Fear and truth: Find out what makes actress Elisabeth Steen-Nokleberg tick
photo by @freshlookphotos
Elisabeth Steen-Nokleberg has creativity in her DNA. Her father was knighted by the king of Norway for his contributions to classical music, and she spent the bulk of her childhood living in her imagination and writing books for friends. As Steen-Nokleberg got older, she channeled these passions into other arenas and relocated to Los Angeles to pursue filmmaking & acting.
Heart of the Home is the culmination of these talents. Steen-Nokleberg drew upon her real-life experiences when making this horror flick, which she co-wrote, acted in, and produced. The movie has generated lots of buzz from genre fans and will premiere January 12 on iTunes before hitting other platforms. You can pre-order the film on iTunes by clicking here.
Film Daily was lucky enough to talk with Elisabeth Steen-Nokleberg about Heart of the Home, her creative process, and her desire to challenge herself with each new project. Here’s what she had to say:
Tell us about your history in acting. How did you start your journey?
My acting journey started as a young girl, as far back as I can recall. Daily I would spend hours in my imaginary world. I would imagine till I produced real emotions, I would create what if scenarios, I changed personalities, I was hyper sensitive and dramatic and performed for myself and my siblings just to mention a few things.
I also wrote books for my friends as a hobby. At 12 I did two commercials in Oslo and school plays in high school. I wanted to study acting but I was restless and wanted to explore the world and life more. In the US, I had to learn English properly first and did my bachelor degree in college.
After doing a music video I decided to try a class and that was it. It was my homecoming and awakening to who I was and what I was meant to do.
You studied acting for a decade in New York. How does this educational background inform your acting style?
I studied in both New York for a decade and in Los Angeles several years. My NYC training is my foundation and it is strong. NYC is a theater city so the training is aimed for the stage. If you can do stage you can do film, but not necessarily the other way around. I was blessed to have done lots of period pieces and classical plays.
I loved playing Twelfth Night, Tartuffe, and Cherry Orchard to mention a few. Despite never having gone the theater route professionally I believe my educational background is my strength and will shine through in modern light roles as well. LA has fantastic schools as well btw.
Your father is a renowned classical musician. Does music play a role in your creative process?
Music is a strong part of my DNA so I naturally use it a lot. I connect the words, the highs and lows throughout the story, rhythms and moods with it. Music sparks my sense memory profoundly. Speaking of my dad, his student Serouj Kradjian did the musical score for Heart of the Home.
This is very meaningful emotionally and of course it also raised the standard of the movie having a grammy nominated and Juno winning classical pianist do the music.
Heart of the Home is your most personal release to date. How did the idea for the film come about?
The story is based on actual events that happened during my early LA years. (Minus the killings in the story of course.) As soon as I had lived it I told my friends I will make a movie about this one day. When the time had come to create my own I decided this one as starters as it would be fairly easy to shoot with few locations at a low cost.
Can you tell us about the scripting process and your collaboration with co-writer Sami Sonnesso?
I adore Sami and the way we collaborate. She was my yin to the yang for this project! Sami is funny and dark and has watched horror since she was 12. I had the story in my head and she put it on paper. She added a lot of things and quirks I would not have come up with myself. Sometimes two brains work better than one.
She wrote it down and I cleaned it up and made many changes. A few weeks before shooting I got into a creative zone where new ideas and details kept popping up and changes were made till final shoot day! Most of it I just hand wrote into the script and told the other actors to do the same- there was no time to change it differently.
It was a bit chaotic but I could not deny the improved ideas that came along. That could have driven someone else crazy but Sami was cool with it. She understands how my creativity works. Sami would have been irreplaceable in this project to me.
You previously alluded to the importance of the film’s title. What does “Heart of the Home” mean to you?
“Heart of the Home” was the title of a calendar that my mom wanted me to bring her to Norway yearly. There was a lot of fuzz around this calendar, it felt like a chore to me back in my early 20s but she always got it and loved it so much. She battled 14 years of cancer and died too soon.
Her strength and positivity while sick rubbed off on me. I can weather any stormy attitude and my mom has been my personal inspiration.
When I brainstormed a movie title I wanted something in the direction of “Home is where the Heart is” but more original. But my brain froze, until I saw Susan Branch’s calendar in my mind and felt my mom whispering “Heart of the Home”.
You’ve had experience as both a screenwriter and actor. Do you have a preference as to which role you like more?
I am an actress. This is my first time co-writing a script. More to come and I am currently writing my own material, but I am considering myself an actress. My dad is a pianist. He has written books and composed but he is a pianist.
Your character goes through experiences in the film that you went through in real life. Does this connection with the material change your acting approach?
Absolutely. First of all I played a version of myself and the words and situations actually happened. Secondly it took place not that many years earlier. Recalling the real thing was a piece of cake. I still crafted traditionally because that’s what I do.
Do you have any rituals or exercises to help you get into character?
I have many various approaches and I use them intuitively as I go. Same when I rehearsed the other actors I changed technique and exercises as I felt like in the moment. But that’s my approach for everything in life. I live very intuitively.
What’s your mission as an actor? Name the most important thing you want viewers to experience when watching your projects.
For Heart of the Home I want people to feel entertained. I want to draw them into the little world of this Japanese apartment and enjoy the ride. For deeper projects I want to move people and bring comfort to the ones who suffer.
If one person truly gets something out on a deeper level that can give them healing or comfort through relating to my character, well that’s all I’ll need. My mission is accomplished.
Heart of the Home is also your first film as a producer. Was it difficult to juggle so many creative roles on the set?
It was tough but doable because I was so in the zone and the character and story was, like I mentioned, something I had lived. The positive aspect is that I know now that I can do it also there is so much soul involved when doing the work to get the tiniest details together.
But will I do it again… probably not to this extent ever again. I was exhausted to the point of feeling paralyzed for days after and did not want to start post production for a while.
What would you say was the hardest part of producing?
The hardest part of producing was anything that involves technical knowledge. I had no post production knowledge and only used my computer for google and email. The post production people for Heart of the Home were extremely patient with me.
Thankfully I know a little more now. Also keeping up with the added post production costs was very hard and the main reason this movie took so long to complete.
What made David Palmieri the right director to tackle Heart of the Home?
David is very talented and experienced. Without him this movie would not have happened in this way. He has worked on big tv shows as well as low budget horror flicks. He directs, does cinematography and did lighting for Heart of the Home. He is very time efficient and focused which was needed for this shoot which was 6 days!!
He works extremely well under pressure. I love the blue light ambience he brought to the film. Horror is very often shot in red tones but I love the blues for this project. He brought his own thing to several scenes, one particularly which is now one of my favorite moments of the movie. I spent a lot of time rehearsing, crafting and developing especially the two other leads characters.
But during the shoot I was focused on my own acting and David handled the other actors as well as myself from the other side of the camera. Also like Sami, David was a great sport with the constant script changes till the end though I now understand the extra work it inflicted him when we were already swamped. David like Sami was an irreplaceable person to me for this movie.
Are you interested in directing your own films in the future?
Possible. For my own near future projects I will always rehearse and work on other actors’ characters and their lines as I see it in my mind or as my acting coach sees it which is a behind the scenes type of directing.
But as long as I am acting a big role I want to focus on that fully. I did however shoot some first time stuff recently and it came out very good and I loved it so maybe possible one day.
What has been your biggest failure?
In my all over artistic life- that I let fear get in the way for years. Fear is paralyzing and can turn anyone into a deer in headlights.
What about your biggest success?
Completing Heart of the Home. Symbolically this means so much more to me then the eye sees. Through my hardest years, when I had no tools of coping with life, acting was my best friend, my escape, my savior. Also in life I have always paved my own way so I’m not surprised that I am busting down my own doors.
I stopped hoping for someone to open it. I was a rebel growing up but I grew out of that, so this work is an internal dedication of love and honor to my parents as well. The amount of work put towards this film over 3 years was enormous. But it feels great to be done. So great. My biggest accomplishment no doubt.
Can you tell us about any upcoming projects you are working on?
Sami and I are done with the first draft of another horror feature. It still needs a lot of work. I am writing myself a dramatic feature called Troubled Daughter. I’m still in the early stages but I love how it’s coming out.
Are there specific actors or filmmakers you’d like to collaborate with?
You just reminded me to think of that lol.
What advice do you have for aspiring actors?
Know your craft. Less is more. Trust your own journey. Don’t compare in despair. Fear is an illusion. Striving for perfection immobilizes. This is the best time to be an actor. It is so simple to put out content and to find people to collaborate with. Stop complaining.
If you truly are an artist it might not be the easiest path but it will be a path you cannot deny so you might as well enjoy it. If you get rejected let it go and move on to next. And lastly the famous quote “There is no such a thing as a small part, only small actors.
What’s your favorite film of all time?
So many good ones it would be impossible to name one. Casablanca, A Streetcar Named Desire, Some Like It Hot, Vertigo, The Shining, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Gia, Rocky, Pulp Fiction, Slumdog Millionaire, Misery, The Reader, Fight Club, The Dark Knight, The Silence of the Lambs, No Country for Old Men, The Godfather, Scent of a Woman, The Devil Wears Prada, and Dumb and Dumber. I will stop there :)