By David Pountain
Both a cheeky satire of ‘the song and dance of politics’ and an optimistic celebration of love and acceptance, Andy Kirshner and Debbie Williams’ romantic-musical-comedy Liberty’s Secret tells the story of lovable political icon Liberty (Jacléne Wilk), spin doctor Nikki (Cara AnnMarie) and the campaign season commotion that swirls around them. As the two leads find themselves falling in love, the film exhibits humour and heart in poking fun at a variety of American institutions, from the media to the religious fundamentalists.
Speaking to FilmDoo, actresses Jacléne Wilk and Cara AnnMarie share their experiences working on this endearing, eccentric and timely film.
What initially appealed to you about this project and these characters?
JACLÉNE WILK: When I auditioned for Liberty’s Secret, I was currently majoring in Musical Theatre at Oakland University. I was super excited to have the chance to combine both my musical training and taking on the challenge of doing a film, because I had never worked on camera before. Working on film was something I always wanted to do, and getting the opportunity while I was studying Theatre was a huge win!
As for what drew me to Liberty, that was easy. Liberty is really someone I would look up to in real life. She is intelligent, loves her father and friends, talented, wise, independent, and takes on the role of being the face of a political campaign and somehow manages to not only be loved and adored by her hometown, but the nation. But most of all, Liberty stays true to herself in the end, and chooses what makes her the happiest. The list is kind of endless for why I loved her!
CARA ANNMARIE: The opportunity to do an original musical was certainly the initial appeal to me. Coming from the stage, I had done many musicals that had been done before – you could watch other people perform the characters etc. – but recently I had been working on camera exclusively. So to combine these mediums was a dream and to have the opportunity to be the actor forming the ideas about this person is rare and really exciting. Jax and I had initially both come in to audition for Liberty – I was auditioning for both roles. At the callback, once we were in the room together, it was very clear whose role was more suited for each of us – and I voiced that when we were in there.
Nikki feels right for me. She is not trying to figure herself out. She’s been around the block (a few times perhaps) and knows her opinions. Though she is still struggling to find a relationship that is more than a passing thing, she knows it when she sees it. I think, as an actor, you’re drawn to the character that is right for where you are on your own path as a person.
Since the film’s production began, do you feel that its ideas and message have become more relevant?
J: I absolutely feel that the message has become more relevant than ever. Recently, protections for the LGBTQ have been rescinded by the Trump administration. Many people fear that minority rights will only be further eroded by the leadership in Washington. Our nation has become extremely polarized, forcing our elected officials to uphold the party line, or else fear facing a primary from someone on the extreme end of the political spectrum. Running for office has turned into more who can raise the most money from millionaires as opposed to who is most qualified and can bring people together. We as a nation need more young leaders like Liberty to help bridge the political divide.
C: This film could not be more relevant now, given our current regime change. When we were shooting our wedding scene – it was actually really early on in the filming process – we had been working a week or two, and Marriage Equality was becoming a legal human right in most states in the US. But now I believe all of our freedoms and rights are on the chopping block. And what this film does – in my opinion – is show love in a different light, and doesn’t vilify anyone for not believing the same things. It simply shows that we shouldn’t be afraid and throw hate at something just because we don’t understand it. Two women, singing and dancing, who fall in love – how is that ever going to be a bad thing?
Nikki helps Liberty to refine her public persona, coaching her in political double-talk and teaching her how to interact with the media. In your opinion, is this art of political image-crafting in some ways comparable to acting?
C: We can only speak from the perspective of being an actor – neither of us know anything about being a politician. Or about coaching politicians. I would imagine that they are, of course, putting on a performance. One that is calculated and coached to get as many votes to win the election. Here’s where the difference may be though: In politics, they know they may never do what they say they will or live up to promises made; in acting, you are not lying at all. You believe the relationship within the world that has been written for you. So these two ideas may be very different, actually.
Are there any musical numbers from the film that you’re particularly proud of?
J: The first song I learned to audition for Liberty was “Someone Real”, and it ended up being one of my favorites. I connected with it right away because I felt it was also the most insightful song about who Liberty is. If you listen to the lyrics you could easily brush the song off as a pretty number about a girl’s hope for love and be done with it. But I heard more of Liberty’s cry for the main line, “someone real.” Clearly Liberty wasn’t satisfied with just any typical love story. Nor was she happy with her current situation. I took this song as more of an awakening for Liberty about who she truly is deep down, and it’s during this number she’s realizing it too.
C: I really love the prep scene – that is a dance sequence to “You Never Get In Trouble”. The lyrics in that song are so funny and really on the nose. Also, you see Nikki and Liberty getting closer and enjoying each other. I love this turn in the story.
Though the film is often satirical in nature, do you regard Liberty’s Secret as a very inclusive film?
J: One of the best things about Liberty’s Secret: The 100% All American Musical is there is truly something for everyone to enjoy. I remember being at the premier in Ann Arbor, and so many of my closest friends and family came to see it, and not one person could say something bad about this movie. No matter what their political stance was, or beliefs, they all truly enjoyed watching it. Above all, the film is about love! Whether that be the main focus of the two leading ladies, or maybe between Liberty and her father, or the friendship between Nikki and Yolanda (Alfrelynn J. Roberts), anyone in the audience could relate to this magical film. Also who doesn’t love laughter? Because I promise this movie can lift anyone’s spirit!
C: This film is appealing to a broad spectrum, for sure. The comedy is great. There are so many different types of characters from all perspectives, so it’s hard to find one that you don’t see a bit of yourself in. I know when we watched it at the premiere, I was so surprised how much laughter there was and that, to me, is the biggest connector of people.
Are you involved in any upcoming projects?
J: Currently I am living in NYC and taking classes with Anthony Abeson, who I absolutely adore. He has helped develop my craft in the past year immensely. I am working, and auditioning all the time. I have also been writing and creating a new web series called Prudence.
C: I have a few co-starring roles coming up. I will be in the second episode of a new series on Netflix called Ozark – with Jason Bateman (starring and directing) and Laura Linney – as well as the hilarious Comedy Central show Detroiters – my episode airs April 11th.