Kate McGrath served as co-writer with the lovely Janine Laino, Feenix Films’ Treasurer, on The Basement, part of Requiem. Performances include the films mentioned above as well as Nicky Newark (2011), Lock-Load-Love (2010), and various stage performances throughout New York. We had the awesome opportunity to interview her. Check out the interview below.
Thank you for granting the interview, Kate! We are excited to speak with you about your career. Your love for acting started at a young age when you would perform Holiday shows for your grandparents. What is your fondest memory of that time? Which performance?
Thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure.
Fondest memory HAS to be Thanksgivings. Those were the big spectacles. I have cousins in Virginia who would come up to New York and it would be quite a scene. Besides my Nana and Poppy hosting in their incredible home, which in my “dreamer years” I assumed I’d buy one day, the shows would go up before food was served and they included everything from dance routines to singing to out-and-out competitions. It was hilarious. My cousin Shannon was this unbelievable gymnast. She could improvise these magnificent routines on the spot and dazzle the crowd while my sister Tara and I would be rehearsing a dance to Janet Jackson for weeks. Somewhere around the Tone Loc “Wild Thing” year is when it got a little too inappropriate for my Nana. My favorite though is TO THE DAY our interpretation of Garfield’s Halloween. I’m not one to brag but I nailed it, folks. My early nuanced performance of Garfield and the creepy old pirate categorically established my sense of sarcasm. That’s a resume skill.
Is it true you once doubted your vocal talent?
I abandoned my voice for over a decade. The doubt I have is justified, I assure you. But I’m lucky to have a good work ethic and I’m old enough now that I don’t let doubt debilitate me. I treat singing like all of the art I attempt to create – it needs practice, education, and passion. I have a wonderful vocal coach, Pamela Thomas, who I see weekly. She’s superb: talented and trained in her own right, honest, pushes me but has faith in me. I consider her a friend as well who I want to make proud. My first performance will be in a holiday concert of two Christmas songs – which seems fitting and right for me, considering the personal losses my family has had the last few years. I’m excited about it and feel like it is a gentle introduction back into vocal performance for me as an adult.
But the majority of my vocal life is auditioning – typically within the spheres of comedy or rock performance – both speak to me musically. Historically that’s what my experience dictates. It was Bye Bye Birdie or jazz choir vocally; instrumentally guitar or drums. I guess all things come full circle when you’re an actor.
Who is your favorite great playwright and why?
That’s a tough one. Depends really on the time we’re talking about. Shakespeare spoke to me in high school when he wasn’t speaking to a lot of my fellow students. I still love that crazy bastard whether he’s cracking us up or bloodying up the stage.
But William Inge wrote Come Back, Little Sheba and the character Lola is just the most lovely, tragic and sobering woman I’ve ever read. I also love Dark at the Top of the Stairs and was introduced to the nuances of Picnic by one of my greatest teachers, the late A. Ronald Medici, in college. Sheba though is IT for me – Lola would be a dream come true to play.
And for contemporary playwrights, I think Caryl Churchill is pretty unreal. I know everyone talks about Top Girls, but I’m all about Owners. Richard Greenberg is a beautiful writer. I saw Take Me Out and thought it was exceptional – the front page news was about these shower scenes, but the words were so powerful and enchanting that it was pure circumstance. Three Days of Rain is my favorite of his. That family just reads so real to me.
You mentioned in a previous interview that love playing what some people might call “the ‘C’ word.” Tell us more.
Haha, I’m not sure how to discuss that, to be honest. Lord knows my mother is probably not digging this right now. And those women are unacceptable in their treatment of others, I know from experience.
The first time I played it was in a short film that my character was cut from. My scene partner told me, and I’ll never forget this because it was the coolest compliment, “You’re so good at that, I want to punch you.”
When you first give yourself such permissions, your blood runs from your feet to your face with such heat. It’s absolute liberation. It’s almost embarrassing, and you’re blushing, because as a civilian, one should not behave in such a way. But as an actor it is so good you could cry. That is what a character like that feels like for me.
Let’s talk “Clandestine.” Your father was a law enforcement officer and his experiences inspired the movie. Tell us more.
Yes, I interviewed my Dad around 2003 or so to do a law enforcement inspired film. At the time, the meth crisis was being exposed to the world and I was both fascinated and terrified. I thought to combine the two since my Dad was not too keen on a biography anyway. Most cops, at least the Vietnam-era, and older breeds are not dramatic types. As an actor who was struggling to get work, this provided me with work in a story that I wanted to lend voice to the drug war and the gray of it. NOT the black and white, as that just does NOT exist.
It led to years of writing, dramaturgy, rewriting, interviewing addicts, enablers and law enforcement, and rewriting again. Luckily in the midst of this, I had become an executive board member of a film company called Feenix Films in late 2008 – arguably the best thing to happen to me. Not only did they produce a film of mine called DEALeR, David LaRosa, the president of Feenix, read one of the drafts of Clandestine around 2010 or so. He was so into it: the story, the characters, the feel of it. He mentioned on the phone early on how he got a read of it like the movie Heat, and I nearly lost my mind because Heat and Michael Mann were sort of WHY I wrote the film – the style in which I had hoped to be a party to. And thus was born Clandestine.
It is a long story even from this point on – but we hustled. I’ve been saying a lot: Feenix is ALL elbow grease. Even securing Tom Sizemore was me on the phone one night in my studio apartment calling as a producer to his reps. He was really supportive of the story, of Dave and ended up doing a really stellar job. And Janine Laino and Tom Sizemore really make you squirm in that scene. My character Julia was my world – I prayed for her every night – I mean I wrote the ending, but I wanted her to have hope and breath every day.
After post, we had a really successful and award-nominated and winning run in 2016 on the indie festival circuit. Clandestine is now viewable on several platforms: Amazon Prime, iTunes, PlayStation Video, Google Play, and Dish Network. In the end: I’d say it was about ten years in total of writing – including on set fixes – for a 13-year project. Worth every second.
What would you say is your ultimate career goal?
I feel now like my goals are just about continuing to challenge myself in my work and keep learning in the business. My filmmaking partners, Dave and Janine, luckily feel the same way. We are in early development stages for our next feature. Most likely, it will be one of Dave’s – he’s written two of them. I have one on deck and another in research and early writing stages. For us, it’s about always learning whatever comes next – being the best business people without abandoning our craft. You CAN do both. Hell, you SHOULD do both, especially considering what is coming to light now: how artists have been abused by the bigwigs of Hollywood – or I should say internationally.
Ultimately, I want to be the best artist I can possibly be. There’s the Erma Bombeck quote about standing before God at the end of your life and being able to tell him, and this is a very loose interpretation, I’ve got no talent left in me. I used everything you gave me. That’s the goal. No wasted time or talent. Sorry, Erma. I destroyed that.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Well, I’m a cat mom. I find my cat Heidi very relaxing. I chill with her. See the parents and sisters – one is in California though so it isn’t as often as I’d like. But she’s an opera singer and founder of the Hummingbird Conservatory for the Arts so she’s also crazy busy. I read probably TOO many books about the Troubles in Ireland and hit some Soul-Cycle and SLT classes.
Is there anything you would like to add that we haven’t asked?
Haha, I can’t think of anything. Thank you again for having me. Feel free to check out my Twitter or Instagram @KateMcG2001 or Feenix Films, @FeenixFilms. Check out my sisters’ artworks – Meg is a painter @meghsyart and Tara Wallace at The Hummingbird Conservatory for the Arts. And finally, feel free to watch Clandestine and talk about it in nice ways…you know, for the holidays!!
Featured Image Credit: Jeffrey Hornstein.