Cinema Bandit is proud to talk to actress and producer Tara Platt. In her career, Platt has over two-hundred acting credits to her name, including roles in major motion pictures, short web-series and films, voice acting for numerous anime, shows, and video games. Along with her acting career, she started her own production company – Monkey Kingdom Productions – with her husband and fellow actor, Yuri Lowenthal.
I’d like to start out with a little introduction of who you are and your career overall.
I am an actor, writer, and producer. I’ve been acting since I was around nine so I have been doing this my whole life. I started in theatre when I was young, performing in plays and musicals. I decided it was what I was passionate about – a career in arts and entertainment. So I went to college and earned my BFA from Rutgers University in the School of the Arts. I also studied at the London Academy of Theater.
Then when I completed my formal education, I just kept working at it. I branched out and realized that besides stage, there was so much else that I could do. I realized that part of it was maybe auditioning and getting to be a part of other people’s projects, but you can also take the initiative of your own, and create your own projects whether you write them or you work with someone who is a writer. You can be creative and you can push yourself even if someone else isn’t knocking at your door.
I view myself as a storyteller because I tell stories in all formats.
Give us a rundown on your career in acting and voice-acting.
I’ve done a lot of theatre work, and after I graduated from college, I was still trying to pursue a career in theatre and also in television and film. Once I had started to continue that, I was getting some jobs – a soap opera here or a commercial there – but I realized that there is more to the acting scene. At the time, I was living in New York City, and I needed to make rent, and Yuri and I moved to Los Angeles.
When we got to L.A., we were hungry, and we stumbled across voice-over. It was a wonderful way for us to express ourselves as actors. No one is seeing the expressions that you’re making, but you’re using your whole instrument as an actor to portray the characters. We took a class on voice-acting, and we reached out to people who did know it, and from that, we made demo reels for voice acting, and we’ve been working in voice-over ever since then. We still do television and films, both our own and other’s projects. Any acting project we want to do, we do it!
Let’s talk about your new web series “Whatta Lark” on Revry.TV. How did you come up with the idea?
“Whatta Lark” is a comedy series that I created and that I starred in. We have ten episodes in the first season. The idea behind “Whatta Lark” is that as a woman, I was having somewhat of a life crisis if I wanted to be a parent in addition to being a filmmaker and a creative. I was having a little bit of a struggle deciding if it was a path I wanted to go down because I feel like it takes a lot of responsibility if you’re going to do a good job being a parent.
I was going back and forth deciding if that was the life I wanted. Then, I went to DragCon, as a regular audience member, and I was listening to these amazing drag performers and their stories. They talked about their experiences, but it showed me that there was this vivaciousness and a “distance of self” that these drag performers possess. They had a great sense of self, and they were very clear of what they were trying to put out into the world. I was envious of it, and I admired it – and it inspired me. It all clicked at once in my head; this character in a story struggling with the same problem of whether or not she wants to be a parent, and all of these drag queens having this sense of self and self-knowing that she can learn from.
That’s the origin of the show of “Whatta Lark.” Because the story of “Whatta Lark” is about this childless children’s book author named Megan, who I play, and she comes across this amazing Drag Queen named Whatta Lark, who helps Megan get closer to what she wants to do with her life. It was very much based in real life with my own struggle, and now I have a child – so you know how my decision turned out.
Some of the greatest art can come out of what you know and what you experience. Reflecting on your own life is a great resource when you’re trying to come up with ideas.
Did you face any challenges in the production of “Whatta Lark”?
I came up with the idea before I was pregnant, but I became pregnant during pre-production. There were many tricky things to work around with that. So I was pregnant but my character wasn’t, so we had to get creative and clever for how we were shooting.
So with your role on “Whatta Lark” you created the story – did you write it as well?
I created the story idea but I hired a writer – her name is Danielle Evenson, and she’s an amazing writer. So I realized that maybe I am not the strongest of writers, and so though I’ve written a couple of children’s books and a book on voice-over, I wanted to have a solid television writer come in. Danielle Evenson is responsible for writing the series.
Can you expand on your production company, Monkey Kingdom Productions, that you started with your husband, Yuri Lowenthal?
I think it’s essential to be proactive and to be the master of your own creativity. I think both Yuri and I were on the same page that we’re happy to audition for other people and to be in other people’s project – and that’s the majority of what we do. But if there’s a story that you need to tell or something that we’re passionate about that we want to explore, we firmly believe that you should just create it yourself.
Over ten years ago, we came up with the idea for Monkey Kingdom Productions, and we’ve done two feature films, three web series, and a handful of short films. We believe that when there is a story that we want to tell, or something that we want to pursue in our acting, or something that we’re curious about from a creative standpoint, we just make it happen.
That’s the idea behind Monkey Kingdom Productions, and that’s how we chose the name. In Asian Mythology there is this monkey king, Sun Wukong, similar in a sense to Loki; he’s not necessarily evil, but he is tricky. We kind of view ourselves as that, we’re not these big shots, we’re these tricky little willy people. If we have a shoestring budget, we’ll make it happen, and we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
A lot of young filmmakers – if they don’t live in Los Angeles, they don’t have the connections, they don’t have a budget – can often feel like filmmaking is a dream, it’s out of reach. Do you have any advice for filmmakers who perhaps don’t have the resources?
Absolutely. Nowadays, resources don’t have to be these huge expenses. Almost everyone has a cell phone, and most of us have access to the internet and computers, and there’s a big group of people out there on the internet who want to create something. You may have something that you’re skilled at, and other people who you’re working with may not be skilled in what you’re skilled at. You can trade your time and skill for something they’re not good at. You may not come to the table saying you have millions of dollars and equipment, but you have a few things at your disposable. And time is a valuable element that people forget about. You can do it well, you can do it fast, or you can do it easy. You have to figure out how to make something happen, and when you’re young, you don’t have a lot to offer in experience and you don’t have a lot to offer in resources financially. But you can say – look, I’ve got my time, and I’m going to put my time into it.
If you’re passionate about something, think about the various elements that are involved. You’re going to need to film it somehow. You need a story, either written by you or someone else. You need to cast it, and all of these various elements to tell the story that you want to tell. And so what you start doing is that you create a community of people that can offer multiple things. So maybe there’s someone who’s good at editing, and you may not have the skill of editing, but they offer that. So you bring them aboard to do that.
Ultimately, you want to work on projects with good people. People want to work on quality. Work on the thing that most interests you but always create something with quality. Quality, in itself, is a resource. If you’re a good writer, write something and read your scripts aloud. Have your friends read them. Focus on your writing. If you’re a good editor, edit as much stuff as you can get your hands on. Do whatever you can to get your skills as strong as they can be. Then, when you have the opportunity to work on something, you’re ready.
What is some wisdom you can bestow on new filmmakers?
I think people are in the mindset that you need to be in Los Angeles or New York to start a career in film. I think it goes back to what we were talking about earlier with resources. If you want to be a filmmaker or an actor, you can start your training anywhere. There’s probably a local theatre troupe to join if you’re an actor. If you’re a writer, you can always be writing, but you don’t have to be in a big city to do this. You can go online and get treatments from actual TV shows and see how scripts are formatted. You can take local classes. You can always educate yourself. Teach yourself as much as you can.
The best part about living in areas that are not New York or L.A. is that the communities in those towns are more welcoming and supportive to film projects. Don’t feel like you have to be in one of those big cities; see what you can do where you are. Save your resources for making that big leap to be prepared.
It can be really exciting to look at a movie star or a big celebrity and say, “That’s what I want.” Try to figure out what that lifestyle is for the majority of people who want to pursue that. Being a celebrity is such a tiny piece of the pie if you don’t like the work that goes into it, and if it’s not fun for you, find something that makes you happy. Many people are, “I want to be that thing,” but they don’t know what that thing entails. Find out what you want to pursue entails. Interview people who are living that life and see if that’s what you want or if you’re just looking through rose-colored glasses. I feel like nowadays; we live in a world that’s all about the Instagram culture, and all this online social media buzz. We’re only seeing these pretty snapshots of other people’s lives, and it’s easy to compare ourselves to that, and we’re not looking at the reality of what those people are living. Make sure you make choices that make you happy and at the end of your career you can look back and be pleased of what you’ve done and what you’ve created.
Do the thing that makes you happy.
Watch WHATTA LARK Now on Revry.TV at: https://revry.vhx.tv/whatta-lark
Follow Tara Platt on Twitter at @taraplatt