Laura Cayouette [Interview]
I could lie and try to sound cool by saying that I knew who Laura Cayouette was without doing a IMDB search for “the lady that played Leo’s sister in Django Unchained, who I also recognized from Kill Bill and Hell Ride”, but then I would be a liar. But, I can honestly say that it was one of the wisest decisions I have made! After a little digging into the career and world of Laura Cayouette, I can honestly say I feel honored to have learned of her work! Hell, I should have known that if my favorite filmmaker in history considers her a friend and keeps bringing her back in to his films, there must be something special about this woman!
Laura has an amazing blog that could bring tears to the eyes of anyone who either lives in the city of New Orleans, or has ever even visited the city to experience the amazingness that it holds. She has also written a book geared towards actors trying to break in to the business. And she has had a career that is truly awe inspiring. I’ve never really had the acting bug myself, but I know that if ever did, Laura Cayouette is exactly the kind of person I should admire as a professional and as a person. That being said, we were fortunate enough to have Laura share a few words with us! It is an honor and treat to share with you some questions with Laura Cayouette!
When did you first know that you wanted to join the world of acting?
I started very late, especially as a female. I was 25 – running a dress boutique, teaching college one night a week and modeling on my days off. Other than doing Godspell as a teenager, I had almost no acting experience so I studied in New York then Los Angeles for years before really trying to compete. I figured if I couldn’t be young or related to someone in the industry, I’d better be better than the girls my age with the fold-out resumés.
You’ve had a pretty close working relationship with Quentin Tarantino. What is about working with QT that you enjoy the most? What keeps you wanting to work with him?
Quentin is a remarkable person for so many reasons that any excuse to hang out with him is a good one. But the thing that’s so intoxicating about working with him on a set is his unbridled enthusiasm for making movies . When we’d be exhausted and playing the same scene for the umpteenth time, he’d say, “We’re going to do one more folks. Why?” and we’d all yell together, “Because we love making movies!” How can you not remember how privileged we are to be getting paid to do what we love after shouting that in a room full of talented people making something amazing?
And, of course, one of the reasons everyone wants to work with him is that there are very few times in a career when you can be certain that the movie you’re making is probably going to be recognized not only by critics and awards, but by generations of movie lovers.
You even picked up duties as an Associate Producer, as well as a co-star, the awesome biker film Hell Ride, presented by Quentin. How did your involvement in this project come to light?
This is kind of a long story but I love it. I had been friends with Larry Bishop for years when I met Quentin and Larry had done a BUNCH of biker movies in the 60’s and 70’s. When Quentin and I first started hanging out, he mentioned one of Larry’s movies or something and I said, “I know Larry.” Quentin got so excited, “You know Larry Bishop? Like, ‘know him’ know him? Like you have his phone number? So we called Larry and Quentin invited him to join us to watch “The Savage Seven,” one of Larry’s old biker movies. It was my first “true” biker movie (Easy Rider isn’t always accepted in the genre) and afterward, I commented that I liked the moral ambiguity – something I love in Quentin’s movies as well. (Criminals are good guys, we laugh when some poor kid’s head gets blown off, etc.)
So this conversation goes on until it turns into a casting session for the biker movie we started imagining in that moment. Larry was going to write, direct and star with me at his side and we added Michael Madsen to our cast list. Then, I saw Quentin say to Larry, “It is your destiny. It is your destiny to write, direct and star in the greatest biker movie of all time.” Even with all of that, it still took 7 years to come to fruition. I spent those 7 years helping in everything from turning Larry’s initial novel into a screenplay to the casting of nearly every female in the film.
I’ve asked several members of the horror world about the on set life during difficult subject matter. Now, slavery is a whole different type of horrific subject matter. So, what was the set life like on Django Unchained? Was it a pretty light hearted set behind the scenes?
I wasn’t there on the worst day, the day of Kerry Washington’s whipping, but I heard that was a high impact day. Mostly, Quentin and the producers made the set fun with short birthday parties with personalized cakes for everyone and occasional cocktail breaks to celebrate film footage mile-markers. We always had music between set-ups. Sometimes people would dance. Jamie Foxx sang along to “My Prerogative” with 4 women dressed as house slaves doing a synchronized dance behind him.
The best part of dealing with the past was that it was an invitation to explore our own heritage. Many of us, especially the local New Orleans actors, found out remarkable things about our families, whether we were descended of slaves or slaveowners or both. We would share our stories creating a living legacy and adding truth to our characters. So, yes it was lighthearted at times but we knew what we were making. We knew when to focus.
You recently released a book entitled Know Small Parts that has been lauded by critics and actors alike, to include folks like Kevin Costner and Richard Dreyfuss. But, how has the reception been for your real audience, actors looking to break into the business?
It’s a fair question since all the endorsements are from people who are further along in their careers. I love the reviews I get on Amazon, Facebook and Twitter because they are coming from readers who genuinely feel helped by my book. One young woman recently said she got her first callback after reading Know Small Parts. I love all the feedback about inspiring people but real results matter.
My favorite part about writing the book has been doing Q&A’s and seminars at colleges and acting and film schools. I love being able to speak directly to people who are eager to learn. I went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts where I studied in New York and sat on the stage I’d done plays on talking to students who were just where I was 25 years ago. It felt good to be a living example of being able to do this as a career.
You proudly boast the city of New Orleans where you currently reside. I have had nothing but wonderful times during my stays in that wonderful city. Even times I might not fully remember. But, what was it about New Orleans that made you want to move away from obvious places for working actors to live like NYC or LA? What made you want to move there, and what keeps you there?
Though I wasn’t born here, my family is from Louisiana for generations. If home is where the heart is, my heart’s home has always been here. I lived in New York for almost 3 years and Los Angeles for almost 18. Both cities have their merits are are critical to the industry. Louisiana may be Hollywood South right now but the industry could move on as it did in Canada. I will still be here. I may have moved here just as the industry started to bloom, but I moved here to be happy, to love my life when I’m not working.
I write a blog, LA to NOLA (latonola.com
) that’s basically become a 4 year love letter to this city, its people and its culture. Everyone’s heard about our amazing music and food but it’s so much more than that. The people of this city are so resilient, so full of creativity and joy – it’s awe-inspiring. Also – Who Dat!?! The synergistic relationship between this city and its Saints is something you have to see to believe. I’ve never loved football more and the sense of community it can create.
We recently spoke with one of your fellow NOLA based actors, L. Michele DeVito (you two were both actually in Now You See Me, but seperate occasions) and we asked her this question as well…… How is the acting scene in New Orleans? Are you all a fairly close knit group of folks?
It’s a fairly small community of people but I feel like I’m always seeing new faces. I don’t know if everyone knows everyone but I would say most of us are aware of most of us. That said, everyone came together to fight for keeping the tax incentives in place with no adjustments. That solidarity is critical as we face future administrations who may want to change things.
It seems as though there has been a rather large influx in films being shot in the New Orleans area lately, even more so than in the past. In your professional opinion, what do you think it is that is attracting studios and filmmakers to the area?
Definitely the generous and well-constructed tax incentive. That said, the area has created an impressive infrastructure including facilities, crew and support. Though L.A. is a young city, it’s studios are actually pretty old. New Orleans is very old, but our studios and post houses, etc. are all brand new state-of-the-art.
The reason NOLA has always been in movies is because of the beautiful, unique architecture and vibe of the place. The cool thing is that between the woods of Shreveport, the suburbs of Baton Rouge, the swamps and plantations, the rivers and tiny towns – Louisiana can double for almost anywhere.
But the best reason to film in New Orlenas is because on your days off – you’re in New Orleans!
What are some of your non-artistic type of influences in your career?
I was in retail for 10 years and I think sales skills are critical in the entertainment industry. As an actor, I am the product so it helps if I understand what I’m selling and how to present it. Teaching helped me learn to speak to a room full of people who may have other things on their minds. It can be so unsettling to feel you’re not reaching someone but that can happen at an audition. I’m so glad I learned how to cope with that and even change it. From 10 years of modeling, I learned how to live on seasonal, sporadic paychecks. I also learned that rejection could be arbitrary. I would get rejected one day for being too thin and the next for being too “hippy.” I was too tall and too short, too old and too young. I learned to see rejection as nothing more than tearing up a losing lottery ticket.
Most importantly, I ran a successful dress boutique for a few years. I learned why sometimes people have to be fired, why a more qualified applicant might not be as good a choice as a lesser-qualified employee, how much it costs to keep something running, how to work collaboratively for a greater goal, how to delegate, make spending choices and so much more. I am my own business so the skills I learned running that store are invaluable.
If you could grab the starring role as any well known female in American history, who would it be?
Unfortunately, the woman I most admire is someone I’m not the right person to play – Harriet Tubman. But the woman in the industry I most admire is Lucille Ball. She started as another pretty face, a Ziegfeld Girl, and she got to audition for Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind.” But she went on, with her husband, to create the live studio audience, the 3-camera system of filming and most importantly – the rerun. Without reruns, we would have no residuals. Lucy had beauty with brains and was not afraid to make a fool of herself. And her best years started later in life. She made it all look so easy that no one even mentions that she a Dezi were a biracial couple at a time when you couldn’t even say “pregnant” on TV. All of that said, I’d rather admire her than try to play her so maybe I don’t really have an answer to this question.
One of your upcoming pieces of work, Maggie, is currently in post production and sounds absolutely amazing. Care to tell us a bit about that film? What will you be doing in the film?
I play Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sister and Abigail Breslin’s aunt. I’m only in one scene but it’s a pretty great scene. It’s a zombie-virus movie but you don’t really see many zombies and it’s an Arnold movie but there’s very little action. I remember when we finally got to see “Collateral Damage” after the 9-11 postponement, I was so impressed by Arnold’s acting. He made me cry. I was always a fan but I was sorry more people didn’t see his work in that film. In Maggie, Arnold finally gets another chance to show us his chops in a haunting story of a father faced with a decision no parent should ever have to make.
What else is in the future for you? Any other projects in the works?
A bunch actually. I’ll be back as David Morse’s ex-wife on HBO’s Treme and I also did a scene as a drug dealer’s mother with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in HBO’s True Detective. I play an awful woman in Charlize Theron’s Dark Places and a sweet church lady in the suspenseful Convergence. I’ll also be in Nicholas Cage’s Left Behind and American Heist with Hayden Christensen. I play a crass alcoholic mom is Student Bodies and a congressman’s wife in The Loft.
What was the last thing made you smile?
Easy answer – the Saints just won another game.