By RUBEN DIAZ
Psychological horror film AMBER’S DESCENT stars Kayla Stanton (Supernatural, Lucifer) as Amber, a concert pianist in a bit of a rut who makes a big change in life, but co-writer and director Michael Bafaro (Driver from Hell) make that a hellish one. Amber’s a composer who has a hard time creating new work after great personal loss and trauma. She makes a move, leaving behind Seattle in favor of a new home. Amber hopes this new home will bring clarity and allow her to compose a new symphony. Amber’s not alone in the house; handyman Jim played by co-writer Michael Mitton (Okja, Flu), comes by regularly to repair the old home and provide some company for Amber. It’s welcome company for a while, but as Amber’s mental state wavers, so do her feelings about Jim and all those around her, including forces that may be beyond reality. Stanton took the time to answer some questions about her role and the challenges it presented.
When did you first discover that you were passionate about acting?
I’ve always had a love of performing. It’s something I’ve loved since I was a little girl. I first realized I loved performing since about grade two; I was about six years old. It’s always been there!
How did you get connected with AMBER’S DESCENT?
That’s an interesting story. The Michaels [Bafaro and Mitton] and I lived in the same area. We’d run into each other on the street. Michael Mitton has the same agent as me, so we sort of run in the same circles. I never auditioned for the role. Michael approached me and said, “I think you’re right for this,” and he sent me the script. I read it, and I loved it. I fell in love with the character and had to play her.
What did the process for becoming Amber entail?
We discussed Amber and her duality. She’s a classical musician, and she puts on this mask of strength. I think slowly, throughout the film, you see that crack. It was fun to figure out when you’re going to do that. Of course, when you get on set, you never know when that’s going to happen. So, after all the work and the research and you get on set and see what happens, you play. As an actor, of course, you make your notes in the script to track how far she’s cracked. It’s a challenge, but it’s a welcome challenge.
What was your view of Amber?
I researched trauma and what abuse does to a person. The first thing is that I tried not to judge her as “crazy” but more as a sort of a release of emotions. Amber is such a guarded person that she wants everyone to believe that she’s strong. So, it’s not easy for her to release these things. It’s just a matter of allowing the emotions to sneak out, or perhaps not. There’s a lot of complexity going on.
What’s your usual process for getting into character?
Every role is different, but relaxation is a big thing; it’s a part of my process. I’m a type-A personality, so acting is very interesting to me. You can’t be a perfectionist about the craft, it’s more about exploration. You need to be grounded, present, and listening. A lot of what I do is that I do yoga every day, some meditation, whatever gets me there. I think it’s about assessing where your instrument is at on that day and where do I need to go from here.
What specific preparation happened for AMBER’S DESCENT?
I took about a month off from my day job before the shoot and spent four hours every day playing this keyboard. A musician friend lent [it to] me. I had it up on my dining table, which was sort of awkward, but you do what you have to do. I watched the Nina Simone documentary and other documentaries with other, mostly classical, musicians so I could get an idea of posture and that sort of thing. I had eight costume changes a day, so there wasn’t a lot of time on set for prep work, but that’s why you do it beforehand.
Are you more of a method actor or a classical actor?
I’m in and out [of both]. When I’m in an accent, I stay in the accent all day. Between action and cut, I’m in character, but outside of that, I’m out. I keep the accent to help keep it consistent. I think you need to shut off, especially when you’re doing a movie like AMBER’S DESCENT. I went to some harrowing places. The climactic scene was fun to shoot. But it was harrowing. So I spent about half an hour before the scene to get to that place. At the end of that scene, I had to pull myself out of that. I did what’s called a “silly dilly” where you run around like a kid and be as silly as possible until all that emotion is out. I don’t want to take my work home with me.
What other actors and artists have inspired you?
Growing up, my idol was Nicole Kidman, you know, a red-headed Australian actress. I love Baz Luhrmann. Moulin Rouge is one of my favorite movies. I love Cate Blanchett. If you’ve ever seen her on stage, her voice is just something I love. I love Meryl Streep, who doesn’t? The actors that work on stage and screen are the ones I aspire to be like. It’s immense talent.
What’s next for you?
I shot two short films at the end of 2020. One is called Femme, and it’s a feminist vigilante story, which is very exciting. My husband is the writer and director. That’s coming soon. I worked on another short, a psychological thriller. It was a Balinese/Australian production, so it was exciting to work with Balinese folklore; it’s not something that I’m used to.
AMBER’S DESCENT is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Breaking Glass Pictures.