Getting Physical with Eleanore Pienta
Inspired by her unique take on physical comedy, ILYSM commissioned award-winning filmmaker Eleanore Pienta to create a memorable character for the brand.
Walk us through your process - how does a character come to life for you?
I think it usually starts with an inkling of a character, be it a costume, a wig, an accent. I don’t usually dissect the idea at first, I just follow my instinct and oftentimes the initial idea is something that makes me laugh. I then set-up a camera and start shooting; I improvise for awhile, set-up another shot, improvise some more, if there was something that came out of me in the first shot that I thought worked, I usually repeat that in the second/third/fourth set-up for editing purposes. Then I edit it. The idea isn’t necessarily “found” until the edit. I think by keeping things loose and unknowing while shooting, it keeps the edit fun and exciting because it’s like I’m discovering the footage for the first time. And I often use moments in the footage that are “throwaway” moments and build on them. And example is in a video piece I made called SHINE. I initially just talked to the camera with googley eyes glued to my face for like 30 minutes. In the edit, I broke the video up into “chapters” some chapters are just me talking on a point, like how “the image of butterflies has gotten really crusty” (wtf, hahaha) and then another chapter I just repeat a shot of myself saying “Mrs. Simon” again and again and then throw in the word “assignments” a couple of times because they sound similar. It’s so stupid, but it really makes me laugh. I think at every stage I’m trying to find something surprising and delightful. Pushing the stupid into profound, the sad into funny and vice versa vice versa.
A lot of actors say that the moment of "becoming" really starts with the costume - having a physical element that pierces through an old perception of themselves... I love how you personified elements of the Tabi. Is there something new you discovered about yourself through this character's vulnerability?
I love costumes so much. They really do help me melt into a character or find movement. They very much can act as a mask, an armor and a gateway. Oftentimes all at the same time. With this piece, I remember just wanting to make a unitard out of stockings. As simple as that.
I mean we use stockings to warm and to conceal or “smooth things over”, in a sense, to protect. But while “smoothing over” the whole body, you are just left with the body, which is a little vulnerable. So the armor actually triggered a vulnerability. Nothing there but me. I think that this character is very much just me. Confident but shy, a strange and sexy freak. Which is so funny because that’s how I see the tabi, minus the shy. Like, it shouldn’t work. It’s a little freak. But there’s something deeply exciting about how it’s kinda ugly. Working against “sexy” or rather, just being, it then is cool and sexy. Not trying to be anything but itself.
It was interesting to see you interact with limited props and not another person. Have you noticed a shift in the way you construct a character since COVID and being limited to working with yourself more as opposed to a group?
With my own work, aside from my short ADA, I just work with myself. So this piece was just business as usual. With filmmaking (as you and Alice know) you’re asking so many people to jump aboard your ship, and there’s always the possibility of failure. For me, the idea of failing those who gave their time/mind/energy to my vision feels terrible, so by subtracting all of those people, I’m really only left with disappointing myself. “Oof, that project didn’t work, oh well, next.” Less pressure.
That being said, I very much miss working alongside other people; collaborating on a shared vision. The more variables, be it people or props, the more possibilities and more growth as a performer. It’s exciting. Though the limits and challenge of no props or other performers, just yourself, is equally as exciting to me.
Is it liberating to find another layer of yourself emerge through these fantastical characters you create?
More times than not (and often is discovered after the fact) the thing driving the piece is sadness. Heh. But I think that’s what I’m drawn to in both acting and creating work. The complicated mess of a human. How we overcome, how we mask, our longing, and how we laugh despite all of it. (Or at least, how I laugh despite all of it.)
So much of online culture is built around this idea of being desirable. I love how this piece naws at this idea of persona and to borrow from Richard Avedon, "how we perform for other people." I'm curious what sexy actually means to you?
I really think the root of sexiness is owning yourself. Being comfortable in your skin. Just being, without apology - as on the nose as that is. The new mantra is: BE THE TABI. And also, there’s nothing like a genuine laugh and smile.
What can we look forward to watching of yours in the upcoming year?
There’s a short film I starred in called PLASIR, by Molly Gillis that we shot in the south of France that was a very special project. It’s premiering soon, but I can’t say where yet, stay tuned. There are a couple features that are in post-production and will hopefully premiere this year. And then I’m just shooting and editing new projects as well as editing my feature-length script. My video project will probably debut on a little app called instagram, so, stay tuned.
"Eleanore Pienta is an award-winning screen and stage actor, comedian, dancer and filmmaker. Weaving in and out of the independent film circuit, Pienta has carved out a niche for herself by portraying uncompromising and complex characters, her presence on screen at once alluring albeit menacing. Pienta’s own video and film output develops an interest with personal issues, body politics and the subversion of language in form and function. Pienta can be found right at the center of her pieces, handling banal situations with deadpan humor and off-beat charm from within the eye of the storm. Hers is an anti-comedy where often times the target of the joke is Eleanore herself. Her directorial debut, ADA, premiered at the 2018 New York Film Festival. Pienta performs live in New York in the alternative comedy and dance scene, as a solo artist as well as with her dance troupe Cocoon Central Dance Team." - Francisco Saco
*Artwork featured in stills are courtesy of artist DBBS