How did you discover Bianca LaVerne Jones?

Q&A: Lens on Talent Season 1 Winner Phyllis Toben Bancroft

The filmmaker will make her BET debut in October with Burned.

Posted: 06/06/2011 03:19 PM EDT

Filed Under Lens On Talent

Phyliss Toben Bancroft

Phyllis Toben Bancroft won the first season of Lens on Talent on the strength of her short film, Spent. Since winning the $100,000 prize last March, Bancroft has been working diligently on Burned, a new short film about a female firefighter who returns home from the Iraq war suffering from PTSD. Burned is scheduled to air Sunday, Oct. 2 at 11 p.m. on BET. BET.comhad a chance to catch up with Bancroft in Los Angeles to discuss life after Lens on Talent and what’s next for her career.

 

BET.com: Tell us about Burned.

 

Bancroft: Burned is a short film starring Bianca LaVerne Jones, who is a fabulous actor. It’s about a woman who returns from Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder, and her civilian job is a firefighter. We follow her on her way to get help.

 

How did you discover Bianca LaVerne Jones?

 

I met Bianca when I won BET’s Lens on Talent. She was at the after-party and she was introduced to me by a friend, who I did another short with. She had gone to Yale drama school and I’m from a theater background. I had gone to the Yale Summer Cabaret so I’m very familiar with their program and how hard it is to get in and get out of it. When I met her, we just kept in touch. Whatever she did, she would send me her work and I just kept an eye on her. When this project came up, there were some celebrity actors that I wanted to use, but scheduling did not permit it. The first person I thought of was Bianca. I contacted her to see if she was non-SAG and she said that she was. I actually auditioned her over Skype and she did a great job. I was like, “Oh my God.” I was tingling. I had her send some clips to my casting director because I felt like, “Wow, she’s not here.” I can’t reach out and touch her and she’s not going to be here to read with the other actors when I audition them. He saw her and said, “Cast her now. Don’t let her slip by.” We cast her and brought her in from New York.

 

You mentioned auditioning Bianca over Skype. How has social media changed the way filmmakers get things done?

 

It’s amazing because I would have never done that. I really like to feel the essence of people when you’re looking at someone’s eyes. Actually, Sykpe is so clear and it happened to be one of those connections that wasn’t pixelated. It was a clear connection for the whole reading and it was just great. I try to use Facebook, Twitter and all that to promote my film anyways.

 

Actor Eric Roberts has a cameo in Burned. How did you land him?

 

Eric Roberts answered the ad. [Laughs] My casting director put it out on the Breakdown [a casting website] and he responded. I guess my casting director and he go way back. He cast some of his first movies and it was a really nice favor that he did for me by just showing up. Really nice guy. First of all, he went beyond the call of duty. We had to rewrite his role when he said he would do it, because he was shooting a pilot. He came between his breaks during work. He was working on the pilot and came during lunch to shoot Burned. We got all set up for him and were waiting basically for him to come in, do his lines and be done. It was really great because I had a great team and they were organized and they had the lighting ready. We had a stand in for him so we could set everything up before he got there. He came in, got dressed and did it. And was so friendly to everyone. You could definitely tell he was a pro. It was a pleasure working with him.

Theater Review: Powerful ‘Disgraced’ raises issues at Asolo Rep

From left, Lee Stark, Dorien Makhloghi, Bianca LaVerne Jones and Jordan Ben Sobel in Asolo Rep's production of "Disgraced." GARY W. SWEETMAN PHOTO/ASOLO REP

From left, Lee Stark, Dorien Makhloghi, Bianca LaVerne Jones and Jordan Ben Sobel in Asolo Rep’s production of “Disgraced.” GARY W. SWEETMAN PHOTO/ASOLO REP

In a season that has explored racism and intolerance from a variety of powerful angles in everything from “West

Side Story” to “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” Asolo Repertory Theatre brings new perspectives to the discussion and puts the subject on full boil in a gripping production of Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Disgraced.”

It’s a fascinating and sometimes humiliating look at how we see and present ourselves to the world and the potentially terrifying impact of how we alter our thoughts and actions to fit in and to stand out less. That’s what the central character Amir has done for most of his life. Born in the United States to Pakistani Muslim parents, he has given up his religion and changed his name to better fit in at his Jewish-run law firm where he hopes to be promoted to name partner. But trying to hide who you are 24/7 inevitably leads to tensions and conflicts.

Amir faces those problems at home and at work. His wife, a white artist who has developed an affinity for traditional Islamic art, encourages Amir to help defend his nephew Abe’s Imam defend himself from terrorism related charges. They don’t understand his reluctance to use his experience as a public defender to help a man possibly targeted more out of fear of Islamic terrorists than actual facts.

The play also includes a Jewish art dealer named Isaac who has taken an interest in

Emily’s work, and Isaac’s African-American wife, a colleague of Amir’s and an apparent rival for promotion. When they all come together for what is intended to be a celebratory dinner, the politically and religiously fueled talk turns pleasantries into confrontations. People say things you know they’re not supposed to say (at least in mixed company), let alone think. It’s an explosive scene that gets to the heart of entrenched racism.

Dorien Makhloghi, left, and Lee Stark pl;ay a couple facing some unexpected trouble in Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Disgraced” at Asolo Rep. GARY W. SWEETMAN PHOTO/ASOLO REP

The harsh realities of Akhtar’s play, which begins with a good amount of humor before it becomes darker and more brutal, is presented in a nicely stylized production staged by Michael Donald Edwards, the theater’s producing artistic director. The production has a strong energy and genuinely believable characters, but as the

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ater Review: Powerful ‘Disgraced’ raises issues at Asolo Rep 4/7/16, 6:5

tensions build toward a major confrontation, a key moment between Amir and Emily, harrowing though it still is, lacks the force it needs.

On Reid Thompson’s set, we get a suggestion of a high-end Manhattan apartment with just a few pieces of furniture placed on an angled wood floor. In the background, we get some startling views in Michael Clark’s projections, which reveal a bustling city turning into images of Islamic-styled mosaics.

Bianca LaVerne Jones plays an attorney and Jordan Ben Sobel is her art dealer husband in Asolo Rep’s production of “Disgraced.” GARY W. SWEETMAN PHOTO/ASOLO REP

Dorien Makhloghi plays Amir with a smart mix of aggressive competitiveness and world-weary resignation that shifts as the story progresses. There’s a

sense of self-entitled cockiness combined with the idea that his success can quickly disappear.

As Emily, Lee Stark is sweet and pleasant at times but without much of a distinctive personality. And she gets overly emotional or weepy for reasons that seem overwrought at certain moments. Jordan Ben Sobel, a third-year FSU/Asolo Conservatory student, is strong, mature and biting as Isaac, and Bianca LaVerne Jones as his wife, Jory, has a quick way with a comeback or reaction and a fun, take-no-guff kind of attitude. Nik Sadhnani has a compassionate aura as Abe in his few scenes.Beth Goldenberg capture’s a good sense of the personalities in her costumes, and Jen Schriever’s lighting matches the shifts in tone and tension that keep us engaged and may have you re-evaluating your own view on the world.

THEATER REVIEW “DISGRACED”

By Ayad Akhtar. Directed by Michael Donald Edwards. Reviewed April 1, Asolo Repertory Theatre in the Historic Asolo Theater, 5401 Bay Shore Rd., Sarasota. through April 24. 941-351-8000; asolorep.org