Claire Winters, an experienced and talented actress, is the co-founder of Brains of Minerva. A graduate of MFA Program from American Conservatory Theater, Claire also teaches film workshops and recently evolved as a writer. Her dynamic work was seen in her role as a bipolar disabled daughter of Philip Seymour Hoffman in the HBO miniseries “Empire Falls”.
Interview by Stephen Thompson, Ph.D.
Welcome to OpenBeast. Tell us about yourself.
Thanks for having me. I’m an LA actor with writer-ly inclinations, half sweetie/half taskmaster.
Describe your passion for acting and how did you get into showbiz?
I started acting as a tween in Tampa, FL. I knew I wanted to communicate stories in front of people, but it took a while to figure out how that was going to happen. My first access to performing came in the form of dance classes at the local strip mall, at which I was a dismal failure. Luckily, there was a community theater in another local strip mall, and one day in the paper I saw an audition notice for The Member of the Wedding, a play based on Carson McCullers’ novel about a 12-year-old loner in 1940s Georgia. I got the part and was lucky to play lots of the teen roles in the local theater scene before heading up to the Interlochen Arts Academy for my first taste of formal training. I started acting because I wanted to feel part of a tightly-knit community – I loved the ‘insta-family’ I’d experience every time I got cast. And acting in plays gave me a safe and structured place to have all of my big feelings. Ironically, though, the deeper into professional life, the more elusive those things can seem. The perpetual auditioning is actually very solitary, and much of the work that I have access to given my current place in the Hollywood food chain is not – uh, how shall I say – always very expansive in its emotional range (which is why taking a scene study class to work on the great roles – I’m currently studying with Richard Seyd – is important to me). All that said, I love it because the work calls you on your bullshit; it demands that you work on your weaknesses as a human being in order to serve your characters better. No matter your age or what you’ve accomplished, acting well asks you to expand your mind and your heart, to become more ‘you’.
What is “Brains of Minerva” all about?
Brains of Minerva is an online acting magazine co-founded by myself and talented actor and producer Sarah Sido (whom I met in high school at Interlochen). Sarah noticed that she was suddenly often asked for advice by actors early in their careers, and I – having recently moved to LA from NYC – was mortified by how often people I met socially in LA would casually make disparaging remarks about actors. Sarah suggested we create a website where professional actors could share their stories and resources with their peers. I was excited to make a space that would reflect back at actors their intelligence and professionalism. We published extensive original articles from 2009-2011, on everything from financial planning, interviews with top show runners and casting directors, to booking commercials and deciding on an MFA program. It was a very labor-intensive project, and ultimately we decided to preserve the 200-ish articles as an online archive and focus our energies back into other parts of our professional lives. We’re very proud of all the work of our contributors and hope the archive can continue to be of service to the community. Check out the website www.brainsofminerva.com.
What is your one best gig or achievement thus far?
I have a serious soft spot for Filmic Achievement, a comedic feature written and directed by Kevin Kerwin than I did in NY shortly after I graduated from the MFA Program at ACT. Filmic is a satire on film school and in it I play Constance Van Horn, an uber-feminist heiress/performance artist/aspiring filmmaker. Kevin assembled a great cast and crew and gave us a wide berth. Of course we had to show up to set ready to go, and so it was the first time I had to create a leading character on my own. It was a moment where I really appreciated my training because I think the organization you learn in grad school is great preparation for the discipline and resourcefulness needed to work in film. I also discovered I had a talent for creating very bad, didactic performance art. If anyone has any ideas on how to monetize that, let me know.
Talk to us about your writings?
I dabbled in writing in NY, making a one-woman show about the heroines of Shakespeare’s problem plays that had a couple of workshop-performance incarnations. But it wasn’t until I moved to LA that I started to see writing as something to invest in. I volunteered to write a couple of articles on actor-training for a magazine for young filmmakers and then, with Brains, I had to learn how to produce on demand and to edit other writers. I started taking writing classes, and last summer in one we did an exercise where we had to answer, “What are you avoiding?” My answer was, “Writing things for me to act in”. The group let out a resounding “Duh!” I’ve spent the last year learning the mechanics of different film & TV genres, mainly in classes at Writing Pad. I’m developing a couple of projects, and I’m particularly interested in writing for new media.
Any upcoming projects or initiatives you would like to discuss?
I’m working on a project about one woman’s quest to break her addiction to lawyer-dating.
What are your leisure time activities?
Watching documentaries, reading memoirs about rough childhoods and manuals on time-management… going on adventures to keep my wonderful friendships alive, which of late have included a trip to the Seattle International Film Festival, a couple of pilgrimages to greet new-born babies, and attending a talk given by a pet psychic.
Dogs or cats?
I actually had a bird growing up. That might explain a lot.
You can visit Claire’s website www.clairewinters.com and follow her on twitter @clairewinters.
The Brains of Minerva: www.brainsofminerva.com