We caught up with rising star Gabriela Hersham about her latest acting projects, the British and Iranian film industries, and her inspiring ‘Feeding London’s Homeless’ scheme.
We read that you studied business, so how did you get into acting?
I studied business in London and when I finished, I got into Lee Strasberg in New York. I thought I’d go over there to study for three months, and see how it went, and I ended up staying for four years! But when I was there I studied, and then I started filming lots of independent films, and I just didn’t finish. I was supposed to come back to London after three months, and I just didn’t!
That seems quite lucky then, that it all worked out for you…
Yeah, I think with this industry, though, until you’re at the point where you’re really sorted, you’re not sure if it’s worked out. But it’s worked out in the sense that I really love it, and I really enjoy it. Although it’s always a little bit nerve wrecking when you’re out there, doing you’re own thing.
So, you started out with the independent, short productions, have you noticed a big change now you’re making feature-length movies, and working with more established names?
Yeah, there definitely is. I’m still doing all the indie films, but I’m working with more established people. So it is different; in the sense that the productions tend to be more organised. Although, there’s always a rush, even now – we just finished filming Crying Wolf, and we were filming for a couple of weeks out in Oxfordshire, and you just realise that there’s so much to do, and it’s such a rush to fit it all in. So I think by nature, on a project, the industry is quite a stressful one – it’s always quite intense, and I don’t think that changes with the budget of the film.
And, already, you’ve worked in so many different genres – is it quite difficult to switch between them, or do you find it pretty natural?
I think it’s quite natural, because it’s not like I have to do different genres on the same day – which I’d probably find quite hard! Switching between projects is OK, it’s just a matter of bringing out the particular side of you that’s needed. We’ve all got a side that’s a bit ‘dramatic,’ but we’ve also got a light, funny side that would lend itself to comedy – even within each of the roles. We have both these characteristics, even if they’re repressed within us, it’s just a matter of bringing out whatever you need for that day. But like I said, I think if I had to do more than one on the same day it would be hard! But between projects, it’s fine.
Switching between two roles back-to-back would be difficult for anyone!
I’m just trying to think if I’ve had to do it before…I haven’t had to change between characters on the same day, but I recently co-produced a short film for the Virgin Media Festival, called TIME, which is on the Virgin Media site now. So I produced it, and I was acting in it, and that switch was hard to do. When the director, Kris (Dayne), said ‘action,’ I had to go into acting mode, and then when he said ‘cut,’ I was back in producing mode – making sure all the cast, and the people who had given us the location and the venue were OK – that was a hard switch to keep making.
Is producing something you’re interested in continuing, if the opportunity arises?
I really enjoy producing short films, I don’t know if I would want to take on the responsibility of a feature film, because it is so much work. But with a short film, if you have a good concept, you can film it in a day or two and it’s manageable. I’d like to produce a series of short films of just random concepts, and each one could be quite provocative, or just quite attention-catching in some way.
Now we’ve read you’re working on ‘American Gypsy’ at the moment, which is about a disturbed young woman, who takes on different disguises to allure men and then rob them! It sounds like a crazy plot, and a very intense character.
It is a bit crazy, it’s really cool! There’s this girl, and she uses different characters and disguises, with pretend accents and nationalities, to steal loads off of guys. And there’s this whole back story, and a reason to why she’s doing it – but I don’t wanna give away the plot! The curve of the story is so absorbing though, and what happens to her at the end is really interesting, but it’s going to be really fun to be able to do something completely different in each scene, and all of those different accents. I actually just got a new draft of it over from the producer, and it’s now going to be a pilot for US TV, rather than a feature film, so I’m looking forward to doing that!
Carrying on with the idea of the accents, and different nationalities, how do you think being British affects the roles you are cast in?
When I was living in New York, I think my accent really helped – because they love anything British. But, when I’m back in the UK, I’m just anyone with a British accent, and it doesn’t help nor hinder. But I think to be able to do loads of different accents always helps, because you can just become so many different people.
And having made films on both sides of the pond, how do you feel about British filmmaking? What’s been your experience of the government cuts?
I definitely think there is a lot of talent in the UK at the moment, and a lot of great films are being made. But because there isn’t much funding, it means the best of the best are able to make films, as well as the best of the up-and-coming talent – which is something I appreciate. We’ve always been good at nurturing homegrown talent, and I hope the industry continues to do so. I’m excited, because I think in England there’s a sort of ‘standard’ dry humour, and plenty of cool films to be made. Obviously I started acting in America, but I chose to come home because it just makes more sense. Properly starting, and advancing, your career in your home country is just easier – because your country wants you to succeed, and you know who everyone is and how the system works. I think the industry here is really strong – it’s small, but it’s full of people who make great film.
With your Iranian heritage, would you like to make films in the Middle East as well?
Yeah, I’d like to. I mean, for a start in American Gypsy, a couple of the disguises I’ll be doing are the obvious Middle Eastern ones. But I think going to make films over there, especially in Iran, is very difficult. There’s been so many stories recently about these Iranian directors that they’ve thrown in jail, because they’ve made films outside of Iran portraying the country in even a slightly negative light. And for someone who’s not from Iran, going there to make films is quite tricky. But there are countries in the Middle East that I have worked in, and I’d love to continue working in. Egypt is an incredible country, and Lebanon – I’d love to work there. | feel very culturally connected to that side of my heritage, but it’s a shame, at the same time, that I can’t really go to Iran. Where my mum left before the revolution, she can’t go back, and I wouldn’t want to go back without her to show me around. So my connection to the Middle East is a plus, but it is also a bit sad, because I can’t really do anything about it. I really love Iranian film though, like last year’s A Separation; the acting is just so good, and so natural, and the writing is great.
The acting is so understated in ‘A Separation,’ it’s the opposite of Hollywood.
Yeah so many Hollywood films now give us a very false sense of what’s normal. I do love them – and I will continue to go and see Hollywood movies, just to be taken away in the moment – but if you stop and think about it; you watch these relationship stories in Hollywood films, and it makes you wonder if that’s the way relationships should be, if everything should be so fairytale like, and perfect. And it’s not. It’s not real life. It can be a little misleading.
We’ve also heard about your brilliant ‘Feeding London’s Homeless’ scheme, how’s that going?
It’s going well, I’m actually going today – there’s a programme on every Monday in Victoria that shows films to homeless people. It gives them a couple of hours shelter, and the chance to be around other people, and they’ve asked me to provide the food this afternoon. It’s been an eyeopener for me, because growing up in London, there are 4,000 people living on the streets, who you come across them every day. But before this I’d stop and give them whatever I had on me, but I never really spoke to them. I was a bit apprehensive. But doing this, it’s taught me not to be apprehensive, because they are just people in an unfortunate situation, and it’s made it easier to just stop and chat, and not be nervous. I’ve really enjoyed it. And I think that’s the main thing – for the homeless to know people are happy to take some time and speak, and it can make a little bit of a difference.
And we read that there are fears about the Olympics, and what would happen to those on the streets. Have you noticed anything?
That’s a really good question, I haven’t noticed that they’ve been moved out of Central London, but now we’re getting closer to the Games, if it is going to happen, I think it would be in the next week or so. Hopefully it won’t. But we found out through one of the men I deliver food to. He’d heard they were going to be moved out, and I think it was quite scary. But you never know, it happens so often in the world when people from other countries come over, and the host nation just cleans up the streets. It wouldn’t be totally unheard of if it happened, it would just be a really horrific thing. I hope it’s not going to happen.
Thanks so much for talking to us Gabriela, when can we see you at the cinema?
Crying Wolf has got UK distribution, and it should be released Spring next year!
Written By: Jade Turner