Bree Michael Warner is more than just a pretty face. In fact, she is one of the most dynamic actors on the scene and continues to grow at her chosen craft. With her chameleon-like ability to adapt to any role, she has quickly established herself as an actress to watch in the coming years. Her latest project, ‘Officer Down,’ teams her with director Brian Miller and an ensemble cast featuring Stephen Dorff, James Woods, Stephen Lange, Walton Goggins, David Boreanaz and Soulja Boy – who makes his feature film debut. ‘Officer Down’ is a gritty crime drama that centers around a cleaned up cop who’s crooked past comes back to haunt him. In the film, Warner plays the part of ‘Brogan’, who is Dorff’s right hand forensics partner. Together the duo ultimately discover the proverbial ‘smoking gun’. ‘Officer Down’ is set to have an exclusive theatrical engagement on January 18, 2013, with a Blu-ray and DVD release to follow on January 22. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with this inspiring artist to discuss how she became involved in the entertainment industry, the making of ‘Officer Down, her ongoing evolution as an actor and what the future holds for her in the months to come!
We hear time and time again choosing a career in the entertainment industry is not for the faint of heart. How did you get started on your journey and what made you pursue it as a career?
As a child, my parents were both very much into the arts. My father sang in a band and continues to do so to this day. My mother had done a lot of musical theater. I would often spend nights in the theater, just sitting in the audience, watching her rehearse. I think I got the bug then. Like every other kid, I went through all these phases of wanting to be a doctor and then an astronaut but, at some point, that evolved into me knowing that I am a person who loves to do so many things. I thought, “Why not be an actor where I can pretend to do all of these things!?” [laughs] It seemed that my imagination was always running rampant! For me, it was a decision I made pretty young and I knew that I wanted to get into the arts. I was very active all throughout my childhood by doing plays and whatnot. I have always had a profound fascination for people. I prefer biographies over novels, always have. My curiosity about what it means to be human is what I believe unconsciously drew me towards acting. I don’t think I could have understood that as a child. At the time, it was just something fun to do. As an adult, I feel incredibly grateful for being able to do what I do but you have to keep the job in perspective.There are professionals and real life heroes in the world that save lives on a daily basis yet they are not held in the spotlight enough. For me it is a gift to hopefully entertain someone, to inspire them, move them, or at the very least give them a short reprieve from reality. For me that is the joy of acting!
Who would you cite as your biggest influences as an actress?
I have always been an enormous fan of Diane Lane. First of all, that woman ages so gracefully. She has also had such a wonderful career history. I feel like it is easy to find a lot of contemporary actors and actresses that have their 15 minutes of fame and it is really difficult for them to maintain it. One of the things I love about Diane Lane is that she started at a fairly young age and has been able to sustain a very reputable career. I also love that she has a personal life that remains personal. You don’t read about her in the tabloids and she is very understated publicly. The roles that she plays are these amazingly inspiring strong females. I have always hoped to emulate her career. Another influence is Naomi Watts. As any actor does, you pay attention to those around you and hear there stories and you begin to realize that there is no such thing as an overnight success. I remember reading this great article about Naomi Watts and how she had played in “Mulholland Drive.” That was her breakout role but, at the time, no one could have anticipated it. At the time she had finished shooting it, she was faced with an eviction notice from her apartment and everything was falling apart around her. From my understanding, I remember they had held back the release of the film and she was waiting with bated breath for it to come out. The film totally broke open her career. You hear so many of those stories where actors are struggling and struggling and then all of a sudden, there is that one thing that sets them over the edge. It is completely inspiring because I think that our business is a bit like a lottery. You never know! You just have to keep moving forward and something is bound to break open!
Your latest project is a film titled “Officer Down.” Tell us a little about how you got involved with this project and what drew you to the role.
It is quite a funny story actually. The film itself shot in Connecticut. I had just gotten back to LA on business. I will never forget it, I got a call from my agent on Wednesday. I had just landed, gotten in and started settling in and she had told me about a project where a potential offer was coming through. As she had me on the phone, she was on the other line with production. The role that I play in “Officer Down” is Brogan. The character was initially going to be a male role. At some point during pre-production they decided to change it to a female. They had been going in one direction for so long that suddenly it left them open to recast the role. Fortunately for me, my agent at the time was able to get my demo reel over to casting and production. In the interim of those few days, I was unaware at the time, production had been able to see my demo. I literally got booked off of my demo reel. We got that call on Wednesday and I had a moment to decide if I was going to do it. I said, “Yeah! Absolutely!” I had to hop on a plane the next day for Connecticut to start shooting the day after! I basically had 48 hours notice! [laughs]
It was exhilarating, frightening and everything in between! At the time, I really knew very little about the project. I was told that Stephen Dorff and James Woods were involved. I had a little bit of information on the character and that she was a forensics detective. I absolutely respect both of those actors and would have jumped at any opportunity to work with them! Of course I said yes! [laughs] The next day I found myself on the plane heading east and preparing to shoot the day after!
Wow! That is a crazy! Talk about a whirlwind schedule!
It was pretty insane and it is obviously not typical. It is one of those things that I always tell other actors who are friends of mine, especially people who are just starting out, you just have to keep moving, keep busy and you have to keep practicing. No matter if you are in classes or working, there is something to be said about being trained enough that when these opportunities do happen, you have the tools. Obviously, on a normal shoot you would know about it in advance and you would have time to research and prepare. In this case, I didn’t have that. Thankfully, I feel I had enough experience and training in my own career that I was able to take that knowledge with a little bit of research and not feel completely overwhelmed. My very first scene when I arrived on set Friday morning at 6 a.m. was with Stephen Dorff, James Woods, Stephen Lang and David Boreanaz. It was like, “OK! It’s time to step on in and start batting!” [laughs]
That leads to my next question. You mentioned the great cast of this project. They say you pick up something from your time on every project. What did you learn from the other actors during the process of making this film?
Absolutely! I have always prided myself on the idea of being social on set. I have always been one of those actors who loves sitting on set, even when I am not necessarily in the scene. I love watching other actors work and having that comradely with the cast and the crew. I have never understood when you are on set and the actors seem to be hiding in the trailers. I have to say one of the things I really took from the experience of “Officer Down,” because it was such an accelerated arch of a project, is that I am starting to see the value of taking that time to step aside and focus. I think what I am seeing more and more now in production, because the money is bigger than it was before, these films are being shot at such an accelerated rate that it is easy to absorb all of that frenetic energy if you don’t protect yourself. What I learned from James Woods and Stephen Lang is they are actors who can be very social and personable people but they understand their job is to maintain their focus on the set. When they are ready to roll the cameras, they are ready to give their best take every single time they can. Being thrust in an environment so quickly, I really started to understand why you oftentimes have to disappear a little it. I do believe there is something to be said for having that quiet time to maintain the focus and keep everything razor sharp. That is something I got to see Stephen Lang and James Woods do a considerable amount. To me, it shows such an added level of professionalism. It was something wonderful to be in the presence of!
What do you consider the biggest challenge you encountered with this role?
I think the biggest challenge was the time factor. Gratefully, I happened to have my laptop with me and I love that they offer Internet on a lot of airlines because it allowed me to do a lot of research. With playing Brogan, who is a forensics detective, there is a level of technical jargon and speech that, as an actor, I want to understand so I know what I am talking about and its mechanics. These are things you absolutely have to research! That was the biggest challenge for me! I had to maximize my 48 hours! Not only was it learning the script, the lines, the scenes and creating the backstory for my character but I was also doing the technical research. I do that so once I am on set it is fluid, there is no hesitation and there is a sense of confidence in what it is I am saying and doing. I am very grateful for the fact that we had a number of technical advisors on the set. Our director Brian Miller was also incredibly helpful. Having done a number of films in the genre, he was really helpful in fleshing out any of the questions I may have had.
Speaking of director Brian Miller, what was it like working with him?
I think Brian did a great job. I would imagine as a director there is so much to juggle. Obviously, you have the technical aspect of visualizing the piece from beginning to end and how you are going to cut it. In addition, he is really an actor’s director. He has some experience as an actor as well and I think he really understands that lingo. For me, it was really helpful to work with him. He was always available and we had these great, inspired conversations about the characters and what makes them tick. His brain works in so many different departments in that case. Like I said, having done a number of films in this genre before, it allowed him to feel more free in how he was directing the actors. There was no hesitation! It allowed him to focus a little more on the actors. It was really great when Walton Goggins came on board for one of the roles. Even seeing Brian interact with him was interesting. It really was a collaborative effort. There would be moments in between takes where it would be Brian, myself and maybe Stephen Lange and James Woods, where we would all be throwing out ideas about how we wanted to approach this. For me, it was nice to have that because it is something you don’t always get! Oftentimes, you get directors who are great technical directors but are possibly intimidated by the actors or just might not know how to guide them. I think Brian did a great job with leading us down the road to what he ultimately visualized for this project.
You tackled a wide range of roles in your career. Is there any role or genre you are anxious to explore in the short term?
“Officer Down” was so significant for me in so many different ways. My old representation and I used to joke about how there was always a sort of vulnerability that I always bring to characters that they nicknamed “The Wounded Bird.” [laughs] We would talk about how I had the ability to play these incredibly fragile women. What I always try to push through with that is that it isn’t about a woman who has been broken and is in an fragile or compromised state, but it is what this woman has to do to overcome that. I always felt that is the direction I would like to see myself play. I think there is something really beautiful about a character who is feminine and vulnerable but at the same time has a strength to her. I think it goes back to why I have such an admiration for people like Diane Lane and Meryl Streep. These are women who have not compromised their feminine qualities and all the wonderful things that come with that but also create these women who are moving and can persevere through just about anything. Getting the opportunity to play Brogan was great for me in that respect. She was a lot stronger than many of the roles I had played before. For me, that was an awakening. That is a direction I want to continue working in. I think you get that from experience. It’s the experience of life. As you get older, you gain confidence. That type of gumption comes over time and I am grateful that I feel like it has arrived! [laughs] I rarely get to do comedy. My comedy is quite dark, very acerbic and sardonic. I would definitely like the opportunity to do more comedies in my body of work but, at the same time, I love love playing women who have to overcome a tremendous amount. To me they are the greatest challenge, the most beautiful and the most dynamic!
I know you have another cool project on the horizon called “Eleanor Rigby Is Waiting.” What can you tell us about that?
Yeah! It is a film that I just came onboard just before the holidays. The film is written by David Parr and will be directed by Aidan Kane. I am super excited about it! It is going to be a really fun project for me. It is an ensemble cast and it centers around these characters who are living in the big city. It takes place in New York but I honestly think you could interchange any big city in America in the sense that despite technology, despite all of the social media platforms, we still have the sense of being completely isolated and disconnected from each other. These are individuals all searching for connection. They are searching for love, to be seen by others or to be appreciated. What is really fun about this project is our director Ian is presenting it in a very Robert Altman-esque way where these characters overlap and intersect in a way that maybe they don’t even know. It shows how closely connected we really are if we pay attention. There is so much visual symbolism that will be seen in the piece, hopefully there will be little breadcrumbs you will be able to pick up as an audience.
I think for me, the challenge of the project with the role I am playing, is that her set of values is completely different than mine. The way that she speaks and her cadence, her mannerisms and so many things about her that are so different from me. As I am beginning the process of exploring who she is and what her backstory is, I am finding that there are commonalities. It is almost if my life had taken a different direction, then those choices affected the person I evolved into, this could have very well have been me! I think that is always the fun part of the projects. When you are an actor you find the commonality, then you start seeing where the differences are and then you realize, ultimately, you aren’t that different. Any of us could evolve into one person or the next depending on how we are nursed and coached through life. That has been fun part of this experience because she is this fabulous woman who is incredibly dynamic and very forthright, maybe even to the degree that I could probably never be so presumptuous. We will be starting to shoot that at the end of January in New York and it will take us into the spring. They are looking at having it completed by the end of the year.
That is terrific. You are rolling right along, which is terrific!
Yeah! One thing I will say is that I will always consider myself a Los Angeleno. I am originally from Cleveland, Ohio but the moment I stepped foot in California, that was pretty much it! [laughs] That was my new home! I have only been in New York now for about three years and I still work bi-coastally. New York is interesting and I wasn’t sure what the move was going to mean for me. Once you have momentum in one city and you build your network, sometimes it does feel like you are hitting reset when you transplant to another area. New York has been a great change! I feel like what I was able to accomplish in the world of television in Los Angeles was wonderful and I am still pursuing that here in New York but I have been able to get a lot more opportunities with feature films here. That is something I have always been keen on. I love that process and getting to find these characters with each project!
You are also an accomplished photographer. Your work is very impressive. What can you tell us about that side of yourself?
It is funny. I remember Alan Arkin had once said to me, “You have to find a hobby or else this industry will steal your soul!” [laughs]
That is pretty solid advice!
Yeah! You never want to put such importance on any one thing. That is always a slippery slope, especially in the world of entertainment. It is the combination of opportunity, talent and a little bit of luck and you really can’t anticipate anything. Him sharing that information was great because it is so true! It is very easy to go crazy in this business sometimes and when you want something too badly, that is usually when you don’t get it! I was always a hobbyist as a photographer. I always had an interest in it but never really pursued it professionally. I had many opportunities arise from a friend I had who were in bands and whatnot. I found myself shooting quite a bit, just as one friend to another to build my portfolio of work. Eventually, I realized that I really loved photography. I was able to parlay that into this other passion of mine and create a bit of a career out of it! What has been great is that both worlds feed into each other. I have had the chance to shoot a lot of amazing people. I tend to shoot a lot of artist photography, whether it is bands, live concerts or celebrity portraits. Each world feeds into each other and, when you start to research, you can see how many actors have bands in addition to acting. There are many actors who have photography as an outlet, like Viggo Mortensen or Dennis Hopper. They all have these other passions. It is kinda like when you are just starting out in life and the best piece of advice you are given is to be a well-rounded person. It keeps you interesting, at least that is what they tell you! [laughs] I have gone through life doing that! As long as I am stimulated creatively in whatever department I am choosing, it allows me to have that ability to move. It influences everything in my life from the characters I play and how I see the world. I see it from so many directions. As an actor it is from a psychological point of view, observing people, being interested in personalities and why people do the things they do. As a photographer, I see the world from behind the lens. Since I predominately shoot portraits and people, there is an intimacy to that. It is just another way I get to look into someone and understand them and then bring that into my work as an actor.
That is an interesting take on it. I am sure people are going to be intrigued by all of this. Where is the best place for everyone to catch up with you online and interact?
I have a website, which is updated with new information pretty frequently, www.breewarner.com. I know that there are always new updates through www.imdb.com, the Internet Movie Database. I am also a big fan of social media. I am a pretty active user on Facebook and Twitter. I have always been very open and highly accessible, maybe sometimes to a fault! [laughs] I think in our business, it is the fans that promote anymore. My work is for the audience. I absolutely love performing and the best feedback I ever get is from people who have seen my work and it has somehow impacted or moved them. That is the best compliment I could ever receive! I am accessible with social media to be able to get that feedback. Again, it is a great way to learn about people, see them and to see the world through them.
Are there any charities you are a fan of we can spread the word on?
Absolutely! I am a very big advocate of an organization here in New York called New York Cares. Oftentimes, I hear from people that they want to do charity work but sometimes the commitment level is challenging for them because of their job or scheduling issues to contend with where they have a hard time committing to anything long term. With New York Cares, they are an organization that has a calendar board of organizations in New York City where there is a need of day by day volunteers. It is a great place for people to come and say, “OK, I have these two days free next week. What is available that I can volunteer my time for?” It is a really wonderful organization in that sense because they do the groundwork for you and find the charities that are in need of volunteers. I am a big advocate of theirs! There is another organization I love called The Covenant House in Manhattan. It is facility that shelters runaways and helps educate them. I speak there on occasion and give them my story, where I came from and how I am able to do what I do. I think it is a truly wonderful place that empowers these teens who have no outlet or support. It helps them rehabilitate themselves in a way they can go out on a job interview, dress for success and function with the support they might not have gotten at home. Those are my two favorite charities that I am active with here in the city.
Thanks so much for your time, Bree. We are looking forward to everything you have in store for us!
Thank you so much! It was such a pleasure!