Read our exclusive interview with acclaimed actress and acting coach Michelle Danner, who’s making her feature film directorial debut with the upcoming drama ‘Hello Herman.’ The movie, which features newcomer Garrett Backstrom in the title role, follows the 16 year old as he kills 39 students, 2 teachers and a police officer in his school. He then e-mails pictures of the incident to his idol, journalist Lax Morales, played by Norman Reedus. Danner, who also runs the Edgemar Center for the Arts in Los Angeles, discusses with us, among other things, why she was motivated to tell Herman’s story, and what Garrett and Norman’s working relationship was like.

Shockya (SY): You helmed the upcoming movie ‘Hello Herman.’ What was your motivation in telling Herman’s story, given its similarity to contemporary school shootings, including Columbine?

Michelle Danner (MD): I wanted to tell the story of ‘Hello Herman‘… more than I’ve ever wanted to tell any other story because of the subject matter. Violence is increasing, youth violence is escalating, and it’s not only in America but worldwide. I think that we need to keep having the conversation. Because it’s such a huge concern, solutions are not easy to find. The movie does not address that, the movie is about starting and continuing a conversation that we need to keep having. Personally, whenever innocence gets squashed and people are cruel to one another, it provokes a lot of sadness for me. It’s important to keep telling those stories.

SY: Garrett Backstrom makes his feature film debut in ‘Hello Herman,’ as the title character. Why did you decide to cast Garrett in the lead role, and how do you feel he did portraying such an evil character?

MD: Garrett was the perfect Herman, the moment he came in to audition for the movie I knew that he was going to play the part. I did not want the character to be psychotic and I did not want to cast someone that was weird and off putting. I wanted to cast a kid that is an everyday kid because the reality is; anyone pushed to the brink is capable of acting out on their dark side. I was so happy with Garrett’s work. He exceeded all of my expectations and gave a performance that is highly nuanced and very deep. I know there will be many more great performances to come out of him. He blows people away in this first movie.

SY: Norman Reedus portrays Lax in the film. Given the fact that Herman idolizes Lax, how would you describe Garrett’s working relationship with Norman?

MD: Garrett and Norman hit some pretty awesome chemistry. It was great to watch their energies bounce off each other. Norman brought his incredible talent and heart to the part and Garrett could do nothing but be in awe of it. Norman has done 40 movies, I think Garrett looked up to Norman and learned from him.

SY: Along with fellow acting coach Larry Moss, you raised $1.5 million in 2000 from such donors as Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Neil Simon to build the Edgemar Center for the Arts in Los Angeles. What compelled you to open the Edgemar Center? Was it your intention to have the theater complex help train aspiring actors?

MD: The reason why I built Edgemar Center for the Arts in Santa Monica was because first, I love theatre. Secondly, I wanted it to have an educational component to it, both with outreach programs with underprivileged kids and seniors and a place where actors could explore process without being judged. I believe that just as movies are there to spark conversation, so is theatre. To that end, I’m excited to be co-directing a new play that will be opening next month, Jane Fonda in the ‘Court of Public Opinion,’ starring Anne Archer and an incredibly talented ensemble cast. This has already started some controversy because of the subject matter. That’s what theatre is all about.

SY: You have coached such A-list actors as Gerard Butler, Chris Rock, Penelope Cruz, Salma Hayek and James Franco. What type of training have you used to teach these actors?

MD: I work very differently with every actor based on what their needs are. I believe that there are many different techniques in acting that work. You can’t use everything for every part; you are selective in terms of the tools that you pull out that are helpful to you in that particular role. Sometimes you need to think outside the box and do exercises that help you take on the skin of the character. Sometimes it’s very close to you and you have to trust that you have everything in you to play it.

SY: Did your experience as an acting coach help you direct ‘Hello Herman?’

MD: Yes, absolutely. If a moment is not working acting wise, I feel that I know what I would say to an actor to make it better. Also, a lot of director friends of mine are a little intimidated by actors. I’m not. I love the collaboration.

SY: Do you currently have any directorial projects lined up for once you finish promoting ‘Hello Herman,’ or would you like to return to coaching?

MD: Because I love teaching and I love actors, I am coaching as we speak while doing post production of the movie, and I’m currently teaching ongoing classes at the Acting Studio at Edgemar. In terms of projects, I have several movies in the works that I’m very excited about, and as Artistic Director at the Edgemar Theatre, I oversee the programming. I’m grateful for all the creativity.

Written by: Karen Benardello

Michelle Danner

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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