Interview with Actress Rachel Noll on Her Debut Indie Film Don't Pass Me By

Image courtesy of Rachel Noll and Uptone Pictures

She's an actress, co-writer, and producer for her debut film Don't Pass Me By, an independent movie about the intersecting lives of four women, and she made me cry.

Rachel Noll plays the role of Hannah Walters who receives news of her terminal illness leaving her with only weeks to live. The heartfelt portrayal of a young woman faced with too little time and either living that time in regret or living to her fullest potential is what caused the bucket of tears to fall. The story written in vignette style also tells the tale of rising starlet Danielle Davis played by Katy Kvalvik Burton, unhappy housewife Jill Richardson played by Nancy Karr, and rebellious teen Brooke Morton played by Elizabeth Izzo. Each are faced with choices and the consequences of those choices. Will they be the right decisions leading to happiness or the wrong decisions leading to a life of regret?

Noll shares her journey creating this independent film in this gracious interview for Don't Pass Me By.

What inspired you and Katy Burton to write this story?
We wanted to explore characters at the brink of consciousness. At a moment of profound choice that would force them to re-examine their life. Katy and I both come from families and communities that are very consciousness-oriented, so we were both intrigued by the notion of exploring characters who are stuck in their lives, and through a series of events that are out of their control, find their way to a moment of awakening. When we were conceptualizing the story, we thought about the different ways people find those "wake up" calls in life, and usually it involves a crisis with the things that matter most to them... health, love, family, career.... so those are the areas we explored with each of our leads.

How long did it take to complete writing? Complete production?
The writing process was very collaborative with the cast who would ultimately play the roles, so we spent several weeks outlining and talking through the points of each story with the actors, and then took all of the notes, outlines, and ideas, and wove them together into the script… which took some time. Production had varying stages, and snags, and delays, as most film productions do, but we continually found our way back on track, and were able to complete the film from start to finish in less than 2 years.

Tell me a little about finding the right people for casting. The male roles of Ben and Josh were particularly moving and really required the right guys to play them. How did you find Sean Stone and Blake Berlin?
Blake was with us from the start. We wrote the role for him, so we were able to play off of his natural mannerisms and sense of humor when we were writing to really flavor the character with Blake's personality. Sean was a later addition. He was a friend of one of our producers, who thought he would be great. And he was right. Sean and I had very palpable on-screen chemistry, which really brought that love story to life. And Sean has a very natural easy-goingness to him which added great charm and dimension to Josh, making for a great juxtaposition to Hannah's more controlled and careful way of being.

As actors, how closely does the life of Danielle Davis parallel a true Hollywood relationship between agent and actor?
That's a hard question to answer because each actor/agent relationship is different. I think sometimes when actors reach a certain level of fame, and have a whole team of people crafting their image and the trajectory of their career, it can be very overwhelming to field all of the opinions and preferences of the team, while still maintaining an identity that feels authentic. It's the classic catch 22 for artists in any industry who finally attain the fame they have been seeking. We read all the time about artists who experience an identity crisis when they hit a certain level, where they feel pushed in one direct by the media and their reps, and feel inside that they are being called in a different direction that is unsupported. That was the struggle we wanted to explore with Danielle.

Although only a cameo, C. Thomas Howell provided the central theme of the entire tale - to not dwell upon regrets, but rather live in the moment, appreciate what you have - what's important, and not letting life pass one by. How did he come to be involved in this Zen role?
C. Thomas is a friend of one of our producers, and when we told him we had an important one day cameo that we thought he'd be great for, he was kind enough to read the script and come on board.
Cancer has touched my life more than I care to say having lost my grandma and just this past February, my step-dad, to the vile disease. My grandmother chose to live as much as possible while she had the time and my step-dad fought it every step of the way and ended up spending his last year in treatment, in a nursing home and doing all kinds of rehab, and then had only 51 days back at home to be with family and his beloved cat, Cassie. Everyone chooses their own path - to either refuse to give up/fight till the bitter end or go gracefully, appreciating every moment as they come and accepting that we are not in control of anything after all. What made you choose cancer for the character of Hannah in lieu of any other terminal illness?
For all the reasons you expressed above. Most people know at least one person who has battled cancer, and either lost that fight or beat it and come out the other end with a renewed sense of life and its possibilities. Cancer can come out of nowhere and completely change the trajectory of a person's life. People who survive it often say that it's the best thing that ever happened to them, giving them a deeper appreciation for life and their own strength. It can awaken that place of surrender to what is, and acceptance of the ups and downs of life. For Hannah, the terminal diagnosis finally allows her to surrender her guards and her rules, and open herself to things she would never have allowed herself to do before.

What's next for Don't Pass Me By? Film fest screenings or mass distribution DVD and streaming?
Don't Pass Me By premiered at the LA Femme Festival last year, where Katy and I won Best Feature Writer for the script. We signed a distribution deal with Gravitas Ventures, and the film was released world-wide on Video on Demand and DVD in February. You can find it on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube and Vudu among other platforms. We are hoping to expand the films reach in the coming year.

Check out a review of Don't Pass Me By here.