Interview with Berna Roberts: Artistic Expression Through Film

Driven by her passion for acting from a young age, Berna Roberts left her home in East Chicago to pursue a career in performance arts. Finding success with a small appearance in the 2004 hit comedy, Meet the Fockers, this talented actress went on to explore filmmaking on both sides of the camera. Excited by the prospect of telling stories that could make a difference in society, she has worked on numerous television projects, short and independent films for the SyFy Channel, Amazon and Netflix. With a real love for horror, she has also showcased her acting skills as Alice DeMarco in Proco Production’s horror short, Puppet (read our review here), and Aaron Mento’s comedic horror feature, Ugly Sweater Part (read our review here).

Recently, Berna took a break from her busy schedule to speak with PopHorror about her start in the arts, past films and exciting new upcoming projects!

Berna Roberts

PopHorror: Hi, Berna! Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.

Berna Roberts: Of course! It’s my pleasure.

PopHorror: When did you first realize that you wanted to pursue acting?

Berna Roberts: I was really into classic films when I was a kid, back when the television was your babysitter (laughs).

PopHorror: I’m not sure how much that has changed other than becoming available on more electronic devices (laughs).

Berna Roberts: (laughs) Right!? But I remember watching a lot of TV and films and seeing characters to whom I could relate. My parents wouldn’t let me watch R-rated movies … other than every horror movie.

(both laugh)

It’s crazy, because the other R-rated movies might have had profanity or sexuality, but in the horror movies, they were stabbing people in the head! Those would really scare us, but I think we became accustomed to it. So, the shock value eventually wore off.

PopHorror: Of course! After being traumatized a little.

(both laugh)

Berna Roberts: So, when I was 12 years-old, I went into theater as a stage actress. At the time, I was painfully shy, and I had a teacher who eventually became my mentor. She really pushed me to explore theatrical acting. She gave me a monologue once, and I remember doing it over-dramatically.

(both laugh)

But for some reason, when I was being myself, I was incredibly shy, but when I was using someone else’s words or playing a different character, I could open up a little bit. So, that’s what sparked my interest!

PopHorror: Strangely enough, I think the arts do give introverts an extroverted outlet. I’m glad you found that interest! You mentioned that you started watching horror at a young age. Is it safe to say that you have always been a horror fan?

Berna Roberts

Berna Roberts: Oh, yes! My whole family are super horror fans. They always go to conventions in Indianapolis, which is where they currently live. I have pictures of my parents with full zombie faces that they had painted at the conventions. (laughs) So, we’re just this weird horror family, even back when we lived in East Chicago during my early childhood. There was a horror show we use to watch called Son of Svengoolie, which aired locally. They showed a creature feature every Sunday… stuff like Godzilla and The Blob. The first 3D one they did was Creature from the Black Lagoon. I also got into stuff like The Amityville Horror from 1979, The Shining, and The Night of the Living Dead. So, I got into everything from creature features and sci-fi horror to slashers and paranormal horror films. I love all of it!

PopHorror: I love that you like such a wide range of the genre! So, when did you move from the Chicago area to Los Angeles? What sparked your decision to make that leap?

Berna Roberts: Well, my father was in the military, so we actually moved to Indianapolis when I was 10 or 11 years-old. When I turned 18, I wanted to go to New York and attend The Academy of Dramatic Arts, but my father forbid it.

PopHorror: Was it too far away from home for his liking?

Berna Roberts: (laughs) Yes! Absolutely. He also wanted me to major in something that was more practical. So, I stayed in Indianapolis working in theater for a little while longer. Finally, I went to New York to model for Muscular Development Magazine. I didn’t live there for very long before I landed a role on a television pilot, which took me to Las Vegas. Some advice was given to me that I should relocate to LA and attend an acting school if I was serious about getting into the industry. With the help of a friend, I was able to fly to LA once a week to attend a conservatory until I was able to find an apartment. For a little while, I would sleep on my luggage in a handicap stall in the ladies room of the airport between flights. (laughs) So, that’s what I was doing for a few months until I was able to finally move to LA.

Berna Roberts

PopHorror: That sounds rough! I’m glad you finally got established in the film capital of the world. So, I noticed that you made a small appearance in the blockbuster comedy, Meet the Fockers, starring Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro. How did you become involved with such a big project?

Berna Robert: There was a public posting for the part, and I submitted my information to be considered… and I was picked! That was actually the part that got me my Screen Actors Guild card.

PopHorror: That’s great! What was it like working on such a big production?

Berna Roberts: When you’re on a set like that, it’s absolutely crazy! Especially when you’re new to film, which I was at the time. A set like that has hundreds of people running around. The crew is huge! And you don’t even know what each one of those people do on the set, but they’re all working together on a tight schedule. It’s like a well-oiled machine! Everyone has a job, and each person is an expert at what they do. There are so many technical things happening to contribute to the finished film, and it’s really fascinating!

Berna Roberts in Puppet

PopHorror: I can imagine! I bet it is exciting! Of course, you’re also no stranger to indie horror. You were great in Joseph Davis and Brian Gerson’s short horror film, Puppet. More recently, you were in Ugly Sweater Party, which also featured performances by Sean Whalen and Felissa Rose. What was your favorite part about filming Ugly Sweater Party?

Berna Roberts: We filmed at an old campsite that reminded me of the camp community depicted in Dirty Dancing. This film location was at the top of a mountain. After the scary drive up to this place through the deep fog … and not having a heart attack (laughs), we got settled in the main hall where we were staying for the duration of production. It was a bonding experience having breakfast, lunch and dinner together with the fireplace going at night. As with many indie projects where you have to go on location, we became a family. I remember that, in order to use the bathroom, we had to leave the main hall and go outside to get to a separate building. At night, we couldn’t go out there unless we wore a reflector vest and had a buddy with us … because they have wolves in the area.

PopHorror: Oh, wow!

Berna Roberts: (laughs) And once it got dark, you couldn’t see a thing. It was so scary! So, here we are, scared and doing a scary movie … even though it was a scary comedy. It was so creepy! And it was so fun to shoot the scene where we had a conga party. When you have all these personalities together who love horror throwing a fake party, you’re basically having a real party. The whole thing was just so fun!

Poster artwork for Ugly Sweater Party

PopHorror: That sounds like a very fun camping trip! I’m also aware that you also have experience directing, producing and editing. What part of the filmmaking process would you say is your favorite?

Berna Roberts: I think I enjoy all aspects of the filmmaking process for different reasons. I’m a very visual person, and I feel like I can really visualize and see how I want something to be through directing, so I really like that process. As for the producing side of things, I feel like I use a whole other side of my brain, and there are parts I really like about it. I’m very meticulous, which I also think works well for producing, and I love being able to reach out to fellow actors with opportunities for work.

I was first introduced to editing by putting together my acting reel. I have since done this part of the filmmaking process on other projects. It isn’t something I do much of anymore, because it takes time away from my focus on acting. I do enjoy it though, and I feel like it helps you as an actor. It’s just a very magical part of the filmmaking process. Everything from putting together scene sequences to adding the music and sounds is so crucial, and I’m fascinated by these details.

PopHorror: The whole filmmaking processes is very interesting, for sure! What would you say are some of your favorite projects?

Berna Roberts: One that comes to mind is a film that I did not too long ago called Grip. This film was Barret Mulhalland’s directorial debut, and it just did the festival circuit. It is basically about addiction, redemption and forgiveness. I play a character named Suzy who is a pregnant woman in a abusive relationship also struggling with a past of heroin addiction. It’s a short film with a runtime of about 15 minutes, but the character and the story is so well developed. I had great actors to work with. There’s so many layers to it.

PopHorror: I believe you won an award for that one, didn’t you?

Berna Roberts: I did! I was nominated for two film festival awards, and I won one of them. The film also won, and it was a film selection for festivals all over the place! Filming that project was just a very cool experience, and I fell in love with the character I was portraying. She was one of those that I just felt really connected to. The character was challenging because I had to justify some of her actions and decisions. The more I explored the character, the closer I became to her. It was a real journey to get through that, and I love it. I loved working with Barret as well, and I recently had the chance to work with him again, since he was part of the crew in a new project called In Autumn They Fly Away, which is currently in post-production. As a whole, I felt like there is quite a bit of substance in Grip, and I feel like we told a story that needed to be told. I think that if a story can reach and speak to just one person, then we have done our job as filmmakers.

Grip Poster
Poster artwork for Grip

PopHorror: Oh, absolutely! And it sounds like a powerful story!

Berna Roberts: Oh, yeah! I love doing films like Ugly Sweater Party and other horror and comedy stuff – not that there aren’t any messages in those films, because they do have meaningful aspects – but every once in awhile, I like to do a story with a difficult character and a crazy message that speaks on social issues. And in the case of Grip, that would be addiction and redemption. In the case of the current project I mentioned earlier, In Autumn They Fly Away, I think we are also telling a story that needs to be told.

PopHorror: I’m aware that you are not only the lead in In Autumn They Fly Away, but you are also helping to produce the production as well. What can you tell me about this film?

Berna Roberts: In Autumn They Fly Away is about a woman named Diana Chimera who finds herself unwed and pregnant in 1939. During that time period, families would often send women who became pregnant out of wedlock to a convent while they would make up a story to tell the neighbors. After the child was born at the convent, they would force the biological mother to give the baby up for adoption. Sometimes these women would stay at the convent where they would work rather than return to their family, because they were basically shunned.

But in the story of In Autumn They Fly Away, Diana runs away from home because she is determined to keep her child. When we meet her in the film, it is in the 1950s, and she now has a teenage son whom she has raised on her own as a single mother. By now, she has been married several times, but the relationships don’t last because her son isn’t always accepted by her significant other, and she is willing do whatever she must for the safety of her son. Along with this complication of seeking kindness and acceptance for herself and her son, we also tackle gender and ethnic inequalities.

Berna Roberts

PopHorror: That sounds like a very interesting, layered story that is packed with quite a bit of substance! I understand that you have launched a campaign to help fund post-production. How can people contribute, and when can they expect to see a release?

Berna Roberts: We have our campaign up on Seed&Spark, and we currently have less than a week left to raise money. Anyone is welcome to visit the campaign website and follow to stay updated on the project. They are also welcome to make a pledge. Any dollar amount is helpful and greatly appreciated. We also have incentives listed on the campaign site. This includes anything from a digital copy of the film, a Blu-ray copy and signed postcards to signed scripts and their name in the credits. We also have vintage poster artwork, tote bags and producer credits. It just depends on what incentive they like or they can pledge without an incentive.

Of course, sharing helps as well! We want to share the campaign as many places as possible. Every dollar pledged goes directly to helping fund picture editing, sound design, color grading, composing music for the film and film festival submissions. We’re aiming to have the film entirely completed by the end of June, and we will be submitting it to some major film festivals including Sundance, Tribeca and Toronto International Film Festival. These festivals typically like your film to premiere at their event first if they select you. But after we have the world premiere, we will be sending out the digital and Blu-ray copies to the people who pledged for those incentives. So, the official release will be sometime next year.

PopHorror: That sounds like a great opportunity for people to become involved with a film that has something to say! Are there any other upcoming projects that you would like to mention?

Berna Roberts: I have a film coming up called The Morning After from Writer/Director Timothy Ray Brandon, which I’m very excited about. There’s My Dead Selfie from Writer/Director Joy Shannon, which uses the horror genre to tell the real-life horrors of racism. I also just finished a TV pilot written and directed by Boise Esquerra called Blackwater, which is more in the drama genre that features an all indigenous Native American cast of actors. I’m currently filming a horror feature called The Tarot. This one is a super creepy story written and directed by Peter Hyoguchi and starring the writer and director of Fright Night and Child’s Play, Tom Holland! I also have several other projects currently in development, including a different type of horror series that I’m helping to write and hope to pitch to the cable networks.

Poster artwork for The Tarot

PopHorror: That sounds like a great variety of projects! It has been a pleasure speaking with you, Berna. Thank you for your time.

Berna Roberts: You’re very welcome! Thank you for the opportunity.

With such a variety of projects in the works, Berna Roberts is a genuine talent in the industry who holds a deep love for what she does. Personally, I can’t wait to see more of her work as she continues to explore the arts through film. Be sure to watch for PopHorror’s highlights of Berna’s projects, and don’t forget to check out the campaign for In Autumn They Fly Away, which you can find right here.

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