As May 22nd finally came around, ‘Not Gonna Fall’ had its music video debut and release on iTunes, introducing us to new musician Kendall Custer. But there was another debut that day, one behind the scenes for a girl who is used to being the scene; Liana Liberato.
Known for her acting roles in both television and film (most recently in the Nicholas Sparks’ adaptation, ‘The Best Of Me’) Liana had no real intention to segue into directing. But sitting on her floor, listening to one of her best friends reveal an up-to-that-point secret music project, she willingly threw her hat into the ring for any position that put her in a place to be a part of Kendall’s art.
Last month, Kristina and I were fortunate enough to watch the actress take command on set as the director for the ‘NGF’ music video. Calm and collected, she handled the room with ease and clearly knew what she wanted out of every scene. It was hard to believe she’s just 19, even harder to believe that this was her first attempt at the job, given her natural take to it.
This past weekend, while celebrating the single’s launch over slices of Susie’s Cakes, I got to catch up with the accomplished actress as we discussed the album, friends and this new chapter in her professional life. Here’s some of what she shared…
COTF: What was your inspiration to segue into directing?
LL: That’s the thing…I didn’t plan on segueing into directing at all! It’s kind of funny because I’m an only child, and that comes with the fact that I’m very bossy I guess…but people have always said “You should direct!”, and I would say “No. I don’t want my hair to turn grey by the time I’m 20!” because that’s what I’ve seen as the most stressful job in the entire world, which I was not wrong about! So I kind of just fell into it, because when I heard Kendall’s song about 2 years ago I told her I would do anything to be a part of it and I didn’t care what it was. How I sum it up, is my group of friends are super tight knit and we’ve all come out here to achieve something, to inspire people and to help people believe that you can do whatever it is you put your mind to…you don’t need to narrow your thoughts. And when I realized Kendall was achieving that, and she was working so hard to show people that she can do really great things, well I wanted to be a part of it… I want to help people like that achieve whatever they want.
COTF: Were you nervous sitting in the director’s seat?
LL: There were so many moments before where I thought “What have I gotten myself into! No Way. No way can I do this!!”, but I’m a firm believer in that nothing is put into your life unless you can handle it. And everything just started to lay out in front of us so nicely, I mean there were barely any problems, and I just thought, if this is going as smoothly as I think it is then I’m obviously meant to be a part of it.
COTF: Being that this was your first time in this role, what was your strategy for directing Kendall’s video?
LL: I’m definitely an actor’s director. I definitely believe in everything that is involved with pre-production, but I don’t think you’re going to get what you want if your actor isn’t comfortable and you’re not attentive towards them. However much work you put in before hand is going to mean nothing if your talent isn’t going to put out what you want. So it’s kind of like, pre-production is done, I’m not not gonna think about it when I’m on set. My job is the here and now, the person in front of me that I want something really cool out of. So I guess that’s the kind of director I am… I found a lot of my acting bleeding into my directing just because I care so much for actors. I found myself relating a lot to what was going on with Kendall and Ryan, and hopefully that showed. I also found myself, and this is so silly, but I’d be watching the monitor on the verge of tears! Because I’m totally feeling what Kendall is feeling. I’m sure there is video of me out there dancing and freaking out in front of the monitor because I’m just so emotionally invested in what’s going on! Me and Ken (Kendall) have worked so hard on this together and collaborated so much, we literally connected on the same brain wave: we were doing a performance scene, and there’s the line “my girl come talk to me” and I knew that part was coming and I remember speaking to the monitor saying “Come on, just go like this!” (motioning with her finger) And she DID IT! She freaking did it without me having to tell her or anything.
COTF: Now the video was originally going to be shot in Brooklyn. What brought it back here to L.A.?
LL: We did want to shoot in Brooklyn…I can’t even remember why…we just liked the look. But then as the actual storyline evolved, we realized we really didn’t need to be there and spend thousands of dollars to fly everyone out, we can do it in L.A. We just need some really cool walls! Everything really came together here.
COTF: Whats the most unexpected challenge you faced on this project?
LL: I realized when I got into directing that what you see a director doing on set is literally just the surface of what their actual job is. I now realize that directing begins with an idea and ends in an editing room. An actor’s job, for the most part, is what’s happening on that set on that day, and its a full circle for directors. For an actor it’s pretty much laid out for you; this is the chair you’re going to sit in while you say this line and this is the carrot you’re gonna be eating because it says so in the script. But you don’t see that everything was so meticulously laid out beforehand and that the director had such a big role in it all. So that was a really big learning part for me, that this isn’t just about being on set, this is about building the whole story.
COTF: What was one special moment you had personally during this experience?
LL: It was the “Oh WOW. I can do this!” That was cool. Because I’m the type of person where if someone approaches me with something that really scares me, well then I have to do it. I have to see if I can do it. That’s the beauty of this job. I’ve been doing this (acting) for 10 years and it doesn’t get any easier, never the same problem or challenge, always new scenery. So being able to help someone with the creative process, I love that. And knowing that I was a part of Kendall’s journey, wherever she ends up in the next 10 years, that I was there in the beginning makes me so proud.
COTF: You roll with a pretty tight crew, including Kendall. Was there anyone you knew you wanted to be a part of this project?
LL: Yes, our DP (Director of Photography) Casey Stolberg. I met him three years ago, he was a friend of a friend at Chapman, and I always said I wanted to work with him and I had sent him some scripts of mine and said “Hey, I wanna direct this!” or “make this with you”, but it just never came about. But I always knew I wanted to use him at some point and this was the perfect fit. He totally got the vision and was very meticulous, which was what we needed. He really kept us focused and broke everything down. Literally we broke down the song scene by scene, angle by angle, shot by shot because of him, which was so cool…and very tedious! But we needed it. Kendall brought in our producer, Julia Hodges and I can confidently say that this video would not have been made without her.
COTF: How did you enjoy being a part of a music video rather than a film?
LL: It was A. DREAM. And I say that because it didn’t have sound, the track plays through the entire thing. And coming from a complete technical stand point, sound can hold a production up for so long sometimes! Especially if you’re filming outside, so I was like “Great! I can talk to Kendall the entire time we’re filming!” and I could work with her without having to worry that the mic is going to pick something up. I think it was a nice transition into directing and I would love to, at some point, do an actual short or maybe a couple scenes, or maybe one day a feature…that would be cool.
COTF: Do you want to direct any more music videos in the future?
LL: Yeah, I LOVE it. I’ve always had a fascination with music videos and I’ve been in a few of my friend’s videos, I think they’re fun! I really love music, I don’t know anything about the industry, but I love listening and am a big appreciator. Kendall and I started planning the next video for her while we were filming this one. I made her promise me that I’m directing every video for this album! But I’m definitely doing the next one. And I’m dreaming real big, but there’s one specific song we really want to film in London…
COTF: Are there any teasers you can give us for the next one?
LL: Stories evolve…But, in my head a music video is just not gonna be flashing lights, dance choreography, and pointing to a camera. There is a really cool song she wrote about our friend group, called ‘Warfare Friends’, and that’s the one we’re most likely doing next. It’s going to be semi based on a specific night Kendall and I had in New York, but the video will mostly follow the guy in the story. You’ll only get to see Kendall for a few seconds.
COTF: Now lets rewind a little, where are you from and what brought you here?
LL: I’m from a small island in Texas, called Galveston. Its kind of the vacation spot of Texas….not a lot of people live there. But I was born and raised there until I was 9, and I was very blessed because I grew up with my parents saying “You don’t have to go to college”, which for many people thats not the thing. But they were like “What do you want to do” which was such a huge blessing because I was able to think “Oh! What do I want to do?” It is a small town that can get a little boring, and the one escape that I had was my theatre, playing different people, and playing out different stories. I loved watching movies and television and just completely escaping the world that I was in. I just thought WOW, if I could be that escape for other people and create stories for people to live in and imagine, that would be awesome. And my parents didn’t stop me from thinking that, they were ok with it… I mean I took their entire retirement! But they still believe in me! I promised my Dad an El Camino and my Mom a beach house so I’m gonna get it to them. But, everything big in my life happened in LA, so I formed my life here very quickly. I made my core group of friends, who are now my family because we all clung together, we knew no one and needed support.
COTF: How did you and Kendall meet?
LL: About three years ago I was at Sophi’s, and Kendall came walking in with her sister, she was the new roommate. I’ve known Sophi for 10 years and we’re a small group so, not on purpose, letting other people in can be hard sometimes. But there was a specific moment where we all went to the beach in the middle of the night and hung out, and I was going through a rough time, a big transition, and I remember driving back that night and knowing “these are my people”, these are the people I’m going to spend the rest of my life with. Kendall was so included in that, and I kind of knew instantly that she was going to be in my life for a long time.
COTF: Now the personal stuff! Dead or alive, what director would you most want to collaborate with?
COTF: Were there any films in particular that inspired you as a kid?
LL: Anything with Julie Andrews. I freaking love her. I started out in musical theatre when I was three. I LOVED acting and I loved singing, not much of a dancer, but I loved both those things and Julie Andrews did both in movies and entertained people. So, Sound Of Music, Mary Poppins, I was all for it! I kind of wanted to emulate her career and always said I wanted to work with her before she stopped working. She was a BIG inspiration for me when I was younger.
COTF: Is there an actor or actress you would most like to direct?
LL: I have so much respect for Michelle Williams and think she’s so brilliant. From an actor’s perspective, she’s my muse, the career I’d most like to emulate. I was actually working on a project in New Orleans last year and specifically took a weekend off to fly to New York and see her in Cabaret. I was so star struck. So as a director it would be the most intimidating thing in the entire world for me, but would be such a learning experience for me because I would get to watch her working.
COTF: Ok, easy questions now… First thing you do in the morning?
LL: I’m really diligent. I have to wash my face and brush my teeth the second I wake up!
COTF: What do you do to stay active?
COTF: What’s your favorite place you’ve ever travelled to?
LL: It’s funny you ask, because I’ve just recently decided that every year I’m going to take a trip for myself outside of the country. Last year I went to London for 10 days, and that as of right now is one of my favorite places ever! But I also love Venice, Italy and Montreal, Canada. The food in Montreal is SO good.
COTF: Any go to words of wisdom?
LL: My Dad told me something a long time ago, that always makes me feel good and has meant a lot to me, “Never regret something you once cared about”. It can be so easy to tear yourself down for making a mistake, so I really like that one. A Shakespeare quote that’s stuck with me and I also really love is, “Cowards die many times before their death”.
COTF: How do you like to spend your down time?
COTF: Favorite spot to brunch?
COTF: Favorite social media app?
LL: Twitter and Instagram are two of my favorite things. Twitter because that’s where I get all of my information, from serious news to fashion. And I love Instagram because I love photography, so I like to get a little creative with that.
(*Follow her at @LianaLiberato on Twitter and @LianaLiberato on Instagram)
COTF: Last question of the night, favorite type of cake?
LL: Vanilla cake with chocolate frosting and strawberries on top! I’m a total chocolate and strawberry person.
On that we cheered our cake forks as our interview ended and joined Kendall, Shevy, Sophi and Julia all shoulder to shoulder, hovered in front of Shevy’s computer to listen to the next tracks being put together. Singing along, celebrating the video, cell phones rapidly being checked and responded to, I could hear Liana tossing out ideas to Kendall as their eyes continued to get wide with excitement. The energy was infectious and I knew this crew was just getting started on what will be many, many projects together.
For Liana, life holds no limits, and we here at CakeOnTheFloor look forward to watching what she does next! Enjoy the ‘Not Gonna Fall’ music video here and stay tuned for future features on these lovely leading ladies.