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Kayla Lorette and Zack Russell On Their New Film, Stolen Identities, and Toronto’s Artistic Community

Director Zack Russell and comedian Kayla Lorette are obsessed with Julian Richings. The Toronto-based Brit is someone you will have seen around—either in one of his myriad film, television, and theatre roles, or perhaps literally, in Parkdale where he’s lived for 30 years—a classic character actor with a face you might recognize but not know why. Kayla and Zack wanted that face, so they made it.

Without checking in with Richings, they acquired and copied his face and made an expensive prosthetic, a prop in their upcoming short film “She Stoops To Conquer.” The first he heard of it was when this trailer was emailed to him:

Richings—ignoring any strong “potential serial killer” vibes inherent in the whole face theft scenario—agreed to participate in the project, which shoots in September. I caught up with the two young lunatics over a bunch of brown cocktails at Northwood to find out more about the project, their boner for Julian, and how exactly you get a copy of a man’s face for free.

SDTC: Hi guys. I guess my first question has to be how exactly you get a copy of a man’s face without contacting him?

Kayla Lorette: It was surprisingly not very hard. You can get a cast of someone’s head through a series of quick text messages. We met with Trason Fernandes, our special effects artist, and told him about the idea, and he knew a guy, who owed him a favour, who had made a cast of his head for another show, so while we were out for coffee he was texting this guy.

Zack Russell: It took two minutes. Julian says it’s because he’s been beheaded so many times. We were like, “Hey, hope you don’t feel weird, we used a cast of your face,” and he was like “Those things are all over town.” So he’s a particularly easy person’s face to get, turns out.

Did you know that at the time? Why did you guys want him in particular?

KL: We had talked about this character, and we wanted someone who was older, really specific looking, that had a sexuality to them, still. To be an older man who you could still definitely imagine being sexual with.

Are you two going to get sexy in the movie?

KL: Right now it’s a scene of mutual masturbation in bed.

ZR: But we will be panning down to the relevant region and just staying there.

KL: The film is mostly genitals… [laughs] We just got so obsessed with Julian.

What did he say when you sent him the trailer?

ZR: He was very short and formal about it. “Well this is shocking… impressed… let’s meet.”

Sexy.

ZR: Very sexy, very mysterious. I’ve never spent so long preparing one tiny email. Like six months and so much money for one email.

Yeah, it says on the fundraiser page that you guys spent $12,000??

ZR: We’ve saved twelve grand. We spent like $2,000 on the face, not knowing whether or not he would say yes.

KL: We knew a lot of ways we could get to him, there were all these little avenues. We just quietly and kind of obsessively made this teaser video and then it was like, do we send it to his house? No, that’s a bad idea.

So do you guys have a lot of experience with short film as a medium?

KL: I’ve done little things, always for way shiftier budgets, getting paid in like, Jameson whiskey between takes on a farm or whatever. I’ve done a lot of web series.

ZR: This is my first video project. Don’t tell anyone. When we shot the teaser I’d never been on a video set before. We were setting up the first shot of the day with this very seasoned DP, Henry Sansom, and he was like “Okay rolling, frame,” and there was this long pause and everyone was looking at me, and Sansom was like “… action?” And then I got it together and said action and we got going.

 How have you found film as opposed to theatre direction?

ZR: It’s all the control and visual control I’ve ever wanted to have, and now I get to have it. It’s really gratifying. All the plays and theatre I’ve done, I’ve always been obsessed with the visuals and tried to control it as much as I can, even just the fact that you have an audience sitting in a million different places… we just did a play in a 9,000 seat stadium, and the control is so minimal when people are sitting all around you. Just having one viewfinder, I love it.

Tell me a little more about the movie. Where did the idea come from?

ZR: Well the easy synopsis is that it’s about a girl who is a kind of drag king in a slightly alternate universe that plays this very specific character she’s created—a lonely old man—and it keeps failing. And just when she’s about to give up on it she meets the real life version of this character, and they have this crazy night together, so it’s about that night and its effect on her craft. I think more abstractly it’s a film about performance, and performances evolving, being another person, which is very much riffing off of Kayla’s wheelhouse of always playing weird old men.

Kayla does always play weird little old pervert guys. What’s the deal there?

KL: This is how the whole film started, we were having a conversation about why I always want to play middle aged women and old, creepy men. I mean as a starting point, it’s just such a great novelty, everyone’s impressed right away if you are playing the opposite of what you are. But on a deeper level it’s like.. beauty and your youth are something you don’t have control over, and it can kind of be taken from you or become something that’s focused on, so for me there’s an attraction to playing older, wise people, so I’m not being looked at or… I’m able to control my performance a bit more, I think there’s more power in it for me than having to be a 26 year old woman which is to me is just… the roles out there are boring.

Do you guys feel excited or scared based on the amount of personal money that you’ve saved to put towards the project?

KL: Personal money doesn’t scare me so much. It’s our idea, so we believe in it and want to invest in it. But with other people’s money it’s a bit scary. It’s like that Bill Cunningham quote, “If you don’t take their money they can’t tell you what to do.” Which makes working for free feel good.

ZR: Although in another sense we’ve taken a lot of people’s talents, and if we fuck with that, we’re big assholes. Imagine we just ruined Julian’s life with this weird movie?

KL: Oh god, we’re just so obsessed with him, which is a huge impetus to make the movie good. He’s such a charming, talented man who believes in Toronto in such an intense way. He’s lived in Parkdale forever and he’s like… I’m staying here, I want to work with young, local artists. I want to see this community grow.

That’s so nice. Do you feel the same way about the artistic community in this city?

ZR: He’s helping me to feel that way. He made such a great point: if you become successful and leave there’s no frame of reference for younger people here, it just becomes “Oh fuck Toronto, let’s get out of here where we can make real art.” We’re really forcing him to become our mentor.

And do you feel a big connection with the drag community? Are you involved in that scene at all?

KL: I’ve been very in love with the drag scene ever since I started watching House of Filth and hanging out at The Beaver. Recently I was talking to Nancy Bocock, who’s also in All Our Happy Days, and I was saying how jealous I get of this level of comedy and performance and camp and showmanship that is just beyond what’s available in the general comedy community. It’s so sexy and fun and big… Drag comedy feels so much more relevant than most comedy I see.

So what genre is this thing? How would you describe it?

ZR: I really love to call it a romcom, it feels so perverse. A man meets and then fucks himself. You know, classic romcom.

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