Juliet Landau interview: Take Flight, Gary Oldman, Buffy and Angel and more…

Juliet Landau talks about Buffy and Angel, her film work, and her new documentary - Take Flight - that she's made about Gary Oldman...

What do esteemed actor/writer/director Gary Oldman, cell phones, a Jewish Hip Hop group named Chutzpah, bikini clad women and a music video all have in common?

They are the focus of accomplished actress/writer and debut director Juliet Landau’s funny, cutting-edge short subject documentary, Take Flight.

Juliet Landau (Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, Joss Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel) is a highly respected actress, writer, producer and promising director. Who can forget her portrayal of the deliciously deranged Drusilla (one of the only vamps in the Buffyverse to off a slayer) or her side-splitting turn as Loretta King in Tim Burton’s biopic Ed Wood?

Now Landau adds another string to her bow with Take Flight and fills me in on everything from scripting her own Drusilla comics (a continuation of the Angel series which sees Los Angeles plunged into Hell by The Senior Partners after they betray Wolfram and Hart), her background in musical theatre and slinking around in a tight catsuit as Russian femme fatale Nataliya Chernov in the children’s film Monster Mutt.

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Gary Oldman directed the video shot entirely on cell phones and operated one of them as well. He asked Juliet to direct a behind the scenes ‘making-of’ and her take on the ensuing madness blossomed into a documentary that is exhilarating! The cell phone footage affords a truly rare POV. “It’s like being inside his brain…seeing through his eyes,” says Landau, who reveals Oldman in a fascinating light.

You’ve recently directed a short documentary about Gary Oldman, Take Flight, and co-directed a music video for Godhead. Can you tell me a bit about how these projects came about?Take Flight was my directorial debut. Gary Oldman was directing a music video for the Jewish Hip Hop band, Chutzpah, which he shot entirely on cell phones. He asked me to direct the ‘making-of’ and it bloomed from there. The film runs 25 minutes, which includes the music video at the end. Jason C. Miller and Ulli Hepperlin saw Take Flight and asked me to co-direct Godhead’s Hero video. I co-directed with Deverill Weekes. It was a wonderful collaboration.

Can you tell me a little about the process of making the documentary, beginning to end?   Well, after I said yes, I realized that, even though I have been in a lot of ‘making-of’s, I had never, ever watched one, not even the ones I had been in. So, I started to do some research. I watched tons of movie and music video ‘making-of’s and tons of documentaries and director commentaries. I made notes of what I felt was interesting and then made an outline of what I wanted to go after on set.The video shot over the course of three days. I had three cameras chronicling the action. Between that and all of the cell phone footage, there was 50 hours of material. I watched all 50 hours three times through.Gary operated one of the ‘cell-cams’ and I became very excited about having such rare perspective of an artist creating. So, I asked him if it could develop into a short doc about him, about his process. Then I came up with the structure.

In the beginning we get peppered glimpses of his view, towards the middle, longer, more expansive pieces, and by the very end the audience is completely released into Gary’s perspective. The footage cuts seamlessly, but I decided to keep the cell phone footage 4:3 and everything else 16:9, so it is clear when we are looking through Gary’s eyes. I chose classical music for Gary’s internal creative world and the outside world is represented by the music of Chutzpah. I had so much fun!

You co-wrote two comics about the character you portrayed in Buffy and its spin-off Angel. Where have you taken Drusilla and how did you approach writing about her rather than playing her?   It is a two-issue arc. It takes place just before and just after The Fall. [The Fall is when the senior partners from Wolfram and Hart send Los Angeles, Angel and his team to Hell.]  

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It didn’t feel all that different to write Dru than to play her. I was in the midst of editing the Hero music video when I talked to IDW editor Chris Ryall, and Brian Lynch, who had written all the other issues, for the first time about the possibility of doing it.

Immediately upon hanging up, the idea came to me. That night I began writing it in script form. I sent it to them and they loved it! Brian and I went to work from there.I think inhabiting the character for such a long period of time, made it very fluid to tap back into her.

Can you tell me a bit about your short film It’s Raining Cats And Cats?   It is a black comedy that I wrote and in which I will play seven different characters.   I have an amazing group of talented people onboard. Drac Studios, who just won their 4th Academy Award for Benjamin Button, will design and do the make-up. Two-time Emmy-winning Gloria Casny will do the hair. Two- time Emmy winning Pembrooke Andrews, who I worked with on Take Flight,  will do the sound. Jeremy Alter, who produced David Lynch’s Inland Empire and who produced Take Flight, will again produce.

It is an ambitious project, so we are still raising money. I am selling autographed merchandise in the julietlandau.com store as fellow Buffy alum, Amber Benson did to make her two films.

You’re a celebrated performer in musicals as well as directing/performing/writing. Could I ask about your background in musical theatre and dance?   I was a professional ballerina. After becoming an actress, I did a lot of theater, which included musical theater. The first musical play I did was Murray Schisgal’s The Pushcart Peddlars. Murray is a prolific writer, with plays like Luv, and he also co-wrote the film Tootsie. It was so much fun because my character has an audition number that she does for the two other characters in the show. I choreographed it.

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Serendipitously, I was seen in that show by the director of Murray’s latest project and asked to come and audition for him. I did the Pushcart number for Murray and was cast on the spot. Murray’s new show was my first Equity show. It had a lot of 1940’s songs because my character sang for the troops.I also did a musical at Tim Robbin’s Actors Gang Theater. I played seven different characters in that production. The songs and the dance sequences had a lot of variance because the play spanned many decades.

When writing about Drusilla, were you given free reign over the character or were there guidelines which you had to adhere to?

I was pretty much given free reign, but I took it very seriously. Fans of the Buffyverse and of Joss know the world backwards and forwards. I absolutely wanted to stay within the confines and respect the history of my character.

 What other projects do you have in the pipeline?   I shot an adorable kid’s movie called Monster Mutt. I play Nataliya Chernov, a blonde, Russian villainess. I am slinking around in catsuits in that one.

I have been shooting and editing a campaign to time out with the launch.   I have been interviewing friends, colleagues, experts, people in the business about their creative process and how they would market a film about Gary Oldman, Jewish hip Hop and cell phones! It has been a blast! It is very different to be the interviewer as opposed to being the interviewee.   I have a few other exciting things brewing, but I should wait to talk about them.  Which medium do you prefer working in? You certainly dabble in all areas – documentary, performance, adaptations, shorts, comics.   I love being creative. I love acting, but I also love directing because you get to have a vision for the whole and bring that vision to fruition. I felt the same with working on the comics. It was great to be involved with the art, the whole. It’s hard to pick because, whatever it is I am working on at the moment, I give 200 percent and it is all encompassing.  Have you encountered much difficulty financing your projects?

It is hard to get stuff made. But the Buffy/Angel fanbase is extraordinary. They are fantastic! They are so supportive and want to see you in all kinds of other projects. They are very loyal and people have been wonderful contributing to Cats.

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And finally, you know I was always convinced you were English when you played Drusilla. If Joss Whedon was ever given the green light for an Angel or Buffy spin-off, would you consider playing her again?   Thank you for thinking I was English. I would absolutely consider playing Drusilla again. Anything Joss wanted me to play, I’d be in. He is a special talent!  

Juliet Landau, thank you very much!  

Take Flight is now available at julietlandaustakeflight.com.