In the past year, as nonunion actor Jocelyn O'Neil shifted her focus from theater to on-camera work, she was cast in five films she found thanks to Back Stage. First, after she was discovered by the film's director in the BackStage.com talent database, O'Neil co-starred as a zombie creature who sets out on a new path thanks to her therapist in the feature "Life Coach." Then she was cast in the supporting role of an abused wife and mother who leaves her husband in the short film "Gone Away"; played a sacrificial virgin in the horror film "Hell Fire," about four prostitutes who kidnap the Antichrist; and landed a role in "Ghost Story Films," a series of five shorts that will shoot in Montreal this summer.
But before that, O'Neil will star in the title role in "Miim, the Moral," a post-apocalyptic science fiction film about a priest who was frozen before a nuclear holocaust and is awakened in the future by a warrior woman named Miim. Shooting is slated to begin this winter.
"I do character work that's more dark," O'Neil says of her film role choices. "I do like more-complex characters. I'm not an ingénue, I don't think. I like it more when it's a bit twisted. Which is why, when I saw 'post-apocalyptic warrior woman,' I was like, 'Sweet!' "
In addition to the demanding physical and athletic requirements of the role, O'Neil faces an added challenge: Her character does not speak any human language. Instead, she and the rest of her hunter-gatherer society use a futuristic dialect that writer-director Ed Ronin developed in consultation with a professional linguist.
"She went ahead and spoke this dialogue as a natural language," Ronin recalls of O'Neil's audition, "and even actually came up with her own interjections and facial and body language that matched the meaning of the words, which were not gibberish but not regular English." Ronin says he chose O'Neil for the role immediately but waited "a couple hours" to call with the good news.
O'Neil was confident in her ability to speak this newly created language, thanks to her extensive vocal training as an undergraduate at Indiana University. She credits instructor Marion Michael for teaching her accent work, and O'Neil now uses the International Phonetic Alphabet—a system that breaks down languages and words into a sort of "cheat sheet" of sounds—as a basis for creating any accent, from English to Esperanto.
"It's easy for smart people to play dumb, but it's not easy for dumb people to play smart," Ronin says. "Jocelyn is just an incredibly intelligent person, plus she's obviously beautiful. I was actually looking for a girl who was on the ugly side, because I wanted the girl to look like she lived in the woods all her life, with a broken nose from falling out of trees and that kind of thing. But what happened was Jocelyn was so talented, I overlooked her beauty."
O'Neil moved to New York from Chicago a few years ago and was soon working with Aquila Theatre Company, Mud/Bone Collective, and Manhattan Ensemble Theater, among other groups. But for the past year and a half, she has branched out into film and commercial work in order to build her acting reel. She has also written and is co-producing "Brunch," a short film. After making "Miim," O'Neil says, she will be eligible to join the Screen Actors Guild.
Ronin also cast two supporting roles in "Miim, the Moral" with actors who submitted to his casting notice in Back Stage, and the director says he cast nearly every role in his previous feature film, "Tom and Valkyrie," the same way.
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