[Exclusive] Director Vanessa Parise on the new awareness 'Charmed' seeks to convey in these politically charged times
In an exclusive interview with Meaww, the producing director of 'Charmed' decodes the reason why male directors get more opportunities than their female counterparts.
The power of three has come alive once again as 'Charmed' reboot has fans buzzing with its latest episode 4 titled 'Exorcise Your Demons,' which aired on The CW on November 4. Given that the new 'Charmed' is almost an entirely new show featuring the Vera Sisters instead of the Halliwells, Meaww caught up with Vanessa Parise, producing director and co-executive producer of 'Charmed,' as she shared an insight into the underlying political message of the rather comedic series.
As one of Hollywood's top female directors breaking stereotypes, we were not surprised to see an entirely new avatar of 'Charmed' starting right from multiracial casts, to a homosexual lead, to addressing the #Metoo and TimesUp movement in the pilot itself. Was this drawn from your personal experience? Have you felt discrimination? And can you please tell us why all these were necessary for a reboot and what more can we expect from the show?
I started out in the indie feature world – writing, directing, producing and starring in my own films. I never felt any discrimination but as soon as I wanted to get into the system [directing and producing episodic television and studio features] – the system where you make a lot of money, I felt a huge shift. Since then, it’s felt mostly like I’m pushing a boulder up a mountain.
I’ve seen firsthand my male director friends being offered many more opportunities than my female director friends who are equally talented. I don’t think men are intentionally not hiring women – they’re just hiring the people they know, who are other men.
Like most of my friends, I thought this was the way it was – that as women, we just had to navigate around the obstacles. With #MeToo and TimesUp, we’re now realizing that the world can be different. There’s a new awareness amongst women and men. 'Charmed' speaks to this -- how “our differences are our strengths,” and that “we are stronger together.” I’m beyond grateful to be working with this extraordinary team on a show that’s political, topical, and inclusive – all told in an elegant, poignant yet humorous way.
Besides working on 'Charmed,' you have directed the biopic 'The Simone Biles Story: Courage to Soar;' for Lifetime, which premiered earlier this year. As it was based on a true story, what was the biggest challenge you faced?
Both finding someone to play Simone Biles and finding a stunt double for Simone were very challenging. We intercut real footage from the competitions – the regionals, the Worlds and the Olympics – with our actress as well as our stunt doubles. So, we needed someone to match Simone physically, to have some modicum of her elite gymnastics skills, and to be able to act! We found an awesomely talented new actress, Jeante Godlock. And we ended up having to bring up three different stunt women, and split the work according to their strengths. See if you can tell!
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You have a degree in biology and you were accepted to Harvard Medical School. Instead, you attended a two-year theatre program in Circle in the Square in New York City. We are glad you took that up because you're making magic for us. Please tell us about your journey into films and if your degree in acting or in biology is more handy when directing?
Growing up in NYC and then RI, I started acting in theater from the time I was a kid. Then I studied neurobiology [at Harvard] while I also sang in an acapella group and did a whole bunch of plays. That love of both pursuits continued for years, as I deferred HMS to go to Circle in the Square Theater’s conservatory. I’ve come to realize that prep uses my science/ problem-solving mind while shooting uses my acting/ in-the-moment/ feeling mind. Both are essential.
Your first feature film 'Kiss The Bride' (starring Alyssa Milano) was critically acclaimed and bagged many awards. What is your fondest memory of the film and how would you describe the thrill of making your first film?
I was very lucky to work with Alyssa Milano – and the other total pro actors – on my first feature. It was a professional high point in my life, and now it’s come full circle, as this feels to me like the second professional high point – with Alyssa being the tie. I have two distinct, thrilling memories. The first day of shooting, when I was driven onto set at the Santa Monica Pier, filled with trucks for the film which I’d given blood sweat and tears to put together… and the AD radioed the crew, “the Director has arrived.” Another memory is Talia Shire carrying a case of Coppola wine to set on a Friday. Everyone was like family on that film, helping in every possible way. Calling in favors left and right. In fact, the producers and actors from that film are close friends to this day – like family!
Coming back to 'Charmed,' while directing the show, is there any set pattern in your mind where you would focus on the dynamics between three sisters, so as
to not miss out on exploring any character, or do you let the story take its own course?
I come from a large multicultural [Italian Jewish Columbian] family myself. I know firsthand how complicated sibling (and all!) relationships are. I also know there is love underneath. In episode 102, we explored Macy’s feeling left out since Mel and Maggie have grown up together and they have so many shared memories. The relationships shift with each episode, depending on what’s happening with each sister’s personal life – as they do in real life. It’s important to all of us to show real sister dynamics. To show complicated, real relationships that are replete with underlying love.
Have you translated any of your life experience into big or small screens, especially in 'Charmed,' because of the strong and fierce statements the show has
made in political and individual matters?
We as a group are all striving to make a fierce political statement for open-mindedness and inclusion!
From a biography to a fantasy genre, you have explored quite a few variations with every new project you've taken up. Please tell us what are you looking forward to next?
I’m loving my job, which is definitely all-consuming. I’m also excited for what the future brings. Hoping to direct television pilots. And female-driven action films.