I had an opportunity to chat with Francine Locke who stars in a new feature film due out this fall. Here is how our conversation went…
1. In your recent role playing Jackie Carpenter in the film “A Cry for Justice” you play a distraught mother who had to fight trumped up charges against her son. How did you prepare for such a role?
I believe as a mother, you have built into you an ability to fight against any odds for your children. I envisioned every possible emotion would hit Jackie at one point or another in her struggle; hopelessness, anger, fear, disbelief. Her journey was not one continuum, but a cacophony of situations and emotions. Although not fighting a legal system, my background had given me a taste of each, from which I pulled out the ultimate intense, personal response, that had a life or death urgency. Michael McClendon, who both wrote & directed it, was so in tune with her struggles, he knew exactly where Jackie was at each point and he made it “easy”.
2. During the film your character visits her son who was framed for a felony murder in jail. What did you do to play Jackie authentically based on the combination of faith and depression she faced?
It was a surreal experience. It happened so quickly, she didnʼt have time to think about what was happening, she was just going through the motions, walking, breathing. I was like a pressure cooker, If I had admitted to myself that I was really there to see my son in prison, that he was locked away from me, that I couldnʼt touch him, I would have gone crazy. It wasnʼt until I saw him behind the dirty glass, that emotions and fears were allowed to break through.
3. Did you play the character with a southern accent or in your own voice?
I had a southern accent, but not typical. I worked with a vocal coach to prepare, and he had listened to several of Jackieʼs interviews to hear her vocal qualities. Scarlett OʼHaraʼs “Gone With the Wind” drawl & intonation is really not accurate for most of Georgia. There really is an “r” in Georgia! Part of my vocal preparation was the different pronunciation, part was the cadence & then there is a huge difference in pitch variation compared to the midwest. I had silly sentences that would focus on specific sounds, then I also marked my script for words that consistently had a unique pronunciation.
4. I understand the film was on a fast schedule based on the tight budget. What were your shooting days like and did you have enough time for each scene?
We had a terrific crew, the cast was so focused, Michael had a vision, he instilled confidence and was always reassuring rather than criticizing, everything flowed. Having trust in and respect for your director means everything. I knew he saw each scene in his mind & wouldnʼt stop until he got what he set out for. I felt confident that I could explore different ways to approach the scenes, and he would direct me if I was off track.
Due to the out of sequence shoot order, it could have been a disaster. Michael joked about how the first several days I was pulled in so many different directions, but even that, while exhausting, sort of worked in my favor. I had no time to really think about exactly what I would be thinking and feeling, it was much more instinctual. As Jackie, I was in such a state of emotional frenzy, aways just on the edge. In the midst of all this, there was one particular scene with my son, we were having a quiet moment, which set the stage for our relationship, and it really took some doing to adjust and just relax and enjoy the warmth of the scene. Once we did, it was such a joy!
The crew was great, they were so respectful, sort of kept their distance to let me stay in my personal place. And again, having a director who understood the process was terrific. He could take me aside, walk me through what was happening, Jackieʼs current state of mind, that I just let it wash over me & trusted him that he would let me know if he wasnʼt getting what he wanted.
There was one scene at the end of a long day, and I knew they were rushed to get this one in the can. Everything was set up, Michael talking me to where Jackie was in her universe, and then he said “Iʼm making too many words, you just go ahead and do it.” It was a very quiet scene, in the middle of the night and emotionally & physically I was alone, a small speck in the universe. We taped the rehearsal, and then did 2 takes, due to a sound issue on the first one, and they called out thatʼs a wrap. The hustle began to tear down the set, I was left to change out of wardrobe & get back to the hotel. I had some misgivings, thinking that because it was so late that they had “settled” for my one take, thinking I couldnʼt have done any better. I later found out that Michael had gotten exactly what he wanted & was quiet, reveling in the moment.
As to the work flow, I was on set an hour earlier to begin make up & wardrobe, then the crew arrived & when they had the basic set up ready, weʼd block the scene, then Michael would take us aside & walk us through what he was looking for. Back to Make up and wardrobe, which is the one area that when we had large scenes we could have used more time, but we all did what we needed to, all helped each other and got it done. The camaraderie & friendships begun on set have been nothing short of amazing.
5. Many times we hear about Christian films having miracles happen during the shoot. Did you witness any?
Just the fact that we accomplished all we did was incredible, but Iʼll give you a few examples where God was in the details.
We needed both a courthouse & a jail for many scenes. There had been a delay in the start date as they were trying to coordinate scheduling between two different locations which would have necessitated extreme delays of moving equipment from one location to the other. Out of the blue, the town of Carrollton offered up both in one shot! They had built a new courthouse, and would be finished moving into the new building by the 19th, so if filming could hold off, we would have full use of the old building, with a courthouse upstairs, a holding cell for the jail, a secure building, alarmed and closed to the public. Fantastic!
Another, as Michael and Pete Wages our cinematographer, were discussing camera angles to minimize the immense tangle of electrical cables from the telephone poles, the city told them, no problem, those poles & cables will be down a week before you film!
And, at the conclusion of our read through of the script weeks prior to shooting, Michael describes the final scene & says, “In a perfect world, the sun breaks through the clouds, the doves fly of in the distance. The End”. So we are filming the last scene, I exit the courthouse, and incredible to see, a flock of pigeons (ok, so they arenʼt exactly doves) fly overhead from the church to cross in front of the courthouse….. God IS in the details!