You ever get the feeling after seeing a movie that an actor is just destined to get recognized for being really good at what they do? I get that feeling about Julia Marchese, actress, Queen of the New Beverly and all-around charmer who possesses the kind of beauty that is unclassifiable and a prodigious talent to match. She currently stars in writer-director Marion Kerr’s potent psychological thriller Golden Earrings, which had its premiere last year and recently racked up some prestigious honors at the Independent Spirit Festival in Denver, Colorado. Up next is a screening tomorrow as part of the Dances with Films Festival in West Hollywood at the Laemmle Sunset Five. The movie screens at 2:45 p.m., so take that businessman’s lunch you’ve been putting off and get down there. I get the sense that from here on out the sky’s the limit, for both Julia and the movie. Golden Earrings deserves wider distribution certainly, because Kerr is so at ease as a director (it’s her first film, but feels like her 15th—she’s a natural) and it’s a really effective piece of work. But it wouldn’t work much at all without Julia’s presence—she grounds the movie with her bottomless pool of talent (the entryway to which being those eyes), and she sends it off on flights of fearful fantasy and devastating emotional terror as well. It’s a towering performance, and unexpected only in that we’ve come to expect and herald a whole lot less in our indie films these days, in whatever genre they might be moored. But Julia sets a gold standard for inwardly directed, tour-de-force acting on a modest scale in Golden Earrings, and if you don’t think she’s someone to watch after seeing this film, then I suggest you’re not paying very close attention. Julia joined me for breakfast in Hollywood this past weekend to discuss her role, the movie, the recognition it has received, and even the fulfilling of one of her fantasies in an early film role, which might not be what you’d expect it to be. But then very little about Julia is what you’d expect, which is why she’s a talent to watch, you see. Let’s eat!
DC: At what point in your life did you decide you wanted to act?
JM: There was a time when I was about four or five. My parents ran the theater for the community college and they were doing a production of Amadeus. They had me bring a big bouquet of flowers to the actors onstage during the curtain call. I looked at this huge audience applauding, and I think that was when I thought, “Oh, this is really nice! I think I’d like to do this!” Eventually I became a member of a children’s theater company by the time I was eight till I was 18, in Las Vegas, called the Rainbow Company. Everyone is in the ensemble and you take classes every week. They do four or five productions throughout the year. Everyone auditions for every production, and if you don’t get in the production you do the backstage work—lighting, sound, costumes. So you end up learning how to do all areas of theater. They’re very professional. They don’t treat you like you’re a kid; they treat you like an adult. So you have to show up on time, you have to know your lines. It’s very professional and, honestly, that kind of spoiled me, because I came out here and I was expecting everyone to have that kind of training, and they don’t, and that was really surprising. You’re doing an actual production in Los Angeles with people who don’t know their lines and don’t show up on time. I’ve worked this way since I was eight. How is it possible that everyone doesn’t know this is the way it’s supposed to be? I also went to a performing arts high school in Las Vegas and studied drama there. Then I went to UC Irvine and studied drama and film, and I spent my junior year in England studying drama.
DC: Can the craft itself be satisfying without the widespread recognition?
JM: It’s frustrating. I try not to let it get me down, but you do think I’ve worked all these years, and with any other profession you would have a payoff, and with acting you won’t necessarily have one.
DC: What film work have you done up to this point?
JM: I’ve done a lot of independent films and student films. Marion (Golden Earrings director-writer Marion Kerr) and I had done several short films together before, but Golden Earrings was her first feature. I did two Full Moon movies, one called Cryptz, with a “Z,” cause it was an “urban” horror movie. In that one I was completely cut out. It was a makeup-heavy role—two hours in the makeup chair turning into this monster, but they ended up not liking the makeup, so they cut me out. The second one was Delta Delta Die! which starred Julie Strain and Brinke Stevens. I was the young Brinke Stevens in flashbacks, and I got to be covered in a bucket of blood, which was a lifelong fantasy.
DC: Are you a fan of the horror genre?
JM: Yeah, I’m a gigantic horror fan. There was a video store near our place called Goldstar Video, and our senior year of college Marion and I decided we were gonna watch every horror movie in the horror movie section. They had 217 movies and we got through 175. A Nightmare on Elm Street is my favorite. It’s the best one there is. It’s so scary and inventive and the effects still look great. Doing horror movies is one of my dreams. I’d love to be a Scream Queen. Having an article devoted to me in Fangoria magazine would be mind-blowing to me.
DC How did Golden Earrings come about?
JM: Marion had been toying with the idea of writing a feature for a while and she wrote it with my group of friends, who are all actors, in mind. She wrote the part of Ronnie specifically for me, the part of Sara for herself. One day she just decided she really wanted to do it, so she hired a producer, a DP—she went 100% professional with it. We had ADR, we had color correction, we had digital effects, all this stuff. She’s so talented. I mean, I’ve been in movies made by friends before where it’s just fun and you’re goofing around. But this wasn’t goofing around. This was hard-core—“We’re going to do this and it’s gonna be great.” And it turned out fantastic.
DC: With friends there’s a natural ease in working with each other, so I would think you’d almost expect a kind of jokey, nonchalant attitude on the set, but the movie itself displays a kind of discipline that must have originated partially from the way you all worked together. But also one of the things that struck me was the confidence Marion has as a director, not only just in working with the actors, but how to move the camera, where the camera needs to be to draw out the most effective emotion from the scene.
JM: Definitely. And it was actually harder to work in front of my friends. I thought, “Wow, if my friends think I’m bad, it’s not only embarrassing, but who’s going to want to work me if even my friends don’t think I’m any good?” You’re trying to step it up because you don’t want to be the weak link. Everyone’s trying to be supportive and rise to the standard that Marion has set. And I’m lucky because Marion knows me so well that she can push me as an actress—“No, you can go farther.” Which made for, I think, a pretty great performance, and I completely give credit to her for that. She really, really nurtured the character in me.
DC: Yours is such an interior kind of performance to a great degree. You don’t show off in the movie at all, and yet as an actor I would think the instinct would be to bring more out, to emphasize what you’re doing in case the audience or maybe even your fellow actors aren’t noticing.
JM: Marion was very good about talking with me about what was coming up, what we were going to be doing. She really took the time to work with me enough to get the reaction she wanted but also to put me where she wanted so I didn’t have to overdo it. All my friends were so supportive. We totally trusted each other, all of us.
DC: You said Marion wrote Ronnie for you. When you were on the set, did you two talk about the relationship between Ronnie and Sara in terms of sexualizing it? That’s where I expected the relationship to go, and there was a hint in that direction but it didn’t end up there for me.
JM: That aspect of it is open-ended, which is cool because it leaves it up to you, the viewer. It could go either way. You could think Ronnie has a crush on Sara that’s more than a friendship, or not. One movie that influenced the tone and approach of Golden Earrings was Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures, where these girls have this unnatural obsession with each other. Which is pretty common with girls, just not to that degree. It’s not a romantic thing, but you want to see them all the time—they’re your life, and when someone upsets that balance, it’s a traumatizing thing. We never really intended it to have a romantic dimension, but we’re asked about it on panels and in Q&As all the time and you could certainly look at it that way—there are elements that are there.
DC: You guys had a good experience at the Independent Spirit Festival, I understand.
JM: Yeah! It was really disorienting for me. I had just flown in from London—I was stuck there for a week under the ash cloud. I arrived to a horrible snowstorm in Denver. Getting there was horrible, but we got there and everything was fine. The people at the festival were so sweet to us and really took care of us—they even created a Golden Earrings martini especially for the occasion. The screening was nearly full, it was received well- everyone was ooh-ing and ahh-ing and gasping in all the right places—and we did a great Q&A afterward. Then when we were driving home we got a call from our producer, who had stayed for the award ceremony, and told us we had won Best Horror Feature, which was great because all the other horror features that were playing there were like torture porn-type stuff. So I guess for us to be so far at the other end of the spectrum in terms of how our movie plays really must have worked in our favor. And it’s funny, because we had never really considered Golden Earrings to be a horror film—it’s more a psychological thriller. The movie we’re most akin to, which none of us had actually seen before doing the movie, was Repulsion, which is a certain kind of horror film, I guess. But just because we didn’t see ourselves as a straight horror film didn’t mean we were going to turn down the honor. If that’s what you want to give us, we’ll certainly take it! And because of that award a lot of horror festivals have asked us to submit, so hopefully we’ll get another festival out of all this.
DC: That kind of validation is great too. I mean, it was great fun to see Golden Earrings at the New Beverly with all your friends there, but I’d guess you could easily walk away from something like that thinking, “Oh, they just like it because they have to!”
JM: Yes, absolutely. On the other hand, the New Beverly caters exclusively to film lovers, people who really do know what they’re talking about, so when they say they love it, it has credibility. I mean, Rian Johnson and Joe Dante aren’t going to lie about it just to be nice to me or Marion—what they say about it is gonna be out there, and if they’re recommending a bad movie it’s going to reflect on them. A lot of people came up to me and Marion and everyone after the New Beverly screenings and seemed relieved that they didn’t have to lie and say how much they liked it when they really didn’t! But at the festival, even before it screened, volunteers and other people found out we were involved and they’d say, “Oh, you were in Golden Earrings-- I wanna see that.” We’ve submitted it to the Sacramento Film Festival, Big Bear, ShriekFest, and we’re just waiting to hear back from them. And up next, of course, is another hometown screening at the Dances with Films Festival this coming Tuesday.
DC: It’s a terrific movie, and you were genuinely terrific in it. Thanks for coming to breakfast with me!
JM: Thank you! And thanks for asking me!
(If you’re in Los Angeles and still need further convincing, read my review of Golden Earrings and then try to make it down to the Sunset 5 for tomorrow’s screening. Or you can catch up on all the latest on the movie at the Golden Earrings Facebook page.)