We all know acting can be a difficult and often under appreciated part of filmmaking, and this couldn’t be more true in short films. In Maria Pia Fanigliulo’s destructive psychological drama ‘Fragments of May’, actress Kelby Keenan had to embrace a particularly complex character with May, dealing with a range of personality changes and states during her emotional down spiral. While perhaps not exhilarating us in a theatrical poise, Kelby manages to intricate the audience with her incredibly realistic approach – where the real sufferance and anxiety can be felt through the subtlest of movements. We had the chance to have a little chat with Kelby, to help us take a little deeper dive into her character transformation.
What drew you to this role?
Kelby: I loved the script, the tone and pace of the film and May from the second I read it. A fully formed real character with immense depth and driving force, tackling a hugely sensitive subject told from the female voice, I felt incredibly lucky to be able to bring this part to life. It was so intelligently written, Maria (writer/director) wasn’t afraid to show the honest dark side of this character. The role isn’t just playing a typical female in distress role, she’s real, it’s ugly and completely beautiful at the same time.
Did you fully understand your character from the first read? Or did May develop as rehearsals and shootings went on?
I had an instant connection with May from the very first read, which I think is how every role should feel to be able to give everything you can to the part. However May was definitely a character that I had to develop and give lots of time and rehearsal. I worked with the director one on one several times, improvising scenes and just being in Mays space – we had the luxury of being able to rehearse in the shoot locations with free reign of the space, so by the time we came to shoot, Mays home felt like my home. I knew we were tackling a very sensitive and important subject and I wanted to do it properly
Words are very few on camera for May.. how do you feel that this portrays the character throughout the film, and how did it affect your performance?
There was a fine balance that needed to be had to make my performance real and as true to life as possible without seeming hammy or over indulgent. There’s nothing worse than watching a film which uses minimal dialogue where the actor over-acts to make up for the lack of words. May had to be completely internal through and through, so that when the camera was on it would pick up those tiny magic bits of truth that come out naturally in whatever way they choose too. Before we shot we spent weeks doing improv, I knew May in every possible way from complete elation and contentment to her eventual broken and suicidal state – so the lack of words could be supported by the fact that every emotion and intention came from a real place – a real fully formed person rather than just the one side you see on screen.
The suicide scene is an incredibly emotional sequence that demonstrates first hand the distress that it can have on other people. Being such a pivotal scene, how important was nailing this scene, and how difficult was the timing of it all?
This scene in particular was rehearsed a lot – but only in terms of the technicality and timings. Everything had to be spot on, so once that was taken care of I was totally free to let the performance take over. I didn’t want this scene to feel calculated and forced, this was one of the last shots we did so by this point I was totally where I needed to be to give this scene the justice it needed, I didn’t over think how I was going to portray May during the suicide scene, I wanted it to feel real so I just let go and let May do the work. I wasn’t worried about nailing it I trusted the director and more importantly James (who plays Mays boyfriend) to be completely fluid and let it go the way it naturally should.
As a performer, how did you see your character’s departure from planet Earth?
Much the same way I think anyone who has ever had a sense of disconnection or that lost feeling gets. I tried to take the metaphorical and turn it into the reality. I saw her departure from Earth as a sense of loss of who she once was, earth becomes something of a distant memory, almost a dreamlike place for May. She goes through such change psychologically that earth it is a memory from another life altogether.
How did you prepare yourself for the role of May?
I took a lot of time to be ready for this part. We had a couple of months of rehearsals and time to research these kinds of mental illness’s and how it affects pretty much everyone on some level. I spent a lot of time with the director and the other actors so that we could create real relationships and find honest connections. I had to get to a place where I felt safe being completely vulnerable. I also found listening to certain pieces of music would help.
What was the most difficult scene in the film for you?
It Is a scene, that in the final cut of the film could go unnoticed for its importance in Mays journey but for me was the most important. May is walking through a supermarket, this is where she is at the most broken point, she walks to a freezer and sees an ice-cream that reminds her of her childhood, takes it out the wrapper and eats, she feels nothing and lets it drop to the floor. For me this was the scene that encompassed everything May had become. Total loss of who she was and complete unawareness of the world around her. We shot this in an actual supermarket during the day with real customers, so getting to that point was the most rewarding scene for me.
Is this a typical role for you?
Hmmmm, well I would say I am attracted to darker characters yes, but I hadn’t played a part that dealt with mental illness to this level before.
What would your dream role be?
My three top female parts are Beatrice Dalle in Betty Blue, Patricia Arquette in True Romance and Helena Bonham Carter in Fight Club. There are loads more but I have always loved those parts!
Who’s your actor role model?
Oh, well this is a strange one. I don’t really have an actor role model as such. The more I work as an actor the more I feel the importance of owning yourself as someone completely individual. Anyone can name names and say Oh I want to be like so and so, there are hundreds of fantastic actors who work hard and do great jobs who I watch and admire but I want to focus on my own here and now and create something new.
Thank you Kelby, your performance in Fragments of May was quite delightful, showing and immense amount of character depth. We can’t wait to see you in future projects!