Meticulously working hard to achieve your goals, no matter what obstacles you may face along the way, and standing up for your ideals in the process, is a noble drive many people contend with throughout their lives. The title character in writer-director Michael Walker’s Hamptons-based independent thriller, ‘The Maid’s Room,’ played by Paula Garcés, bravely moved to a foreign country to build a better life for herself. The actress, who was born in Columbia and move to New York City with her parents as a child, realistically connected with, and understood, her character’s drive to achieve her goals, having started acting when she was 17.
Shot and set on the east end of Long Island, ‘The Maid’s Room,’ which is now available on VOD, follows Drina (Garcés), an intelligent immigrant who takes a job for the season as live-in maid to the Crawfords. The privileged New York City family maintains a home in the Hamptons, and thinks Drina would be a good candidate to look after their Long Island property when they’re in Manhattan.
The job could be worse, since Mr. and Mrs. Crawford (Bill Camp and Annabella Sciorra) spend most of their time in the city. But their teenage son, Brandon (Philip Ettinger), who is starting Princeton in the fall, is summering at the beach, leaving Drina to look after him and his spoiled friends.
Since the maid’s room is next to the garage, Drina can’t help noticing when Brandon noisily returns home late one night, and is obviously drunk. The next day, she sees that his car is battered and bloodied. When she reads in the local paper that there has been a fatal hit and run, it’s clear to her who’s responsible. Knowing the Crawford’s will do anything to protect their son, Drina realizes that, for once, she has some power over her employers. Though the situation is intoxicating, it also places her in far more danger than she imagines.
Garcés generously took the time to talk about filming ‘The Maid’s Room’ over the phone. Among other things, the actress discussed how she was drawn to play the role of Drina, because she enjoyed the suspense and clear vision Walker created for the character and the story; how she prepared for the role in part by speaking to her grandmother, who immigrated to New York and took a job as a maid to provide a better for her family; and how she enjoyed filming the movie on location on Long Island, where Walker found a home to stand in for the Crawfords’ summer house.
Question (Q): You play Drina in the new thriller, ‘The Maid’s Room.’ What was it about the character and the script that convinced you to take on the role?
Paula Garcés (PG): Well, I auditioned for the role. I really wanted to play Drina because from the very first page, I was in suspense. It definitely reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock films and Edgar Allen Poe poems. I knew I wanted to be a part of a film that was ambitious, and had a character who was well-developed. It pays homage to a lot of the things I want to see as an actress.
I really enjoyed reading the film. I hoped that we would capture at least half of what the film read in the script. When I met with Michael Walker, I knew he was going to be able to pull it off. We only had 18 days to shoot the film, so we really had to come together. It was a complete group effort. I’m really proud of it, and think we pulled it off.
Q: The film was written and directed by Michael Walker, who you just mentioned. What was the experience of working with Michael on the thriller? Do you prefer working with helmers who also penned the script?
PG: I knew that since he was a writer-director, he had a very clear vision of what the movie should be. I quickly realized that he cared deeply about the film. He wanted the movie too look and feel a certain way. The DP (Director of Photography, Scott Miller) was also in tune with what Michael was saying.
I very quickly trusted him to guide me through the film, because there wasn’t a lot of time for rehearsal, or to do any experimentation whatsoever. Every day, there was a certain amount of material to film, and there was a mission to accomplish. So that kept me on my game. I’m glad I trusted him because I think the film is fantastic.
Q: Speaking of not having time for rehearsals, how did you prepare for your role as Drina? What was the process of getting into her mindset?
PG: I did some research. I spoke to my grandmother, who came to this country in 1965, without any documentation. She was an undocumented immigrant who didn’t speak any English. Everything was completely new, but she had the American dream. She wanted to come to New York to pursue a better life for herself and her family.
One of her first jobs was as a maid. So I had a lot of conversations with her about what that job was like. I also asked her how scary it was to leave her country, friends and everything that was familiar, in the search of a better life in a completely strange country that you know nothing about. She told me about a lot of her experiences as a maid.
I also asked her what it was like to work as a maid for people, and how personal it got. I also asked if she would snoop through their stuff, and questions like that. So she was crucial to me. I told her about the film, and read the script to her a little bit. She was completely entertained and overjoyed that I asked her how to go about playing this role.
Q: Like you mentioned, the film was shot in 18 days. Did having such a short shooting schedule pose any challenges on the set, or influence the way you portrayed Drina?
PG: I don’t know; I’m not a person who plays around with the “What if’s.” I just know that because we had 18 days, it was crucial that Michael had an exact plan on how to execute each day on time and on budget. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have a movie.
That was the tone of the production. We all had to be team players and on our game all of the time. I think that everyone cares so much about the film and the script that we all wanted to see the finished project.
I don’t think it proposed any challenges to me, personally. But I’m sure there were a lot of things behind-the-scenes that I know nothing about. There may have been production challenges that Michael had to come up with Plan B, C or D for, and I didn’t know about it.
But for me, going out to the Hamptons and filming in this house, and having these fantastic actors to share the screen with, was fantastic. Also having Michael there to guide us, and having written this script with all these fantastic characters, was a blessing. I had a lot of fun.
Q: Speaking of going to the Hamptons, ‘The Maid’s Room’ was mainly shot on Long Island, and set in the Hamptons beach home of the wealthy family Drina works for, the Crawfords. How did primarily filming in one location influence the way you portrayed Drina?
PG: That made it a lot more real for me. I got to explore my environment, and get to really see what the house was like, and the various rooms in the house. I got to hang out in the pool, and really enjoy that environment. I had the chance to create what the scenes were about, and what I wanted to portray, in my head. So it was a lot of fun.
We actually filmed in Port Washington, but it looks a lot like the Hamptons. We were very lucky that the people who owned the mansions were so gracious to allow us to film in their home.
Q: The movie premiered at last year’s Hamptons International Film Festival, where it won the Views From Long Island competition. Where you able to attend the premiere of the thriller at the festival? If so, what was the experience like of attending the festival?
PG: It was fantastic. I was eight months pregnant, but I was able to attend the Hamptons Film Festival. Not even being eight months pregnant was going to stop me from going to that premiere! (laughs)
As you can see, I really care about the film. But it was nerve-racking for me, as it was the first time I was going to see the film. It was great to see the movie for the first time with a packed house.
Our shows at the Hamptons Film Festival were sold out. They were packed with strangers; it wasn’t like I packed the show with my friends and family who were going to tell me I was awesome. It was just myself and Michael (from the film), and everyone else was just going to see a movie at the festival.
The reactions we got from that packed house made us really happy, because they enjoyed the film. They had very strong opinions about what they would if they were in that situation. We could tell the film was thought-provoking for them.
Q: Like you mentioned earlier, you weren’t able to have much rehearsal time with your co-stars, including Annabella Sciorra, Bill Camp and Philip Ettinger, who played the Crawfords. But were you able to discuss the dynamic between your characters and the story at all before you began filming?
PG: The only person I really spoke to before I got to set was Philip Ettinger. He and I rode in the same car from New York City to Port Washington. It was a really cool car ride with him, and we got to talk and learn about each other. I was really impressed with him, and I knew I was going to have fun with him.
I met Annabella Sciorra and Bill Camp on set. Bill was just so fantastic, and I was really impressed with him. He’s the complete opposite of what the character is; he’s very goofy, and jokes around a lot. He really made me laugh between takes. So it was a great transformation for me to witness. I went from laughing with him and having nice moments together, to basically him scaring the bejesus out of me in the film.
Q: While Drina is living and working in the U.S. illegally to save money for her family and college education, she becomes increasingly distraught when Brandon doesn’t turn himself into the police after he committed the crime. How did you balance Drina’s mindset of willingly breaking the law to achieve her goals, but becoming upset when she saw the Crawfords covering up a crime?
PG: Well, I could really admire the character of Drina. I think she absolutely had a high moral standard, and she was clear on what’s right and wrong. But I also think she was a little bit naïve. She couldn’t understand why someone would take so long to do the right thing. She also couldn’t understand why people of such power would be so reluctant to do the right thing, or teach their son to do the right thing, and deal with the consequences. She really didn’t think the consequences were going to be that bad, since they were so rich and powerful. So I admire her.
But again, what would I do in that situation? It changes on a daily basis, with each and every situation in my life. I’m a parent, but Drina wasn’t a moather. So maybe that’s why she couldn’t really understand why they were willing to do whatever it took to keep their son out of trouble. But I would like to think that as a parent myself, I would teach my son to do the right thing, or that I as a person would do the right thing. But I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say I wouldn’t be entirely sure that I would do the right thing.
Q: What message do you hope viewers can take away from ‘The Maid’s Room?’
PG: Well, first and foremost, I know they’ll definitely be entertained. There’s suspense from the very first scene. There’s a looming doom, but the movie’s beautifully shot. I think the characters are really well-rounded and well-played by all the actors.
I think people are going to take different things from it. I think people will be shocked and surprised about people would do if they’re caught in certain situations.
I also hope people will think twice about how they view undocumented immigrants in this country. The movie does portray Drina in a very real well. I think people come to this country, hoping for a better life. They come here, first and foremost, because they work really hard. They’re humble, and do their jobs well and honestly. They really just want what everybody else wants-they want their friends and family to be happy. So I hope people will think twice before they talk about immigrants and immigration.
Q: Besides films, you have also starred on several television shows, including ‘Devious Maids’ and ‘Warehouse 13.’ How do the two mediums compare and contrast, and do you prefer one medium over the other?
PG: Both mediums are so much fun, and are fantastic right now. There are some great television shows out there that are high quality, and have amazing writers and producers. I really enjoy television a lot. It films at a much faster pace, and every single week there’s a different story. If you’re on a series, you really become part of people’s homes and lives. They depend on you for entertainment on a weekly basis, and I like that connection with the fans.
But I also love films. I grew up watching, and wanting to be in, films. So I really do enjoy both. As far as being in comedies, suspense or comedies, I love all genres. I hadn’t done a suspense thriller before (‘The Maid’s Room’), so I was so excited. I felt really lucky this was my first one, and I hope it’s not my only one. I hope I pulled it off.
Q: Besides ‘The Maid’s Room,’ do you have any other projects lined up that you can discuss?
PG: Yes, I have a film called ‘Adult Beginners’ that’s coming out pretty soon. (The film had its world premiere at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, where it was picked up by RADiUS. The distributor is planning a theatrical release for the movie for the second quarter of 2015.)
Besides me, the film also stars Rose Byrne, Nick Kroll and Bobby Cannavale. It’s a romantic comedy, so it was a great change to make that film after ‘The Maid’s Room.’ I hope it’s really funny.
We’re also celebrating the tenth anniversary of ‘Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.’ After three movies, I still can’t believe people still want to hear about Harold and Kumar, as well as (Garcés’ character) Maria, so much that we’re now making the animated series. We just finished the pilot for Adult Swim, and I’m voicing, of course, the role of Maria.
I also debuted the third installment of my graphic novel, ‘Aluna.’ Look out for that on my website. We debuted the third installment at this year’s (San Diego) Comic-Con, and people really enjoyed it. It’s one of four books that are set to come out, and I hope people will check it out.