Positive Duality: Amber Coney
Speaking of the abilities of acting and writing together and how each can contribute to and enhance the other, we find ourselves interviewing someone with fingers in both of those pies. You can see her at work in the Freeform TV series Dead of Summer. Please meet actor and screenwriter, Amber Coney.
I&S: What circumstance in your early life led up to your decision to enroll in USC’s BFA Acting Program? Were there family influences or did someone in your schooling recognize your talent?
AC: I was first introduced to acting in school, and being exposed to the craft in an academic environment gave me the idea to continue to study it post-high school. I knew I wanted to go to a university, and I knew that I was going to act professionally after getting a degree, so I sought out the best colligate acting programs available. I planned to live in Los Angeles to pursue my acting career, so going to school in Southern California made a lot of sense to me. I researched and auditioned for many programs, went to visit the campuses, and found that USC was a perfect fit. Although I had a lot of support and encouragement along the way, the decision to go to USC was of my own accord.
I&S: Now that you have some experience, what is it about acting that calls to you and pushes you to pursue it as your lifelong career? Can you cite some upsides? Any rough patches along the way?
AC: Acting allows me to expand my whole being. It challenges me emotionally, physically, and even spiritually, and has been essential in my cultivation of intelligence, openness, and empathy. Through acting, I get to see the world from different points of view, so I can never be limited to one way of thinking or being. The upside to storytelling is the potential for the creative individual to give the gift of examination. Through my art form, I have the power to provoke, question, heal, disturb, entertain, uplift, and shake whosever experiences in the story I’m telling. There are certainly rough patches – sometimes it’s the difficulty in finding worthwhile and fulfilling projects, or sometimes a heavy story can affect me deeply and be hard to shake off…but all of those are small prices to pay to be able to do what I do.
I&S: How did you meet James Franco and begin your collaboration with him? What have you learned from this work? Has it opened any new doors for you?
AC: At USC, I worked as an assistant to the screenings programmer at the Cinema school. I met James when he came as a guest for our Freaks and Geeks series retrospective and linked up with him as an actor first, playing parts in his film projects every now and then. Soon after, he found out that I could write and asked me to adapt a novel that we were both reading. After that, things sort of snowballed, and I have been writing with him ever since.
From my work with James, I have garnered an incredible amount of focus and drive, and have also become much more experimental in what I do creatively. James opened the door to screenwriting for me, considering the fact that he was the first person to ask me to write a feature. He believed I could do it, and I did. He also gave me my first scripting gig involving a major studio/network, and I will always be grateful to him for opening the door to my first professional writing opportunities.
I&S: A professional screenwriter as well…having rewritten/updated the script of the cult classic “Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?” for James Franco. How did that adventure begin and what did it take to push the completed version out in just five days? Or had you formed the ideas in your mind well beforehand and so it was just a matter of committing them to paper?
AC: I had been screenwriting for James’ production company for a couple of months, and he called me to tell me that Lifetime had approached him to do a remake of this 90’s cult classic. He nonchalantly added that he’d be completely reinventing it, making the updated version a lesbian vampire story. He told me that he wanted a full-fledged script to show his concept to the network, and that he needed it in less than a week. I agreed to take a shot at it, and wrote the script off of James’ treatment/outline by the deadline he gave me. The ideas and story all originated from him, so it was my job to bring it to life and put it into screenplay form.
I&S: Has this work inspired you to pitch other re-writes? What sorts of stories are in demand in today’s media environment? Or perhaps there are classic themes which are rehashed/updated in current vernacular and for modern situations? What are your thoughts?
AC: It’s been quite a whirlwind since I finished working on “MMISWD?,” and I have not yet delved into finding another story I’d like to re-make. Today’s media environment is very interesting to me, it seems that there is demand for either very familiar, already-household-name type stories (i.e.. superhero stories, recycled stories like Tarzan, The Jungle Book, etc.) OR for entirely new, entirely different film and TV — content that is unafraid to delve into uncharted territory, both topically and aesthetically. Classic themes will forever be ‘rehashed/updated..for modern situations,’ because certain aspects of human nature and relationship dynamics are timeless. On another note, I am really glad that media is becoming more reflective of real life in its representation of diversity and its fearlessness to explore topics or situations that were once considered taboo. It’s important to create content that is not only interesting, but accessible and real.
I&S: You currently co-star in ABC/Disney FreeForm Network’s “Dead Of Summer” as Carolina “Cricket” Diaz. Tell us about the show, its storyline and the part you play.
AC: “Dead of Summer” is set in 1989 at Camp Stillwater, a Midwestern summer camp. The camp is reopening for the season for the first time in years, and the camp counselors (almost all of whom are formerly campers), reunite at the nostalgic and seemingly welcoming site to work there and have a summer of fun. However, as the counselors find the ominous undercurrents of the camp awakening, the mystery and horror begins to unfold around them. Cricket, the character I play, is one of the counselors that is excited for a summer of fun, friends, and hopefully even romance. She is warm and fun-filled the surface, but is internally struggling with a lot of insecurity, and desire for validation.
I&S: When you are playing a part, are both the actor and the writer present?…specifically the actor playing the part and the writer considering what works about the storyline/dialog and what does not?
AC: I definitely have those thoughts when I first read any script, but when I am preparing for a role I’m not approaching it from a writer’s perspective. The processes are symbiotic, but very distinct from one another. I wouldn’t do a project with a script I didn’t like anyway, so there’s no need for me to try and edit another writer’s work. However, being a screenwriter has helped me understand scripts in a way that is beneficial to my acting work; I see more clearly how what I do fits into the puzzle, and I am more attuned to my characters’ relationships with other characters and with the storyline as a whole.
I&S: You have several projects due to be released soon. Can you tell us about each of them and the parts you play?
AC: Almost all of the films I’ve done this past year are projects I’ve worked on with James. Kill The Czar and The Institute, for instance, are independent films that were made through James’ production company. In Kill the Czar, I play an aspiring actress who gets taken hostage after an insane director that I’ve been seeing finds out that I have an intimate relationship with a female DJ. In The Institute I play one of the lower-class patients of an asylum, who is actually the least crazy of all the ‘pit girls,’ and who partners with a new patient in hopes of escape. Those are the most notable of the projects that are to be released soon, aside from more episodes of Dead of Summer.
For information please follow Amber Coney on her website and media links below:
AC: Web – http://www.amberconey.com
Instagram – https://www.instgram.com/amberconey/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/AmberConey
IMDb – http://www.imdb.com/name/nm4371874/
Writing and performing as complementary occupations – where if one is between roles there is time to bang out something on the keyboard and avoid those slack hours. This seems like the new paradigm. We at Image & Style Magazine wish Ms. Coney the very best in both paths going forward.