She Did It Her Way A profile on Juliet Landau

juliet landau

juliet landau

At the Crown City Theater in the NoHo Arts District (just west of the Lankershim/Vineland intersection), celebrated actor Juliet Landau stars as Roberta in the famed, deeply emotional production of Danny And The Deep Blue Sea. The story of two misfits meeting in a dive bar in the Bronx, Danny, a truck driver prone to violence (played by Matthew J. Williamson), and Roberta, an absent single mother with a dark family secret- develop and instant and unavoidable connection. “What interests me about this play is that it covers some pretty dark territory, but there’s also a lot of humor in it,” Juliet confides. “These two characters are at their wits end; they’re really burning and churning and needing to connect and they do, and it’s quite a roller coaster.”

The roller coaster analogy could’ve been applied to the rehearsal process as well due to the cast only having three weeks to prepare, but not surprisingly- three weeks were more than enough for Juliet to delve into the dynamic character of Roberta. During our telephone interview, she shares, “What I particularly love about my character is that she’s a survivor, and she’s faced extreme obstacles, but she still holds on to this glimmer of hope that life can be better, and that there’s a better way.”

Running Friday through Sunday, through December 18th, Juliet will be captivating audiences in Danny And The Deep Blue Sea with the same raw vulnerability and honesty that has augmented her performances since the beginning of her acting career in the early 90s. Best known for her scene-stealing role as Drusilla in the cult-favorite TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-1998, 2000-2003) and later in its spin-off Angel (2000-2004), which garnered her a 2001 Saturn nomination- Juliet has not only conquered the acting arena, but she’s also made a name for herself as a writer, director, and businesswoman, running her own production company Miss Juliet Productions.

juliet landauA native to Los Angeles, Juliet’s first and initial love was dance. In her early years, she enticed and intrigued audiences with her grace and femininity flowing freely as a ballet dancer, but soon mastered the craft and, craving a new challenge, sought out a different type of performing. “There was a point when I was dancing where I started to feel like for me, the dance world was too insular,” she says. “I started taking acting classes and I really loved the ability to have a verbal exchange, and to use my physicality in relation to a character.” And in addition to acting classes, Juliet quickly seized the opportunity to join the Actors Studio, a non-profit organization providing a place for professional actors, directors, and playwrights to further study and develop their craft. It was at the Actors Studio where she met her friend and mentor Susan Peretz, famous for her performance in Dog Day Afternoon as Al Pacino’s wife and the series Babes as Darlene Gilbert, along with a slew of guest starring roles on television, including Murder, She Wrote, Cagney and Lacey and ER. “Susan was an incredible actress, a true mentor and a great friend to me,” Juliet says. “Because she was the most amazing teacher, in between professional projects, I would always go back to work with her and try things out.”

Armed with training and a dynamic mentor, acting jobs quickly followed, and Juliet’s dance background gave her a leg up on the competition. “I remember the first time I was on set for an acting job,” she confides, “sometimes the hours are long, you could be working 16 hours a day- and some of the other actors were complaining and I was thinking, ‘What are they complaining about? Your feet aren’t bleeding, you’re making money, you’re being fed.’ There’s definitely a discipline and a work ethic that comes out of being a dancer.” And that work ethic manifested itself in 1990 when Juliet made her acting debut in Stephen Frears’ The Grifters as the young Lilly, then resurfaced two years later in 92’s Neon City, followed by a guest role on the series Parker Lewis Can’t Lose.

Then, in 94, Juliet garnered mass appeal with her portrayal of Loretta King in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood. “I loved working with Tim,” she says. “He has this brilliant spirit and created an environment on set where it was obscenely fun to go to work.” And in the spirit of obscene fun, Juliet forged ahead, landing roles in films like Theodore Rex opposite Whoopi Goldberg as well as Ravager and Carlo’s Wake. But it was her performance in Ed Wood that attracted the likes of Joss Whedon, creator and executive producer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “I went in for a meeting with Joss, producers David Greenwalt and Gail Berman, and Marcia Shulman- who was head of casting at FOX, and I went in thinking I was going to be reading for Drusilla- but it ended up being a creative meeting where we bounced ideas off of one another,” she remembers. “So I left hoping it would all work out, and before I got to my car, my agent called saying they wanted me to do the part.”

But breathing life into the role of Drusilla proved more complicated than the audition process. “Joss gave me all these contradictory adjectives to describe Drusilla like, ‘she’s childlike, but sensual; she’s delicate, but indomitable; she’s sweet but diabolical, she’s fragile but powerful,’ and I wasn’t sure how I was going to put all of that into one character,” she says, “but I just got right into the bowels of working on the role. And my co-star James Marsters and I would get together to rehearse as soon as we’d get the script for each episode, and we’d show up super prepared.”

It’s true, Juliet’s career was beginning to blossom, but things took a dark turn after her long-time friend and teacher Susan Peretz died of breast cancer in 2004. “When Susan passed, it was really difficult for me,” Juliet confesses, “but I feel like I carry her with me in every project and every piece of work that I do because my process has been shaped so much by what she taught me and her love of it.” 2004 also marked the end of Juliet’s 6-year run as Drusilla in the popular Buffy spin-off series Angel, but in honor of her mentor, Juliet continued on, this time, setting up shop in the world of animation. In 2005, for 7 episodes of the popular animated series Justice League Unlimited, Juliet was the voice of super villain Tala. “That was loads of fun,” she recalls. “For that show, we recorded with all the other actors in the booth, playing off of each other, which was wonderful. With voiceover work, you’re not limited to what you look like and there’s freedom in that.”

After Justice League came diverse roles in other animated series like Ben 10: Alien Force, but the real freedom came when Juliet made her directorial debut after joining forces with British actor and emerging director Gary Oldman. In 2009, Oldman- known for his most recent roles as Jim Gordon in the Batman trilogy and Sirius Black in the Harry Potter series- set out to direct a music video for the Jewish Hip Hop band Chutzpah using only cell phone cameras, asking Juliet to direct the behind-the-scenes making of. Juliet jumped at the chance. “It was a three day shoot,” she says, “and I chronicled everything with high definition cameras, but I also had access to all the cell phone footage. Gary operated one of the cell-cams, so when I got to the editing bay and started looking at everything- I saw that I had an incredibly rare view. It almost felt like being inside Gary’s head; that the cell phone lens was like looking through his eyes.” Realizing she had captured Gary’s creative process, she convinced him to let her develop the footage into a short documentary film rather than strictly a behind-the-scenes look. And after months of editing, the documentary Take Flight was born. It was Juliet’s directorial debut, and ever the savvy businesswoman, she decided to promote the film by putting together a series of interviews with some of her favorite performers, asking about their creative process, to be released in conjunction with Take Flight. Each of the interviews can be seen on her You Tube page Miss Juliet Productions.

And thanks to her pioneering efforts, other work quickly followed. “Jason Miller, the lead singer of the band Godhead, had seen Take Flight and approached myself and Deverill Weekes, asking us to co-direct their next video,” she says. Once they were given the song, she and co-director Weekes (also the director of photography on Gary Oldman’s music video for Chutzpah) came up with the concept: A relationship study between two characters, one of which was played by Juliet herself, and the other played by band member Jason Miller. They pulled images to support the concept and choreographer Roxanne Steinberg developed the movement for the video based on those images. “I love directing,” she shares. “Having the overall vision and getting to execute that vision was a different experience than acting; as an actor, you’re a component and someone else is shaping the whole, and you can try to service the whole with your performance, but it’s ultimately somebody else’s vision that you’re accommodating. As the director, it’s your idea and it’s your thoughts that get to be expressed completely, and I loved venturing into that territory.”

Shortly after Hero, Juliet ventured into another territory, co-writing two issues of the comic book Angel, a continuation of the Angel television series. Following the trials and tribulations of Drusilla, the role that made her a household name, Juliet was now tasked with writing the story. “I think from having played the character of Drusilla over the course of 6 seasons, inhabiting her for that period of time on TV, it felt very natural to pick her back up,” she says.

But writing comics is only the beginning, as Juliet is now hard at work selling autographed merchandise on her website in order to raise money for her original short film It’s Raining Cats and Cats. Written prior to the Angel comic, It’s Raining Cats and Cats is a dark comedy where Juliet will be co-directing and starring, playing 7 characters in total. “It was actually the first thing I wrote,” she says, “because as an actor, you’re always waiting for other people to give you an opportunity, no matter what level you’re at- so I decided to create material that I really want to do.” And with that declaration and an original script firmly in hand, she launched Miss Juliet Productions. But make no mistake, Juliet’s not turning down outside roles either, as she can be seen in the kids film Monster Mutt, playing Russian villainess Nataliya. She’ll also be starring in the upcoming film Dark Hearts by director Rudolf Buitendach, where she plays a beatnik-inspired artist and art gallery owner who dresses like an art piece, and is always a little bit high. She’ll also be doing voiceover work in another installment of the Justice League franchise Justice League Doom, the Green Lantern animated series and the Thundercats animated series as well as the animated film Strange Frame: Love and Sax with Tim Curry.

Yes, Juliet Landau is a courageous woman with an almost blinding talent who- much like her character Roberta in Danny And The Deep Blue Sea, has overcome many challenges to arrive at her very best. The main difference, though, is Juliet is writing her own story.

Danny And The Deep Blue Sea
Now playing: Oct 21 – Dec 18
Crown City Theatre
11031 Camarillo St

Author: nohoarts