The literal ending of the world seems like such an abstract concept that many people refuse to believe that such harmful events as global warming are contributing to mankind’s destruction. But the idea that humans are indeed heavily contributing to their inevitable deaths can be seen in the new sci-fi drama ‘4:44 Last Day on Earth,’ which was directed and written by Abel Ferrara and is now playing in select theaters.
‘4:44 Last Day on Earth’ chronicles the turbulent romantic relationship between successful actor Cisco (played by Willem Dafoe) and the younger, insecure painter Skye (portrayed by Shanyn Leigh). Along with the rest of the world, the two are struggling to face their mortality, as the end of the world is coming tomorrow at 4:44 am. The two have accepted their pre-determined deaths, as irrevocable forces of nature, including excessive global warming, can’t be reversed by scientists. However, Cisco and Skye are still struggling with the seemingly broken bond between them and those closest to them.
Leigh generously took the time to sit down at a roundtable interview at the Regency Hotel in New York City to discuss what it was like filming ‘4:44 Last Day on Earth.’ Among other things, the actress also spoke about what it was like working with Ferrara and Dafoe on the movie, and what her philosophy on what the causes of the end of the world are.
Question (Q): What was it like working with Abel on ‘4:44 Last Day on Earth?’ You two previously worked together, on such films as ‘Napoli, Napoli, Napoli’ and ‘Go Go Tales.’
Shanyn Leigh (SL): It was much easier, the first one was horrible. (laughs) ‘Go Go Tales’ was a disaster. We were fighting all the time, and got thrown out of like five places. It was all egos, and the first movie was a real rite of passage.
This time was so much easier, because we grew as a couple and as individuals. It was fun and a wonderful experience. On ‘Go Go Tales,’ I almost died, it was really dramatic.
Q: ‘4:44 Last Day on Earth’ is your first major leading role. How did you prepare for it-did you do any kind of research?
SL: Yeah, I study and work with acting directors, including Elizabeth Kemp. I go to acting classes, and I love going to the classes and taking on different characters.
I studied Frida Kahlo, because I was just in Mexico. I consider her to be an incredible painter. She was also a strong woman who had a tortured life, physically and with her relationships. I really related to her. (laughs) So I studied with my acting teachers and my research.
Q: Abel seems to be a very philosophical human being who looks deeply into things. Do you find that to be a point of connection, and how does that impact you as a creative person?
SL: It helps me, because I’m a very trusting person. I maybe foolishly and naively just accept truth. He really investigates, and tries to understand where things come from. It helps me understand things, and why I like or don’t like something. He is very philosophical.
Q: What is your philosophy on the end of the world, in this early stage of your life?
SL: Well, I think global warming does exist. For me, at least, that was one of the reasons on wanting to make this movie. Just being in New York City on Thanksgiving and wearing shorts, or having a snowstorm in October, there are so many devastating environmental events, one after the other. It’s so overwhelming, all of these environmental disasters.
It’s devastating that the end of the world is coming, because of us and our abuse of mother nature. There are people out there who don’t believe it, that we can destroy the earth and go too far. Like with the drilling in Alaska, I can go on forever. Seeing the amount that we’ve done to the earth, that was a big thing and inspiring point in making this movie.
Q: Now that people are aware of these circumstances, do you think that film helps raise consciousness about it? If so, will that influence the films that you choose to make?
SL: I think it’s a beautiful outlet. I think to pick movies is an honor, because you can touch a lot of people, potentially. I certainly would love to make movies that do inspire and provoke. I think it’s a responsibility, really.
Q: If you got an opportunity to play Catwoman…
SL: I would take it! (laughs)
Q: So how does Catwoman make people aware?
SL: I haven’t seen Catwoman, really. (laughs) But the movies, like ‘Transformers’ and ‘Superman,’ they’re all heroes. They’re all who we want to be, in one way or another. They’re super-human, they get the girl, they get the car, they get the job and they save the world. That’s kind of amazing.
I think in a way, we all want that. We all want to save the world and be able to help each other. Maybe not a surface level, but deeply, all, well, maybe not all, have a desire innately to be Superman. You can get the girl, the car, the job and save the world. I think that’s why on a very deep level we like these movies.
My Geshe, Michael, is in the movie, and speaks briefly. He’s Abel’s guru, too. He wrote a beautiful book, ‘The Diamond Cutter (The Buddha on Strategies for Managing Your Business and Your Life),’ which is a New York Times Bestseller. It breaks down these ideas, these Buddhist, Dalai Lama lineage, in a very beautiful way. That’s why he loves these movies, he thinks everyone wants to be a hero.
I thought about it, and I think on a deep level, maybe they do. They may not know that they do. They may be obsessed with their anger, and let it manifest in front of them. But if we are all pure souls at the end, and a lot of people do say that, then maybe that tiny part of us does want that.
Q: Skye had an interesting talk with her mother over Skype, and she said, you’re doing something that’s changing your world, I wish I had done that. Do you feel like you’re doing something now that’s changing the world? Does your family see you as impacting the world?
SL: Going back to the question of whether making movies can provoke the world and help with environmental awareness, with her art, I think art is very inspiring. I love paintings and going to the museums, and I love movies. Take away movies from me, and I don’t know what would happen. They inspire me so much.
But I think in small ways, you can really help people. I’m vegetarian, and I just talked to some people about eating meat, and a lot of friends decided to become vegetarian, actually. In small ways, i can see my life changing. It’s not taking dead bodies out of India, but I am doing small things to change the world, I think.
We can say one thing, and touch a person’s life forever, and never know it, because we may never see them again. That’s the beautiful thing about Buddhism. It’s changed my relationship with Abel so much, in a dramatic way. That’s why I study Buddhism, instead of Christianity, which I grew up with. It gives you the anecdote to problems in this life. Christianity is for later, in heaven. This life can be very painful.
Q: Is that why Abel said the film is a poem to you, and that you inspired it?
SL: Yeah, it was a lot of me in that. He was the one who decided she was cool enough to make a character out of. There’s a lot of me, and Abel, in it.
Q: What was your preparation in working with Willem Dafoe?
SL: Well, Abel worked with him on ‘New Rose Hotel’ and ‘Go Go Tales,’ and we’re quite good friends with him and his wife, (Italian actress and filmmaker) Giada (Colagrande), who’s a great film director. They also have an age difference. We’re all artists and close to each other, and Abel loves working with people who are great actors and who he loves, and every time he works with someone, I think it gets better and better.
Written by: Karen Benardello