Interview With Actress Tracey Birdsall, “Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter”

By Ruth on September 14, 2016 in Interview, movie, television
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Once in awhile, I stumble across an unusually refreshing actor with whom I was not familiar heretofore, but I know instantly that there is something exceptional about him or her. In the case of Tracey Birdsall, indeed nothing could be truer than that. Tracey took a few minutes from her hectic schedule recently to chat with me about her career with a dominant emphasis on her most current work, Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter. Likewise, she eloquently shared her unique outlook on the industry today.

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RH: Why did you decide to become an actress?

TB: I feel more like I was born an actress. I started dancing and singing in the theater when I was a kid. But what really brought me great joy was entertaining other people. My first professional job was when I was fifteen. I did a Sunkist Soda commercial, and it ran for about a decade, I think. I was interested in robotics if acting didn’t work out. But all I really ever wanted to do was perform.

That’s an interesting combination–acting and robotics.

Well, it’s kinda cool being on this end of it ’cause I was working on this film Rogue Warrior where we’re fighting artificial intelligence. My father ran a power electronics convention–it was the largest one in the world–when I was growing up, so I was surrounded by thousands of engineers and robotics, so I was completely fascinated by it.

What kind of training have you received in acting?

When I was growing up, I was in musical theater and theater, so that was some of my earliest training. As I got older, I began to branch out and study other methods and techniques. And then I started to work on branding and finding out who I was in about my early twenties. I worked with Sam Christensen. He’s really into image development and understanding who you are and how you fit into the marketplace. And then I studied with all kinds of different acting coaches. My idea is to learn something from every method that you study. And then I would say when I really hit my stride years ago was when I studied with Margie Haber. And she basically teaches you to live and become your roles. And ever since then, I’ve been working like wildfire. It’s been pretty amazing. And I’ve taken that even further. I’ve taken even what I learned from her and went a step further. So I’m sure all the different methods that I’ve learned and all the teachers I’ve trained with are all inside of me, but it’s all morphed into my acting style. I prepare and study more than anybody I’ve ever known. I go out and birth the character. I live the life of the character…the way they walk, the way they talk. If you notice, all my characters are very different from one another, and months and months and months of creation goes into that.

wp-1473743591543.pngThat is so commendable. I think your approach is so different, but it makes you unique and who you are. I love it when actors don’t try to be like everybody else. 

Yeah, you can’t be like anybody else. You have to be unique. But in finding my uniqueness, I did study with, I’d say, at least twenty-five teachers. And you learn something new from everybody you study with, and I think too many actors stick with the same person. But you learn something new everywhere you go. And the other place you learn is when you’re working, and I’ve worked with a lot of great names. You know, I’ve worked with Dennis Hopper and Samuel L. Jackson and Barry Corbin. And everybody I’ve worked with, I take something away from them. I don’t always realize it at the time, but later on, I’ll be like, “Oh, that was kinda cool I was able to do that. I wonder where I got that.” And then I’ll be like, “Oh yeah, that’s where I got that from.” Barry or–and Lee Mazlowski is brilliant too. We get takeaway from everybody we work with, but the other thing is I take away my experiences; how I live my roles become like my memories. So it can be very confusing.

I’m very impressed with your perspective on this.

Thank you!

When I was looking through your acting credits, the very first thing listed is Family Ties

That was my first TV episodic. And there are, of course, things I did that are not listed on IMDB because they didn’t used to have that system. And what’s fun about Family Ties is that I love comedy. Of course, I love science fiction and drama too, but I love to go back and do a comedy.  Like this year, I did two science fiction and two comedies. And so I like to flip back and forth between the genres. I find it really keeps me on my toes. And it’s a lot of fun. A lot of serious science fiction and dramatic things–a lot of times, you’re giving so much. But when you’re doing comedy, you’re almost like a sponge soaking it in–it’s kind of like a dance. It’s very playful and fun and entertaining.

wp-1473743721302.pngWith your interest in robotics, it seems to make sense that the science fiction and action roles would be right in line with your interests. Not all women get into those kinds of roles. 

I don’t think a lot of people would like doing some of the roles I’ve done. I was a science fiction geek growing up and into comic books. I love all the female empowerment in it. It was really, really hard work to make these films we speak of. I mean, you’re  talking battered and bruised and swollen every night. I look at my actress pool of friends I hang out with, and nobody ever says to me, “Oh gosh, I wish I had that role!” Nobody! {laughs} It’s so much work.

Do you do your own stunts?

I did every single stunt. And I photographed every bruise and every injury. You wouldn’t believe.  I think the director is going to put a lot of those pictures into “The Making Of.” But I really enjoy it because acting challenges your mind, and it challenges your emotions. Science fiction challenges your imagination. When you’re also doing your own stunts, then you’re also challenging your physicality. But I was amazed how much–when I did both of these particular roles recently–how much that physicality being stretched, then feeds the emotional and the mental when you’re really in that situation. It’s very fascinating. It’s really exhausting. And sometimes your character will limp and that’s because you have a knee injury from the day before. It all feeds each other.

My hat’s off to you. I don’t think I’d want to do any of that. But you find great pleasure in it, and that’s great. You’re passionate about it, so that’s what you should be doing. 

I like to be challenged. Like I go to the gym and work out with a trainer till I can hardly walk almost every day, and so that’s the type of person I am. I try to do the most and be the most. I don’t compete with anybody else but myself. You know, that’s really, really hard when you’re like that.

I don’t do it physically, but I’m kind of the same way. I always have to be doing something. I can’t sit still.

I’m like that too. {pause} And then there’s certain times when we’re shooting out in the desert and it’s a hundred and ten degrees and you’ve got these heavy leather corsets, long pants and boots, and they go to do the aerial footage. So they drive you out to the middle, and they tell you where you have to walk and all you can see is the heatwaves. I take whole bags of ice and shove them in my costume. No, I don’t think most people want to do this stuff, but boy, is it fun.

So this film that is just coming out is Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter, and you’re also listed as producer on this film?

Yes, I was one of the producers on it, which was great because I’ve worked with the director before–quite a few times now–and I’m a big collaborator. I like to throw my ideas in whether they get accepted or rejected. I helped in the production phase–pre-production and then to production, which was great ’cause I got to collaborate a bunch.

wp-1473743636390.pngSo in this film, is there anything you can tell us about your character without giving the story away?

I like to call this particular kind of film “character-driven science fiction.” She’s an amazing character. She’s a deeper character in a science fiction film than I’ve ever played in even a drama role. And she has multiple stages that she goes through and she’s basically taking it upon herself to put an end to the artificial intelligence taking over the world. Everybody else thinks they’re doing something about it, but she’s just like, “Hey, this isn’t gonna stop it.” But then she has a lot of emotional and physical discovery along the way. And so there’s almost like this unraveling of her character as she goes through the different parts of who she is and what she is, and it’s completely different at the end of the movie than it is at the beginning of the movie. So I think viewers will be really amazed at the character’s journey. Those who have seen it say, “Oh my gosh, I was just completely on her journey.”  {laughs} So it’s kinda cool, and then people ask me to describe the role, and I really can’t. Other people are going to be comparing it to other roles, I’m sure.

That is an intriguing description of the character. I’m not a big sci-fi person, but this actually sounds like something I’d be interested in as well. 

I don’t think you have to enjoy science fiction to enjoy characters in science fiction. If you enjoy movies and the unrolling of stories. I do have to tell you that not just my character, but the whole cast was so good. We kind of aimed high with our cast members, and once they read the script, they were like, “Oh my gosh, I want to be a part of this!” And it’s fun to see that what started out as this smaller project, and then we kept taking it more and more seriously, and people were getting excited about it.  So then it got bigger and bigger and bigger and we had six months of pick-up shots and adding scenes and throwing scenes away. And the movie kept morphing into the giant thing that it is now.

So this film premiered when?

We premiered September 2nd.

Oh, now that is really fast! 

We premiered on the opening night of the Action On Film Festival. Almost every movie I’ve done over the last five years, I premiere there. Amazing the support system they have there. And then we’re looking at a theatrical release late September/early October.

{NOTE: Since its premiere at the festival, Tracey has received a prestigious award–Female Action Performer of the Year! Bravo!}

That is really fast! I’m used to talking with people who say it will be ready in six to eight months or a year or more. So hearing this is like wow! You guys are working very, very quickly to have just wrapped about a month or so before premiering. 

We are, and we have had people in two other countries and three other  states, and everybody has gotten their stuff back. We’ve literally been working on this project from concept–we just started off with a script that existed and it just got rewritten a bunch of times. But we’ve been working on this project for two years, and it’s completed and I’m just so proud of it. We were just about done and two weeks before we were officially in post-production, the director said we needed one more action shot and we had to go out into the desert for one more shot, and I just belly-laughed like, “You’re serious? The movie is just about finished!” And he was serious. So that was our last shot. About six weeks ago. People all over the world have been sending notices wanting to know about it. It’s very exciting to us. I guess we work a lot like Peter Jackson does. He just keeps reshooting and reshooting until it’s perfect, and so do we. It’s been exciting for me to be on this journey because I’ve never worked with a director who was this fanatical on a budget before. Even working with Neil {Johnson} on a project before, it’s never been like this.

I notice also that you’ve done some writing. 

I have on a couple of projects I did. It’s not really my favorite thing, but the things I have written, I adore. I just don’t have time for it anymore.

It sounds like you keep yourself really busy. 

So busy, yeah. {laughs}

wp-1473743822450.pngIn Hollywood, there seems to be an age bias. I’ve heard that once a woman turns fifty, she is through in Hollywood.

Actually, it’s after thirty is what I was told. So I quietly decided when I turned thirty, I was going to go find something else to do. {laughs} And then my friends were still working. And then I started seeing that my friends who were a lot older than me were working. And I was like, “What’s this all about?” So I had actually moved down to San Diego, and I had flipped a couple of houses. I love building houses, and everybody was working. So it occurred to me that aging is not what it used to be. And it was my more fit friends–ones who worked hard on staying young and taking care of themselves–they were working as much as they were before. So it occurred to me that I didn’t have to hang up my hat. Betty White had her own show. And so while it took me awhile with letting a couple years go by–I had left some of my contact people. Some of them moved, some of them died. People had changed companies. But I just hit it really hard and was able to climb back on the bandwagon. So now I’m never gonna quit until I die ’cause I love it so much.

So have you encountered gender bias–especially with being a woman in production or direction?

I don’t have to worry about the direction thing because that it something I have no training in, and I’m not comfortable with doing anything I have no training in. Production–I’m very, very smart. I graduated the top of my class. And I’m very, very good with detail-oriented things. And that’s why I like to build houses on the side. I’m very, very good at organizing things, picturing things, and then making decisions. I’ve had nobody treat me as any less from being a woman. If anything, I think it helps open doors. We can use our femininity to open doors. We can also use our strengths and intelligence in order to close deals. So I think if anything, it’s an advantage to be a woman.

That’s actually very different from what I usually hear, but I’m wondering if it’s because you are so confident in who you are.

It comes from my dad. It comes from my upbringing. He’d say, “Tracey, there’s nothing you can’t do.” And I listened to him. And also, I was a tomboy, so I didn’t really feel gender-specific even though I was only attracted to boys.  I hung out with the boys. I played on the boy’s soccer team. I had races with my dad every night. But I also think when people say, “This isn’t fair. I’m a female.” A lot of that is the “not fair” word. People put obstacles in front of themselves that don’t exist to try to explain why they didn’t accomplish something.

I honestly appreciate your perspective ’cause I’m not used to hearing it. It’s nice to hear something upbeat and positive and on the other side of the coin for a change. 

Thank you. I just think people put their own obstacles out there. We can all put our own reasons as to why either it’s an obstacle or why you can’t accomplish certain things. But those are self-imposed.

So in addition to this movie, do you have any other upcoming works you can mention?

Sure. I have this movie and then Who’s Jenna? which is a big comedy feature that I did on the East coast this year, which also stars Bill Servino and Joseph D’Onofrio and Vincent Pastore–it’s a great cast. And that premiered earlier this summer. Then it has a New York premiere September 24th. And then A Diary of a Fat Man which is an Australian comedy I did this year is also premiering soon. And then I have At The Edge of Time which is a time travel science fiction movie, but that’s in post-production, so that’s probably a good six months away.

Wow, you’re very busy. 

I am.

I can see why you might not have time to sit down and write even if you wanted to.

Sometimes people send me scripts and ask me to read the scripts, and I’m like, “I can hardly get through the scripts of the projects I’m considering.”

Last thing I want to ask you is–for young women who would be interested in entering the entertainment industry, what advice would you give to them?

Keep your head on your shoulders. Stay really straight. Don’t get in trouble because nobody ever forgets a bad performance, but everybody forgets a good party. Study as much as you can. Be the very best that you can be. Make sure that you’re diversified and that you have other interests and things so that when you get offered things and people are shady–there are shady people out there–that you don’t compromise your values because your reputation is everything in this industry. And I believe–and this is my own personal belief, and I tell it to any actor who will listen–don’t go to an audition unless you’re performance-ready because you may never get another chance to go before those same casting people again. Pick the ones you want to go to, and then just make sure you’re performance-ready, and then it’ll make your life so much easier. If you’re driving all around town with your papers in your hand, it can drive you nuts. I watch hundreds of people come into this town every year, and I watch most of them leave again. So the difference between the ones that stay are how much effort they put into it. Because even if you only have one audition that’s two days from now, that doesn’t mean put three hours into it. That means it’s a full-time job until you go to that audition.

I just believe that you’re in charge of yourself, and the effort you put in is what you’re going to get out. I’ve proven that it works. It’s just that it’s a lot of work. Just like that with any job, isn’t it? You get out of it what you put into it. Same with life.

You know, I have to tell you really quick one more thing. About two years ago, there was an interviewer who interviewed me, and she comes from one of the big entertainment sites, but she’s also an actress. So she’d interviewed me, and I ran into her on a set somewhere. I was just visiting the set and she had one of those day player roles on it. We finally met in person. And she said, “You know, the things that you said in the interview about what to do-I’ve really been thinking about that, and I can’t get it out of my mind.” So I just saw her at Comic Con, and she pulled me aside and goes, “Do you know that your way of acting has completely changed my life? I do things exactly the way that you said to do them, and I”m booking, and I’m working. I’m happy and I’m proud of myself.” That meant the world to me.

That is so cool when things like that happen. We don’t always know how we affect other people. So she told you, and for every person we find out we affected, we have no idea how many more we’ve affected.

‘Cause I only know about the people I know. My friends or other actors I’m trying to help. A few people I try to mentor. And I only know about them. And I know they read and listen to everything, but you don’t think about the other listeners and readers you don’t know. I think when you see the movie, you’ll get it. You’ll see the difference in how I portray my character. And that’s what I like. People say they can always see the difference.

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For me, Tracey’s interview will always be prominent in my mind and heart as she is someone who is impeccably individualistic as well as being one who accomplishes noteworthy things in spite of any obstacles–real or imagined. She an actress, producer, sometimes writer, stunt performer, mentor–and so the limitless list goes on. Tracey has an indomitable spirit and a kind of reckless energy that is often not seen from performers even half her age. Tracey is on a mission to not only produce and make the best films on planet earth (or any galaxy), but Tracey longs to inspire young and old alike with her infectiously upbeat attitude, her fierce determination to actualize her goals, and her insatiable thirst for the adventure of life. I have every plan to watch this film Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter at some point in the near future…whether at the local or home theater remains to be seen. In the meantime, I invite and implore every one of my readers to check out and follow Tracey at all the links listed below because after all, don’t you want to support stalwart women like Tracey who make no apologies for who they are?

FOLLOW TRACEY

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

IMDB

 

 

 

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About the Author

RuthView all posts by Ruth
43-year-old single mother of an active 14-year-old girl Born in Tacoma, WA; lives in Yelm, WA Entertainment Writer Available For Interviews and Reviews Substitute Teacher

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