Rock Paper Scissors & Ted Melfi

HeatherCallahanStevensstripecropA while ago, I was asked to tape an audition for Hidden Figures. As a part of my regular research into a project for which I will audition, I looked into who was already involved in the project. I saw that the director is Theodore Melfi, the man who brought us Roshambo. This little gem of a short film is a very funny mockumentary of a fictional rock-paper-scissors tournament.

I had really enjoyed the short film because it reminded me of an email Roshambo competition that was held every year for several years that helped to keep a large dispersed group of close friends actively involved in each others’ lives. The contests went on for months every year…competitors were paired up and moderators assigned to keep score and provide commentary to the crowd. Side bets were encouraged, the more embarrassing and public the better. Commentators came up with gambits that described throwing patterns…(scissors scissors scissors…the “Hold Me, I Can’t” gambit).

Roshambo cover small

DVD cover for Roshambo

The competitions ended with a tournament at the annual weekend retreat for this crowd. Oh, yes. With brackets and everything.

Melfi’s Roshambo came out several years after our competition had fallen apart under the increasing demands of growing careers and families and the ease of using Facebook. However, I laughed pretty much through the entire half hour. The Karate Kid headband!! I also liked how the characters felt genuine, even in the situation they found themselves in.

After I made that connection, I was curious what Melfi has been up to since 2010. Turns out he has been making some really great commercials on (“Cowgirl, Mom! Look it up!”). I could write a whole post about these alone…take a few minutes and enjoy.

I also finally made the connection that Melfi was the director of St. Vincent. I’m not sure how I’d missed that, since it got a lot of attention when it came out. Deservedly so–it was rendered with the same quirky point of view that you can see in Melfi’s other projects, and also several moments where you could feel a genuine connection between the characters that brought a deep sense of reality to the dramatic and comedic moments. For me, watching the film felt deeply personal, maybe because as it turns out, the story is largely taken from Melfi’s life.

I say this as if I’ve seen all the rest of his movies…to be honest, I haven’t, so it’s possible that all of his other works are completely different. I hope not, though. I’ll get through the rest of his oeuvre eventually.




Heather Callahan-Stevens Talks About The Tempted


Q: What is The Tempted?

Heather: It s a one-woman dramatic presentation written and directed by Stephen Mitchell. It is the equivalent of doing a one-act play in which I am the only actor and looks into an unexpected primal and emotional reaction she is having to someone in her life.


Q: How did you interpret the role?

Heather: I see her as a woman who has safeguarded herself by building a wall around every possible emotion that could upset her equilibrium, but that turns out to be an imperfect defense and she is rendered entirely vulnerable within a fraction of a second.


Q: What is the theme of The Tempted?

Heather: The story makes the point that whatever you have built your defenses to guard against will ultimately determine the battle you are destined to fight. One of life’s cruel ironies. She never again wanted to be raw and exposed to the seductive powers of a man and wouldn’t you know, it is exactly the turmoil she has invited into her life.


Q: Where can the project be seen?

Heather: The Tempted is coming soon to streaming video and DVD on


Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month

Heather Callahan-Stevens

September is Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month. Here is a picture of the gold ribbon pin I wore (and still wear sometimes) in honor of my nephew who fought kidney cancer when he was a toddler.

My heart goes out to every patient, every sibling, every parent, and every loved one who goes through that terrifying, unrelenting trial that is battling cancer.

I’ll never forget the hospital, and walking past the hospice unit every day. The painful treatments that my nephew didn’t always understand because he was so young, the shots that my needlephobic sister and brother-in-law had to learn to administer. Timing visits home to “good” white blood cell counts so that we wouldn’t overwhelm his fragile immune system.

My nephew was a Make A Wish kid. He wanted to go to Disney World. Many, many grownups put together fundraisers and organized that trip for him, so that he could visit two magical places: Disney World and Give Kids the World. If you haven’t heard about that second one, definitely do a google search. That place is truly inspiring.

My nephew’s cancer, Wilms tumor, took his kidney and had spread to his lungs by the time it was discovered. His prognosis was dismal until his oncologist discovered a prepublication study from St. Jude’s that had drastically increased his chances for survival. It included radiation and a combination of chemotherapy drugs, administered in rounds to keep changing up on the cancer.

The chemo treatment regime could only last a certain amount of time, because it was very aggressive. As the last few rounds were ending, scans showed two spots remaining on his lungs. The doctors did not want to leave any cancer anywhere, but the spots were in a place that was too risky to operate. My sister and her husband were starting to consult with other doctors to look for options, when three days before Christmas, and a few days after the last chemo treatment, the last scans showed that the spots were gone. We’ve never had a better Christmas present.

My nephew isn’t unaffected by his battle with cancer. He still has regular scans to watch for the effects of the aggressive course of treatment. But he has passed his five-year mark; he is formally a cancer survivor. And we are so grateful; even as we remember the friends he made who didn’t.

Childhood cancer is one of the most unfair things in the world. Those kids go through long, painful, brutal treatments. Some of them, like my nephew, are too young to understand why. Their families are beside themselves with worry and guilt and grief, and somehow have to hold it together for themselves and their patients and their jobs (with the health insurance) and any siblings that are involved. It’s exhausting and unrelenting and even if you do everything right, there is still no guarantee that you will get your happy ending.

Please remember the children who are struggling to get better, and the grownups who are fighting with them and for them. Also the organizations who work to help these families, from Make A Wish to Give Kids The World to Hats For Heroes, part of the Blue Jackets Foundation who gave my nephew the chance to drop the puck at an NHL game. 🙂

Mission: Impossible Movie Marathon



In anticipation of Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, we had a weeklong MI movie marathon at our house. I had not seen most of these films when they came out, and I’m not really sure why, since I enjoy fast paced, funny spy romps. So I was glad I took the time to catch up on the series.

I suppose the term “romp” is probably not what the producers had in mind, but these films are so much fun! The jokes! The stunts! The rappelling! The Benji! Seriously, Simon Pegg is just adorable. I need to look him up to see if he really is Scottish or if he’s just really good at the smart funny geeky Scottish guys. And Ving Rhames’s dry wit and general badassery was fun to watch too.

I liked how Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt has evolved over time. He has grown, matured, honed his craft, loved and lost, and become almost the Old Man of the unit, except when he is rappelling off of something ludicrous or clinging to the side of an airplane by his fingernails. And that man has certainly kept himself in shape.


My favorite MI villain was in Rogue Nation. Sean Harris was intimidating in a role that at first appeared to be an amalgamation of visual references to the 1980s and 90s. When he first appeared, I thought he was HRG from Heroes. Then he reminded me of a whispering David Tennant. I was about to write him off entirely in the scene where he wore a black turtleneck and reminded me strongly of Dieter from Sprockets, but then he actually had a scene where he did something other than skeptically accept Ilsa’s excuses and started to drive the action. Then Harris was no one other than himself and his whispering menace was a lot more compelling.

As a Washingtonian, and as someone who works and has worked in Congress, the White House, the Department of Defense and the intelligence community, I always look forward to seeing your Federal Government at work in Hollywood films. When I saw Rogue Nation, I really enjoyed the addition of the Congressional inquiries. I never saw the Dark Committee Rooms when I worked at the Capitol, and there were not enough staffers shuffling papers behind the Congressmen on the dais, but I loved the way that Alec Baldwin’s combination of bravado, smooth talking, and gravitas as a senior executive effortlessly got exactly what he wanted from the Committee each time he appeared before them. Jeremy Renner’s grimaces as he was outmaneuvered were pretty familiar, though. I’ve seen that happen in a few conference rooms over the years.

I wonder if I should go back and watch the original television series. Does anyone feel strongly about this one way or the other?


Commercial for The Great Courses

30 Days3

I recently worked on a commercial for The Great Courses’ 30 Day Challenge…

The Great Courses is the online program of college-level courses taught by experts. I remember when it used to be tapes and books advertised in SkyMall, but the online classes are a lot more portable and convenient. 🙂

This is an interview-type commercial, where I was interviewed on multiple occasions during the 30 days in which I fit a course in astronomy into my busy schedule. It was a lot of fun and I did learn quite a bit about constellations and whatnot, which is a passing interest of mine.

I loved working with the production team; they were extremely professional and had a great energy. Now that the campaign is live, I think I’m going to try a different course.

As it had been dealt to me…


Working with Stephen Mitchell on Skype in a parking lot. We are adding nuance to this scene, providing the viewers cues from which they can project ‘back story’ of their own making for the character by underlining a word here and there with a small emotional inflection.



Heather Callahan-Stevens Talks About Sunset Boulevard

HeatherCallahanStevensbluecropSunset Boulevard. How did I miss this? It’s riveting–mostly because the three main characters are so very real even as they are enclosed in the over-the-top, otherworldly opulence of Norma’s immediate surroundings. Part of the tension in the movie is watching as her bubble of wealth and prominence shrinks, threatens to burst–the audience already knows the consequences.

Norma is much more than merely delusional and highly strung; she is charming, capricious, sweet, condescending, demanding, insecure. In other words, human. This role could have been farcical and shallow, but you could see Norma’s strong and powerful outer shell that protects the soft, funny, insecure loneliness inside. Those cracks are slightly visible in the beginning of the film, you can see that there is more going on in her head than the extreme self-centeredness and delusion that she displays throughout the film until she starts to slip, with her half-hearted suicide attempt. Then she loses it completely when forced to confront the reality of her situation and it is convincing and heartbreaking.

William Holden and Erich von Stroheim’s characters, Joe and Max, were also compelling. They, too, were concealing their pain and fears under hard shells–until the end. Joe’s cynicism and charm hid underlying feelings of failure and self-loathing, and also some true tenderness for Norma. Max’s unswervingly loyal stoicism was belied a few times by the use of humor and later pain when he confessed to being Norma’s first husband.

If you haven’t seen it, you should. If you have, see it again.

sunset boulevard poster

Heather Callahan-Stevens Talks About Playing Drunk


Q: What is going on in the clip below?
Heather Callahan-Stevens:
In rehearsing The Tempted, a one-woman show being created for me by writer/director Stephen Mitchell, we thought it would be fun to experiment and perform a section of the piece wherein the character is inebriated.

Q: What was the purpose of this exercise?
Heather Callahan-Stevens:
The point was to not just pretend to play intoxicated, but to play drunk within the boundaries and particularities of the character rather than performing a cliché drunk.. She is a lot more reserved than I am, more concerned with maintaining her control. I tend to hug random people a lot more.

Q: How did you accomplish this?
Heather Callahan-Stevens:
I kept the phrasing of the words I used when playing her “sober”, and exaggerated the emotional reactions to what she is saying, changing the more technical aspects such as the cadence of the sentences and emphasis of particular words in a sentence.

Q: What was the overall result of the exercise?
Heather Callahan-Stevens:
It allowed my “sober” performance of the character to be a little free.


Heather Callahan-Stevens Talks About House of Horrors: Kidnapped


Q: What is House of Horrors: Kidnapped?

Heather: The Investigation Discovery channel has created a show that tells the stories of kidnapping victims and how they have managed to out-maneuver or otherwise escape their captors. My episode, Hospital of Horrors, tells the story of Margie Wyler, a nurse who protects her patients when a gunman bursts into her maternity ward and threatens to blow up the hospital.


Q: How did you play her?

Heather: I was the lead character in the episode. She is a resilient nurse who was taken hostage along with her patients, including a woman from the maternity ward. In fact, she had to deliver a baby while appeasing the erratic and violent captor and convincing him to surrender peacefully.


Q: What was interesting about the making of that show? What did you enjoy most?

Heather: I liked the fact that this character went through a full range of emotions. She wasn’t just a victim, she negotiated with the gunman for better conditions in which to deliver the baby, and mediated with the authorities for his surrender. However, during the ordeal, they were instructed to write farewell letters to their families and it was not at all clear that they would get out of the situation with their lives.  She went from being overwhelmed to coming to grips with the situation and finally overcoming it.


Q: What did you appreciate about the experience? 

Heather: I really like the work of Nate Scripture and DP Stefan Wiesen. I learned quite a bit from watching the decisions that they made and shots that they took. In fact, the entire cast and crew worked so well together, it was easy to fall into character and genuinely bond with each other.



Heather Callahan-Stevens Talks About The Tempted


Question: The Tempted is your latest project. What would you like to tell us about it?


Heather: It is a one-woman dramatic presentation which is being written for me by writer/director Stephen Mitchell. So it is the equivalent of doing a one-act play, in which I am the only actor.

Question: What kind of character are you playing?

Heather: She is a woman who has safeguarded herself by building a wall around every possible emotion that could upset her equilibrium, but that turns out to be an imperfect defense and she is rendered entirely vulnerable within a fraction of a second.

Question: What is the theme of The Tempted?

Heather: The story makes the point that whatever you have built your defenses to guard against will ultimately determine the battle you are destined to fight. One of life’s cruel ironies. She never again wanted to be raw and exposed to the seductive powers of a man and wouldn’t you know, it is exactly the turmoil she has invited into her life.

Question: At what stage is the project currently?

Heather: It is being written as we rehearse during Skype sessions I have with Stephen, and it’s coming along quite nicely. In fact, I am posting a recording of one of our rehearsal sessions, which will give you a feel for the piece.