The charm and karma of Carmen

So many filmmakers get stopped in their paths,” says Julie Carmen. The Malibu-based actor is serving in her sixth year on the board of directors of IFP West, and was a four-year board member of Women In Film. So when she addresses Women In Film’s Networking Breakfast Nov. 12, she will focus on the theme, “Just Do It.”

She has more than just done it, playing the female lead in dozens of films, starring opposite such luminaries as Val Kilmer and Sam Neill, as well as the late George C. Scott and Raul Julia.

Finding distribution is currently the biggest stumbling block to filmmakers, she suggests. “Even if you can make a film on a $1 million budget, it takes $10 million to market it.”

Therefore, she warns, “It’s very important that filmmakers be clear on what success means to them.” Some, she says, want to create prestigious festival releases, some the blockbusters, some a calling card for their next film. But once the film is made, it is important to hand hold it through its release but then get on with the next project.

Carmen wrote a script and planned to direct a film, “Deep Song,” based on a novel about an American girl who left to live with gypsies. “The conundrum that I’m in is that first-time directors are not exposed to ‘A’-quality scripts, which is why I wrote my own.”

She found funding in Europe but couldn’t find U.S. distribution. “I decided to cut bait,” she says about abandoning the idea. “I feel freer. I didn’t get sucked down by the project.”

Most recently, Carmen starred opposite John Leguizamo in the soon-to-be-released “King of the Jungle.” Steven Bochco remembered her from a role she played on “NYPD Blue” and has created a recurring character for her on his new series, “City of Angels.”

The daughter of off-off-Broadway theater buffs, from age 14 she trained at New York’s Neighborhood Playhouse. She first appeared on Broadway in “Zoot Suit” and can list 20 off-Broadway productions on her resume.

She graduated from State University of New York with a bachelor’s degree in film, theater and choreography. She says the discipline forced her to create projects and follow through on them.

She studied acting with Sanford Meisner, whom she calls “the meanest man I ever met in my life,” and with Uta Hagen, whom she calls “a healing balm.” She studied directing with Bobby Lewis and Jose Quintero. “I love seeking masters,” she says.

After filming her first movie, she was cast by John Cassavetes in his film, “Gloria,” which won her the Best Supporting Actress Award at the Venice Film Festival, at the age of 18.

She never auditioned for Cassavetes. “John had the vision and autonomy to make choices,” she states.

She calls Cassavetes her guardian angel. “He directed from the heart.” He told her to jump off the mountain and not worry about falling, because he would be there to catch her. “It gave me a graphic example of freedom, a very visceral way to act.”

She appeared in Robert Redford’s “The Milagro Beanfield War.” “He watched me for two weeks before he gave me my first direction,” she recalls. “Then he told me that my aura was warm and that therefore I never had to ‘play’ that. ‘You can go to your other extremes and it will be tempered by your warmth,’ he told me.” And that was all he told her. “Directors leave me alone a lot,” she says.

Acting is about communication and human connection, she says. So she underwent psychoanalysis, then decided she wanted to go deeper and study analysis, which she did for four years while acting. “Acting drew me to analysis and now to yoga — how to be healthy, within extreme circumstances. It’s a similar attraction.”

She says she found her early years in Hollywood emotionally challenging. “I wanted to learn to ride the roller coaster between flattery and rejection and not lose my center. A lot of the industry is based on narcissism and spin. As a theater actor, I wasn’t coming from there.”

Now, she practices yoga avidly. “It’s helpful in my approach toward Hollywood.

“Yoga is not just an exercise. The entire process leads to splitting open the heart. You find that edge of discomfort and breathe there for one-and-a-half hours a day. You find calm within the extreme discomfort.”

The child of an activist family, she has received two Clio awards for writing, producing and directing public service announcements for the Latino and Latina vote.

She hopes next to direct her first documentary — on the history of Malibu from the point of view of elderly Malibuites. “Some are still surfing. Some still ride horseback in endurance races. There are so many exquisite stories that could come together.” The project will be produced by Candace Bowen and edited by Candace Brown, both well-known young Malibuites.

Julie Carmen addresses Women In Film’s networking breakfast Nov. 12, 8-10 a.m., at The Charthouse Restaurant, PCH at Topanga.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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