I have to especially thank industry stunt performer Bob Beck for pointing me in the direction of a few aspiring Chicago film professionals in the past month with film duo Lorrisa Julianus and husband, film director C.J. Julianus.
Their latest collaborative effort marking C.J.’s directorial feature debut with romantic crime comedy, The Misadventures Of Mistress Maneater, is currently abuzz with great reviews from a number of critics who’ve already weighed in prior to its current Amazon Prime release, myself included.
As typically hard and long fought most battles are with independent film productions, the victory with The Misadventures Of Mistress Maneater was a delight to see unfold, and it made corresponding with its creators even more prospective. Plus, it’s been months since I’ve interviewed a female on this dear website, and not for lack of trying despite the awesome festival coverage this year, and so you can imagine this was a much needed breath of fresh air. And for a film that’s entirely worth the effort on all fronts.
Directed by C.J. Julianus, The Misadventures Of Mistress Maneater is currently available at Amazon, and centers on Lorrisa Julianus in the title role as Ava, a dominatrix who stumbles upon a chance romance with a handsome, albeit knotty Episcopalian priest, forcing her to choose between helping a courrpt politician to bail herself out of debt with her Russian mobster ex-boyfriend, or following her heart.
In our interview, our star takes a deep dive into the creative process behind the film and writing, as well as a bit about herself, her passions and motivations, her hopes for the future of cinema in the wake of the ongoing pandemic, and more.
Greetings Lorrisa and thank you for chiming in. How have you and C.J. been keeping together during the pandemic?
Hello, Lee! C.J. and I are fortunate that we’ve always been close, so working together hasn’t been a huge adjustment for our relationship. We miss friends, and I miss the inspiration that comes from new experiences, places, and people. But we’re doing our best to find joy where we can!
Tell us about your background as a playwright and segueing into film and television.
It was a combat-heavy play that first made me want to be a scriptwriter, and I’ve been published and produced as a playwright, but my passion has always been for the screen. For many years it made more sense to write and produce theatre, as it was the medium most accessible to me, and is how I met C.J. and many of my closest friends and colleagues. C.J. and I incorporated multimedia effects into our theatrical shows, but The Misadventures of Mistress Maneater was the culmination of our creative experiences together.
Who have been some of your biggest influences over the years?
Frances Marion and auteur Georges Méliès, pioneer filmmakers before the studio era, are two of my idols, as they wore multiple hats too! They created stories with little money but a lot of passion. Being raised in the 90s and on plenty of classic films, movie musicals, and Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis flicks contributed to my love of large-scale adventures and happily ever-afters, even if I take an edgier road. We all have dreams; movies inspired me as a young person to believe that I had the power to make them come true.
I did some scrolling and Googling and read your motion capture credits for several games, including Mortal Kombat 11. I’m a fan of the franchise, so that fascinated me to learn about you.
Working with the team at Midway Games and now WB/Netherrealm has been the most rewarding experience of my professional life. I worked on Sonya for many years and enjoyed shaping her indomitable attitude and physicality. I’ve played many of the other characters, but villains are the most fun and creative for me.
Who’s your favorite MK character, if any?
Mileena and the regal evil Queen Sindel are favorites.
With The Misadventures Of Mistress Maneater being C.J.’s first feature directing effort, talk about what drew you both to creating a story around this character.
Dichotomy is my favorite theme in art and storytelling, whether it it’s expressed in a chiaroscuro painting, absurdist humor, or within a character and relationship. Juxtaposition creates drama and contrast for each element to appear most vividly alongside its opposite. Our favorite theater productions always had those opposing elements and wove in a little levity to make their points. Ava is a genius belittled by her profession. Father Radovan Markovic – brilliantly embodied by actor Mickey O’Sullivan – is a noble idealist and an MMA fighter. They each have inner dichotomies contributing to their emotional arcs, but put both characters together and their opposing natures make sparks fly too!
Tell us about Shannon Brown for a moment because you’ve been working with him for quite some time leading up to now.
We met Shannon and his wife Suzette in early 2014 when they launched their production company, Two 9 Productions. We began working together shortly thereafter, and their determination and success in producing their own features is what inspired me to write the first draft of this screenplay years ago. They’ve been invaluable allies in navigating the unfamiliar waters of producing our first feature. Suzette was invaluable during pre-production and I can’t imagine a more perfect Gabe than Shannon to banter with.
It feels like you gave yourself a lot to work with in creating this film, from writing to editing, and you even did the painting that was crucial to the story?
Yes, and we wouldn’t have been able to afford making a film of this quality if C.J. and I didn’t do so much ourselves, in addition to working with a devoted cast and crew. It was the first time I’ve been able to employ the experience and training I’ve gathered in all these disciplines within one project. Do you still paint? Yes, most of my work is for commission or live events, which I hope returns in 2021.
Talk a little about the process of elimination. Were there elements you wanted to keep in but couldn’t for some reason or another? It certainly feels like you gave yourself quite a lot to work with here in fleshing out each character as much as possible.
That was the greatest challenge, as I love tight, fast-paced movies but can’t stand incomplete writing that takes shortcuts! Both lead characters had to complete a satisfying inner and outer character arc. As a producing trio in the final editing suite, C.J., John Wesley Norton and I worked intensely to determine what absolutely had to be kept for logical story flow and what scenes, lines, and even seconds could be shaved. They might have added to relationship, character, visuals, or laughs, but if they were not absolutely vital to the viewer experience, they were cut. And here I thought it was lean and fat-free before! Many viewers say they enjoyed the movie even more upon second viewing because they caught jokes and details missed the first time. And we would rather fully engage a viewer’s brain anyway.
Talk about Brian Barber and what he brought to the table as the film’s stunt coordinator.
We wanted a stunt coordinator/choreographer who could be our antagonist fighter as well, thereby streamlining the training/rehearsal process and resulting in a more polished fight. Brian was the perfect fit as actor, fighter, and coordinator, a consummate professional with endless endurance, staying calm and cool even on the most stressful days.
Where would you like to see Mistress Maneater go for her next misadventure? And are there any other projects you’re looking forward to in 2021? Any particular training underway?
I’d love to start a sequel where this one ends, with even more action, intrigue, and Radovan’s Serbian roots coming back, but Binary Star Pictures’ filmmaking future is now dependent on viewers!
How do you foresee the industry going forward as filmmakers and struggling theatrical exhibitors mitigate with Covid-19?
I’m looking forward to seeing how theater chains will be creative in attracting patrons again, but I hope an upside of the crisis can be greater accessibility for independent filmmakers on streaming platforms. I hope the dearth of new studio films in 2020 increases public and industry interest in quality indies.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve taken with you in the course of your career?
So many! Find your tribe, lift up others, and know that their success doesn’t negate yours or mean there’s less out there for you! I originally met my co-stars Molly and Bonnie Morgan as co-competitors, and twelve years later we teamed up for this movie. Trust your gut about people, don’t chase promised pots of gold (that’s how the con-artists get you to ignore your intuition) and don’t burn bridges. The bigger your dream, the more you’ll need the support of your network. Fear, anger, and reactivity are your enemies. Be your own first investor before you ask anyone else to do the hard work or give you their hard-earned coin. Decide now if it’s more important for you to be a “star” or be known for quality projects. That will shape the focus of your career path.
Are there any remaining thoughts you would like to share with our readers as we exit this interview and enter the Holiday season?
Nothing in life is wasted. Not the skills you learned as a kid, not the life experiences you’ve had and even the trauma you’ve endured.
All of it can make you wiser, happier, and more resilient if you are willing to do the work. We attend school for years and train our physical bodies for hours in the gym, but the greatest power we wield in life arises when we discipline our thoughts, egos, and emotions, as so many martial arts practitioners have discovered.
I encourage all artists to explore personal development, philosophy, and self-awareness. That quest has shaped the soul of my work and accelerated my journey as an artist. There’s a greater power than a strong body, brilliant mind, and stellar résumé, and that’s knowing you are enough, and you are not your looks, not your degree, not your resume, not your bank account. Then, even a setback can’t keep you down for long, the flatterers can’t deceive you, and the trolls of the world can’t wound you. In grade school, I was made to memorize Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If.” Only as an adult do I truly appreciate those sage words to live by.