Interview: Valene Kane (Actor)
Valene Kane on IMDB
I had the pleasure of speaking to Valene Kane, an actor making huge waves in the industry with a brand new "screenlife" thriller, Profile, out now in the UK following success in North America. Valene has also been seen in TV shows The Fall, Death and Nightingales and currently Gangs of London. On the big screen her credits include '71, Victor Frankenstein and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
GelNerd: Valene Kane. Hello! How are you?
Valene: I'm good, how are you doing?
GelNerd: Not too bad, thank you. And thank you for joining me today, I really appreciate your time.
Valene: No problem. Thank you for your interest in the film. I'm very, very proud of it, so always happy to talk about it.
GelNerd: So you should be! To start I just want to ask in this COVID world we are now living in, how are you? How are you coping, and how's it all been for you?
Valene: I think, strangely, I've had an amazing experience which is so weird as I feel like I have survivors guilt about it all, because although it's been really testing in so many ways it was really nice to not be in the cycle of just constant auditions and filming and flights. Like, it was really, really nice to stop and also know that everyone else had stopped so there wasn't the endless sort of ambitious, competitive pressure of who's doing what, as no-one was doing anything.
It allowed me to go back to what it was like before I started getting work, and I found my actual creativity again. I started writing again. Me and my husband have just produced a film together that he directed, so it's actually been really...interesting.
GelNerd: And refreshing?
Valene: Yeah, and nourishing.
GelNerd: I understand totally, because it's like the world been put on pause so you can find yourself again. Find your interests, find your hobbies again. Just take a break from it all.
GelNerd: So what sort of things are you writing?
Valene: Well, what I have is a TV series and a feature film, but I sort of started both of them maybe three or four years ago. It was a some nugget of something, but I didn't really have the balls to call myself a writer or thing that it was possible or that I could do it. Then in lockdown I started doing a short story writing course with an amazing tutor who was really encouraging and I was like, you know what, I'm going to get back to those scripts. And then I did and it just...
Valene: Exactly! Super easy.
GelNerd: Will we see these in the shops maybe in future?
Valene: I hope so!
GelNerd: I'll keep my eyes open - you heard it here first!
GelNerd: I have two main points I want to discuss and pick your brains about, but going back to where it all started for you was 'The Fall' with Gillian Anderson. And that was your first big break, in terms of major TV if I'm right?
Valene: Yeah, definatley.
GelNerd: So how was it going into such a full-on, intense, shocking programme with such big stars? Was it daunting or did you just say I'm going to go for it; to hell with it.
Valene: Because I've worked with some incredibly famous and interesting people, I've never really found that I'm...I'm just always really excited about working with talent.
Like, I'm never that star-struck, weirdly, by anyone. I maybe was a bit with Ben Mendelsohn just because I was such, such a fan of all of his choices, and feel like he's my type of actor. And Mads (Mikkelsen). They both have done incredible independent - y'know, I'm much more into independent, off the beat projects.
But, yeah I mean I suppose I had being doing a lot of films before 'The Fall' that were way more intense and dark, but just not as successful, so it was my big break but I had been doing lots before, and had enough experience. I don't know. I'm just drawn to dark stuff and dark stuff is drawn to me! It was a great experience and really lovely to do a three season job because you get to come back, it's like a family. Like with 'Gangs Of London', I've just been shooting the second season now and it's so nice. I've made such amazing friends on that show.
GelNerd: Like you say, you all came back to an established family dynamic.
Valene: Yeah, you don't really get much of that as an actor or a writer as you're just always on your own.
GelNerd: And moving from one project to the next, so having a series or franchise to go back to, you have it all there.
Valene: Yeah, yeah, exactly.
GelNerd: Now, obviously, you're Irish. Your career has allowed you to do global spanning projects, but films like 'Jump' and 'Death And Nightingales' you've kept your heart at home, you've not just flown the nest. How important is it for you to retain your roots and contribute back to the industry?
Valene: It's funny because both my projects are about that very thing; about coming home, about finding your roots and your identity and that was a big part of what lockdown was. Sort of remembering I had to escape the parochialism of Ireland, or what I thought was parochial at 17. Like, I had to get out, and now I just love everything about home and the people, and I'm actually going to do a play in Belfast in two weeks which I'm just so excited about because I get to do really important work, as it's a new play about the political climate currently in Northern Ireland
GelNerd: I have to say, as I've done some amateur dramatics in my early years, I know you can't beat that experience of a live play in front of a live audience on home turf, so you really connect rather than looking at a camera, you can just become you again.
Valene: Yeah, yeah. Because we've been doing obviously so much editing for this film over the last two weeks, well, the last month, it's just been me and my husband just staring at screens for 16 hours a day. I had this realisation yesterday as I left the sound edit of like oh my god, I'm going to be in a room not looking at screens and not a camera and not anything technical for two and a half months. How fucking amazing is that going to be!
GelNerd: Totally agree, and back to the first point, it will be refreshing and you can get back in touch with who you are. No cameras, just you and the audience. I wish you best of luck with that and I hope it goes well!
Valene: Thank you.
GelNerd: So following your work in TV and in theatre, you made the leap to Hollywood and the big movies like 'Victor Frankenstein', 'Jump' and '71'. What was it like working on those projects, from your small scale productions to now the huge sets, huge expectations, and the genres you worked in?
Valene: I mean I obviously loved Star Wars.
Valene: For like a multitude of reasons...
GelNerd: We'll get into that, don't worry!
Valene: Well, you know I've been lucky to really enjoy almost every single project I've done. I feel there's been one movie, maybe, but I feel I haven't done any shit, so I'm like proud of my career when I look back. I never think "ooh that was a bum choice", because it can get scary and sometimes you just want to work to work, y'know. I think whatever energy or essence I have is normally mirrored back by the kind of projects I want to do.
In terms of the huge scale...I mean Star Wars was like SO huge on a different scale, I'd never been on a set with that many people, and that much money. There was just like three cranes - it was huge. But what was so cool about it was Gareth Edwards the director approached it like an independent film so it didn't feel huge, it just felt like a really collaborative working relationship. We worked on it for two weeks, that scene, and it's only like two seconds, but it's crazy considering we just shout our feature film in two weeks which is an hour and half, you know what I mean? For me there was so many plusses to that experience; the actors I was working with, I admired so much.
Gareth I had loved from watching 'Monsters', I was such a fan of his work I just found him so incredibly inspiring. I really love the kind of directors who just do their own thing. He made 'Monsters' on a shoe-string budget. So to work with him and him to be the legend that he was... I hope I work with him again, I really do. I loved that relationship, and to be part of something that I grew up with. Star Wars was a big deal for me as a kid; I was one of those geeks that watched it with my Dad, and found it really important. But every job is a job, at the end of the day every set is the same.
GelNerd: You're given your script, you embody the character, do the job, and then you go home.
Valene: That's right, you leave. I think also doing this producing and editing has been such a crazy experience because the actors are the most important people, and yet we do the least work! We just show up, we do our job and then we go, and then everyone does everything else to create the movie. I think I now will probably approach my jobs in a different way because of this experience of editing, and really thinking about being creative.
GelNerd: So you're evolving then? From cast to crew. Making the magic happen.
Valene: It's definatley more interesting.
GelNerd: It's nice to hear that, because we as audiences watch the films, we see the stars and we go home and talk about them. It's only when you think about the editors, producers, sound technicians, runners, stunt teams- everyone behind the scenes, and it's great to hear appreciation for them.
Valene: Well, on the job I was also script supervisor for the first week and I was like "I can fucking do this, it's scripts, come on. I know what it is." And after the first day I was like oh my GOD I have such respect for script supervisors, I will never again roll my eyes if they correct me on a word I said wrong! I understand!
GelNerd: Now, let's touch on what we hinted at before; 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story'. So many people got to see you on the big screen as Lyra Erso. Now you appear in two short scenes, one a flashback, but you're married to Mads Mikkelsen, you shoot Ben Mendelsohn and inspire young Dolly Gladstone to "trust the Force". All in a short space of time, so without Lyra, 'A New Hope' would never have happened, so you're role...
Valene: ...was pivotal!
GelNerd: For the whole franchise really.
Valene: I feel really happy to have played her. I could of had a huge role of, say, a solider, but I'm much happier playing a tiny part with something that really matters. It's a really special part of my career that I will always take with me. I don't know how many experiences will replicate everything from getting the job, because I auditioned for Jyn but didn't hear back, I obviously didn't get it. Felicity (Jones) got it, who's a dear friend, and then to get a call saying they're offering you the mother I was like WHAT? I didn't have to audition for it, it was just a bubble of pure joy. I'm very proud of it and happy to be a part of it.
GelNerd: For me it's top tier of the franchise. I have 'A New Hope' at the top being the original, but then 'Rogue One' right in second. Like you say with Gareth directing, it's almost like like an independent film. It's a spin-off, and it is Star Wars, but it's not.
Valene: Exactly, I agree. I think he sort of did what the original casting was. I loved everyone Gareth cast, like Riz (Ahmed). He had such a good eye for casting actors that brought their own sense to their character. Some of the other franchises, like Marvel, everyone just looks like a model. Which is great and we all love to look at pretty people but that's never what really Star Wars was, you know?
GelNerd: Yes, it's the unknown, the everyman. They have to be different to what we've seen before. We've never had a Jyn before, or a Lyra, or a Galen. How was it being on-screen wife material to Mads? That must have been fun!
Valene: Oh, he's just the dream. He's just the nicest, nicest, coolest man. Everyone was! Everyone was. When you arrive on a set and feel there is such a great energy, this is a good vibe. Everyone was happy, taking care of each other. He was one of those true gems.
GelNerd: Have you looked online to see just how much a part of the story Lyra actually is in the Star Wars canon?
Valene: Ah, see I've done the conventions where people have told me and brought me trinkets and stories, so I am aware but I certainly wasn't when I took the job.
GelNerd: There's so much about her - where she was born, what she did as a job, who she met, when she married....
Valene: She needs a spin-off of her own to be honest.
GelNerd: Get on the phone to Gareth!
GelNerd: We've done Star Wars, but the big one, obviously, is 'Profile'. It's criminal it's taken so long to be released and find a mainstream audience, now in America and finally the UK in August. Especially in these isolated times, having watched it twice now just to absorb it...
Valene: You watched it twice?
Valene: That's dedication dude.
GelNerd: I did. And initially I thought was a horror with the tagline "The danger is real...", I went and gave it a try. Straight in. Immersed. I watched it again to take everything in, and Timur Bekmambetov who created and directed the film seems to have created a COVID environment, three years early. Screen life. It feels much more relevant. Take away everything you know about making films and television; how was it working with just a laptop, minimal crew, minimal sets, minimal everything.
Valene: I loved it, because it gave me so much control of everything. Timur was just the greatest. We had a real, incredible alchemy on this film if I'm honest. We all got on so, so, so well and allowed each other to do our job without boundaries or expectations. There wasn't a chain of command. Normally on a film there's a very clear chain of command, and this genuinely felt like a bunch of people saying how can we make this film the best possible film we can make.
We shot it in nine days, we were paid like 3p, and the editing process was similar to what we're doing now. The film was made in the editing, particularly for the style of 'Profile', the emotions and the inner-life that you would normally get by shooting someone in their private spaces or what's happening with their face, we didn't have any of that.
The only time you saw the hero was when she makes a call. It was about finding a new language about what is her internal life. We find it out by writing an e-mail and deleting it, or sending a text message, or what she decides to show and not show, how she edits footage. That was a really interesting way of working because I did all of it. That wasn't post.
GelNerd: That was you typing, editing, calling all live? Wow.
Valene: Yeah, so it was like we learned our lines like a play, with two weeks rehearsal where we learnt the whole script so we could do it in a day which was so helpful. Then, I had to learn the technical aspects like if you were to learn a musical instrument. This conversation ends, then she makes this call, and sends this text message, and does this and then this...that all had to be learned and then done in real life because it had to happen on my computer. It was really unique. Stressful, but unique!
GelNerd: It's stressful watching it! All these popups and messages and transitions, you really feel that you're living this story. And it's testament to your ability because it looks like it could be done slicker in post.
Valene: Some was post, some was, such as changing names, or helping change an edit that didn't work. We had another character who was my sister who was in it for ages, with lots of messages back and forth but we had to cut her unfortunately, as she was brilliant, but the story was already too big.
So while stressful, it was exciting to learn a new skill and it's exciting to be part of something innovative, and that's definatley what this was. A completely new way of film-making which Timur was experimenting with as well.
GelNerd: It's so far removed from summer blockbusters or typical thriller expectations. I've seen 'Searching', which Timur produced I believe and now this and I loved them. Remove everything about a typical film or set or cast, and just watch a screen and the intense drama that plays out on it. The diegetic noise also works brilliantly - the sound of you breathing, lighting a cigarette, the dog barking, the Skype call chimes which gives me chills when I hear it now.
Valene: Me and Shazad (Latif) both had serious PTSD for like six months after. Every time I heard Skype I was like "no!"
GelNerd: I'm not surprised. For the role of Amy, you did a brilliant job and you deserve the praise, and Shazad as Bilel, for two fantastic performances. This is adapted from a book; 'In The Skin of a Jihadist' by Anna Erelle, so what did you do to get into Amy's head for such a real subject of terrorism?
Valene: We were very, very lucky in that Olga (Kharina) our producer was the most type-A alpha female you could ever imagine. She had done the nth degree of research, with just a whale of information for me to go through. She'd done it all. She'd infiltrated the groups, she'd contacted jihadists - she had run the gambit so I was able to try and go in and do it myself under the supervision of her, and we used telegram and signal and a whole load of things she had learnt showing how they communicated with each other.
I also have a friend who's a journalist so I spent a few days with her. I read the book as many times as I could. And then I tried to let it all go and let it happen on screen, because she wasn't prepared for what happens to her with him. It's a love story at the end of the day, really, and we wanted to allow the story of two very lonely, isolated humans try and work out life by manipulating each other. They have such different wants but essentially they're just two loners who are unhappy with life.
GelNerd: It's so powerful when you say it like that, because you expect a hero or villain, but there probably isn't a hero or villain; they're the same. Two people with the line blurred. I hope people watch this here.
Valene: Me too!
GelNerd: The more the film progresses, and without spoiling it, the more I was sucked into things and moments. The final act is where things unravel, things change, things get more intense, and the way it comes together is chilling. It's so well done.
Valene: Thank you Chris, thank you for being so lovely about it because we are very proud of it.
GelNerd: You all should be, and the cast around like Shazad and Christine (Adams) as Vick. You all do so well, popping up here and there in the narrative, keeping the stakes high and the interchanges tight. Thank you for talking about this with me.
GelNerd: So if we go forward, you've mentioned 'Gangs Of London', second series as Jacqueline which is fantastic, you have your play coming up as well, what else have you got on the horizon that you can share.
Valene: It's into the unknown. Into the unknown, which I, for the first time ever, really don't fear. It's actually quite exciting. I think if I was really honest I'd like to do this play and book a big money job that's not very long and then focus on my own projects and just knuckle down and do those because I think they're giving me a lot more joy at the moment than acting is.
GelNerd: Really? Ok.
Valene: Well, I just haven't been auditioning for anything I know I'm like "I want to do that!", you know? I think probably more theatre. I'd love to do a play in the West End or a play in London. I think I just want to be in a room with people, you know? Because filming is the same thing, you know you sit in a trailer and then you go on set, do 10 minutes of work and go back to your trailer. It's not community.
GelNerd: You don't feel the heart beating, or feel the atmosphere of an audience.
Valene: Well unless you're the lead! If you're the lead then you are, you're on set all day everyday with everyone. But, yeah, I think I want to do a bit more nourishing, soul food stuff.
GelNerd: From your career, I think the stage is perfect for you. Doing so many characters, conveying so many emotions in so many genres, there's nothing you couldn't do on a stage feeding from an audience.
Valene: Thank you very much Chris, it's been a lovely interview.
GelNerd: Now, a final question if I may?
Valene: Yes! Yes, go on.
GelNerd: Now when I rate and review films, I give them popcorns out of five. So which do you prefer - sweet or salted?
Valene: Well. For me, it's salted popcorn with peanut M&Ms in the popcorn. Yellow M&Ms in a bag of salted. That's my jam, that's the dream. And then you don't know what you're getting, and get a mouthful of both and it's delicious.
GelNerd: That's not what I was expecting but I'll take it to the bank! Thank you for talking to me Valene - I wish you all the best for the future, and good luck with 'Profile' because it deserves the success.
Valene: Thank you so much Chris, lovely talking to you.
You can see the delightful Valene Kane in the spine-tingling Profile, out now across North America and the UK...