Spiritual moments: Get to know ‘Tango Shalom’ actress Judi Beecher
Judi Beecher is one of a kind! The American actress from Taken 3, has had quite the career as a model, songwriter, author, director and producer.
Judi Beecher ventured across Europe and won multiple awards for the 2011 short comedy film Only in Paris, about an American woman who tries to take back her confidence by following a gorgeous man across Paris. Sounds fun, right? Not only is this film unique, but it also stars Beecher as the protagonist Samantha Tomelson.
Today, the SAG award-winner has taken a step back from her busy schedule to share her incredible story. As an executive producer, Judi Beecher has also taken us behind the scenes of her new family comedy Tango Shalom. Let’s see what she has to say!
Tell us about your journey into film. What did you do before becoming an actress?
Before becoming an actress I studied, Business and International Relations at Cornell University, then interned in a French bank in Paris. I hated banking so much, I didn’t want to get up in the morning to go. I would sneak out on my lunch breaks to go on modeling go-sees.
When the internship finished I modeled full time in Italy, France and Spain. While traveling around Europe with friends, as a joke, I became a street singer but we made so much money I decided I would sing full time.
When I came back to New York I started a successful import sales rep business with Fashion from Italy and France. I had a showroom on 7th avenue and travelled the world. One day my friend from college asked me, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I was 25 years old, I was sitting behind a big green marble desk, I had employee’s … I had never thought about it . . . “Not here”, I said.
So I closed my business. But I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I read the book, What Color is Your Parachute, everything pointed to acting. I had directed and starred in basement productions since I was a kid!
Was there any particular film or TV show that inspired you to act?
I was lying by the pool in Las Vegas and read that Robyn Wright was dropping out of the feature film Robin Hood to have a baby. I decided I was going to fly to LA and get her part. I called my college boyfriend’s brother, an actor, to ask what I should do? He said go to acting school!
So I enrolled in multiple acting schools at once! I wanted to be the best actress ever. I took a two-year Meisner program, while studying with Bobbie Lewis, Elaine Stritch and Uta Hagen, all Actor Studio’s founders before moving out to Los Angeles.
What was the first project you worked on? What did you learn from the experience?
The first project I worked on was with Woody Allen, Co-op Italia, it was a string of commercials for the Italian market. Woody pulled me out of the crowd and gave me my own scene, the Woman in Red. I got my Sag Card from doing a Beck’s Beer commercial with James Woods.
Do you have any experience with mentors? If so, would you recommend them for up and coming actors?
I have a lot of experience with mentors. Elaine Stritch, Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Shalhoub, Elliot Gould Jeff Perry, and James Burrows all mentored me at different stages of my career. They gave me the inspiration to own the room when I audition, to make my own films, to never stop mastering my craft, to make the character my own with all its subtleties. Working with them and becoming their friends made me realize that we are all human we have the same struggles whatever level we are at.
What part of the filmmaking process is your favorite?
There are so many parts to filmmaking; the fundraising, the creation, the execution and the post-production. I love the production part the most. I love to play on the set, probably because I’m an actress, telling a story that becomes real.
You’re no stranger to directing as well. Do you prefer working in front of or behind the camera?
I prefer working in front of the camera as an actress. I love to be able to transform myself into different characters. Acting is the ability to put oneself into anyone’s shoes and become them. It is quite a spiritual process to truly do that, as we are truly one with one another. It never feels like work to me. I feel fortunate that I’m able to be paid for doing what I love.
Talk us through your creative process. How do you get into character for a role?
I read the script over and over to really understand my character and the story. I create a back story for the character, if it is not written in the script, and imagine what I would do in her circumstance, how I would feel?
I do research on the character if need be. I rehearse with others to really get the text into my bones so I can be free to play and discover thing about the character. I like to read the script right before I go to bed, I find I often have revelations about the character when I sleep. I like to pray before I act, I ask to be used, to be of service to the world through my work.
Do you use music at all to help you get into character?
Yes, but not always, I love music, music makes me happy, sad, joyful, it makes everything deeper, better.
Who are your current influences?
Meryl Streep always has and always will be my favorite actress. She is so versatile, able to transform herself into any character. She is amazing with comedy, drama and sings as well and has such a range and depth of emotions.
I love that she is able to do so many accents. I strive to be as powerful an actress as she is, maybe win a few Oscars, it may be hard to catch up to her. I have been cast as Italian and French characters so far and speak four languages.
How did you get involved with Tango Shalom?
I met actor-producer Claudio Laniado at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012. I had won a competition to shoot a short film at Cannes and I cast him as a sleazy producer. When we got back to NY he asked me to be part of a staged reading of Tango Shalom to play the role of Marina, his wife. I searched the script for my part but I couldn’t find it- I only had one line. Angelica Page was reading the role of Raquel. Through out the reading I kept saying to myself I should be playing Raquel.
Years later Claudio had expanded the role of his wife and officially offered me the part. They were looking for a name actress for Raquel. Then they opened it up to unknowns. I begged them to let me audition for the role and they finally agreed. It was the hardest audition I ever had, ten pages of material, and three auditions.
After the second audition they told me to get a suntan, I needed to have darker skin, and to film it this time, softer as if I was an Israeli, and not to crinkle my nose. I wasn’t sure what to do with those notes. I was in France preparing for Cannes and Thomas Gilou a well known French director “La Verite Si Je Mens” helped me film it. The New York and LA teams loved me, but for some reason they didn’t cast me and told me not to ask anyone why. I always felt I would still get the part, I don’t know why, I wasn’t upset.
I met Selma Hayek in Cannes and they asked me to offer her the part of Raquel. We were starting production in two weeks, I was still playing the role of Marina. The producers called me to also ask if I could find additional funding. I had met a financier who was interested in all my projects, he asked me choose which project I wanted them to invest in. I had my own projects but since Tango Shalom was about to start and they needed the additional funding, I told them I would put the money into Tango Shalom under one condition . . . I think you can guess.
The producers immediately said yes. I later found out why they had said no after the third audition. They thought I was the best choice for the role but were concerned my skin color wouldn’t match my daughter (Jos’s real daughter ) in the movie. They were also looking at a well know Israeli actress that is why I had to be darker and speak with an Israeli accent, the softer part I still can’t figure out. Lol.
What was your experience working on Tango Shalom?
I loved working on Tango Shalom. Many of my friends were also cast in the film independent of me and worked on the crew. It felt like a family. The film was also the collaboration of two families the Laniado Brothers, Claudio and Jos, and the Bolognas (Gabe the director and his parent’s Joe Bologna and Renee Taylor).
Most of my bedroom scenes were shot back to back over a period of days, which was challenging, I was very tired and we filmed all night to stay on budget.
What influences did you use to get into character as Raquel?
I was raised Reform Jewish but I consider myself more spiritual than religious. I’m able to find value in every religion. I have Orthodox /Hassidic in my extended family. As a child in Hebrew school I stayed with a Hassidic family for a weekend to learn about the customs and traditions.
To prepare for the role I spent a lot of time in Crown Heights and at the Williamsburg Chabad talking to the women about customs, traditions, beliefs, their relationships with their husbands, wigs, clothing, the type of pajamas they wear . . . everything.
The woman were so lovely and went out of their way to help and teach me. Even though I’m not Hassidic I’m very spiritual, I connected to the Divine as I acted and used my own beliefs and connection to guide me as Raquel.
What makes the story of Tango Shalom stand out from other comedy films?
What makes Tango Shalom stand out is its message of connection it brings people, cultures and religions together. That is what attracted me to the film the most.
It deals with the question, what is more important your Religion or G-d?
Not only did you star in the film, you also were an executive producer. How did you juggle so many responsibilities?
After I brought the additional funding and contracts were signed I focused on my role. My apartment was used in one scene, I won’t tell you which one. I also brought Rob the editor/producer to the film.
What do you hope audiences take away from Tango Shalom?
I hope that people will be inspired to connect to each other, to not judge others for what is different but to celebrate those differences and recognize the humanity in each of us. To see that there are different paths all leading to the same place, and to look outside of the box for solutions. And above all to recognize the importance of family and that it is all about love.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Working on a long running award-winning prime time dramedy series, possibly of my own creation. Working internationally (which I already do) in A list films in incredible roles with A list directors and actors.
If any actress would play you in a movie about your life, who would you choose and why?
Everyone says Sarah Jessica Parker looks like me, but I think I’m quirkier then her. I think Cate Blanchett. She is such a versatile actress, I love what she did in Blue Jasmine. I’ve lived a million lives in one, a really strong actress would need to play me to get all the subtle nuances of my story, and who I am.
What advice do you have for up and coming actors?
Don’t give up! Make sure acting is really what you want to do because it can be a long hard road. Don’t be afraid to make your own stuff. Hone your craft. Choose teachers who bring you up not beat you down.
Persistence. Persistence. Persistence.
What you think is what you create for your life. Ask for what you want.
How has COVID affected any upcoming projects of yours?
I’m directing a documentary about my mother (Run Ronya) – A Hidden Child in the Holocaust. We were about to do a fundraiser to film in France, we were not able to do that. We had to to stop production because of COVID.
The French Series La Garçonne I’m in as an actress was also pushed to a September release.
Do you think the film industry will be able to bounce back after COVID dies down?
The film industry is already gearing back up. There are 30 shows already in production in NYC with COVID precautions.
What’s coming next for you?
Finishing my Documentary. Finishing my channeled book titled Zolace: Mind Body Spirit Healing.
Writing a TV series and feature. Filming a web series which I wrote. I also have a short play, There Was a Time I wrote on Social Justice which will be produced this fall by the Towne Street Theatre.
Are there any indie filmmakers we should have on our radar?
Gabe Bologna, the director of Tango Shalom.