RR LogoDebrianna Mansini Interview Headline

Debrianna Mansini Photo 1Debrianna Mansini refers to her role as Ann in the 2009 film Crazy Heart, for which Jeff Bridges won an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, as one of her most memorable experiences as an actress. In a film which also starred Maggie Gyllenhaal and Colin Farrell, Ms. Mansini is cast in the role of Ann, a lady who saunters over to Jeff Bridges’ character, country music legend Bad Blake, during a break between sets, and tries to arrange a liaison after the show, leaving him with her card.

“It was one of those moments where the character was clear, the writing was good, working with Jeff Bridges was a dream. Oh my God what a real human being. Honestly, I almost don’t remember anything else except for the DP (Director of Photography) talking about moving us around in that scene. We were so focused. It was so focused and genuine. He was amazing. When you are working with people whom you think are better than you, you up your game.  I had that experience when I worked on ER also. I worked with George Clooney. It is funny I worked for three days, but only about thirty seconds of that scene made it in. I worked with him and Noah Wyle on a scene and it was awesome. George Clooney was amazing. He was real and he was focused and we had a great scene. You can feel (the integrity) being around him and that was before he was doing the great film work that he has done. He was wonderful, wonderful to work with,” recalls Debrianna Mansini, who has appeared in numerous television programs and films, including The Burning Plain (Charlize Theron, Kim Basinger).

I have to say that when I worked on The Burning Plain, Guillermo Arriaga was one of the kindest, most respectful directors that I have worked with. That man made everyone…I mean PA’s wore name tags, so he could call them by their names. That is so respectful. He is a genuine, warm human being. He is one of those human beings that if he wants me to work until midnight, okay I will. If he wants me to jump off this cliff and roll down the hill, then I will, because he is that kind of a director. It was just a beautiful working experience,” says Ms. Mansini.

Eventually, our conversation settled on Debrianna Mansini’s new venture as a co-producer, co-writer and actress for the web series Cyphers, which barely into its fifth episode is starting to attract some serious attention. Cyphers uses imagery and poignant scenes to ask hard questions about what is happening to our food and water supply and what are the ramifications of consuming genetically modified food.  While it may appear on the surface, to those who are not personally acquainted with Ms. Mansini that she is jumping on a hot topic hoping to exploit an opportunity, the fact is these issues and concerns can be traced back to her years as a teenager growing up in Connecticut.

“I can remember being on a family picnic in Connecticut (she laughs before saying) I just didn’t fit in there. I held up a container of Cool Whip at my family’s picnic. I read the list of ingredients aloud and I said, ‘Is there one recognizable food item in this list? What are you eating? What are you people eating?’ Everyone thought that I was insane. That issue about what we are eating has been going on with me for years.  For me, (the question) is not is now the time? It has always been the time.  All of a sudden everything in the news has been amped up. It is so bizarre, as we started going through the storyline, genetically modified (gm) salmon was big in the news. It was in the news about gm food contaminating farmer’s fields in Chile and Monsanto wanting to sue the farmers, because the seed had gone into their fields and so they were “stealing the seed.”  It is outrageous and those issues have started to come into the news more. There are also issues about water that are just starting to surface and it is just starting to poke into the mainstream media. Maybe the mainstream media has caught up to me.  I don’t know if this is the time, I just know that it is my time,” she says.

Upton Sinclair’s book The Jungle, was partially responsible for Debrianna Mansini heading down this path, while she was in high school.

“I am Italian and my whole family is about food, so I was always attracted to that as part of who I am.  I do think that when I read that book, I was blown away by the irreverence for what we put into our bodies.  After I read The Jungle I said I want to be a vegetarian, I don’t want to eat this stuff anymore. I was a little off kilter from everyone else in my Connecticut circle of people. I never fit in there, so I was never able to really accomplish that until I left home, but as soon as I left home that is what I did. It is not so much for humane or animal reasons, as it is because the food just seems to be polluted to me. I wanted to know where I was getting my food from. I don’t know why that became an issue for me at such an early age, other than reading that book, but it became a lifelong adventure for me,” explains Ms. Mansini.

Producing a web series, while artistically rewarding is still caught in that space where it so at the leading edge of media integration that revenues have not caught up to costs. That naturally prompts the question of any producer of a web series and certainly of Debrianna Mansini, her co-writer Lori Tilrgrath and the rest of the cast; why do all this work?Debrianna Mansini Photo 2

Not surprisingly, Debrianna Mansini already has a well thought out answer prepared, “We often get that question; how do you make any money at this?  That is such a loaded question. Obviously we would like to be making money at it. First and foremost for all of us, we are artists. If you are an actress and you are not in the top twenty-five percentile in our group, you don’t get to work that much and certainly not in film. I live in New Mexico, which is different than LA, but I have lived in LA and I have many friends in LA who are suffering from lack of work. We wanted to create a project that we felt we wanted to participate in artistically. We want to work and we want to create and we are driven to do that.  The money is not the reason why we decided to do this. Also, on a larger philosophical level I guess or a paradigm shift that I feel needs to take place globally is we need to stop using money as the only way in which we value something. How much money does it make? Then it has value. How much money do you make? Then you are worthy. Then you are successful. I am just so tired of that being the way that we value things and I think that it is driving our country to the brink of disaster. We are losing artists and scientists. That is what happened with this whole Wall Street thing.  Kids went to school and thought; I can’t make any money being a teacher. I can’t make any money being a scientist.  I can’t make any money being an artist. I can make a lot more money going to Wall Street.  We had all these kids that went, made a lot more money and we were completely devoid of scientists, mathematicians and artists. They all went to make money and we do not have those areas as the cultural cradle of our country anymore. It is diminishing terribly.”

Having said that, it is one thing to pursue a venture for purely artistic merit and it is quite another to be able to pay the bills, so when Ms. Mansini and the rest of the crew and cast get around to combining some of the episodes into a forty minute short film which they hope to showcase at film festivals, make sure you tell your friends and who knows maybe a television producer or filmmaker will want to develop Cyphers into something bigger. 

“Honestly, although I would like to make some money, I think that the story is important. We put the story in this format, because I have always been very politically active. I know that people are overwhelmed with everything that they have to worry about, with paying their bills, keeping their jobs, making their mortgage, getting their kids to school. Is the school okay? You can’t just send them to school anymore. You have to participate and wonder what they are getting involved in. How are they going to get to college? Oh my God, it is just overwhelming and I thought; how are people going to get their heads wrapped around water that is at a huge risk. Our food is at a huge risk.  I asked, how do we get people to pay attention to that? I thought if we can come in through the back door, through an entertainment vehicle and we can get them a little hooked on the story, the beauty of the web is you can (point) them to this article and you can link articles. You can read about it and you can find out more information. We are getting ready to launch a blog where people can engage in conversation about the story and the subject matter. You can see if you can get people to pay attention to what is going on, without batting them on the head and coming from a documentary point of view,” she says.  

As for that tornado scene in one of the episodes, Lori Tilgrath and her husband Tom Romero, who appears in the recurring role as Aidan Grealey, shot that footage themselves. They are storm chasers. Yes, this is an interesting production crew and cast and now that they have your attention tune into the Cyphers website where you can watch all the episodes.

Interview by Joe Montague

This interview by Joe Montague  published in 2010 is protected by copyright and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine © All Rights Reserved.   All Rights Reserved This interview may not be reproduced in print or on the internet or through any other means without the written permission of Riveting Riffs Magazine, All Rights Reserved