Adria Tennor: my ambition is to create more stories for and about women

Just look at her smile, and start hearing her speaking to understand that Adria Tennor is a unique personality. She is not only an actress but also a producer and handyman, a true lover of cinema in all its creative or organizational nuances. Best known for her role in “Mad Men” and Oscar-winning film “The Artist”, we are delighted to now see Adria in the Indican Pictures’ newly released One Moment. We talked to her about her ambitions and so many interesting memories from behind the scenes!

pr images by Ben Cope

What is your earliest memory of cinema, the moment you think made you fall in love with this art? 

My earliest and most beloved cinematic experiences were watching animated films like DumboFantasia and Bambi. These three films especially made an impression on me because, even though they were animated, they had very adult themes and somewhat dark subject matter. They all made me a bit uncomfortable and/or uneasy, and felt as though I had something to reconcile, figure out, understand, and learn, and thus grow. I was drawn to that quality in these pieces and still very much appreciate that in any kind of art.

What was it like working on the Oscar-winning “The Artist,”  and Emmy-winning “Mad Men?” Do you have any special memories? 

Stepping onto the sets of both of these projects, it was apparent something very special was happening. For an actor, once we’re hired, our first interaction with production is with the costume department. They call to get our sizes and then we meet them for a fitting. The costume design on both these projects was impeccable. Mark Bridges designed the costumes for The Artist and won the Oscar. Janie Bryant designed the costumes for Mad Men and was nominated for four Primetime Emmys and six Costume Guild awards – winning two. The first time I met Janie, who is now a longtime friend, I was standing on the stage – off set but in the wings – and I saw her going around to all the guest cast adjusting collars, buttons, ties…she approached me and undid the belt around the vintage skirt I was wearing and cinched it up, tightening it around my waist. My outfit instantly laid better. The blouse looked like it was suddenly tailored for my body and the skirt now hung perfectly to my calf with just the right furl. Then Janie marched off to revolutionize the next actor’s outfit with just a few pointed, simple adjustments. 

For The Artist, most of the costumes were authentic vintage pieces, some of them so delicate that they had to be sewn onto our bodies. At the end of the day the customer would have to very delicately remove the stitches so I could take off my dress to go home.

I really loved the pieces I got to wear in both of those productions. I feel inexplicably at home in those timeless, vintage styles and strive to recreate them in my own wardrobe.

Indican Pictures’ One Moment film just released on July 26th. Do you want to tell us about this project and give us some anticipation about the story? 

One Moment chronicles a family of adult siblings confronted with their older father’s slip into dementia. Deirdre O’Connor’s gorgeous script deals with this very heavy, uncomfortable topic with the perfect balance of sentiment and humor. Danny’s performance is not to be missed. He is funny and moving and heartbreaking. It’s his last film and that makes his portrayal that much more poignant and stunningly. I hope everyone can watch.

pr images by Ben Cope

We know that your ambition is to create more stories for and about women, and to create diversification in the opportunities that exist in theater, film and television. Do you already have in mind how to implement your plans? 

I’ll definitely keep writing and producing my own work and encouraging and supporting other women and underrepresented groups to write and create their own work and claim their power and place in this industry. I’m teaching online acting classes now at a studio called Real Actors Lab. That class is available and attended by students globally, and I encourage all my students to create their own opportunities. I also continue to help my students, my friends and colleagues who come to me for advice and support with self-producing. I often work as a crew member on friends’ films or even make lunch and deliver it to set whenever I can. I don’t always need to be in front of the camera. I find it fulfilling being part of the process in almost any capacity. I especially love being an innocent audience member, and that’s the best and easiest way to support diverse points of view – buy tickets and watch their stuff!

As for the fashion industry, for example, a lot is being done to encourage body-positive beauty. From runways to magazines to campaigns, we finally see more diversity. What is still missing in your opinion? 

I think it is amazing to flip through a magazine, turn on the television, go to the movies, look at social media – whatever – and finally see a more comprehensive and genuine reflection of our world instead of an exclusively white, cisgender male’s. It is definitely progressed to see all body types, abilities and colors represented, to see more races and genders and sexual orientations. I look forward to a time, though, when people in media with “different” body types or physical abilities or racial backgrounds or sexual orientations are just people and not the “gay” guy or the “heavier charactery friend” or the “black girl.” I look forward to the time when the prom queen in the after-school special is an Asian trans woman, but that’s not what the story is about, that’s just a given circumstance and not the main event of the story.

You break stereotypes, such as writing your own materials and self- producing them. Is that something that comes naturally to you or are you a self-aware rebel? 

I wouldn’t say that anything has come naturally, except my unrelenting desire and need to communicate and be part of the storytelling process. When I was young, I thought that meant I would act. My career did not play out that way, though. I didn’t book a series regular role just out of college and become an overnight sensation. My writing, producing and creating came out of my deep-seated need to tell stories and be part of that process, even though I wasn’t always being chosen by someone else to do that on a regular basis. However, I had no idea how to write a joke, so I took a stand-up class. I had no idea how to write a screenplay, so I went through the extension program at UCLA. I didn’t know how to produce a movie, so I shadowed a producer and learned. I’m determined and stubborn. I’m like Tom Petty. I won’t back down. So, I guess I’m a newly self-aware but long-time rebel!

You teamed up with YA writer and Emily Dickinson First Book Award winner Kristen Tracy to produce FETISH, a series which aired digitally. How did the project and the title come about? 

I met Kristen at CineStory, which is a writer’s fellowship program to which we both won entrance based on scripts we had written and submitted. I loved Kristen’s sense of humor, and so I told her about an idea I had and asked her if she’d want to collaborate on creating it. I think she was a bit reticent because she’s already an extremely in-demand author, but I think she ultimately appreciated and respected my follow up and follow through. Or maybe she realized I wasn’t going to stop hounding her until we did it! Kristen and I reworked my original idea, incorporating some true stories she had in her pocket. We decided that we wanted 6 episodes and we wanted them to all be about 5 minutes. We came up with the story arc of the first season, then broke it into six pieces to get our six episodes. Then we split the episodes and wrote three each, then traded with each other and polished and punched up what the other had written. The series is about a freshly divorced, down-and-out, single suburban mom who gets abducted by a literature-obsessed, S&M dog-masked fetishist who dresses her in fur lingerie and makes her read to him aloud from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, then lets her go free, unscathed. This traumatic event precipitates her quest to uncover the world of fetishism and more importantly fetish fulfillment for monetary gain so she can provide for herself and her beloved tween daughter. It’s like “Weeds” only with fetish porn, so the title FETISH seems to fit rather well, I think! 

Which directors inspire you? And why? And what else in life inspires your work?

I love Spike Lee, Debra Granik, Jane Campion, Chloé Zhao, Steven Soderbergh, Dee Rees, Julie Taymor, Jordan Peele, Quentin Tarantino…. There are way too many to name them all. I’m inspired by filmmakers who have a strong and unique perspective, who tell a story while also using their own distinct outlook and lens to convey it.

As far as other inspirations, I continue to draw from my own life, using my own experiences to create. I am consistently surprised at how many people connect to the traumas and dramas that I deem super personal and specific to me. The stuff I’m petrified to share and that I judge will be un-relatable for an audience because it’s undeniably personal to me usually proves the most moving and universal of all.

 

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