My next interview subject, Helene Udy, is a very versatile performer. From her start as an actress in cult classics like My Bloody Valentine and The Dead Zone to her popular Los Angeles revue Was Ist Das? to directing and writing screenplays to working on aerial silks and in miming, Helene Udy has done quite a lot of things, and she has some great stories to tell. We talked on Monday, April 15th, and I hope you all enjoy getting to know her.
Say hello to Helene Udy!
Johnny: I’ll get into specific credits in the following questions, but to start off with, many of your early films were made in Canada, so what would you say is the biggest difference between the United States and Canada when it comes to film-making?
Helene: Well, at the time I was filming in Canada, the Canadian film industry was just experiencing a real surge of activity because the Canadian government was investing money in it. This gave opportunity and budget to a lot of young and creative burgeoning filmmakers. I remember the level of excitement about being on a set and working on a set that everybody, from the P.A to the catering to the actors, was experiencing a sense of gratitude at the opportunity we all felt we were being given. Americans had been making movies for a long time, not that Canadians hadn’t, but generally speaking, the film industry grew exponentially at that time and those of us involved felt we were building something meaningful form the ground up, and that was exciting to us. The excitement of an American movie set on the same budget would be far less, and so I really appreciate those years when I was in Canadian movies because I was young enough to really feel grateful, and feel like I was on an adventure that was just exceptional. I didn’t take it for granted, and no one around me did. Now, in the States, I often do independent movies that are funded by the filmmakers, and I find that those projects carry the same level of excitement. Even though they’re not well-funded, it does end up being a bunch of people getting together to create something that they all believe in, and I really think that reminds me of the early Canadian film boom days, where I started. I really cherish that. I’m all about the American independent film scene for that reason. It is inspiring to bereally trying to help young filmmakers get somewhere, and to be participating in a group effort. That’s exciting, so I guess that’s the difference between the two industries .
Johnny: Alright. Pinball Summer was a very fun comedy, and apparently it’s one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite movies, so what are your favorite memories of filming Pinball Summer, or Pick-Up Summer, as it’s called in some markets?
Helene: Yeah. Pinball Summer was my first feature film, and I was a teenager. I just remember sitting in a dressing room with all of my costars one afternoon, waiting for a shot to be announced and waiting to get on set, thinking I’d died and gone to Heaven. It was just a teenager’s dream to be starring in a movie that was funny with a bunch of funny people. Director George Mihalka himself, I think, was in his late 20s, and it was just paradise. Everybody was happy. Everybody was excited about the same thing. What a great movie.
Johnny: Okay. You played Sylvia in My Bloody Valentine, where you had a very memorable death scene. When Canuxploitation is discussed, My Bloody Valentine ranks high in that genre, so what do you think has given the movie such staying power?
Helene: I think that the director, George Mihalka, had a lot to do with that. He was a visionary, and is still a visionary. He created a world that was so appealing and mesmerizing. Nothing was by chance. He chose Nova Scotia, and he adhered to what it had to offer. It was exceptional in every way because of the director’s eye and the director’s intention. It’s a movie that pulls you along, and submerges you in a very unique, specific and very Canadian environment. It was a well-made movie by a very talented director.
Johnny: Definitely. When your death scene was filmed in My Bloody Valentine, what did you do to prepare for it?
Helene: I drove everybody crazy (laughing) preparing for my death scene because I was a Method Actor, as all young actors are. They’re really devoted. I wanted to have the experience that my character was having, and I was looking for ways to frighten myself, so when it got to filming, I was definitely in a high-tension situation. I know that people were giggling behind the scenes, thinking, “Jeez, if she could only learn how to act”, like the line Laurence Olivier said to Dustin Hoffman when Hoffman was running around in “Marathon Man” staying up for days, so he could experience the travails of his character more honestly. People were making fun of me, but I was doing my best to make it as real as possible, and in all fairness, it was the most elaborate death scene in the script, so I felt a lot of responsibility to make it work, and I knew that if I was frightened, the audience would be, too, so I did my best.
Johnny: Cool. You played Weizak’s Mother in the 1983 movie The Dead Zone. Had you read the book before filming, and if so, did it influence your work in the film?
Helene: No. I was not aware of the book. I was aware of David Cronenberg, the filmmaker. It was a part that was given to me because I was in New York shooting a soap at the time, and it was a one day part. It probably could’ve been given to just about anybody. I really have one line, one word, and the fact that it was offered to me was a real thrill. I just remember being on set that day, and being struck by how convincing the set was. It was a really easy piece to act because as soon as they called, “Rolling!”, people were running by screaming, and fires were burning, and the cart was rolling ahead of me and my child was yelling to me. If you’re a method actor, you didn’t have to do much work. You just had to be there. It was a pretty compelling scene on set. The amount of attention to detail, to make it real, made my job easy. It was one of the thrills of my life, even though it was probably one of the smallest roles I’ve ever had (laughing).
Johnny: Alright. If you, in real life, had the powers that The Dead Zone’s main character, Johnny Smith, had, what would you do with them?
Helene: I would try to make the world a better place, but you know, I’m disappointed by the possibilities. One can only try to make the world a better place, try and try and try. I have had great, great hopes for the world, but I’m losing faith, and that’s sad to say. Still, If I had his powers, I would use them for good (laughing).
Johnny: The best thing to do. To move to a lighter question, you’re credited as having provided additional voices for the 1986 revival of Hanna-Barbera’s Jonny Quest.
Helene: Uh huh.
Johnny: How did you land that gig, and what was your favorite part of working for Hanna-Barbera?
Helene: My girlfriend was doing a lot of voice-overs, and she and I really felt alike. She was unable to do it that day, so she called me up and asked in desperation if I could replace her, and I was allowed to. I got to play this wonderful Russian lady, which, given my low voice, was a good fit. Any time an actor gets a job, they are excited
(laughing). If they are not excited, they’re in the wrong business. There is no greater thrill than the moment you get a phone call saying, “You got the job”. There is no describing the excitement. It’s like winning the lottery, and it was no different with Jonny Quest. It was really, really fun to be in a room with all the actors. We have earphones on and we’re talking into a microphone, and it’s just really fun.
Johnny: Cool. To move to my next question: You played Lilly in 1987’s Nightflyers, and you’re the second talent I’ve interviewed from that film, the first being Catherine Mary Stewart. One of the earliest adaptations of a George RR Martin novel, what was your favorite part of working on that film?
Helene: Oh, gosh. I made a dear friend out of Lisa Blount on that film, and we remained very good friends for several years afterwards. She was a little older than me, and I looked up to her. Very lovely, very dear. You know, when you did a movie such as Nightflyers, you walk into a space where, everywhere you looked, you were in a spaceship. It was an elaborate set, and I felt like I was the character. It’s always thrilling to live somebody else’s life for a while, and I got to live the life of this scientist in this spaceship, and who wouldn’t want to do that (laughing)? That was really, really fun, and everybody was fantastic.
Johnny: You mentioned Lisa Blount. I was disappointed that she wasn’t included in the Oscars In Memoriam after she died, considering that she WAS an Oscar winner in 2002 for Best Live Action Short Film for The Accountant. I figured that if you had won an Oscar, you would be guaranteed inclusion in the In Memoriam when you passed away, and when Lisa wasn’t included, that puzzled me.
Helene: Well, there are all sorts of theories. Certainly Lisa would have theories about that. I can’t speak for Lisa, but yes, that was incredibly disappointing. Lisa was an incredibly talented actress. I mean, An Officer And A Gentleman, who can forget that performance? Who can forget it? Just so amazing, and she was an amazing human being all the way around. It is very disappointing that there are people who don’t get remembered. Geoffrey Lewis is also an incredible actor who got overlooked by the Academy after his passing. It’s strangely painful and unfair.
Johnny: Well, on a lighter note, to move into the 90s, you played Pel, a female Ferengi, in the 1993 Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode Rules Of Acquisition. Once an actor gets involved with the Star Trek franchise, they’ll often have that association with them for the rest of their lives, so what’s been your most memorable encounter with a Trekker?
Helene: (Laughing) You know, it’s interesting because I’ve never really done a Deep Space Nine convention, but I do get lovely letters and e-mails and requests. Obviously, if I’m walking down the street, people won’t know I was Pel on Deep Space Nine because I look nothing like her, but when people find out, like if someone tells them in front of me, I see the way people’s eyes light up. Star trek series fans are an ardent and devoted group of people. Horror movie fans, sci-fi fans…It is so flattering to know somebody has enjoyed anything that much. It’s an honor to be approached on the odd occasions. And the enthusiasm is contagious. Watching eyes light up, sometimes I think about some of the things that I’ve done that I’m well-known for, like Pel on Deep Space Nine, or My Bloody Valentine or Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, and I am like a fan. If I see one of those movies or episodes on TV, I’m shocked at it because it’s a miracle (laughing). It’s a miracle to be given the opportunity to do anything. I’ve never taken any of that for granted.
Johnny: Definitely. Was there talk of having Pel return in another Deep Space Nine episode, or was she a one-and-done character?
Helene: Well, here’s the story behind that. Pel was supposed to be a recurring character. What happened was, I think, all told, the makeup took three hours long, and with the makeup and false teeth on, the working day was 14 hours, and then you had to take the makeup off. It’s a minimum of 16 hours, during the process of which , I discovered that I was claustrophobic, phobic being the underlying word because when I was 5, my head was almost crushed beneath the wheels of a car. At the emergency room, the doctors weren’t able to sedate me because I was so young, so instead they wrapped me like a mummy which prevented me from moving even an inch while they were doing very delicate work on my eye. I was not sedated and they sewed my eye. I didn’t know I had been affected by it until I was in another claustrophobic situation, and then I just about lost my mind. About 12 hours in, I lost my mind and felt I wanted to claw the prosthetic off my face . Fortunately, they called my boyfriend who came on set to calm me, and talk me through the last few hours of work, and then bring me home. I’m sure production was understandably furious. I could have cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars, so after that, it was quite clear that I could not handle playing the character, Pel in that lengthy make up again, and thereafter, whenever there was a role that required extensive makeup, they would put in the description,
“Please make sure your client is not claustrophobic”. (Laughing) It was a learning curve for everybody, and I really regret it because what an opportunity to be a recurring character on Deep Space Nine. What a great character. She was just so much fun to play, but that was the end of that.
Johnny: Alright. To move to a show where you didn’t have to worry about makeup, you were a regular for several seasons of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman as the character of Myra Bing. What was your favorite episode of the show to work on?
Helene: Oh, boy. That’s a tough question because that was another show that was so much fun to work on. I think the one that I’m most remembered for is “Little Brown Jug”. There were moments in that series where, whether intentionally or not, I discovered that I was funny, that my interpretation of the character made people laugh. It wasn’t intentional or that I was sending anything up. It’s just that the combination of my thinking and the writing created a lighthearted, endearing portrait of the character, so those were really fun moments. I remember running through the streets. One of my character’s johns had died on his feet or something. I can’t remember what I said, but it produced a lot of laughter on set. When people laugh like that, it really makes you feel good, and it makes you feel good to make people feel good. I remember those moments. “Little Brown Jug”, though, was an episode where I discover that I’m pregnant, and this pregnancy side effect makes me sleepwalk and sing songs and do silly things. Over the years I have received a lot of happy messages about it. What a fun episode.. They were all great, but I would say those are the ones I’m most remembered for.
Johnny: Alright. As Jane Seymour would spoof Dr. Quinn in several videos for Funny Or Die, were you asked to reprise the role of Myra in those videos?
Helene: I was, and I wasn’t available at the time. I think I was shooting something and I wasn’t in town, but I would’ve been in those, yeah (laughing). What a fun thing. Did you like them?
Johnny: I thought they were pretty interesting (Helene laughing). Funny Or Die? I kind of have mixed feelings about it because, I mean, they do get all these stars in a lot of their videos, and they do have humor to them, but at the same time, I’m not exactly a Will Ferrell fan. I find him to be an acquired taste. I mean, I did like Will Ferrell on Saturday Night Live…
Helene: Is he the person heading up Funny Or Die?
Johnny: He co-created it with Adam McKay, who has since left the company.
Helene: Oh, I see. Okay. I didn’t even know that, and I haven’t even seen the episodes, so I don’t know (laughing).
Johnny: With Will Ferrell, everybody thinks that More Cowbell is one of the all-time funniest SNL sketches, but I don’t get what makes it so funny. I mean, Will’s wearing an undersized shirt, and Christopher Walken is demanding cowbell in the song. How is that so four-on-the-floor hysterical? It’s just not something I ever really understood the appeal of.
Helene: Yeah, that’s the funny thing about comedy. It’s really subjective, and I don’t know that I would disagree with you, but that’s the crazy thing about comedy. Comedy is so hard because it can be offensive to some people or just not touch some people’s funny bone. If you get something that everybody thinks is funny, it’s gold (laughing), but even Richard Pryor had critics. Comedy is my new devotion. I am actively studying comedy, to see if i can get a hold of it because the things that made me funny on Dr. Quinn came from the naive and sweet intention of the character, but I, myself, have never been able to produce laughter much without the help of skilled writers. Yeah. Comedy is really tough. Really hard. So gratifying when you manage to tickle someone, though.
Johnny: Yes. Well, the interview is not about Will Ferrell, it’s about you, and so we go to my next question: You’ve spent some time as a director and writer, most notably with 1997’s Naked In The Cold Sun. What has writing and directing provided for you that being on camera has not?
Helene: I guess, taking after George Mihalka, the opportunity to create a vision of a world. You know, as an actor you’re a soldier, for lack of a better word. Your responsibility is to take care of the words of the writer and the vision of the director. They’ve chosen you to represent their mind, their vision, and so you have a lot of responsibility that way. Hopefully you’re not hired unless you’re capable of it, and so the script and the direction make this fairly easy box you for the actor to live within, if you think of it in that context, whereas as a director, you’re the box maker and the creator. As a director, often the writer makes the box and the director executes the vision of that box to his liking, and sometimes the writers aren’t satisfied with that, but the director has ultimate control over the writer’s initial creation. The writer writes it, the director creates it, and the actor interprets it according to how the director wants it created, hopefully if things are going well. I was very enthusiastic because I had a lot to say this, that and the other at the time that I was writing and directing, and I’m still directing. It’s an
outlet, an opportunity to express something meaningful to you, as opposed to interpreting the world somebody has felt meaningful to create. I will say that it’s difficult to be a female writer. I didn’t know at the time that it
was an almost insurmountable task, but now, with the Me Too movement, it’s become clear that that maybe a factor as to why it was so hard for me to break down walls or get through was possibly because I was not only fighting my talent or lack of talent, but I was also fighting an industry standard that was simply used to hiring men. It may have nothing to do with it, but I’m glad things are changing, and it’s never stopped me from being creative. I mean, my need to direct or need to write or need to act goes far beyond a movie. It’s the thing that I
do, the thing I was born to do. I don’t know what else to do. They are all part of the same thing because, for me, a movie or a piece of theater is an opportunity to commune and communicate…To create a space for love and community and understanding…To bring us together when we are divided….To illuminate the dark spaces….To discuss the things that are important and make us human…To embrace each other. We’re all in it together. We forget this, but human blood is red when it hits the air. That is true for every single one of us. That is what compels me.
Johnny: Alright. To move back to acting, you played the title role in 2005’s Katiebird* Certifiable Crazy Person. A rather unique spin on the serial killer genre, what was your favorite part of filming that movie?
Helene: That movie was absolute hell. It was hell from beginning to end, and the reason is because it’s a hellish story. If you’re going to put yourself into it, and be the method actor that I am, you’re going to be experiencing a whole pile of confusing thoughts. The director in that case, again, Justin Ritter, another visionary, a man with a vision, tried to break boundaries. I think he was quite successful. I think that’s a pretty exceptional movie in the horror genre. I would say people should see it. It’s pretty horrific. It’s pretty blood-curdling, and there’s no way around saying there’s nothing fun about acting in films like that, unless you yourself are a serial killer (laughing),
which I am not. It was a stretch for me, and it was a horrific experience, but for all the right reasons and in all the right ways. I really think it’s an exceptional movie, and I’m so glad you mentioned it.
Johnny: No problem. You’ve acted in several films for David DeCoteau, including 1313: Frankenqueen and 3 Wicked Witches, the latter of which matched you up with two of my former interview subjects, Lisa London and Kristine DeBell, so what’s been your favorite part of working for David DeCoteau?
Helene: Well, I still work for David DeCoteau. David DeCoteau will go down in living history. He will be remembered as a hero of independent filmmaking. I mean, people talk about Roger Corman, but David DeCoteau has taken that mantle and expanded it so beautifully because he is a master. There’s no two ways
about it. He can produce an infinitely watchable movie in three days. Nobody else I know can do that. He’s got a technique that is unparalleled. He is on set. He is calm. He’s nurturing. He is clear-headed. He makes you want to please him because he is so kind. Every time I get on a David DeCoteau movie, I consider myself lucky because I’m positive I’m going to be a part of history, and one day, there will be a statue of David DeCoteau and I’ll say, “I was a part of the making of that legacy” because I’ve done so many movies with him. He creates incredible characters. He does not limit the cast to The Nice Lady and The Mean Lady. I’m always excited to see what part he casts me in because he really, really gives me amazing opportunities. He’s also done comedies for Ion TV. A Husband For Christmas was one that I was in, and I got to do this wonderfully comedic character. I know I’m going on about David DeCoteau, but he’s an amazing director as well. I’ve been really, really lucky. His eye, and his understanding of women, is just spot-on, and there was this one particular moment where I was on the phone talking to somebody. I can’t remember what it was, but we did the take and he said, “Hmm, I’m going to give you a line reading on this one. I hope you don’t mind”. I said, “No, please”. I actually like to parrot if it helps the direct get what he feels is right. I had that much faith in David, and he gave me a line reading, and I parroted it, and later, I saw the movie, and it was hysterical. He just knows everything, so it is as fun as can be to be around David DeCoteau…
Helene: …And I love Lisa London and Kristine DeBell. They’ve both become good friends of mine. I think we’re all excited when we get to be on a David DeCoteau movie when we’re together. That’s really fun, too.
Johnny: To move from on-screen roles to something different, one of your most unique creations is not a film or TV role, but instead the California stage show Was Ist Das?. How did you create such a unique concept?
Helene: Oh, well (laughing), thank you very much for saying that. My friend Joel Axelrod, maybe four or five years ago, ran a little show at the top of iO West in Los Angeles, which no longer exists. iO West is a comedy school where people go to learn comedy, and comedy was a thing that was never in my life. I was always a dramatic actor, so I pursued comedy with a class called The Idiot Workshop, headed by John Gilkey, who was one of the original Cirque Du Soleil clowns, an incredibly talented visionary clown. He is now the head of a school that is sort of standing on what his vision is to be a clown, and to be funny, just a really unique thing. Having been immersed in all of these clown classes, and meeting incredibly talented performers…When you think comedy, you think UCB, you think of stand-up comedy, you might even think of storytelling, but very few people get to just go out for a night and see a clown show. In Los Angeles, you have to go to Circus Vargas. You think of a circus when you think of clowns, so there’s nothing available to those of us that were studying this art form, for lack of a better word. It is an art form, and so I was really so impressed with these amazing people I’m surrounded by on a daily basis that I wanted to continue the forum that Joel Axelrod had created. He created this place for clowns to come and try their stuff out, and then he lost the space because iO was going through a transition and finally closed, and I looked for another space. Joel handed me the mantle, and when he passed me the mantle of responsibility for a place for clowns to come and do their thing, I had a vision. Cabaret has always been one of my favorite movies, and what compelled me about it is the darkness of it. Brecht has always been one of my favorite playwrights, for strangely similar reasons. Finding humor at a very difficult and tragic time in life, to me, is really fascinating. In Berlin in 1924, people were buying bread with bales of money. People were broke and starving and the world was a terrible place, and that, unfortunately, was what allowed Hitler to take hold because people were desperate for change. How people survive through laughter and rebelling at the deepest, darkest times of their life is an incredibly creatively fueling idea to me, and we’re going through similar times right now, and I wanted to create a space where people could drop all their woes, and enter into a universe and just be soothed and contained and transported and moved to laughter and to joy. I know that’s a very long answer, but that is how Was Ist Das?, set in Berlin in 1924, came to be, because dark times deserve humor and joy and compassion and community. I do it at my house. It’s on the corner of a busy street, and the community comes and there are lines out the door. I’m not bragging about this, although I am bragging about this, because it’s a pretty amazing thing that happens that I was hoping for, but didn’t know would occur. People want to just hang out and talk to each other afterwards, and share a beer and just relax, and feel like, “Hey, cell phones don’t matter”, just for an evening once a month. You can tell this is my passion. I put a lot of energy and a lot of effort into it, and it’s a losing proposition financially, but in terms of how it feeds me and the kind of hope it gives me for humanity, and I get to hang out with the most talented people in the world, how can I go wrong?
Johnny: Art is definitely important, especially in these times.
Johnny: As there always unique acts in each installment of Was Ist Das?, what have been some of your favorite acts that have appeared in there?
Helene: Well, my favorite thing, to be honest, is to see people grow, because I’ve been doing this for three years now, and there’s some artists I feel that I’ve supported that I’ve absolutely adored, that I’ve brought up and said, “Let’s try this out”. One of the things we say about the show is written in a song that I wrote as an emblem of the tone “Some of what you see will be horrible, absolutely horrible, and we don’t care. We love it all.” That line always gets laughs. Maybe because I sing it with such relish. We love the effort. We love your energy. We love your vision. If we don’t agree with it, we still love it. One of the most memorable people to come out of it, I think, is Al Naz. You can find him on Facebook, and he is a tap-dancing magician, and he is so thoroughly mesmerizing. To see him from the first day he appeared on the show to where he is now, and the kind of magic, the visual dynamic and laughter he creates now in a four-minute bit just like that, is amazing. We love unique people like Rachel RaRa Carlson. She’s a clothing designer and a costume designer. She also does burlesque, but she doesn’t just do burlesque like take her clothes off. She has got a very funny take on everything, and sometimes it’s political, and sometimes it’s social, and sometimes it’s just for fun. She does a parody of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” that is out of this world. It is so beautiful and so funny at the same time, and it’s not against Miley Cyrus at all. It’s a parody of what it is to be so heartbroken, just very, very funny. I adore Miley Cyrus. I think she’s incredibly talented, so it’s not to say she can’t be made fun of because that was not RaRa’s intent. It is ultimately an ode to that song, but look her up. She’s amazingly talented in so many different ways. There is the Independent Intrepid Dance Project. That’s headed up by my girlfriend Jennifer Jonassen. Look her up. She is an obese woman, and she has created a dance company that is full of people that you would think could not, or should not, dance. There are women and men of various shapes and sizes. We had a woman with a cane dancing. We had somebody in a wheelchair dancing. I dance in it, but she is visionary. She has done some heartrending work, and she has supported Was Ist Das? from the very beginning. She’s closed the show many times. The Independent Intrepid Dance Project is amazing, and Jennifer is starting to get recognition for the great work that she does, and the beauty she creates, and the tug at the heart she has. There’s also Robert Patrick, who is a very famous, award-winning playwright, but little did we know that Robert Patrick also has an incredible voice, and he can as easily write a play as he can write a song. He, up until two months ago, was opening our show with an acappella song he would write for each show that would set the tone for the show. To be around a talented playwright who is willing to come and devote a little bit of his time to helping me create a show…(Tearing up) I’m getting a little moved. I’m very, very lucky. I know I’m forgetting people. I started the show with Jason Poston, whose father was well-known comedian Tom Poston. Jason, from the time that he was there, was just an incredibly funny addition to the show. One of our clowns, Matthew Godfrey, travels all around the world,
teaching clowning to people in Dubai, Greece…You name it, he’s been there, because his ability to clown is tremendous. Right now, I have Lisa Moncure , an old, old friend of mine, co-creating the show with me, and the
wonderful Bob Mitchell, who is also a co-creator, and he is the music in the show. There’s Eric Stein, who is devoting himself to the sound of the show, and all these people are working for free. Tomorrow, I have Ben Namnoum and Mark S L Royer and Michael Soldati coming to help me put our circus tent up, and they do that for free, so everybody contributes to the possibility of making Was Ist Das? a reality. You can’t do something like that by yourself, so I am pretty blessed. There’s also Bob Baker’s Marionette Company. They’re a very world-renowned puppet company, and Jared Ramirez and Molly Fite are company members with Bob Baker’s Marionette Company. They come almost every month to support us with puppetry.
Johnny: Was Ist Das? is a show that reminds me of how unique California can be. In spite of that, it seems as though the Los Angeles area, in recent years, has been looking to get rid of what makes it special and unique as part of the gentrification process. Do you think that shows like Was Ist Das? are an antidote to the gentrification of the area?
Helene: My show is an antidote to the isolation of all humanity, like cell phones and the web. People have to get out, drop the phone and create community if we are to be happy. They say that people in rural communities, people with less access to technology, are happier people, and the reason for that is pretty obvious. Shows like Was Ist Das? cropping up in communities all over is the antidote to depression, to a feeling of isolation, to a feeling of loneliness. We’re in a unique and horrible situation, and I’m convinced that people come and people
contribute because of the joy that it gives them to create with each other. Gentrification? Obviously, if your community is being gentrified, you get together and create art against it. You know, art is a way of speaking that politicians cannot curb. Art has always been that. It has always been the voice of the people. It has always had the opportunity to be the voice of the people. Art is the one thing we all have access to. We can all pick up a pen. We can all create a story. We can all open our homes. We can all sing a song. We can all do that together, and that’s the antidote to these very dark times.
Johnny: Very cool and very noble. I definitely admire that, and it’s a very admirable thing that you’re doing. On a lighter note, you still look great, and one of the ways you keep looking great is through movement, a memorable example of which can be found with your work with aerial silks on YouTube. How did you get started with that skill and do you still do it?
Helene: I don’t do it right now, simply because I have so many other things to do, but along with my claustrophobia came a tremendous fear of heights. I forget to mention this, but in Nightflyers, I did my own stunts because that’s the kind of person that I am. If you offer me something, I’ll say yes even when I really shouldn’t. I fell from a great height, and that gave me a fear of heights. I had always admired silk, and so I set myself to conquer it, my fear of heights. I think it’s a thing of beauty, and I’m incredibly proud of the fact that I’m
able to do it. I’m sure aerialists all around will hate me for this, but it’s a lot easier than it looks (laughing). It IS a lot easier than it looks, you know? It’s kind of a little bit like learning a routine. You have to know your work. You have to know where to place your hands and feet so you don’t kill yourself. If you remember what you’re taught to do, then you can do it. I really love that art form. It’s incredible and beautiful, for sure.
Johnny: You’re also an accomplished mime. What have been your most memorable performances as a mime?
Helene: (Laughing) I am NOT an accomplished mime. I wish I was. That is one of the things I’m really hoping to do better. I do use mime, but I’m telling you that a real mime would wince at what it is that I do (laughing). No, not an accomplished mime, but thank you for thinking that. In fact, on my website, I do have a mime piece that I do. I’ve wanted to take that mime piece around because I love it. It’s set to The Beatles’ “Because”, and I love the whole concept of it, but the fact is that I’m not really accomplished at it, and I set my goals too high. My goal for it is much higher than my experience. I think, perhaps, I should give it to somebody else. Nobody wants to see me do it (laughing), so that’s one I’m going to have to work harder on.
Johnny: Alright. I now come to my final question, and it’s this: What advice would you give to somebody looking to enter the entertainment industry?
Helene: I would say the age old saying is true, and that is if you are not compelled to be an artist of any kind come hell or high water, this is not the job for you. It requires the kind of commitment that a 9 to 5 job does not require, and often it doesn’t pay at all. I would say that the thing that is unique about actors, or anybody else in the arts, is that they’re willing to risk everything for it, and it’s not a smart thing to do. It’s just not a smart thing to do. It’s a hard life for a lot of my friends that are suffering. They’re doing menial jobs so they can do their art at night, and it is frightening to not know if and when you’ll be paying the rent. I’ve been through that. Obviously, I met with some success, whether it was by luck or by chance or by sheer will, drive and commitment. I can tell you that when I started, I was devoted 24/7 to being an actor. I rarely went out. I was focused on my work, focused on creating and doing as best a job as possible, and I think all of that devotion helped me. Not really having an adolescence or early adulthood full of partying and the normal things people do barely got me halfway to the middle, and I don’t regret it. I work daily on my art now and wouldn’t have it any other way, but I do see some people around me now complaining about how hard it is and how tough it is, and I’ve seen them actually break down in tears over it because they’re shocked by the amount of energy it takes. I say to you: If this sounds exciting and compelling, like “It’s different for me and I’m going to do it”, then you should, but if this sounds like a deterrent, don’t heed the call. It’s not to say that I don’t want people in the industry making every effort. I want people to devote themselves to this thing they believe is meant for them, with abandon and without fear of what may occur, all the while knowing that nothing may happen. That’s the reality of art. Having said all of that, you can imagine how blessed I feel to have made it anywhere at all, and to be affecting any kind of change or giving any kind of joy is a privilege to have people allow you to entertain them. It’s a privilege for people to open their hearts up to you, to walk into a room and say, “I’m going to give you an hour of my time”. That’s a privilege, and if you want to, then you should (laughing).
Johnny: Well, that does it for my questions. I thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to do this.
Helene: Thank you so much for offering, and thank you so much for doing this. I’m really grateful. You asked the most wonderful questions. Thank you so much for letting me be part of your wonderful project. I can’t wait to see it.
Johnny: That’s about it from me, and I’ll catch you on Facebook. I hope you have a wonderful afternoon.
Helene: You, too. Have a great one.
Johnny: Thank you, Helene. Bye.
I would like to again like to thank Helene Udy for taking the time out of her schedule, and I would like to thank Shaun Blayer of StrangeLand Oddities for setting this interview up.
For more on Helene Udy’s work, you can visit her official website.
For more information about Was Ist Das?, you can visit the show’s official Facebook page.
Thank you as always for reading. More Flashback Interviews are on the way, so keep your eyes peeled for them.