"If I see something in my mind – we do it": Anne Marie Cummings talks about the creative process behind 'Conversations in L.A.'
An incredibly talented artist, Anne gets candid about juggling three hats of director, actor and creator and the new season of Conversations in L.A
Every time pixie-haired Anne Marie Cummings stares into the camera, you see the steely-eyed determination of an artist who is trying their best to get the perfect shot. For her, the perfect shot is a little too literal - she's the creator, director, and protagonist of 'Conversations in L.A, a one of a kind, single shot web series. The story revolves around Anne Marie's character Michelle Macabee, a 48-year-old woman whose life is bent out of shape. She's just lost her 15-year-old dog and quit her job and to top it all up, there's menopause knocking on the door.
This Emmy nominee brings a certain finesse to the screen - a hand gesture here, a decibel higher there - minute details that you'd see on a live stage. She has certainly brought over her honed skill set from theatre to the small screen. She's been a stage actor for about 30 years and she knows just how to work the camera, although she says that this is actually tougher. "This is ten times harder than the stage, and since I’m drawn to challenge. Since I’m attracted to doing what pains me, so to speak, this is going to keep me challenged for a very long time. With this medium, all of my talents as a writer, director, actress, and producer are being stretched. That’s very exciting and hard as hell!" she exclaims, visibly excited speaking about her work.
Her excitement and passion for what she does is perhaps why Anne Marie is so good at her job. Her show 'Conversations in L.A' is coming back for a third season and the fan following continues to grow and rightfully so. Every episode has been craftily shot end to end in one go - no retakes, no breaks, no slipping in and out of character. "You dive into a character and you stay in character from the beginning of a scene to the very end," she says before explaining what was going on in her head when she thinking about making it. "So my first train of thought was extending that experience for myself, and other actors, on screen.
"My second train of thought, once I saw that was working, was how I wanted to film the one-takes. This took almost a year because we re-shot most of Season One." This season has a subtitle - 'A Passionate Discourse.' "So fans can expect passion, discourse, all the ups and downs that Michelle and Gus go through in their relationship, and all the people that come in and out of their lives who they have deep conversations with. It’s been an incredibly daring and exciting time so far and I can’t wait to share Season Three with the world!" she says excitedly.
Michelle herself is bits and pieces of Anne Marie. "I can tell you this, I am not a Larry David," she says matter of factly, "I am not playing myself. That being said, there are, of course, many aspects of Michelle that I personally relate to, but there are many that I don’t." She does love dogs just as much though. "And yes, I do love dogs," she says, "They are very special creatures. I think that only those of us who have owned a dog and taken care of a dog from when they were a puppy to an adult truly understand how big their hearts are. There’s nothing like opening the door to a creature wagging its tail with boundless energy and grinning happily to see you and there’s nothing like sitting on a park bench with a dog that’s very content to just sit by your side to keep you company."
Avant-garde is treasured in an art form. However, when it comes to mass appeal it can bring about a lot of doubt. She did initially have to convince and coax and even though it seemed next to impossible, she and her team knew exactly what they were doing and followed through. 'Conversations in L.A.' grew out of a very personal place for her, she says and she had to see it through. "This concept grew from a process that wasn’t just my process as an actress-writer-director for the past thirty years, but the process of try, fail, and try again – all with the one-shot concept.
Apart from looking at the life of a middle-aged woman realistically, the show also has a special look and feel. It's shot impeccably and has an extensive detail and flow to them. "If I see something in my mind – we do it. Everything I visualize in 'Conversations in L.A.' - - we do. So the work has become more 360, with more movement such as walking or running, more movement from inside to outside, and stronger locations, more complicated and complex, adding to the visuals and tension in scenes," she says before explaining how things work behind the scenes. There's just one word for it - insane. "Once I start rehearsals if I’m also acting in the episode, I try and get off book as quickly as possible. I’m one of those actors who doesn’t like holding a script for too long. And during the rehearsal process, I wear all my hats at different times. This is extremely difficult to do, but I do it and I’m getting better and better at this," she says, humble and positive as ever.
Anne Marie has just brought in Emmy winning actor Justin Kirk and 'La Bamba' himself - Lou Diamond Phillips. Kirk plays Michael Miller, someone Michelle meets. Miller is a theatre director who’s charming, funny, real, still finding himself at 50, and divorced. She's pretty pleased with the way things worked out as well, she says. She describes Kirk as 'Humphrey Bogart in that way'. "But acting with him was fantastic. Whenever we rehearsed, and on our shoot day, it was like we were doing a half-hour play six or seven times a day on the days we got together. Very cool person, brilliant actor, and a blessing to work with him!" Actor Willie Garson will also be joining the show. He plays Dr. Kerr, Michelle and Gus’ new couple’s therapist. The third season is currently under production but should be out by the end of this year.