Saturday, January 15, 2011

Artistic Inspiration: My Interview with KYLE CLARE

Since my first interview on this blog, with Gran Torino's Bee Vang, I've halfheartedly sought out other actors to speak with; actors whose work not only inspired me, but also who deserved the attention of everyone I knew, because his or her talent was so freaking out there, it should be seen. Well, between moving to L.A. and other things in life intervening, I came across an actor who - in just one performance - blew me away so much, I sort of dug in and hung on, more than happy to work around his busy schedule until he could find the time for a chat.

You may never have heard of him, but I suspect that is only temporary. It's real talent that holds its own in this town, building a lengthy career, and if that's the case I think Kyle Clare is pretty much set.

It was Watercolors that did it for me. The first time I saw the film, I sat down expecting another formulaic film about a young gay high school boy who falls for the jock he can never have - yet, somehow, manages to get, even if only temporarily. Such indie films are rampant, usually showing excessive skin in lieu of a plot or characterization, and almost always such films also end in tragedy for those involved, especially the main character (or someone he or she loves).

Watercolors broke that, beautifully. On paper it may play out as as read above, but thanks to the phenomenal heart and soul put into the film by writer/director David Oliveras, as well as the pure, very honest and humane performances of the two lead actors, Tye Olson and Kyle Clare, Watercolors takes a compassionate, very honest and wholly real approach to its subject matter - and delivers beautifully. And much as Tye Olson's character of Danny finds artistic inspiration for his drawings and paintings in the form of Kyle Clare's character Carter, it's Clare himself, with his performance, who inspired not only this interview, but my own work as a writer, as well. I hope he won't mind if I call him my friend, but that's just how Kyle is; one conversation, and he treats you like he's known you forever.

But enough of that; you can read the review here; this piece is about one of the stars of a film everyone who has ever fallen in love should see.

Kyle Clare, was born in Santa Monica in January of 1985, the son of parents who divorced while he was still very young. Movies were a big passion even from an early age, and a young Kyle would often find himself acting out characters to the point where he wouldn't answer to his own name. He was signed to a children's agency as a kid, but barely remembers the experience; it was in the eighth grade, after his class attended a show at the high school, that young Kyle first realized THIS was what he wanted to do.

Though he'd start off well, playing the purser in "Anything Goes" in high school, Clare's the first to admit, "I didn't have it all together in high school. I tested well, but didn't really have a plan." While he got good grades, and had landed the lead in every show by the time he was a senior, it was a guidance counselor who saw a young man in need of direction that saw the young man's talent and handed him a few applications for acting schools. Four days after graduating high school, Kyle auditioned for the prestigious AMDA (American Musical and Dramatic Academy) conservatory in New York City, who accepted him into their program. "So I was just graduated from high school and off to New York," Clare recalls, citing that his mother especially ask him, "Are you sure this is what you want to do?" - but by then, the acting bug had fully bitten.

Clare has nothing but good thing to say about the AMDA, though it was often all work and no play. "It was a tough school," he says. " There was no time to rest, you were always acting. But I learned that you get out only what you put into it ... and if you're really focused, which I was, then you can get a lot out of it." When asked how he feels attending the conservatory helped shape his career, Clare stresses "the best training an actor can get is from theater; theatrically-trained actors have a real advantage." That said, Clare did eventually choose to take the second year of his two-year training in Los Angeles, where he could focus more on film and television, though his respect and admiration for the school and for theater are obvious when he admits, "Looking back, had I been older I might have stayed (in New York) and pursued stage, but the glitz and glamor of being rich and famous gets to you ..."

Then, soon after graduating from AMDA, Kyle Clare only wanted to take a break when his girlfriend at the time, Jessica, talked him into submitting for an independent film he'd found was seeking actors online. After reading about the indie film Watercolors, which was to be shot on video for a more-than-modest budge of $35,000, Kyle wasn't sure about submitting for a role in which he'd be not only playing a closeted gay male (especially for his very first film role), but also for a part that, right out, stated would require nudity. But Jessica encouraged him to seek out the role, pointing out that Carter was Kyle Clare as described in the breakdown - a lean and athletic with long hair - but that didn't stop Clare from being more than a little nervous at the audition.

"What really made me nervous, though, was that I knew I was perfect for the role," Kyle says. "I was nervous about getting it, about playing a gay character and the nudity, but I called back and after the call back I heard from David (Oliveras, the writer and director). He told me it was between me and this other guy, and he wanted to get together and just hang out, get to know me. After the second time we hung out, he called to offer me the role."

From here, the friendship between Oliveras and Clare only grew, especially as Kyle grew more excited about the project, and even became a part of the casting process. "At the time I was cast, Danny's character was called Eric, and another actor had been cast in the role. But after two weeks of rehearsals the vibe just wasn't right, and David ended up letting the other actor go. He asked me to help him re-cast Eric, and we got this kid who dropped out, like, after one rehearsal ... so by now, five weeks since being cast as Carter, we were still looking for a Danny - which was what David had changed the other lead character's name to - and then Tye Olson walks in."

Clare was impressed from the beginning. "Tye walks in, and Tye was Danny. I read with him, then Tye left and I turned to David and said, 'I want him.' We called him at Starbucks and cast him."

But more than just winning a role, what makes Watercolors work is that the Olson and Clare seem absolutely in-sync with their performances; you fully believe in the characters and their relationship with each other, both good and bad. And talking with Kyle Clare, it's easy to see, now, why the film works on an emotional level the way it does.

"Even if I wasn't shooting, I was on-set all the time. David, Tye and I became "the trio" - we hung out together, talked about characters, and got very close. I don't like to over-rehearse, but forming this great friendship with Tye and David, just hanging out and talking about the characters and story, really helped the film."

And it works; just see the film to believe that. Better still, go by the fact that Kyle Clare - for his first feature-length role, won the 2008 Best Supporting Actor Audience Award at the Clip Film Festival, and FilmOut San Diego, in 2009, presented him with the Jury Award for Best Supporting Actor, for playing Carter Melman. Not bad, for a straight guy playing a complex, troubled and closeted gay teen in his first film.

When asked how his family and friends reacted to seeing him as Carter, Clare curiously mentions that his mother of all people had little problem with the character. "I had blond curly hair as a little kid," he remembers, "and was always made fun of, seen as artistic and a little weird. In school, because I was artistic and a performer, I was called gay a lot, so I think my mom sort of always wondered if I was gay, which prepared her a little more." To this day, while Clare knows he has his father's overall respect and support, he's not even sure if his father has seen the film - "though I know he bought it the day it came out on DVD" - and admits to taking a ribbing from his friends about playing Carter, especially for the nudity. And even his girlfriend at the time, Jessica - who started the whole thing - was very proud of his work as Carter, and loved the film.

Life since Watercolors involves Kyle Clare cutting his acting teeth back on the stage - particularly with Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre in North Hollywood. "It's really unique, a 50-set, black box theater; total audience immersion, with some crazy, really out there shows ... and I've learned a lot there; it's prepared me for when the right project comes along. Being forced to play some really crazy characters, its torn and pulled and stretched me; now I know, if I can do Zombie Joe's, then I can do into any audition, on any set, and pull off the character. With every show I'm stretched; tested."

It's also taught Clare to be an actor's actor. His taste in favorite performers - or actors he'd like to work with one day - runs toward a few of the most well-renowned working today. "Sean Penn is my man. He's so deep. I really relate my style to his in some way, he really seems to understand his characters; he's so cerebral." On Robert Downey Jr. - "One of the most naturally-gifted actors of all time; he never ceases to entertain or amaze me." And Clare adds Sam Rockwell as a third influence on his work, stating "he's just an incredible actor, period."

Just approaching his twenty-sixth birthday, when asked where he'd like to be in, say, five years, Clare - as many actors before him - mentions wanting to direct in time. But as always with Kyle Clare, it all has to come with meaning: "People have said they'll see me hitting my stride in my thirties," he says. "If so, I hope I can continue to do roles that I find interesting and satisfying. Working on things that mean something; heartfelt projects I want to do, and be able to sustain myself doing them. Just be able to act, and focus on that; whether theater or small, independent films, I would like to be where I can do the projects I want to do." When asked the kind of character he'd most like to play right now, Clare - in line with his theatrical training - cites his desire to explore the psychology of a character out of the norm of society. "Mental illness intrigues me," says Clare. "Exploring the character or a crazy person, or maybe a savant or even a psychopath, like Heath Ledger's Joker. I'd die a happy man if I could play a role like that, or maybe even like Sean Penn in I am Sam ... Hoffman in Rain Man. It's the only other role I've consciously thought of doing."

But no matter what, Kyle Clare is in it for the long haul. With most of his lengthy career still left ahead of him, the young and hugely talented performer has been around enough to have some good, solid and very realistic advice for the aspiring actor; advice as blunt and honest and together as Clare himself.

"Go home, sit down, and think about the whole thing. If you could ever see yourself doing anything else ... then do that. If you have doubts then do something else, because to be successful and effective and a good actor, it must be something you HAVE to do."

For more about this amazing actor and his work, go to