Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Jennifer Sklias-Gahan (WSC '95), Actress, Writer and Filmmaker

Jennifer Sklias-Gahan

Jennifer Sklias-Gahan is an actor, writer and filmmaker. She is co-founder of the New York based production company 18 Bleecker Films; look out for three of their films in festivals now, Matilda  (BAFF winner for best short film 2019), Donut Shop and Data Management. Jennifer can be seen in the starring role of The Rise of Whore Betsy now streaming on Amazon Prime. She has two grown children (writer/director) James Rogers-Gahan and (singer/ songwriter) Stella Rose Gahan. Jennifer lives in New York City with her husband, David Gahan, singer/songwriter and frontman for the English band, Depeche Mode and their three cats Poseidon, Daisy and Duke.

What did you study at NYU?

I was a journalism major, minoring in politics with a concentration in Soviet foreign policy.  During my time at NYU, the Berlin Wall came down and my Soviet foreign policy professor said, “Well, looks like you all have become history majors overnight!”

Jennifer Sklias-Gahan: her story continues

Do you have a favorite memory from your time at NYU?

I have many substantial memories, but this one strongly come to mind  I became a mother while I was completing my degree; the support and encouragement I received from a handful of my professors was memorable and inspiring. Once I was taking a public speaking class and needed to make a presentation that taught the audience how to do something. My infant son’s babysitter called in sick, so I had no choice but to be inventive and bring my son to class. I asked my professor if I could change my presentation topic, she said, “sure.” I carried my son to the front of the classroom, holding him in one arm and with the other, placed a towel on the front table, laid him gently down and guided them through the steps of “how to change a diaper.” It was a large class, and once the “how to” was complete, the class cheered! It was so sweet and boy I needed it that day.

How did your education at NYU shape what you do now? 

Although I initially worked in editorial and documentaries after graduating, and not as a news journalist or in politics as I had originally planned, the classes I took in these subjects and others, exposed me to many points of view and styles. The smaller class sizes lent to in-depth discussions and heated necessary debates. Students were encouraged to be open minded while speaking their minds. Today, I am so grateful that NYU taught me to have a curiosity about the world and seek to participate in conversation around varied issues, subjects, viewpoints and values both individual and societal. 

I learned so much from the professors who brought their outside career experiences to us as students. They modeled how they used their expertise and education in their world, so very important. NYU also linked us to outside professionals which led to future work for me.

I had a radio class assignment to interview a local journalist. I was connected with Judy Reemstsma, a producer, for the interview. She was a fascinating woman to me and we stayed in touch.

In my last year at NYU, Judy hired me to work on a PBS series, which she co produced, about World War II.  Her angle was the war through the perspective and experiences of the American women at home. I conducted interviews with World War II veterans, read incredible letters between soldiers and their loved ones, reviewed footage, and helped with editing. Judy even set up an area at the office for my son,  if I ever had no choice but to bring him to work. I really have been so graced with exceptional people and professionals at and through NYU.

You play Ava in the acclaimed web series The Louise Log. Can you tell us about your character and the show?

I loved playing Ava. She was the alter ego of Louise, the title character, who was a housewife aching to break out creatively and take greater ownership of her life. My character, Ava is basically an ego maniac with low self-esteem who cannot help herself from squeezing everything she can out of life at any cost! You can guess that Ava and Louise have their share of hilarious run ins. Louise secretly admires the way Ava goes after life and as the show progressed Louise takes some of this trait to become stronger and take control of her life. It was one of the first web series at the time and Anne Flournoy was really a pioneer in creating this medium.

You star in The Rise of Whore Betsy, a 19th century tale about redemption and revenge on the western frontier of Oregon, streaming on Amazon Prime. What was your experience working on a period film?

I did a lot of research for this film to allow myself to step into this time period. We filmed it in a 19th century cabin. The local historical society lent the production props making sure the set was authentic, it was a wonderful time machine. The film is about Betsy’s powerlessness in her society as a victimized woman of this time having to accept the limitations in her life. I did frequently think about how far women’s equality and opportunities have improved since the 19th century, however while we were filming, anti-abortion laws were being revisited; I couldn’t help but see similarities between contemporary society struggles and those in the 19th century.

Can you tell us about your company 18 Bleecker Films?

My son is a writer and director and I am an actor and writer. We decided to combine our talents and create a production company together and produce some of our combined work. In our first year and a half we have completed three short films, all of which have larger stories behind them. My son’s work has political undertones while I write more dramatic, character-driven material. We are both interested in conveying stories that address issues through distorting or questioning the timeline they play out in.

You wrote and star in Matilda now in film festivals. What inspired you to write the film? Can you tell us what it is about?

I was writing a feature about two New York women, who were related, both living in different time periods and dealing with mental illness, drug addiction, and women’s issues.  I was having trouble finishing it. My son recommended that I take a break and write a short. Matilda came out of this larger storyline. It is an urban ghost story of loss and how we deal with grieving. At some point, you have to let go of your grief in order to keep going.

You appear in the Depeche Mode music video for the song Suffer Well with your husband, David Gahan, the lead singer of the band. What was it like acting in a music video?

David wrote the song about his own addiction and the things that helped him to get healthy. It’s a love letter to people who helped him through this time in his life.

What is next for you? 

We’re putting Matilda into film festivals now so we’ll see what comes from that. We have our first short Donut Shop about to be submitted that my son wrote and directed, as well as a short called Data Management which we completed filming in October. Both Donut Shop and Data Management are from the same larger story bible. They take place in our future, AI and artificial beings are doing all the work humans have traditionally done. The films bring up the issue of human behavior, worth, and purpose in a new world.

Aside from these projects, who knows what’s next.  It will be fun to see what opportunities present themselves and what I create for myself.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter: @JSkliasGahan
Read more about Jennifer's projects here:

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