An Interview with Cindy Maples and Rusty James – By Cary Conley

I recently had an opportunity to chat with the acting duo of Cindy Maples and Rusty James. This pair of actors, who are married to one another, talked with me about their influences, their relationship with Big Biting Pig Productions, their very first gig in a music video, and some really exciting new projects that will be out later this year.

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Cary Conley: Would each of you tell the Rogue readers a little about your background? When did you first catch the acting bug and what made you want to act on stage or in front of a camera?

Cindy Maples: It seems like I have been pretending to be someone else my entire life. I remember when I was very young acting like Wonder Woman or the Bionic Woman with my older sister. Then in the sixth grade I started attending speech competitions. I remember the first time I stood in front of a group of people and performed and heard the applause, right then and there I knew I wanted more. I had actually been away from acting for awhile when I met Rusty. He was very involved in the local theatre scene and after seeing him perform a few times the bug came back and I started auditioning and getting roles so I have him to thank–or curse–for pulling me back in.

Rusty James: I’ve been a performer to some degree since I was a small child. I was singing at a very early age and I performed in plays throughout elementary school and into high school. Most of my experience comes from a theatre background over the last 30-plus years.

CC: Who are some of your primary influences or role models in the acting business?

CM: I adore Al Pacino, but then again who doesn’t. More recently I have really come to admire Kate Blanchet, ever since she played Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator. She has such an elegant beauty to her and she never fails to make you forget that she is Kate Blanchet and believe that she is who she is portraying. To me that is a great talent.

RJ: Some of my favorite actors include: Tom Hanks, Al Pacino, Robert Di Niro, and Clint Eastwood. I will certainly never be in the same league as any of these guys, but they are some of the actors that I most admire.

CC: How did you two meet?

CM: I took a job as an Executive Sales Assistant at a radio group close to my hometown in Illinois and Rusty was working there as a Program Director and on-air talent. One night I stayed late to set up for an event that was taking place the next day and he helped me carry some tables from a storage building. He asked me out and knowing that he had a girlfriend and that I had I boyfriend I told him no. A few months later we no longer had said boyfriend or girlfriend and we started dating. Of course, because we worked together we kept it quiet and away from the building, that is until we decided to go to an Elton John concert together and were discovered by co-workers. Two years later we were married.

RJ: I was the Operations Manager for a radio group in Carbondale, Illinois. Cindy worked on the sales end of the business. The first day I saw her, I fell in love. It took me a while to convince her of that, but I was hooked immediately.

CC: You’ve both appeared in several Big Biting Pig productions, starting with 2009’s Widow. How did your collaboration with Big Biting Pig begin?

CM: I was told about the auditions for Widow by a director friend. I went to the audition and got the lead role of Vivian Potts. They were still casting and wondering who they would get for the role of my dead husband Alex and I told them I just happened to be married to an awesome actor who could do it.

RJ: Cindy had worked with a director in a stage production here in Evansville. He knew some guys that were doing independent horror films. I do not even think that I auditioned for Widow. I came to that project later than Cindy. She had gone and auditioned for them.

CC: In addition to acting in some of the same films, you’ve also had occasion to play directly opposite each other as husband and wife in Widow. Did this present any special challenges for you?

CM: In Widow it was really easy and comfortable to play opposite Rusty. The first day of shooting was a love scene and it was so much easier doing that scene with someone that I knew and was comfortable with than it would have been with someone I had never met before. Hell Is Full was a little different and strange because Rusty played the guy I was having an affair with and he had to hide in a closet while I pretended to have sex with someone else. The one thing we always remember is that it is acting, and when there are at least three to five other people around while you are shooting that kind of scene it is about the least romantic thing in the world. Bottom line, we get along great and Rusty is by far my favorite acting partner. We always have that built-in connection that is sometimes hard to find with a stranger.

RJ: For me I think it actually made things easier. Cindy and I have done some stuff on stage together and I feel totally comfortable with her. Of course, she is a wonderful actress…which helps. For me, I think it has been a plus when we have played opposite each other. I would like to think that we bring out the best in each other.

CC: You’ve just come back from the Derby City premiere of your 2011 film short Wireface: In the Beginning, in which you both had roles. I previously reviewed Wireface a few months ago and really enjoyed the film. What was the reception like in Louisville?

CM: It seemed, at least by the applause, that the audience loved it! There were hundreds in attendance and it was nice to finally see it with that many people. It’s always great when you can feel the audience get pulled into a particular scene and you could really feel it that night. I can also tell you that the Director, Kristofer Rommel has told the cast that after the screening he had some very productive conversations.

RJ: Yes, it seemed like the audience loved it. You could hear reactions occasionally like they were following along well and getting it. My impression was that it went over very well!! It’s a very well done short film. I only shot for one day, but it was a great time.

CC: I know there are hopes of expanding Wireface into a full-length feature. Can you tell us how the project came to be and give us an update on the status of the feature version?

CM: The idea for the character of WIREFACE was actually created when Director Kristofer Rommel was in the eighth grade. He worked with an artist friend of his to come up with a design of a supernatural horror villain who was wrapped in wire and could manipulate the wire to kill people. Fast-forward 18 years later and that was the idea he started with again. Kris liked the idea of a back story for a villain that you can understand why they do the things they do, even if you do not agree with them. So he decided to make a prologue to the film which tells the story of the man who would become WIREFACE. After Xavier (WIREFACE) finds the mask at the end of the prologue film, what he does is laid out in a series of 15 webisode news casts which detail the disappearance of seven teenage girls from the town of Statesville. A graphic novel will tell the story behind the webisodes which gives more detail on what happens to WIREFACE and eventually sets up the film. I can’t give too much away but obviously WIREFACE returns and mayhem ensues. The film is very supernatural in its scope. It ties all the breadcrumbs and back story told so far together but also retells it in a way that if people only watch the film they won’t be left out. The work done so far is for fans who want a greater understanding of the character and to entice investors and distributors. The film is more detective mystery as well. Kris tells people it’ll be sort of like "The Ring" meets "Friday the 13th". There is a killer who goes around killing people and there will be a detective who tries to stop him while also uncovering why. They’re working on some additional promo stuff for the press/investor/distribution packets which will include all of what they have so far along with the script and budget for the feature film. When that is complete they will go out and try and make the film. We will be ready to shoot anytime the money comes in. The story so far and all the elements can be found on the website www.thewireface.com and also on Facebook.

CC: Cindy, you were recently involved in a very artfully-crafted film short entitled Elysian which I absolutely loved. Being a silent film, the story was told entirely through imagery and music, which is a bit of a departure for you. What drew you to this film?

CM: Lewis Chaney and Neil Kellen at Keychain-Productions drew me to this project. I had worked with them on a short film a few years back and we just seemed to hit it off, plus I truly admired their commitment to their work. I had kept in touch mainly with Lewis and just let him know that if he ever had anything that he could use me in that I would be there in a heartbeat. I think that Lewis felt bad offering me such a small role in Elysian, but I jumped at the opportunity to work with them and I am so happy that I did! I couldn’t be more proud of Elysian; it is such a remarkable testament to their talent.

CC: February also saw the release of Mina Fedora’s Nightwatch, a music video that tells a ghostly story. Cindy, how did you become involved in this project and what did you think of the final result?

CM: Rusty and I were sitting around watching TV one night when out of the blue Lewis Chaney called and said, "Hey, Neil and I have this idea for a music video for Mina Fedora." Of course I knew who Mina was because of her musical work on Elysian and thought that the idea for the video was pure genius. They also needed a creepy old house to shoot in and we just happen to live in one. So the week after Christmas we started production on the video and I can honestly say I have never had so much fun working on a project. Lewis and Neil wanted to use this video not only as a showcase for Mina’s music but also to show what kind of work they can do, so they threw every trick that they knew into this. I learned more from them in four days than I had learned in the last four years. We also had the very great honor of working with Dave Snyder who is a Hollywood make-up artist. He’s worked on the last Star Trek movie, Pirates of the Caribbean, Six Feet Under, True Blood…the list goes on and on. Needless to say, having him in the house stopped everyone from working so we could watch him. Luckily for the cast and crew, Neil, Lewis, and Dave were nice enough to indulge us. The final result was absolutely amazing, and I knew it would be. When you are working on something that’s great, you just know it.

RJ: Since, I was very involved in this..I’ll answer as well. Cindy had worked with Lewis Chaney and Neil Kellen on Elysian and we had both worked with them on another earlier project here in Evansville. Lewis called me one night and asked me if I would play one of the lead roles in a music video. I was kind of stunned at first that we were doing a music video. However, as he started to reveal the story I got excited. I thought the final result was incredible. Lewis and Neil were so great to work with. They had a vision for this thing that quite frankly,I wondered if they could pull off–and they did it in spades. These guys know how to work with and motivate actors. They make you feel like you are part of their team and you want to work for these guys.

CC: Rusty, you are currently filming a movie with a title that excites me to no end: Three Tears on Bloodstained Flesh. Based on the title alone, I’m guessing it’s a giallo. Without divulging any "top secret" information, what can you tell us about the film? What role do you play?

RJ: Yes it’s a giallo but set in the Midwest. I play the role of “Rufus”. A sort of "guys guy" bartender. I filmed one night on this film but I have to say that I probably enjoyed it more than most larger roles I have had. Jakob Bilinski has a way of setting the stage for you to do some of your best stuff. To me, he is one of the best-kept secrets in independent film. I am sure we are going to be hearing lots from him in the future. I had good chemistry with lead actor Bill Gobin in my scene with him as well. He and I hit it off and I believe it will show in our scene. All I can say about the film is that you are not going to want to miss it.

CC: 2012 will also see the release of your latest feature, Cindy–The Birthday Massacre. What can you tell us about this project without giving too much away?

CM: I can tell you that The Birthday Massacre is about Jonathon, who on his seventh birthday found himself dressed as a clown, a knife in his hand, and his mother’s abusive boyfriend dead at his feet. A moment later Jonathon becomes someone else, and introduces his alter ego to his mother. Ten years later, the schizophrenic Jonathon is reunited with his only surviving relatives… just days before his seventeenth birthday. I play Mary Clark, his aunt and only advocate, and I’ve invited him to come and live with the only family he has left. This is a slasher film like no other. You find yourself torn between rooting for the killer as well as for his victims. The characters are real, passionate, and lovable…even the killer. The director, Kenny White (White Hair Productions) and the producers, Keith and Laura Parker (Tornspace Films, LLC) have seen the first cut of the film and are extremely proud of it! The film is shaping up to be everything that they ever dreamed it could be.  They just have to hurtle through the final phases to get everything perfected. This is going to be a film that you will never forget. The story is strong, creative, original, and most of all, SCARY! The Birthday Massacre is in its final stages and is still looking for support. If anyone is interested, they can go to http://www.indiegogo.com/birthdaymassacre for more information on how they can get involved.

CC: After The Birthday Massacre and Three Tears on Bloodstained Flesh, do either of you have other upcoming projects you can talk about?

CM: Besides The Birthday Massacre I also have an episode of the web series Mental Space coming out in the next few weeks. I am currently signed on to do a cameo role in P.J. Stark’s latest movie, My Horror Project, that will shoot late this summer. I’m doing a small role in Joe Atkinson’s The Book of Dallas, which will be a web series coming out later in 2012. I will also team back up with Keith and Laura Parker of Tornspace Films, LLC in a movie that is set to start shooting mid 2012. At this point I can tell you that the movie will have vampires in it, the vampires will be females, we’re planning on shooting it in 3D, and I’ll be playing the head vampire.  I will also be stepping into the role of casting director on this project, a new and exciting direction for me. With any luck we will begin production on WIREFACE by the end of the year. And finally, it has been about two years since I have done a play and I am really starting to miss it, so I hope to return to the stage at some point this year.

RJ: I am going to be doing my first web series called the Book Of Dallas with Joe Atkinson and Jakob Bilinski. I play an Evangelical Preacher. It’s a great script, very well-written. I can’t wait to see how these guys bring it to life on camera.

CC: Cindy, since you are an unabashed horror movie fan, I have to know–what are your Top Five horror films of all time?

CM: I should point out that the two movies I watch over and over are not horror movies (well not exactly) so I think they should be listed. The first one is Young Frankenstein, which I can pretty much quote word for word, and the second is Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. It’s a true classic with all the great Universal Monsters that I love. But if I want to be scared I watch…

1. The Exorcist
2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
3. The Shining
4. Psycho
5. Halloween

CC: Rusty, I don’t want to leave you out, but you may not be a big horror fan, so let me ask you: what five movies have influenced you the most?

RJ: I am not the huge horror film fan that Cindy is, but I do enjoy them. My favorites may be a bit more tame, but here goes:

1. The Exorcist
2. Amityville Horror
3. Halloween
4. Psycho
5. Psycho II

However, since I have met Cindy my horizons of horror have definitely been broadened.

CC: Finally, do you have any advice for budding actors that may be reading this article?

CM: Just go for it. The worst thing that can happen is that you make a fool out of yourself, which at some point in time you’re going to do anyway and probably on camera where everyone can see you. And never give up; if it’s your dream, go live it!

RJ: Sure. Do not let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Even some directors. Believe in what you are doing. Also, make as many friends in this community of independent film as possible. You can usually learn something from everyone. Approach every project with the attitude that you want to learn something new and grow as an actor or actress. Try not to get stuck in a rut of doing the same type of projects over and over again.