I was drawn to the film by Adrien Brody, the gifted actor who won an Oscar for his role in The Pianist and Tony Kaye, the director of American History X (for which Ed Norton received an Academy Award nomination). The stellar cast includes Marcia Gay Harden, Christina Hendricks, Bryan Cranston, William Peterson, Tim Blake Nelson, Betty Kaye, Sami Gayle, Lucy Liu, Blythe Danner and James Caan. I felt like a voyeur as I watched high school students who didn’t want to learn, teachers unraveled by their apathy and their frustration at a bureaucracy. This was the new Blackboard Jungle. Betty Kaye’s searing, sensitive portrayal of Meredith evokes the universal longing for compassion. She sees Adrien Brody’s character as a person who may finally see the invisible Meredith. I reached out to Betty Kaye to ask her about her first film role, how it felt to be directed by her father and the amazing ensemble cast she had the good fortune to be a part of.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: London, New York and LA.
Q: When did you realize you had a passion for acting?
A: I don’t know of a specific time. I’ve been around it for so long that I can’t pinpoint a date. I started having fun with it really young and it’s been like that ever since.
Q: You attended the Stagedoor Manor Camp which is well-known for having many famous alumni. How did the camp prepare you as a performer?
A:I was cast in one of the bigger drama productions my very first summer. It was sink or swim. A bit of throwing up on assignment night, but after that I was determined to swim. Whenever I got the jitters, I switched from ME to WE and kept telling myself that regardless of my nervousness, I could not let the rest of the cast down. The place is such a fantastic incubator for developing the whole person as an actor and, crucially, as an indispensable cast member, no matter how small or big your role. We were each other’s extension. We lived together, we played together and we acted together. That makes you grow up in the right direction really fast.
Q: How did you approach Meredith? Did you create a history for her?
A: I did. I looked closely at my own experiences as an art student. Also, I looked at my own ups and downs with the bullying that goes on in schools and society against heavy kids. By the way, a lot of adults conveniently forget that they themselves bully plus size kids and adults in so many spoken and unspoken ways. It really goes on in every aspect of your daily life. The thing is that the weight of people in general has gone up in developed societies, and so not only are heavier set people here to stay, but the acceptance has gone up. Anyway, as part of my preparation, I created pieces of work as Meredith. That got me into her head. I was able to reflect the world around her in those pieces. Once I tapped into that, I was able to keep going into darker and darker corners of her mind. Because of the environment that my father created on the set, and because of his amazing knack to get the best out of his actors, including, it turns out, his daughter, I feel that it all worked brilliantly. From the reaction I’ve been getting from complete strangers who’ve seen the movie and happen to recognize me is that Meredith moved them very deeply. You can’t ask for more from a role!
Q: Was there a personal connection to the role for you? Did you ever feel invisible like Meredith?
A: I am quite the opposite in private life. I’m quite a jokster. But look, we all struggle with lots of things as we grow up and at times we all feel invisible. It’s not just the heavy kids. When I first read the script, I saw her in my mind almost instantly and had a feeling of who she was way before I reached the last page. I felt her pain. Sometimes I felt like she was invisible, but I also think that, with kids who are like Meredith, they always leave something behind. They leave little clues of their existence that will be seen by those who choose to look.
Q: Can you describe your working relationship with Adrien Brody. Did you improvise?
A: Oh god, is he a dream or what? Of course Adrien was supportive. He’s a consummate professional. Alongside my father, he created a safety net for me to fall into when digging into the darker corners of Meredith. So I was bold with my choices. Needless to say, this was a very lucky film experience.
Q: The cast is filled with veteran actors like Marcia Gay Harden and James Caan. What was the atmosphere like on the set? Did anyone give you great acting advice you’ll be able to bring to your next role?
A: I had a blast. It was always playful. Everyone had a joke to tell off camera, and then, boom, the moment it was “action,” everyone got into character. Being able to watch them work was a tremendous help and definitely enhanced my performance.
Q: Your father had high praise for your acting saying you “broke his heart” every time he watched your performance. What was it like experiencing your father as your director?
A: It was absolutely wonderful. My Dad really supported me through the whole thing and I can’t thank him enough for that. He really made me feel completely safe on set.
Q: Are you a fan of Stanley Kubrick films like your father?
A: Not as much as my Dad.
Q: What are your acting goals? What would be your ideal role? What actor/actress would you love to work with?
A: I’m keeping an open mind when it comes to my acting career. Everything happens for a reason. I’m just taking everything as it comes and am trying to keep myself as grounded as possible.
Q: Have you experienced any weight bias as an actress? Do you feel like you’ll have equal access to roles as a plus size actress?
A: I just want to portray great characters and people that everyone can relate to. I want to be someone who could be your sister, your cousin, your girlfriend, your best friend, etc. Weight should be part of that character the same way it is part of our lives.
Q: Are you interested in directing?
A: Ha. Ha. Well, I’m keeping all options open.
Q: How would you describe your personal fashion style?
A: I like to look good, but also be comfortable. I’m a photography student in London, so I think that what I wear reflects the amazing creative energy of that place. I don’t have a set style. It’s whatever catches my eye and looks good on me. It’s actually much easier to get great clothes for me in London. I can get great outfits on high street. I think every woman in my position wants to look and feel good and be able to walk into a store and walk out with a fabulous outfit.
Betty Kaye’s performance exposes an abyss of universal pain. We experience her humiliation. Please see “Detachment” for Betty Kaye’s remarkable performance.