liable to make history with its storyline and structure. Doing a time travel film such as The Time War, means creating multiples of your character from across timelines – each more different than the last. It’s a true task to create multiple characters within a film, and a challenge more aspiring actors ought to try and do in their studies… it stretches your mind and your craft.

indieactivity: You’re not new to indie projects, what do you enjoy about independent productions?
Tracey: I adore the room to explore the character, collaborate about the character and the production, and the chance to contribute to a work of art such as film. I love the time spent delving into the character(s) and the freedom to create with very little limitation. I’m sure that opportunity exists in studio productions; however, my opportunity of late has been with the larger independent productions. We are actors. We strive to explore the human condition at all costs.

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Tracey Birdsall & Cheyenne Buchanan on the set of The Time War

indieactivity: Give an example of a direction you received from Neil Johnson during the production of ‘The Time War’?
Tracey: Neil quite often pushes me very hard once I’ve made a creative choice on a character… He quite often ramps it up by percentages until I just don’t think I can take it anymore during the more intense epic scenes – then he will bring it back – also by percentages, incrementally. This unleashes the rawness of a character and emotional exhaustion that can take days to sleep off (if able), but it’s very interesting to watch on film. I’m not sure all actors could take it, but it’s amazing.

indieactivity: How did you create your character from ground up?
Tracey: Seeing as I had to create multiple characters within the same character (from multitudes of timelines), just like anything else, you start from the beginning… the original Dijanne. As you create the other versions, the Director gave them nicknames so that I could create them as individuals with their respective pasts, dreams, hopes, goals, and inspiration. The costuming helps in that department also, as you remember everything that character feels and does – and how they move and talk – once you put it on.

I created various facial start positioning and head movements for each of them, and some of those choices came from the material and who they were at the core. I take hints and ideas from the script choices and run ideas past the director on what they could do, how they could talk, oftentimes what they would say (as they all speak a bit differently as a cadence – because it’s interesting). When I hear “rolling”, I go through a checklist of the character in my mind for all of these start positions and thoughts. When I hear “action” I just live it without questioning.

indieactivity: As the lead in ‘The Time War’, describe the responsibility that you shouldered. Were you scared? Or did it fire you up? What scenes where difficult to shoot?
Tracey: One can never be afraid of opportunity, and never shy away from responsibility. Again, there is no fear when you are prepared. Oftentimes, these scenes were either war battles or gut wrenching so sometimes I dreaded going to the mental headspace I knew would be required as it really takes a toll on you when you “live their lives.” Some of the more epic scenes, as I had worked with Neil Johnson before, I knew would be excruciating as he would ramp me up and then pull it down. It’s all worth it; it’s just that sometimes having the information of knowing what you will go through is simply daunting, albeit necessary.

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Tracey Birdsall & Chris Showerman on set of The Time War

indieactivity: Explain one creative choice you made on set during production?
Tracey: One of the Djanne’s, whom we refer to as “modified”, has an interesting choice in what she eats. Let’s just say she’s definitely not a vegetarian, like I am! I made the choice not to just eat the food, but to study it on camera first and wonder what it would be like to move like it. You will see throughout the film that part of it’s movement is incorporated into how she holds herself and moves herself – because human beings are curious and learn from their surroundings – so this felt real.

indieactivity: What did you take away from the ‘The Time War’ project?
Tracey: Just like any good science fiction film, the process made me question everything I know… emotionally, intellectually, physically, and relationship-wise. Good science fiction sends you down paths of logic and truth, and what-ifs. It’s a science of what could be, what might be, what is and what could have but will never be… or will it? When you live through a project this complex, you take away a multitude of thought processes questioning everything.

indieactivity: What do you like most about Neil Johnson?
Tracey: I love Neil’s work ethic first and foremost. He’s absolutely the hardest working human being I’ve ever met, apart from myself. I have tremendous regard for his skills and talents, and for the punishment that he gives me in order to get an amazing performance – it’s not easy on him to push me to these extremes. I will forever be indebted to him for these opportunities. When Neil is directing Star Wars someday (or the like) I will carry the pride that I had the opportunity to work with such greatness. He prefers to work with a Cinematographer, but OMG, when he touches that camera it’s gold…

indieactivity: What is next for you?
Tracey: Once we finish The Time War, we are developing a limited television series of Rogue Warrior in the future. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a chance to read some of these scripts that have been sent to me and make a choice on what project I would like to take on next.

indieactivity: What advice would you give actors regarding what you learnt on the ‘The Time War’ Project?
Tracey: I have two major things that I learned between The Time War and Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter that I wish I had studied over the years, at some point, while training..

In Rogue Warrior, my sidekick is a floating robot. In preparation for that, I kept the physical robot in my office for months and created a personality for him and interacted with him – so that it could be real to the audience… even getting upset with people if they didn’t greet him. What a complicated process that was! At some point early on, we are all trained to work opposite a Coke can if a big name actor isn’t on set that day, but this was miles beyond, and I learned so much about myself and my capabilities as an actor. If I had realized the magnitude of difficulty, I would have practiced it much earlier on.

In The Time War, I played a character named Dijanne who has variations of herself which actually interact with each other… another incredible exercise of creation and execution which other actors could take advantage of in their study group or on their own.

We need every tool in our tool belt for when we are hired to do projects, and those were two areas I had to learn myself – but which taught me so much on actor self-reliance and creation. We should all take every opportunity to grow ourselves as an actor because in this arena we are only in competition with ourselves.