I love beautiful, heartfelt stories, and so I was excited to find out about Feeln, the new streaming service that focuses on movies filled with love. The lineup includes Hallmark movies, tv shows, and original content like The Eleventh, a weekly series starring Academy Award winning actress Cloris Leachman and rising star Ren Harris. It’s a great series that packs a lot of drama and emotion into a short time slot. I got to watch the first two episodes and couldn’t believe how captivated I was, with no idea what would happen next. Today I’m blessed to interview Ren Harris and get a behind the scenes glimpse into her role in the show.
Q: When did you first discover a love for acting?
A: I first discovered a love for acting when I was around seven years-old. The year before I’d cried my way out of a ballet show because I had stage fright. But for some reason after that I couldn’t stop “hamming it up.” Mom’s words, not mine. I loved nothing more than putting on impromptu plays with my brother. Or rather, forcing him to put on impromptu plays with me. My love for acting snowballed from there. By high school I was auditioning for every play that my school put on; my very first show was Up the Down Staircase. I played Rachel Gordon.
Q: What was your first film/tv role?
A: My first film role was playing the lead in a wonderful project called All The Hours. The story is about a guy and gal who dated in high school and bump into each other at a grocery store several years later. The filmmakers took an approach similar to Before Sunrise. We were given a backstory, secrets, and particular moments that they wanted to see during filming, but the project itself was unscripted. The outcome was a beautifully raw look at two people who had once loved each other but no longer connected or understood each other the way they did.
Q: Tell us about your role in The Eleventh.
A: In The Eleventh I play Janine, a girl who is coping with the recent death of her mother. Before passing away, Janine’s mother asks her to deliver a letter to the grandmother she’s never met. After delivering the letter, carefully hidden family secrets begin coming to light. At 17 years-old, Janine is finding out that her whole life up to this point has been shrouded with secrets, and if she wants to find out what really happened she’s going to have to do so on her own. Janine comes to realize that there’s a dichotomy between the way children originally view their parents, all-knowing and truthful, and that moment in adulthood when children realize that their parents are prone to mistakes and are really as human as they are.
Q: What was it like playing opposite an Academy Award winning actress?
A: The first word that comes to mind is… “Remarkable!” When I auditioned for The Eleventh, I had no idea that Cloris Leachman was attached to project, I only found out when I got the phone call letting me know that I had booked the role. I’m pretty sure that I did a little dance as I rushed to call my mom the second I got off the phone. The majority of my scenes during filming were with Cloris, who was just incredible to see in action. One second she’d be making jokes and the next she had dropped right into wherever her character needed to be emotionally. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone as capable of making such a seamless transition as Cloris. That being said, she loved making jokes and seeing all her jokes ALL the way through. When we were filming a brief establishing scene for episode, I got a taste of her humor. In the scene, Janine is helping Cloris move; I’m holding the bubble wrap and she’s holding a pair of scissors. In between one of the takes Cloris motioned for me to come over to her. She kept having me get closer and closer until she locked eyes with me and then looked straight down. I followed her gaze to see that my hair has fallen between the scissors she’d been holding. As I began to say “Oh! What are you…” It happened. CHOP. She burst out laughing and it took me a full minute to wrap my brain around what had just happened: she had randomly cut off a chunk of my hair. When I left set that day all I could think was “Well, now I can say that Cloris Leachman has given me a haircut!” So like I said, Cloris likes to see her jokes through. Working with her is both magical and a complete riot— though in the future I’ll keep my distance if we work on a scene where she’s holding a pair of scissors.
Q: What’s the best acting advice you’ve ever received?
A: The best acting advice that I’ve ever received is that when you show up to set, take a deep breath and let it all go. As someone who can be a bit of a perfectionist, it’s easy for me to get stuck in my head and over analyze what’s happening in front of me. Keeping the work at home really has helped me stay connected with what’s going on in the scene. In the end, the work you’ve done will show up and be there. So when I’m on set, I take a deep breath and just let it go. Just try to stay present and know that you don’t need to try control it.
Q: What advice would you offer someone just starting out in the industry and trying to get their first break?
A: First you have to ask yourself if there’s anything else that you can see yourself doing. If the answer is no, then you have to full-heartedly, unabashedly, pursue acting. The film industry can be tough, and for that reason it’s important to really love the craft and not let a few “no’s” get in the way of continuing forward on your path. I think passion is one of the most important traits you can have as an actor. If you’re passionate about what you’re doing, it’s worth it. On that note, I would say that as an actor you have to be okay with failing and forgiving yourself, because every audition isn’t going to be perfect and that’s okay. Besides, there’s something beautiful in accepting that you can fail, because you let down your walls and that can lead to some truly wonderful performances. Persevere because you can’t imagine doing anything else. My favorite moments on set are when the story completely takes me and I forget that the cameras are in the room.
So my advice to newcomers is to play your truth as the character you’re portraying, don’t try to figure out what you think they want to see. Whether that “they” be the audience, the director, the casting agents. Keeping your passion and fearlessness will make it a journey you can be happy with and it will set you apart.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
A: There’s a feature film I worked on last year that’s set to be released later this year, which I’m beyond excited for. I’m also getting ready to shoot a project that I wrote, which will be the first time that a project I wrote gets created. As I go on I plan to continue working on my crafts, acting and writing, and hopefully I’ll manage to sneak in a little bit of theater in between time spent on set.
To learn more about The Eleventh and other shows on Feeln, visit the website and sign up today.