The Sensei/Echo Bridge/Matthew Shepard DVD release celebration!

Thanks to Arlene and Tom, Echo Bridge, The Matthew Shepard Foundation, Zen Mt and Heitman Entertainment for all The Sensei DVD release party mayhen! It was great to see evertbody!!

Interview with Gina Scalzi who plays Anne Evans in The Sensei
By Jason Marsden, Executive Director

J: Hi Gina.
G: How you doing?

J: I'm well thanks. How are you?
G: I'm really good.

J: So this is a great movie. I was, I was able to watch parts of it. Thomas told me what the key parts were for the interviews I needed to do and I was sitting there sort of watching and thinking about high school in the late 1980's and how familiar it all sort of seemed and obviously it' a dramatic presentation of, of the kind of bullying pressures that kids who are different from the mainstream kids end up experiencing. But it really, it wasn't that far from how -you know-, how I remember going to a rural high school in Wyoming when I was, when I was growing up in the late 1980's, so… I don't know did it, how did it, did it ring true to you on that level?
G: I've gotta say I was really lucky, I grew up in an academic situation. My parents were both professors and I later went to Oberlin which is really open in general to diversity. And so I was really kind of protected in a lot of ways. So when I got this part I did a lot of interviews with a lot of moms and particularly moms who had actually lost sons to AIDS because that was the time frame this film was in; people weren't surviving AIDS, people were dying of it. And families -you know-, coming out to your family meant so much -you know-, just profound a declaration. So I really wanted to do my research and talk to women who have been through it. And what was really striking to me was as I did, I had not realized how many Gay kids would kill themselves to avoid coming out. And I read the scripts and I really loved the script, just kind of as an actor. I really loved what Diana was trying to say. But it was when I started talking to these moms when I really understood the impact and how true the script was playing to that time in America, to that time in our history. So yeah, it really did ring really true to me - the more and more I learned about, the more it rang true…

J: How did the moms feel about, about a project like this or maybe did they, are they noticing that there's more, much more inclusive sort of media portrayals of LGBT people and LGBT youth in particular out there than there was?
G: Oh they, oh they absolutely, they absolutely realize. What I did was, I got in touch with the people, the PFLAG groups. In Colorado, but also in New York, also through my friends who's parents are apart of PFLAG. I asked them for help and I got through to their groups and I kind of sent out this email or sent out calls or made personal (inquiries) 'if you have anyone that wants to talk to me I'm making this film and I really want to try to be respectful and do it right'. And the thing about the moms is that these are moms about as subversive as any body else's mom. These were, I mean, I met woman and talked to woman who -you know- all of them reacted, but none of them reacted exactly the same to their son's coming up. None of them reacted exactly the same way to finding out their child had AIDS. It was, it was a broad spectrum of reaction. And what I really loved, one of the moms said that she had rejected her son and he had kind of crawled away to die. And after he was gone it was she who nursed his lover until he passed. And, and what I love is that she said " I didn't know". She grew up in a Mormon town. She had no roll model for this. She had no idea how she was supposed to react -you know-. She had no way of knowing and she horribly regretted not just listening to her heart and doing what she personally felt she should do. She did what she thought she was supposed to do and she regrets it and she's so happy that now there are more portrayals that are one - truthful but also they kind of set up some roll model of acceptance even just for moms and dads. So I thought that was really glorious because this was a woman who didn't know me from Adam, who was willing to kind of put out her flaws in front of me to, to really examine and consider. And I think that was important, particularly for my roll, because my roll is not, she's not a perfect mom. She's a well intentioned mom. But she is not the perfect mom by any stretch of the imagination. -You know- a very, very young mom in that time period, who would have no idea really how to, how to actually deal -you know- where to go. And there was -you know-, there were so few places for them to go.

J: Well though the idea of showing an imperfect person trying to deal with an imperfect situation turns out to be really important because we all are imperfect and…
G: Well absolutely.

J: Makes it seem like that, things like Glee and all the other mainstream portrayals of LGBT people, the really powerful ones show the parents wrestling with it and not handling it perfectly so that… I think that in a way it gives parents permission to be imperfect and just do their best.
G: Right. Because I think that's the reality for all parents. I mean my parents didn't do everything perfectly but -you know- they did their best. But it's, I think it's just really good to have; to not like push it away and put it behind a curtain and really examine in all its facets. Of how to deal.

J: So the film has a lot of different messages. I mean on one level there's this you have the right to defend yourself message which almost… Almost masks the you have the right to be comfortable with who you are inside your soul before you even hit the gym and learn how to punch someone.
G: Well that's, that's yeah, that's part of it isn't it? You can't really defend yourself until you consider yourself worthy of defense.

J: Yeah. Do you, do you feel like are people going to get that? They're not going to just see this as "a it's really important to know martial arts in case the bully picks on you". I feel like, I certainly hope they get the underlying message. It's, it's definitely there.
G: I think they will because I think that certainly there will be people who come to this film because this is Bruce Lee's God daughter. "Oh my God, she's so awesome. Her father's so awesome. I want to see her kick some ass". But, and Michael, who plays McClain is just such a beautiful martial artist to watch. He's just, it's just so beautiful to watch. It's just on a visceral level you're like "wow, this is awesome". But I really do think, particularly the way the film is set up is that you're, you're really attached to these characters. You invest in them as humans. It's not like we're going to be getting McClain action figures. I think, her intention is pretty, I mean I think it's relatively settled. But I think it's pretty clear from the beginning, where we are and what this film is. And her intentions are really too, to change minds quietly.

J: Did you come away with any different feeling about how you, I don't know what your family situation is, if you're parent or if you have nieces and nephews or if. Anything like that, but in terms of dealing with vulnerable youth or youth that are questioning their identity or how they fit in, did you come away feeling a little differently with how you would approach that versus going into this before you talked to all those mothers and so on?
G: Well I've got to say after, after talking to the mothers, I really understood kind of how far we come as a human race when we allow our love to evolve through tolerance. And that is certainly a huge [concept], I mean that, that can be reinforced daily. I mean we can all use that in all things. And -you know- as, as a person part of a family I see how -you know- my mother's generation deals differently with a cousin's who's Gay or a cousin who's different. Particularly as I'm very Italian and my family, my mother's family is very Roman Catholic, and to see kind of how, how we've evolved as generations come up as far as tolerance, as far as acceptance, and as far as how much that improves our love, our personal love for each other. And I think that alters the way I approach my own family and the things I expect of my friends. When my roommate came out she was really concerned because no body in my nuclear family is Gay and she was like "you know I was really sad to tell you, I was really worried to tell you". And I was like "wow, there's no reason for you to worry because I love you, period"

J: Gina I think that, I guess the only other question is the take away you'd like audiences to come away from this film thinking about maybe and you mentioned families and the interesting thing about this is this is both the sort of bad guy in this film and McClanes character are fatherless and or have -you know- incomplete family backgrounds and I grew up with a single mother and I hear you about parents being scared of doing the wrong thing. Do you hope or do you feel there will be a take away that even if you're a single parent struggling with raising a kid that is different or is having trouble fitting in that they still have the, they still have the ability to, to send the right message and make a real difference?
G: Oh I hope so. I hope what they see from Annie and McClain's relationship is that ultimately no matter how flawed she is and ultimately no matter what he's been through it is their love that keeps them together as a family. And that love, her catalyst,... it is her love for her son that is the catalyst for making all this happen. For her approaching this woman who she knows is the only person who can teach her son to save his own life. And yeah, I would like that to be the take away that ultimately love is, love and tolerance is what's going to get us through and help us evolve.

J: Great. Well thank you very much I'll, I'll let you go.
G: Great.

J: And hope this is a huge success. We're really, really grateful you took the time to talk to us for Matthew's Place.
G: Well thanks for all your help. You guys have been awesome.

J: It's our please. Thanks.
G: And an inspiration.

J: Great. Thank you.
G: Thanks.

J: Yup, take care.
G: Okay, you too. Buh-bye.