First-time director Victoria Negri talks ‘Gold Star’

When actress Victoria Negri was still entering her adulthood, she found herself facing the new, challenging role of caregiver. Her father, in his 60s when she was born, suffered a massive stroke which left him wheelchair bound and struggling to communicate. While serving as primary caregiver in Connecticut, the first-time director began work on her first screenplay. After six years writing and collecting the knowledge and nerve to direct a film, she’s releasing the new drama Gold Star. Negri costars in the film, in a role loosely based on herself, opposite actress Catherine Curtain and Robert Vaughn, in his final performance.

Lesley Coffin: When did you actually start writing the screenplay?

Victoria Negri: Right after my father had a stroke in 2011, although the writing never stops. Even on set you are constantly rewriting and working with the actors. You are even rewriting while editing. So this has really been a six-year journey to make this film.

Lesley Coffin: Because of how autobiographical the film is, I assume the plot changed significantly depending on what you and your father went through?

Victoria Negri: Yeah, a very early version of the script didn’t even include the caregiving aspect. I started writing it with the intention of writing a father-daughter story about a father and daughter with a huge generation gap. And one version had my character going on a literal journey to discovery a secret about who her father really was. And the theme that you never really know your parents still exists in Gold Star. I think writing and re-writing it I wrote something that’s more honest and direct than the earlier versions of the script. It’s not exactly what I went through, but certainly says a lot more about my experiences as a caregiver.

Lesley Coffin: Your father was almost a senior citizen when you were born?

Victoria Negri: Yeah, he was a 63 and I think 65’s the official age, so he came in just under. And my parents have a 37 year age gap. Everyone always thought she’d his daughter and I was his granddaughter, my whole life. It never felt strange until people made a big deal about the age difference. But thinking about it now, that made my upbringing really unique. I have a very direct connection to a time period we were reading about in history books. I would love to pick his brain about his perspective on things now, having seen so much change in his own lifetime.

Lesley Coffin: You have the character of Chris who’s talking about your father in relation to his grandfather. Did that happen a lot to you when your father was in the hospital?

Victoria Negri: I don’t think it got more pronounced, because everyone’s always assumed he’s my grandfather. He was so much older and I look young as is. I just got used to it, so my character just jumps the gun assuming people think he’s my grandfather. I came to always expect it.

Lesley Coffin: Being you’re a first- time writer/director, how did you get Catherine Curtain and Robert Vaughn involved?

Victoria Negri: I’d produced and acted in some films before. But this wouldn’t have happened without our casting director who said she loved the script. We had a lot of conversations about who from that generation could play Robert’s role. And we reached out and a week later he just said yes. I kept thinking he’d change his mind or find out something, I don’t know what, that would make him pull out. He really wanted the challenge the role offered him. It’s so different from anything he’s played. We were so lucky to get him and Cathy. She came in to audition and I was blown away by her talent. She definitely understood the essence of the character my mother is based on. She can be really vulnerable but also really strong. They were great to work with and incredible collaborators. 

Lesley Coffin: And you had the opportunity to act with them.

Victoria Negri: I was on the train yesterday with someone who’d been at a screening and they asked what the power dynamic is like on a movie where you’re the director but playing their kid. And for me it seemed pretty easy because we had so much respect for one another. I think Cathy and Robert both appreciated my work ethic on this film. But it could be strange because you’re juggling a bunch of methods of creating, you have to be in the moment on camera but you also have to be paying attention to everything going on around you when you’re behind the camera?

Lesley Coffin: Did you always have an interest in directing or did this come about after acting for a few years?

Victoria Negri: I think I always wanted to be a filmmaker. I went to NYU at the Tisch School but never focused on theater acting, only film acting. I wanted to work on films and meet filmmakers, maybe I should have just gone to film school. But I didn’t have a real understanding of what a director did. It was terrifying to think of being in control of every decision, it scared me. And I didn’t see a lot of female directors out there. I needed to get on sets and see how they ran, what a director does. The thing that really motivated me to make this decisions was my father’s stroke. That was something I really feared my whole life, losing my dad. And I thought, always wanted to direct, if I can face that fear, I should face this fear I have of directing. I saw how precious time is and don’t want to be 80 years old thinking, why didn’t I try.

Lesley Coffin: Did you meet with any directors to discuss those concerns and learn a little more about directing?

Victoria Negri: I asked everyone I could for coffee, anyone that would let me ask questions. One person I found really helpful was the director of a short film called Ben, Elisa. She was telling stories I respected and could imagine wanting to make myself. So I asked her to read the script and asked to pick her brain. Any director I worked with at that time I pretty much asked to meet with. And I keep doing it, I want filmmaking to be a lifetime ambition.

Lesley Coffin: For your next film would you like to find something a little less autobiographical?

Victoria Negri: Oh yes. I had a phone meeting this morning with someone asking how to get my next film made. It’s not a personal story, it’s a psychological thriller so it’s kind of a genre film, and she’s on a 100-mile run so there’s some action. I want to keep telling stories about flawed women, who are complicated and a little selfish. I’m ready to go with my next project, and I’m glad it’s not as personal.

Lesley Coffin: But you are a runner in your personal life?

Victoria Negri: It’s personal in that way. I’ve never run 100 miles, but I’ve run 6 marathons. I’m fascinated by what drives those ultra-marathon runners. Why is 26 miles not enough? I find the psychology of those long distant runners really fascinating.

Lesley Coffin: Clearly, you included running as a part of your character in this film too.

Victoria Negri: Yeah, I started long distance running when my father was confined to a wheelchair. He’d been a runner all his life, he ran a marathon. So I ran to motivate him in physical therapy, and that became a real bonding experience for us. I’d tell him where I ran and used the magnet board in the film to discuss my running, he’d ask how the run went or suggest a new street. The last real conversation I had with my dad was when I ran what would have been the New York Marathon. It was the year of Hurricane Sandy when the marathon was canceled so I ran 26 miles in Manhattan. And I called him every 15 minutes to tell him how I was doing. And when I made it 26 miles, my boyfriend filmed me and I sent that to my dad and called to say “I did that for you because I love you.” And I heard him getting emotional. I’m fascinated by the psychology of running because you can really sort things out in your head while running. I feel like I prepared the entire film in my head while running.

Lesley Coffin: What’s it been like to watch the film that is so personal over and over again at festivals and screenings?

Victoria Negri: It comes in waves. Sometimes I’m kind of numb or think of just the work that went into getting it made. Sometimes I think of the fun memories from the set. And sometimes I’m sort of overcome, which is complicated now since the death of Robert who plays my father. I don’t know if I’d called it a cathartic experience, but I feel like I took control over some aspects of my life that would have been harder to deal with if I hadn’t make the film. As for the Q & As afterwards, I love talking about it with people. And I can tell that there are some people in the audience who really needed to talk about it. The film came out on the five-year anniversary of my father’s death, and just thinking about where I was and where I am now was really emotional.

Lesley Coffin: Has Robert Vaughn’s family had an opportunity to see the film?

Victoria Negri: His wife has a copy of the film, and I think after she watches it we’ll have a conversation. She’s a lovely person and I spoke with her a lot before he passed away. It’s so different because it’s only been a year. I think of my mom a lot, what she went through losing my dad. Other than that, I’m not sure other members have seen it. I think they’ll like it when they do because the response to his performance has been so overwhelmingly positive.

Read FF2 Media’s film review HERE.

(C) Lesley Coffin (11/18/17) FF2 Media

Photos: Gold Star (Gold Star Film LLC)

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