There are actors who work mainly for the fame, the glory and the big paychecks in the motion picture industry. And then there are those who work truly for the love of the craft—the art of taking an idea, working tirelessly to bring it to the screen, and who sacrifice their blood, sweat and finances to make it happen. They become the true “stars” of the industry—the real class acts.
Daniel Gillies and Rachael Leigh Cook are two of those stars. Their passion for filmmaking goes further on display with the release on October 2 of a pair of films—“Broken Kingdom” and “Kingdom Come.” Between them, they wrote, directed, executive-produced and star in “Broken Kingdom.” The companion film, “Kingdom Come,” serves as a documentary and tribute to the challenges that these two actors, who have been married since 2004, faced in bringing their film to fruition.
Neither needed to set out on this journey. Daniel stars as Elijah Mikaelson in CW’s “Vampire Diaries” and was a lead in NBC’s “Saving Hope” last season, while Rachael will soon begin filming the second season of TNT’s popular “Perception” series opposite co-star Will McCormack. They have long, impressive resumes in Hollywood, but they share two common passions—the work ethic as actors to never rest on their laurels, and the desire to stretch themselves in roles opposite of ones they’ve played.
“I didn’t really see the burgeoning value of television,” Daniel said during a 45 minute-plus telephone interview with ON AND BEYOND from the couple’s Los Angeles home. “It was sort of in a state of upheaval when I first came to town. TV was seen as being a tier below cinema, though I don’t see it that way at all now. Like a lot of actors, I was kind of waiting for that golden movie role to come along—more or less willing to consider doing just about any old thing in the meantime. And I was deeply regretful about that.”
So in 2007 at the age of 31, he made a career-altering decision—to create “Broken Kingdom.” Over a three-year period, both Daniel and Rachael began assembling the pieces, in every sense of the word—becoming do-it-yourself filmmakers. It proved to be “five times harder that we thought it was going to be.”
The digital revolution helped. Thanks to advancements in equipment, filmmaking has become much less expensive for independent producers and directors. Still, the couple bankrolled the production with their own money.
“I was tired of hearing myself complain like many other actors who felt opportunities weren’t coming along,” Daniel said. “The function of an actor in L.A. is you’re always a creature that’s waiting, and we’ve seen many great talents in this city who have been destroyed by that inertia.”
“We both love being actors—and it was time to create our own identity,” Rachael added. “I was excited from the very first moment when Daniel started formulating the idea. I knew this would be a great, but very challenging, experience for both of us.”
“Broken Kingdom,” which Daniel wrote, tells the story of someone who’s on the run, for reasons that he doesn’t even understand at first, and the people he encounters. It weaves from the slums of Bogota, Columbia to Hollywood. “I love multi-layered stories, leaving one narrative and weaving back into another. And of course I wanted to work with Rachael, which was wonderful,” he said.
For her part, Rachael loved her character, definitely playing against type from her roles in dozens of films and TV series like “She’s All That,” “Josie and the Pussycats,” or as FBI agent Kate Moretti in “Perception.” The film showcases her talents in a way not seen before.
“If it wasn’t for Daniel believing I could do this, I probably wouldn’t have had this opportunity,” she said. “It’s helped our creative relationship. Even though it was a rough role in many ways, I learned a lot playing this character. It’s made me feel more capable and more confident about doing these types of parts.”
A very unique aspect of “Broken Kingdom,” which has already garnered rave reviews from those who’ve seen it, is the platform by which it is being released. Following a live stream of the film worldwide on October 2, the film (along with “Kingdom Come”) will be offered only as a download, and for just $8 for BOTH films combined. They can be ordered online at http://brokenkingdomfilm.com. The film also has a Facebook page and Twitter site, where fans can learn more and post comments. The vehicle for release of the films has been intentional from the get-go.
“We didn’t want to limit the releases to just the major cities, or those who do have theaters where independent films are shown,” Rachael said. “Everyone has a chance to download and view these films.”
Companion film “Kingdom Come” tells the story of independent filmmaking, and includes interviews with both Daniel and Rachael, as well as others who’ve worked the indie world. Among those featured are Selma Blair, Ed Burns, Don Cheadle, Alan Cumming, John Hawkes, Bill Pullman, Mark Ruffalo, Tim Roth, Kevin Smith and Morgan Spurlock.
So I had to ask, “Would they do it again?”
“Absolutely, “ Rachael proclaims. “There’s a creativity involved in making movies–the literal ‘making’ of movies–that is unlike anything else you can experience in this profession. It’s freedom-giving, it’s empowering.”
“I can’t stop dreaming and thinking about the next one,” Daniel adds. “It’s great to work with a small crew and give them the latitude to move. Suddenly the camera operator sort of dances around the actors, and everyone is part of the creative process. It’s an environment where everybody is the artist.”
And it’s what separates Daniel Gillies and Rachael Leigh Cook from the crowd in Hollywood—acting for the love of their craft, and for the enjoyment of the rest of us who love watching their work.