From bringing complex characters to life on screen, to writing raw emotional tales of individuals from all walks of life, writer, actor, director, and filmmaker Stephanie Turner has positioned herself as a one-to-watch in the entertainment industry. Most recently, Stephanie wrote, starred in, and made her directorial debut in her film Justine opposite Darby Stanchfield, Glynn Turman, and Josh Stamberg.
I got the chance to talk to Stephanie about how she got into acting originally, whether writing and directing was something she always wanted to try, whether she always intended to star in Justine and so much more. Keep reading to see what she had to say!
Tell me a little bit about how you got into acting originally.
Growing up, I always wanted to be an actor. I started pursuing it professionally around the age of 15. I was living in the DC area and I had headshots taken and submitted myself for regional jobs. I graduated high school in San Diego and during my senior year of high school, I would drive up to LA and research acting schools and got my first agent. I also did some extra work to get a feel for the industry. Then the day after I graduated high school, I moved to LA and shortly after began a two year acting program. I began auditioning and working during that time as well.
Was there a specific person or experience that you would credit with helping you decide that acting is what you wanted to do for a living?
No, I don’t think so. I think I’ve always been drawn to observing people. I moved around a lot growing up and I never really felt like I belonged in whichever city we lived. Because I felt different as a kid, I think I was drawn to TV and film that portrayed different types of people and situations. It’s in so many ways a great connector, helping us realize we are more alike than we are different.
Was writing and directing for projects always something you wanted to try one day? Or was it something you had no interested in until you got into acting?
Writing was something I was always interested in. I started writing a few years into my acting career. The more I wrote, the more I realized that I had a desire to direct as well.
Let’s talk about Justine. Where did the idea for the film come from?
I wanted to write a film that could be made at a low budget with an interesting and complex female character. That was my original intention and then I had the idea about a relationship between a young girl who is being sheltered by her parents and society and a caregiver who refused to shelter her in the same way. With that initial inspiration, I began to build the rest of the story and develop who the characters would be.
What was your writing process like for this script? How long did it take to come together?
I wrote the first draft in the fall of 2013. I then sent it to a few trusted friends and colleagues to get their notes and feedback. Then I started in on the next draft; I don’t really remember how many drafts there ultimately were. Over the next few years, I pitched the script to several different producers and would sometimes make adjustments based on their notes. Ultimately, I ended up producing it under my production company (Football Brat Productions) in 2018. Six months or so before we started production, I did a final revision of the script to trim it down and make sure the story was exactly what I wanted it to be.
What was the casting process like for the film? Did you always intend to star in it or was that the result of not finding anyone else you liked for the role?
Yes, I wrote the role of Lisa intending to play the part. In terms of casting the other roles, we had a wonderful casting director, Charlene Lee, who came up with great suggestions for the other roles. For the kids, we asked several kids to put themselves on tape and then we held a callback session in person.
Not only did you write the script and star in the movie, you also made your directorial debut with this film. What were some of the challenges of wearing three hats all at once?
I think the biggest challenge was just the fact that because my character was in so many of the scenes, I wasn’t as available on set as a non-acting director typically is. I tried to be as available as I possibly could to answer questions for crew or the actors, but logistically I just wasn’t available sometimes because I was in the scene.
The film has received a slew of awards and nominations across multiple independent film festivals. What does it mean to you to see it being received so highly by audiences and critics?
I’m so happy and grateful that people are connecting with the film. I have received so many messages from people around the world telling me how emotional the film was for them or how much they related to the characters. That’s all I really wanted in making this movie, to connect with people through the story.
Aside from Justine, which is out now on Netflix, what other projects are you currently working on?
I’m working on putting together the team on my next feature film which is another character driven drama, taking place in south Los Angeles, a coming of age story. I’m also in development on a TV project.
Last question — we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner nerd so what is something that you’re currently nerding out about?
Well I’m working on two new script ideas right now and I’m in the phase of figuring out what the stories will be so I’m definitely nerding out about story structure and wracking my brain on figuring it all out. I also get sort of obsessive about watching other films and studying their structure to see what worked and what didn’t and why.
Photo Credit: Tommy Flanagan