Actress Hallie Todd is probably best known for her role in the US television series ”Lizzie McGuire” but it was her guest role in a single episode of ”Star Trek: The Next Generation” as Lal, the “daughter” created by android Commander Data (Brent Spiner) that brought her to Australia recently for a convention held by First Contact Conventions. Todd comes from Hollywood family, the daughter of Ann Guilbert and producer/writer George Eckstein and is married to actor/director Glenn Withrow. Todd and Withrow opened an acting studio and are releasing a film featuring ten of their students. We caught up with Todd while she was in Australia.
Did your parents have an influence on your decision to become an actor?
My parents definitely had an influence. They were always very supportive of me and I was exposed to their world and work. Growing up, all my parents’ friends were in the business. I didn’t really act as a child, except for a very short time, when my dad actually hired me on a television show he was working on, “Sara” starring Brenda Vaccaro. I had to audition, but he hired me, and that’s how I got my first job. My parents were divorced and my mom was not into being a stage parent. She was an actress, and she didn’t really want to be on a set if she wasn’t working herself; there’s nothing more boring than hanging out on a set if you’re not part of the production. During the season on the show, my grades plummeted. The set-life was distracting. I didn’t want to do my homework. School on the set wasn’t the same as being in school and being focused, so they pulled me from the business as soon as the show was cancelled. But I think they always knew I would be an actress, just not as a professional child actor.
A lot of people will be familiar with your mother…
My mother is Ann Guilbert, who used to go by Ann Morgan Guilbert. She just appeared in the movie “Please Give” that Nicole Holofcener wrote and directed, it just came out last October, it was an indie sleeper favorite. She was amazing in this movie. The American film critic Leonard Maltin wrote that she should be nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal of this character. Oliver Platt, Catherine Keener, Amanda Peet and Rebecca Hall are the four leads, and my mom has a really wonderful role that runs through the whole picture.
Can you tell us about the film you’re working on?
My husband [Glenn Withrow] and I just made our first film. “The Mooring” is a low budget suspense thriller, but it’s not a gore-fest at all. We decided to write it with our daughter, who was fifteen at the time. We decided we would try to write a project together, and she said “You guys should do a film with the kids in the class.” We teach acting classes in Los Angeles and around the US, and we said that would be a good idea.
Glenn suggested a horror movie, because they’re so commercial so we sat down and wrote the script and finished it, a miracle in itself, raised the money, and we shot it in Northern Idaho.
We’re now almost done with the picture, we’re in post and it’s edited, and now the sound design is being done and the music and special effects shots are being incorporated. I’m in it, and Thomas Wilson Brown, who was the teenage heart throb in “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” is in it, and the rest are all my students, ten newcomers.
What’s the film about?
All these girls find themselves having to go on this retreat, and I’m the facilitator. We travel by houseboat up the river to our destination and end up having a little engine problem with the boat, and we have to pull in at another beach and the wrong people pull up next to us and the shit hits the fan. It’s our take on “Deliverance” but with teenage girls, and without a “Squeal like a pig!” scene. The violence is handled with a good deal of restraint and yet I promise it will be very scary.
My husband is the director, and he grew up with the films of the early films of the‘70s. Those films weren’t as slick, there was a rawness, a reality.
Why did you make a conscious decision to do it that way?
That’s what scares us. As parents, having your daughter abducted and chased down in the wilderness is a terrifying thing, and you see these stories on the news where these girls go missing. You wonder, “How did it happen?” It’s not like they just went missing, something happened.
Have you enjoyed playing the role of producer on the film?
Tremendously, and it’s been really nice working with each other. We’ve definitely had our many moments of disagreement, but we work together so well as a group, we’re on the same page as to what we really want it to be like, so there’s no conceptual arguments. Overall, it’s been a marvelous experience.
We were close already but this has just brought us so close, and so close to the our students who are in it too, because all the parents of these girls have pitched in and worked on the show and carried cable and painted sets. It was very much a family project, and some of these parents never would have let their kids audition for a horror movie, but because they’ve known us and trusted that we weren’t going to exploit their daughters… that’s one of the things that has meant the most to me and Glenn, is to have these people put their faith in us. I was den mother on this show, cooking for everybody and making sure the girls were getting along and it was a really, really interesting experience.
Is there anything you haven’t done on this movie?
[laughs] I didn’t lift anything really heavy on this movie.
Do you enjoy being behind the camera?
I really enjoyed being behind the camera because I got to be involved in so many aspects of the development and the creating of the project and seeing it through to the end. I like the puzzle work of editing, and I like the puzzle work of writing, that was a new discovery.
We were in the middle of the wilderness with no toilets, with no phone, running out of water, and you’d have to drive a half hour over a non-existent road to get more water or food, just basic needs were hard to meet. (And I include cell service in basic needs) Everybody was so awesome, their patience and good will, it was very cool.
You can pre order the DVD through your website now?
You can reserve it. We’re encouraging people to reserve it, you don’t have to give anything, it’s just an email address basically so we can put the word out and say okay, we’re ready now.
You can learn more about the film and watch the trailer at www.themooringmovie.com and you can find out more about Hallie Todd Studios at their website www.hallietoddstudios.com
– ELLYSSA HARRIS