Transcript for The Sound of Violet Cast and Filmmaker Allen Wolf
ALLEN WOLF 00:03 | [music] Welcome to the Navigating Hollywood podcast. My name is Allen Wolf, and I’m a filmmaker, author, and game creator. Navigating Hollywood encourages and equips entertainment professionals to live relationally and spiritually holistic lives. If you work in entertainment, be sure to visit navigatinghollywood.org to discover the complementary courses and see how you can get involved. Today we’ll be talking with the lead actors from our new movie The Sound of Violet that I wrote, directed, and produced. Say hello to Cason Thomas, who plays Sean, Cora Cleary, who plays Violet, Jan D’Arcy, who plays Ruth, and Michael E. Bell, who plays Anton. Welcome, everyone.
JAN D’ARCY 00:51 | Hi.
MICHAEL E. BELL 00:51 | Greetings. Thank you.
CORA CLEARY 00:52 | Thank you.
CASON THOMAS 00:52 | Hey, Allen.
JAN D’ARCY 00:52 | Good to be here.
ALLEN WOLF 00:53 | Now for those watching, to give you a little history of The Sound of Violet, I first got the idea when I was returning from a trip overseas. I’d been talking with a friend about the challenges of dating in Los Angeles when I was single, and I love the idea of having a main character who goes to church regularly connecting with a woman who’s being prostituted. I thought that would set up a lot of drama and some humor. In my first drafts of the script, the way I created Violet’s character was very close to how you see women portrayed in Hollywood movies as the empowered prostitute. But then as I did more research and I talked to organizations that fight trafficking, I discovered the reality of women who are caught up in prostitution. And then that dramatically changed the way that I wrote the character of Violet. When I was creating Sean’s character, I hired a consultant whose husband is autistic. I talked with neurodiverse people and just did a lot of research to make sure that character was authentic. I never saw Sean’s character as representative of everyone who’s autistic, but really just tried to create someone who has unique qualities that work well for our story. Now for our actors, I’m just curious, how did you each research and build up the characters that you portrayed?
CASON THOMAS 02:17 | I started, of course, by diving into your script, Allen. Obviously, you had already done a lot of research, and I think that as an actor the greatest way to start building a character is to listen to what the writer is giving you. So of course that was where I started, and then after that, I began similarly diving into literature. But what I found when reading and talking to neurodiverse people is that the way autism manifests in behavior is so individual and different for everyone. And I had the great fortune of having someone who is autistic on set named Tom. After the first reading, he actually came up to me and talked to me and expressed how grateful he was that a story was being made with a character like Sean and how he related to him. And he offered himself right then and there as a subject matter and someone who I could study and base the character off of. And so I spent the rest of our rehearsal and also while filming just observing Tom and really diving into him as a human being. And a lot of the characteristics and behavior that I observed there showed up in Sean in the film, especially in the eye movement and body posture and sort of the cadence of his speech. So that was a huge, huge help for me.
ALLEN WOLF 03:37 | That’s great. Yeah. Tom had a very central role in our film. He was actually in charge of all the data that we recorded. It’s called DIT. I cannot remember what DIT stands for, something like digital intermediary something or other. But he was in charge of all the footage, and he had such a central part in our film. So we’re super thankful for Tom. And what about you, Cora? What research went into you creating the role of Violet?
CORA CLEARY 04:08 | Yeah. Same with Cason, the script first. Just there were so many gold nuggets, and then as much as I wanted to watch Pretty Woman, I actually watched some documentaries on Netflix instead. And it was super expansive watching those documentaries, and then I just adopted some of the mannerisms. And so as Violet, I took her to the grocery store and just some public places to see what it feels like to interact with people in public, and then I just journal as Violet while I was creating her.
ALLEN WOLF 04:42 | Did you dress up as Violet to go to these different locations?
CORA CLEARY 04:44 | No. My Cora clothes, my jeans.
ALLEN WOLF 04:50 | Okay. Okay. So you took on her physical characteristics and went to these different locations.
CORA CLEARY 04:55 | Yeah.
ALLEN WOLF 04:57 | How interesting.
CORA CLEARY 04:57 | There was this moment where someone cut me in line. I remember this. Someone cut me in line at the grocery store, and I let it happen as Violet. And I was like, as Cora, that would not have flown.
ALLEN WOLF 05:10 | How would you say you physically manifested the character differently than who you are as Cora?
CORA CLEARY 05:17 | Like my shoulders, I remember just my body, it’s closed off more, and also wearing heels, that’s your base framework. So that does inform how you carry the rest of your body. I just remember as Violet, I had lots of back pain and just pain in my body like my torso.
ALLEN WOLF 05:42 | Because of the way that you held her.
CORA CLEARY 05:44 | Right.
ALLEN WOLF 05:45 | Wow. Wow. And did your impression of people who are caught in prostitution change throughout the making of the film as well?
CORA CLEARY 05:54 | Absolutely. As I was learning more about what it’s like to be sex trafficked in the documentaries and just becoming Violent, I just see how relatable the story is, and my heart hurt more and more. I think about the innocence and just how young these people are, and at the time, I’m older than a lot of these children being trafficked. Gosh, carrying the weight of that story on my shoulders, I really wanted to do an accurate job during the movie. That was just very important to me.
ALLEN WOLF 06:34 | Yeah. Mike, you originally auditioned for Jake, and then you did such a great job on that. But still, I remember thinking, “Oh, this could be a possible Anton.” Then you left the room and came back as Anton. Were you able to prepare before that audition, or were you reading that cold?
MICHAEL E. BELL 06:52 | No. I sat in the hallway for like two minutes–
ALLEN WOLF 06:57 | Oh my God.
MICHAEL E. BELL 06:57 | –read the Anton stuff, and said, “Okay. Let’s go?”
ALLEN WOLF 07:05 | That’s amazing. That is so amazing. Because you know what’s funny is that the Jake part is almost like the flip side of Anton except in a different more kind of socially acceptable way. But the way that he looks at women, I think his line is like, “How’s the meat?” So he has a similar kind of degrading point of view, the way that he looks at women, as Anton. So it’s interesting that you auditioned for that role first and then Anton. That’s great.
MICHAEL E. BELL 07:39 | I was that slimy, Allen.
ALLEN WOLF 07:42 | That’s right.
MICHAEL E. BELL 07:44 | “No. That’s Anton.”
ALLEN WOLF 07:50 | I thought he was pretty slimy for Jake, but no, looks like there’s even more slime there coming out.
MICHAEL E. BELL 08:00 | Literally filming this, after each day, I would have to go home and decompress and just be like, “Okay. Life is actually good. There are rainbows. People do love each other. People care.” Even on set as we’re doing scenes in between each take, I would go to Cora like, “Are you good? Is everything okay?” Right? Remember that? I would say, “Okay.” “No. I’m screaming because it’s part of the thing.” I’m like, “Okay. Cool.” I had to make sure constantly that– I felt dirty, but I had to portray this. I had to make it seem like I’m that freaking person, and it scared me every time you said action.
ALLEN WOLF 08:43 | Wow. Wow. Wow.
MICHAEL E. BELL 08:45 | It was rough. Every day I had to decompress after the set. Yeah. It was weird.
ALLEN WOLF 08:51 | That’s amazing. And how did you research and connect to that character just knowing how different that character is from you? How did you connect into that?
MICHAEL E. BELL 09:03 | Honestly, I watched a lot of old-school Blaxploitation movies, and actually, one film I did watch was with Morgan Freeman. One of his first ones is him and Christopher Reeve, and Morgan Freeman plays the pimp in it. He’s a lot more aggressive than I was, and the language was a lot more out there. But his body language and the way he moved was subtle. It was the words that was more aggressive. But I just concentrated on his body language like the way he would do certain things and grab him and grab her. That was my research right there, and then I kept bringing that to set was more or less me talking to Cora on the side and saying, “Hey, listen, how are we going to do this? I want to be real. I want to look real, but I do not want to harm you in any way.”
CORA CLEARY 09:57 | When I first met you, you had your shades on the whole time, and I didn’t even think twice about it, and we’re talking and everything. We did the reading, and then the first time we’re filming, Allen calls action. We’re doing our scene. It’s like, “Whoa, I am so intimidated by you. What’s going on?” And I realized it was the first time I had seen your eyes. You took off your shades.
MICHAEL E. BELL 10:21 | In my personal world, I’m shaded up because the eyes are the window to the soul, and I just kind of keep myself to myself. But once I became Anton, it was like I wanted you to see the intention behind here. Do you know what I’m saying? So that’s why I would have them off more and just try to make my eyes a little more bugged out than usual and stare intently. That was part of the character there.
ALLEN WOLF 10:47 | It’s interesting. I tried to set up Douglas’s character as almost like a counterbalance to the character of Anton, where you see one character who exploits– this is obviously Anton’s character, but exploits, hurts, harms. And then you see another character who serves and loves and cares for others. And Jan, what about you? What went into you researching your character?
JAN D’ARCY 11:16 | Over the years, I’ve put together almost like four pages of character analysis, and I sit down and answer all of these questions. What is their goal? What’s preventing them from getting to their goal? All the things about Ruth that I don’t think you knew– I know you didn’t know when I auditioned that I also had a son with disabilities. And so I was very familiar with that and really trying to do everything I could so that he didn’t get hurt because people are very uncomfortable if a person has a disability. I saw him in situations where people took advantage of him. A young man tried to be slowly nice to him and stole his credit card and used it because he couldn’t see, and so there were things like that. So I was very, very conscious of that.
ALLEN WOLF 12:18 | Now for Cason and Cora, amazingly, this is your first feature film. How did it feel the first time that you walked on set knowing that you both were the leads in a feature film?
CORA CLEARY 12:33 | Just surreal. Everything about it, dream come true. It was so wild, also so cool. Obviously, we’re such a small part of this big motion picture. It was like, “This is amazing,” but also like, “Come on, get over yourself.” Yeah.
CASON THOMAS 12:53 | Yeah. It was a wonderful experience to have a dream come true and to be doing it with a group of people who were all so skilled and wonderful to be around. I mean, I instantly became such good friends with Cora and with Jan, and Mike cracked me up every single day, and it was just wonderful to be on set with everyone. And I was super nervous. I felt fear in a good way. There was something in my belly that was so excited and so nervous, and it was great to experience. I feel like I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since.
ALLEN WOLF 13:43 | Well, I remember you both did such a great job performing in your roles to the point where there was a certain day, I don’t know if you remember this, when I came up and I said, “Listen, we have nothing for the gag reel. You’re just not messing up.” What were some challenging moments for you as we were filming the movie?
CASON THOMAS 14:06 | One of the things that was a surprising challenge for me was how long shoot days are. I had been in theater for a long time, and I had done several short films and films in college. And the amount of focus that it takes to really stay in that and keep a creative spirit for that long day was a little challenging for me initially. It was a shock a little bit, and then there were all these external forces, too, that were not working against us but providing us with special little challenges. There were the fires that were happening in, I guess, Oregon and California, and the smoke was billowing through Seattle. And we were trying to shoot this movie and make it a motion picture while also dealing with the side effects of being in smoke. So that was really interesting as well.
ALLEN WOLF 15:05 | I don’t know if any of us recall the pirate ship. But we were filming in Gasworks Park, and we were filming there all day, and as we were getting set up for another shot, this huge pirate ship starts coming across the water. And there were women who were almost like sexy pirates I think they were supposed to be just performing different acrobatic kind of things on the nets of the ship. I was like, “What is this?” and I remember just having a director meltdown moment internally where I just thought, “If I have to throw a Molotov cocktail at this ship.” I was like whatever I have to do to get this ship out of here because it was the only time that we could film these scenes on this particular day, and thankfully, they eventually did agree to leave. But it was very scary. We had some scary moments when we thought that pirate ship was going to stay, and I didn’t know what we were going to do.
ALLEN WOLF 16:18 | Another moment, of course, was when we were filming at one of the restaurants in the movie, and there was a miscommunication. And one of the owners of the restaurant did not tell the other owner of the restaurant that we were going to be filming there. And they were looking through their security camera at home and suddenly seeing all these people milling around the restaurant in the kitchen. So then she came to the restaurant and was like, “Get out of my restaurant. What is happening?” But then, fortunately, we were able to talk to her. She understood, finding what we were doing, and now her restaurant looks amazing in the movie. So hopefully as people see the movie, they’re like, “I want to go to Carmine’s Restaurant and have a meal.” I’m curious what it was like for each of you when you saw the movie for the first time.
CASON THOMAS 17:11 | I had this great nervousness before I watched it and also while I was watching it, and part of that has to do with the fact that it’s a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to be in movies, and there I am on this screen, boom, and I was flooded with memories from the shoot. I was flooded with such great memories of meeting Cora and Jan and Mike and Kaelon and all the actors and being on set and the funny things that would happen like the pirate ship. And I was also filled with inspiration, Allen, because I know that you’ve had such a heavy hand in this as a writer, director, and producer. What a combo of things to do, and you brought this image in your head to life and made it into a real story for people to experience. And as a writer myself, I was just very moved that you were able to bring that into fruition and with so many important messages, not just one, but several important messages.
ALLEN WOLF 18:11 | Oh, thanks. I appreciate that.
CORA CLEARY 18:14 | Well, I was watching it with you, Allen, and so I was very aware I know out of the corner of his eye, he’s looking to see what my reactions are. And I was like, at first, maybe I’ll just be stoic, but I could not help it. I was just like a kid at Disneyland. I know my jaw was dropped. I know my eyes were huge just taking it all in. And yeah, so many good memories came back because just everyone on set, the whole team was just so wonderful to work with. So yeah, I just felt so much gratitude that, yeah, this dream is here, lived a dream. And the fact that this movie is so meaningful, you just feel that while watching it, and it lingers on for a whole week afterwards. That was a cool experience. I mean, also for us, Cason, it was the first time seeing us in a movie. It’s so cool.
JAN D’ARCY 19:14 | The music, I thought, was so helpful to the emotions. [music] I mean, how can it be unobtrusive but so perfect? But I just really am in awe of you, Allen, of keeping at this and getting it to this point with a pandemic. I mean, just of people that had ideas and visions of movies and they just had to put them aside, and you just kept going. I mean, and I just really am impressed that you’ve put it all together. When I saw it, I said when it finished, “He did it.” So that was my reaction. No, really, because you could have given up so many times in the middle of that and you didn’t. So I was really pleased.
ALLEN WOLF 20:02 | Aw, thanks.
JAN D’ARCY 20:03 | I think it’s going to make a big impact.
MICHAEL E. BELL 20:04 | I agree with that.
ALLEN WOLF 20:06 | What are your hopes for the audience after they see the movie?
JAN D’ARCY 20:10 | That they talk about it.
CORA CLEARY 20:11 | I hope that they keep the visual because it’s so powerful having that image in your head and being able to see the characters we created, seeing how we humanize them, and being able to, yeah, take that with them in their lives.
CASON THOMAS 20:30 | Yeah. Another thing that I would talk about is that you didn’t know this, Allen, nor did the casting directors when I was auditioning either. But I’m actually the son of a victim of sex trafficking, and in diving into this script, I wanted to be very mindful of that and careful of that. And what I didn’t anticipate is how much empathy that the film would create in me for my own mother and just for the struggles that she went through. And so while doing this film, experiencing this inner battle of, “Okay. Now I’m telling a story with something that I really believe in, which is that people in these situations deserve sympathy and empathy. And so now I have to incorporate that into my real life.”
ALLEN WOLF 21:30 | Yeah. I remember when you shared that as part of your past. It was really incredible to hear that. And for those who don’t know, I mean, because of that experience, were you considered an orphan at some point of your life? Can you just take us through what that experience was like for you?
CASON THOMAS 21:50 | I’m from the state of Texas, and I’m not sure how it works in every state. But there’s a system called Child Protective Services, and my mom was just having a really rough time in life and being a mother, and I was taken away by Child Protective Services for different reasons three times. And on the third time, custody is revoked for the parents, and my father wasn’t really a part of my life at that time at all. And when that happens, you become a ward of the state. So you’re not an orphan because my parents are still alive. But I became a ward of the state and then entered into the foster care system technically and bounced around a lot, and I was eventually taken in by my aunts and then continued to bounce around until I got to college, really. And I’d say not until I got to college did my life really start to settle, which is interesting, and my life sort of normalized. And a lot of people, I think, in my experience, when they enter into college, it’s this sort of shock factor of, “Oh, I have all this work, and I have all this responsibility, and I need to do my own laundry,” and things like that. And I had these great scholarships because I had done well on tests, and so for me, after I graduated high school and stepped into college, it was this great calm that settled over my life, still lots of work, but. So that was an interesting juxtaposition between myself and others and my peers. But yeah, ward of the state would be the appropriate term.
ALLEN WOLF 23:38 | Ah, I see. Okay. And at what point in your life did you realize that your mom was a victim of sex trafficking?
CASON THOMAS 23:46 | When I was nine years old. I didn’t know this at the time, but I have a really intense memory of meeting the pimp. He drove up in this Escalade. And my mom, she sort of used me to pander to people, and she brought me out to meet him. And later that year, I guess, was the final strike when I was taken away by CPS the third time, and the police came, and I had been staying with a neighbor for a couple of days. And they asked me all these questions, and I was very honest with them. And I can’t remember who exactly told me if it was a police officer or the neighbor or maybe my aunt or another family member that my mom had been arrested for prostitution, and I didn’t really know what that meant as a nine-year-old. But that was the first spark and the first impetus of, “Oh, this is what is going on.”
JAN D’ARCY 25:02 | Wow. And then to come in to do this film and to use some of it but some kind of keep in its little corner, that must have been really, really difficult for you.
CASON THOMAS 25:15 | Yeah.
ALLEN WOLF 25:17 | Cason, are you in touch with your mom today?
CASON THOMAS 25:21 | No. We still are not in touch.
ALLEN WOLF 25:24 | Okay. Yeah. Are you in touch with your dad?
CASON THOMAS 25:28 | Nope. The only member of my family that I really keep in contact with is my aunt and her children, my cousins. She sort of had a similarly difficult life as my parents but was luckily able, for whatever reason, to break the cycle. And she has a wonderful life now that’s flourishing, and she’s a very responsible woman, and she’s actually really stepped into the role of a mother figure in my life. She took me in after I was taken away by Child Protective Services eventually after bouncing around a couple of different houses. And so I am in contact with her, and we talk all the time. And the other day, I had a big audition come up, and I was feeling so nervous in a good way again. And I remember giving her a call and FaceTiming with her, and her just really hyping me up and inspiring me. So I have that mother-son connection in my life still.
ALLEN WOLF 26:28 | That’s amazing. It’s incredible to think what you’ve been through and how it feels very redemptive that you were then able to be a part of this movie that will hopefully help people to see the other side of this and help people to have hope for people who are caught in trafficking. And just hearing your story is also real-life hope as well.
CASON THOMAS 26:57 | Yeah. I think one of the great tragedies of my mother’s life is that she didn’t receive the empathy and compassion that in the film Violet receives. When people watch this film, I hope they walk away with that empathy and compassion in their hearts for people that they’re interacting with in their everyday lives. Whether that’s a victim of sex trafficking or someone that is a person without a home on the street asking them for a dollar so that they can buy a burger or whatever number of circumstances that they find their fellow humans in that are struggles, they’ll be able to look inside themselves and maybe remember this film even. It’s such an important story to me because of this that they might be able to take that empathy and compassion and extend it forward.
ALLEN WOLF 27:49 | Yeah. That’s great. That’s definitely my hope too.
CASON THOMAS 27:54 | Another thing that I would hope that people watching this film would desire after is that they want to see more neurodiverse characters on screen. I’m almost getting emotional saying it out loud. But I really, really remember the first read where Tom came up to me after and expressed how meaningful it was to him to know that this story was being created and that he could watch it one day. And his mother as well expressed a very similar sentiment. So I would say that too.
MICHAEL E. BELL 28:36 | This is not just a movie plot. This is actually happening right now. As we’re sitting here having this conversation, this is happening. There’s an Anton out there right now doing this to somebody. I can go to Aurora Avenue right now and probably pick out 10,000 Antons. This is real, and unless people start caring about other human beings, it’s never going to change. I don’t care who’s in office, who’s running this or that. On the ground, we’re all humans, and we need to learn to make that worth something. And the second we do that, then we can all combine and come together and knock this crap out because the fact that it’s there is because it’s being allowed to be there. And I’m not talking about police reform and all that nonsense. I’m talking about us right here. Us four are a part of this thing. We can go out and talk to people and find out their situations and see how we can help, not enable but able people to do better with what their surroundings are.
MICHAEL E. BELL 29:41 | And I’m hoping that this film will shed some of that light and at the same time also shed light on autism and the fact that people when they hear that word, their brain automatically goes to, “Oh, totally this. It’s 100% this.” No. There are different levels and spectrums and layers in this thing. You might be autistic and I didn’t even freaking know it. I was reading about this. There’s what they call functioning autistic. These are just words that I read. I’m not making these up myself. But it’s like if this could just spark one person to go, “Hmm,” and that one person can influence 10 more people, and those 10 can influence 20 more, you know what I’m saying? It has to do that, and that’s why when I watched it, I was like, “I’m so glad I did this film.” Even though I played a character that I totally would want to shoot in the face if I saw them in the street, I’m glad I was part of it because I’m hoping it comes to light, and other people can see it and appreciate it for what I think it is and what I know you know what it is, Allen. It’s a learning thing. We got to learn. We got to learn. We got to learn to love each other.
ALLEN WOLF 30:58 | Yeah. I love that you’re all talking about change to people’s hearts, their minds, and then how that leads to action. I mean, on our website, thesoundofviolet.com, we have ways that you can connect with local organizations that either fight trafficking or bring awareness to autism. So hopefully you’ll go and check that out because we really want this to spark a movement that turns hearts and people against trafficking and doing everything we can to stop that, a movement that brings awareness to autism. Hopefully, after you’ve seen the film, you’ve come away with it with some really warm memories, that you’ve laughed, that you’ve cried, that it’s moved you. But I guess my hope and perhaps all of our hopes is that ultimately it will move you to action, that you’ll join us in getting the word out so that the most people possible can see this film and help us all make a difference. So thanks to all our actors for being with me today for the Q&A. If you’d like to find out more about The Sound of Violet, go to thesoundofviolet.com. If you work in entertainment, be sure to check out the complementary courses and other resources available at navigatinghollywood.org where you can also find our other shows, transcripts, links, and more. Please visit us and leave us a review so others can discover this podcast. I look forward to being with you next time.