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Actress Amanda Fleming: Hollywood reality and dreams of Gothic nightmares

No prizes for guessing where Amanda and I met

No prizes for guessing where Amanda and I met last week…

The last time I blogged about my actress/film-producing namesake Amanda Fleming was in October last year when she had just produced and directed short film What a Drag.

What a Drag has now been accepted into 15 international film festivals this year, including Cannes.

Amanda was at Cannes last year too – as an actress and facilitator representing a 26-minute short she acted in: Titans of Newark.

After Cannes this year, she is probably returning to Los Angeles.

“I want to set up a Theatre In Education company over there,” she told me.

“What other projects are in the pipeline?”

Amanda directed and produced What a Drag!

Amanda Fleming directed What a Drag!

“When I go back to the States, I’m going to put on The Countess, the one-hour show about Countess Báthory. I was thinking about doing it as a movie, but then I thought: D’y’know, I might put that aside and stage it at the Los Angeles Fringe. Because I want to do something a little more gritty. I was going to do a 10 or 15 minute comedy horror film to begin with – The Fingernail That Never Grew – a sort-of Carry On spoofy Hammer.”

“You seem partial to a bit of Gothic horror,” I said. “You must have interesting dreams.”

“I’ve always had very vivid dreams since I was a very young child and, when I was 18, I started writing them down. Now I’ve got about 280 written down. Some are just a typical dream mishmash of what’s happened in your day and your brain is sorting it out. But there are others that, when you read through them, it sounds like a really, really good storyline. Some are supernatural; some are emotional.”

“Next week,” I told her, “I’m going to some Dream event, but I almost never remember my dreams. I wish I did. Can you string your dreams together to make a single narrative?”

“Yes,” said Amanda. “Or it could be a feature-length film of short Gothic horror stories.

The double cross dresser and the drag queen

What a Drag! – at Cannes and 14 other international festivals

“Not all the buyers at Cannes are looking for feature-length movies. Some are looking for short films to put on their TV channels between the main shows.

“Last year, Titans of Newark got picked up in Germany and I think China.”

“Would you prefer,” I asked her, “to make an anthology of your dreams rather than a single narrative?”

“If it was a single narrative,” laughed Amanda, “people might think: Is this person off her head? Some the stuff: you’d think I was on drugs.”

“Non-naturalism is perfect for a film, though,” I suggested. “If you’re in the area of bizarre, surreal horror anyway, then the more visually ridiculous the better.”

“I had a recurring dream,” said Amanda, “of a black panther in a tree. It was always round a corner. I had to try and go round – it was like a forest – a little cottage on the side. And I had to go round there and every single time – even though the panther would disappear – I would know it was there and then I could see its eyes and then the full body would appear and it wouldn’t let me pass until, one day, he did.

Not bad for a young girl from Rochdale

Not bad progress for a girl from Rochdale

“And another dream was about a white house on a hill. That was one of the most terrifying dreams I’ve ever had. It was a recurring one and the fear I used to feel from dreaming that dream was unbearable at times. It would wake me up.”

“You couldn’t,” I asked, “get to the white house on the hill?”

“I got closer each time I had the dream,” explained Amanda. “Each time I used to see, when I got closer and looked up at the house, the silhouette of a woman in the house, looking out of the window.”

“Sounds a bit Psycho-ish,” I said.

“You know those old Victorian houses,” asked Amanda, “where they used to have a huge greenhouse? – like a big hothouse and the lady of the house would go in there and water her plants – it was beautiful, domed, but long – and the main bedroom, which was hers, there was a door which went onto a balcony overlooking this huge hothouse. But I didn’t get to that point until just before the dreams stopped.

“Eventually, when I finally managed to pluck up the courage to open the door, I walked out onto the balcony and it was almost like an invisible force was trying to push me over it.

“The next time I dreamt that same dream, I went back onto the balcony again and I felt a strangulation round my neck. Then, the next time, there was the strangulation AND I felt like I was being pushed over the balcony. But, as I was seeing this happen in my dream, I also saw there was a rope hanging above the balcony and I realised whoever I was dreaming about had been murdered and hung there.

“That dream was terrifying because it was recurring. I was so scared of going back to the house every single time. I still remember how it looked. There was a narrow road with a brook running beside and I remember a small pub and a grove with trees and then you could see the white house on the hill.

“And I’ve been writing poetry since I was 12. I’ve got all those – over 500 poems. I’d like to put them all together with dates at the top and collect them in a book. If it makes money, that’s OK; if not, that’s not an issue.

“There’s an old saying: You try and you fail and you try and you fail, but the only true failure is when you stop trying.”

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I meet my namesake Amanda Fleming, an LA actress who found her rock band father after 16 Sudden years in Rochdale

Last Wednesday, I got an e-mail. It read:

Hi John

I have a film, Titans of Newark. Being a fellow Fleming, I was wondering if you could do me the honour and help with creating a buzz about it. I play the goddess Hera and it is on at the Short Film Corner during the Cannes Film Festival in May.

Amanda Fleming

Amanda Fleming in the award-winning Titans of Newark

Amanda Fleming in award-winning short Titans of Newark

I looked at the film trailer on YouTube and I met Amanda at the National Film Theatre yesterday, but we barely talked about the film.

“My mum was very young when she had me,” said Amanda. “She was just turned 18. I was conceived in the summer of 1969. What can I say? He was in a band. She was a bit of a hippie. Apparently my father was in his early 20s and in a rock band which had a one-hit wonder. About four years later, my mother ended up marrying someone else. I was brought up by my grandparents in Rochdale; they legally adopted me, so my aunties became my sisters.

“By the time I was 16, I was sick and tired of asking my mother who my real father was. I think, at various times, she told me his name was Bob, James and lots of other names and eventually I said: I’m not speaking to you ever again unless you tell me the truth. She told me he was called Ian but not his surname and she told me: He’s red-haired like you.

“So, one day, I decided Right! I’m going to find out who he is. I set off at five in the morning. I knew he was called Ian, had red hair, looked a bit like me and lived somewhere in Sudden, which is an area of Rochdale.

“I was only 16. I didn’t realise how big Sudden was. I got there about six in the morning. There are about 150 streets. I started on one side of Sudden and the first street I came to was called (Amanda told me the name of the street).

“I knocked on a door and, by this time, it was seven in the morning. It was a young couple. Luckily they were getting up for work. I said I’m looking for my real father and I told them He’s called Ian, he’s got red hair, he was in a band and he lives somewhere in Sudden.

“They said: Sorry. He’s not here. We haven’t been here very long in this street. So I spent the entire day knocking on ten doors in every street.

“By about 6.30 at night, I was distraught. I thought: I’m never going to find him. What am I doing? What am I thinking of? I started crying. I was about to give up and there was an Old People’s Home that’s shut down since and I saw there was a small pathway to another street and I thought: I wonder if I’ve been on that street? And it was the street I’d first gone to. But it was the other end of that street and I was about to give up but I thought I’ll try one more time and I knocked on a door and an old couple opened it.

“I was crying.

“They said: Hello. You alright, then?

“I said: I’ve spent all day – cry, cry – Nobody knows who he is – cry. cry – My father.

Oh sweetheart, they said. What’s his last name?

“I said: I don’t know. All I know is he was in a band, he’s got red hair, he’s called Ian and…

Oh, that’s Ian and his brother Alan, they said. They’re not living there any more, but his parents are still there at No 16.

“So I ran to No 16, banged on the door and this old lady came out. She looked right at me and said: You’re Amanda, aren’t you?

“Apparently my aunts had taken me at 18 months old to say: Hey! You need to tell your son he has a daughter. He was away on a three-year tour with his band in Europe. He was doing really well and so he didn’t know anything about it and they wanted to keep it quiet because they didn’t want it to interfere with his life. But they’d matured since then and they were a lot more laid back and relaxed, so they said: Come on in.

“I was really shocked. I thought: I’ve actually found them!

“They got on the phone to my dad and he came down and I think he must have asked me about 25 times: So, how are you? That’s all he seemed to ask me.

Amanda at the NFT in London yesterday

Amanda at the National Film Theatre in London yesterday

“And, when I found my dad, that was my excuse to go fully into entertainment. He was an entertainer. So I went to Oldham Theatre Workshop and went to drama school. After that, I did a lot of theatre, a lot of Rep, worked for the Cambridge Shakespeare Company and a lot of other things.

“Independent film was just starting to pick up in the early 1990s so I did that and I also did corporates and bits on TV and radio and worked for a company called Absolute Murder that did improv theatre murder mysteries. Then I started up my own theatre company DeProfundis Productions.”

“Why DeProfundis?” I asked.

“I thought it was a good name for a company which is new writing, semi-Gothic productions with maybe a bit of sci-fi mixed in there. I grew up loving Hammer House of Horror and I loved the idea of bringing Gothic theatre to the public. So I wrote an hour-long semi-Gothic interpretation of Elizabeth Báthory‘s story.”

“She’s the one who bathed in virgins’ blood…” I said.

“Yes,” said Amanda, “she was reputed to have murdered 650 people over 30 years.”

“So you learned about improvising murders,” I said, “and then you wrote about a woman mass murderer. That’s rather scary.”

“Yes,” laughed Amanda, “but I also used to do touring pantomimes all the time. I loved it. It’s the meat-and-potatoes of theatre training. And then someone said: Have thou ever thought of doing comedy adult pantos? So, in 2005, I set up Carry-on-Antics Pantomimes.

Amanda - Oh yes it is! - in a saucy panto

Amanda – Oh yes it is! – in a saucy Carry On type UK panto

“My dad said he was proud of me for doing that but he didn’t come to see any of the shows because he said: I don’t want to see you in that way. There was no nudity. It was just tongue-in-cheek, very slapstick, very Carry On. It wasn’t that rude. I arranged a six-week tour; five shows a week. We did Big Dick Whittington with his pussy and, the next year, Little Red Romping Hood and Hot Cinders. It was pure comedy.”

Amanda went to Los Angeles in 2007.

Amanda with red hair in 2011

Amanda with red hair in 2011

“I got a three-year visa and I was only going to use it to go over for the pilot season, which is January 10th to round about April – three months of intense auditions for episodes in up-and-coming productions and for new characters in already-running productions.

“Then I was going to come back to the UK, because I was supposed to be getting booked to arrange a third year of pantos – a 10-week tour. But that year – 2007 – the recession hit and only three of the venues re-booked. So I stayed in the US and signed with a US agent and, for the first six months, it was mostly getting my face known.”

“What’s your pitch?” I asked. “I’m the new Helen Mirren?”

Amanda with blonde hair in 2009

Amanda with blonde hair in 2009

“Someone did say,” laughed Amanda, “that I’m a younger Helen Mirren mixed with Meryl Streep… but then someone also said I was like Bette Midler!”

“This Titans of Newark film,” I said, “which we haven’t talked about. It  was filmed in 2012?”

“The latter end, yes,” said Amanda. “It was edited up to the beginning of 2013, then went round all the festivals. The budget on Titans of Newark was quite low – it was done as a student project – but it’s been winning awards at lots of film festivals. And now I’m going over to Cannes in May to plug it even more.”

“As a kid, did you want to perform or be famous?” I asked. “They’re different.”

Not bad for a young girl from Rochdale

Not bad for a young girl from Rochdale…

“When you first leave drama school,” said Amanda. “you’re all Ooh! I’m going to be famous! but it doesn’t work like that. It’s a lot of hard work and plugging yourself. You gotta do a lot of PR and get your face in as many places as possible. Now I’d rather people come to me and say I really respect you as an actor and as a business person and entrepreneur. I’d rather have that sort of pat on the back than celebrity. Though, of course, if opportunity knocks – Great!”

The 26-minute Titans of Newark movie is viewable online.

Always a pleasure to meet a Fleming.

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