Ghostlight Stars Keith Kupferer, Tara Mallen, and Katherine Mallen Kupferer Talk Their Vulnerable Performances (INTERVIEW)

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In the acclaimed Sundance drama Ghostlight, the heart and soul of the film is the performances. However, what is intriguing about the film is that the main family is played by a family of real-life actors: Keith Kupferer, Tara Mallen, and their daughter Katherine Mallen Kupferer.

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We at FandomWire got the opportunity to speak with the Kupferers about their roles in Ghostlight and what it was like to work together as a family.

Ghostlight Interview

FandomWire: One of the interesting things about your performances in Ghostlight is that you are a family of actors playing a family. Did you find this exciting? Intimidating? Helpful?

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Tara Mallen: Was it intimidating?

Katherine Mallen Kupferer: No. I think it was probably more helpful than anything else. Because we already had this built-in chemistry that we didn’t have to work on or try to create since we are a real family. A lot of the things that we had to do are pretty natural. I think there are definitely moments in the film where we were shooting scenes, and it was like, “Oh, well, I could see this happening in real life at home.”

Tara Mallen: A lot of things in the film actually do happen in real life. Not the sadder things, thank God, but a lot of the banter felt very much like moments that we’ve experienced in our family at home. When I first read the script, I was like, “Oh, my gosh, it’s us!” So that was really exciting. 

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And Keith and I have worked a lot together. We met doing a play many, many, many, many years ago. And we’ve shared stage, and in different incarnations over the years, he’s always been my favorite scene partner. And Keith and Katherine have worked on projects together. And I’ve been, of course, Katherine’s coach on several things. But we’ve never had the opportunity to do something all three of us. So this was a really rare and magical gift.

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Keith Kupferer and Tara Mallen in Kelly O’Sullivan and Alex Thompson’s GHOSTLIGHT. Courtesy of Luke Dyra. An IFC Films release.

FW: I think one of the most powerful themes of Ghostlight is artistic expression as a method of connection, both with oneself and others. How does this theme resonate with you?

Keith Kupferer: Yeah, I think the character of Dan is someone who’s very closed off. And typically, someone who goes into the arts — particularly acting — is probably someone who is already very outgoing and emotional. But for him, it brought him out in this community that he was he felt like not only did they not look at him with pity but accepted him for who he was.

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And that, I think, is true about the theater. Nobody really knows anybody’s backstory, but we’re thrown together to perform a particular piece. And for three or four months, we’re a small family. Now, there are always different personalities, and maybe you clash with others, but the day when the curtain goes up, you’re family, and you’re pulled together. And that’s a special thing. – Keith Kupferer

Tara Mallen: I also think the beauty of the film and what it’s trying to communicate, for me, is the power of theater and storytelling to give people a place to put those big emotions that maybe you don’t have space for in your everyday life. And that’s what theater and film and great novels and great stories give us. And that’s what art gives us, right? A place to put all of that and a way to understand and grapple with those things that we encounter in our everyday lives.

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Keith Kupferer and Katherine Mallen Kupferer in Kelly O’Sullivan and Alex Thompson’s GHOSTLIGHT. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films Release.

FW: In a way, not only is Dan the character playing Romeo as an adult, but you, Keith Kupferer, the actor, are playing the role as an adult. What emotions did you go through with this?

Keith Kupferer: In this particular incarnation, it was the fact that Dan, as Daisy put it, got to feel what his son felt. And I think that when he comes upon Juliet in the final scene, I played it as though I was saying goodbye to my son. Whereas, Romeo, it doesn’t matter. Romeo was saying goodbye to someone that he loved and is going to follow her into eternity. And I came to understand probably how my son could have done something like that. I don’t know if I fully understand it, but I’m beginning to anyway.

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Tara Mallen: Yeah, like a moment of empathy — a moment of true empathy.

Keith Kupferer: So that was what I realized about the Romeo character.

FW: For many actors, a role like Romeo is an absolute dream come true. Do you have a dream role that you’d want to play in a classic production?

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Tara Mallen: Ah, Keith and I, for years one of our favorite films that we like to watch is Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. And I fear that maybe we have gotten a little too old for it now. Early on in our marriage, in our life together, we were too young. And then we got really busy, and maybe we’re a little too old. 

Keith Kupferer: Past the sweet spot.

Tara Mallen: But maybe we need to do that soon.

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FW: I would absolutely watch that. (to Katherine Mallen Kupferer) Do you have one?

Katherine Mallen Kupferer: I think there are a lot of movies that I watched and then I pretend that I’m the character. Some of those were like when I was little, I was really into Annie. Like really, really into it. And I think that that was probably something that when I was little, I really wanted to play. Or Little House on the Prairie.

Tara Mallen: You were a big prairie fan, but it wasn’t like you were acting out Little House on the Prairie. You just got really into the whole prairie motif.

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Katherine Mallen Kupferer: Yeah, like something old-fashioned. The period pieces are pretty interesting.

Tara Mallen: I think she made a lot of her own prairie movies.

Katherine Mallen Kupferer: Yes, with all of my friends.

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Katherine Mallen Kupferer and Tara Mallen in Kelly O’Sullivan and Alex Thompson’s GHOSTLIGHT. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films Release.

FW: My favorite line in the movie was “The lines are the easy part. The hard part is the emotional journey.” As an actor, does this resonate with you?

Katherine Mallen Kupferer: Well, I think in this script particularly, the lines were so well-written. I mean, Kelly, our director and writer, really knows how to write a script, where that’s how people really sound when they’re talking. Sometimes, I read things, and I’m like, “But people don’t really sound like that.” 

But in this, not only was it easy to memorize because it flowed so easily, but if you just really kind of say the lines, the story tells itself. I mean, obviously, you do have to do acting, but that, in this movie particularly, is true to how I felt while filming it.

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Tara Mallen: And I think for any actor, memorizing lines, people think that’s the challenge, right? But really, it’s about understanding your arc and how you change and how you navigate that through the whole.

Keith Kupferer: I would say that the script is the map, the life is underneath all those lines, and you have to figure out what you want in each scene from whoever you’re talking to, based on the lines you’ve been given by the playwright. Sanford Meisner used to say, “The script is the canoe. The river is the life under it.” So that’s what you tried to remember.

Ghostlight is now playing in theaters.

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Sean Boelman

Written by Sean Boelman

Articles Published: 174

Sean is a film critic, filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include music documentaries, heist movies, and experimental horror.