Florence Hartigan began acting at a very young age in New Zealand, and she immediately fell in love with the industry. After appearing in hit New Zealand movies and TV shows like Magik and Rose, Shortland Street, and Maddigan’s Quest, Hartigan made her way to Los Angeles to expand her opportunities in film — and she did just that! She starred in one of the most intriguing sci-fi movies of 2017, Phoenix Forgotten. Directed by Justin Barber (Medicine for Melancholy), the film is produced by an all-star team: Ridley Scott (Alien franchise), Wes Ball (Maze Runner), and Mark Canton (The Martian).
Before starring in hit films, Hartigan studied with the famed comedy troupes the Groundlings and the Upright Citizens Brigade. With her wit and comedic timing, Hartigan is a natural at improv. She continues to participate in comedic groups and recently performed musical improv as well. In her popular sketches on Funny or Die — like The Purge: Ladies Night, I Survived 30 PSA, and Bad Breakup — her natural timing shines. In addition to acting, she is also a passionate singer and songwriter.
This reporter had the pleasure of speaking with the multi-talented artist, and she shared stories on Phoenix Forgotten, a groundbreaking animated project that she lent her voice to, and her music.
Unraveling The Mystery
Phoenix Forgotten has a near four-star rating (out of five) on Movie Insider, and the site provides the premise for one of the best sci-fi movies of 2017.
“Based on the shocking, true events of March 13th, 1997, when several mysterious lights appeared over Phoenix, Arizona. This unprecedented and inexplicable phenomenon became known as ‘The Phoenix Lights’, and remains the most famous and widely viewed UFO sighting in history. Phoenix Forgotten tells the story of three teens who went into the desert shortly after the incident, hoping to document the strange events occurring in their town. They disappeared that night, and were never seen again. Now, on the twentieth anniversary of their disappearance, unseen footage has finally been discovered, chronicling the final hours of their fateful expedition. For the first time ever, the truth will be revealed…”
With great acting, directing, and realism, many critics have said that the movie has breathed new life into found footage. Florence spoke of what makes the movie feel so real.
“Going into it, Justin’s aim was to approach the film like a documentary. He has a background as a documentary filmmaker, and one of his strengths is that he’s really great at getting these genuine human moments out of people. We actually interviewed real people in the movie; so, there were people in the film that weren’t actors. We asked them about their jobs and experiences, and we interwove our story around them. I think that’s one of the cool things about this film that I haven’t seen before.
“The thing about shooting it is that it changed a lot from beginning to end. When you make a documentary, you are piecing things together and you’re, kind of, rewriting it in the editing room. Not only did we have real interviews, we were also improvising a lot of stuff. That required us to edit things, take things out, and shoot things later on.”
Florence is highly-skilled at portraying complex emotions, and her character in Phoenix Forgotten, Sophie, was a great platform for her to showcase those emotions. Hartigan spoke about Sophie and what she hopes the audience gets from the film.
“I play a documentary filmmaker, Sophie Bishop. The whole premise of the film is that my character comes back into town years after her brother Josh goes missing. She tries to unravel the mystery through what she does, which is making documentary films. Her mother is selling her childhood house, and that’s where a lot of the memories and artifacts are that inform the story she wants to tell, including some video tapes Josh shot when he was a teenager. Film was his language too. So, there’s this drive for her to connect with him by finishing the story he was trying to tell.
“Sophie’s whole life has been overshadowed by the tragedy that happened when she was really young. She grew up in the aftermath of this crazy thing, where her brother went missing and nobody knew what happened to him. To understand these emotions more, I watched documentaries like Grizzly Man by Werner Herzog; films where people talk about tragedy. Movies about real human experiences.
“I want the audience to be emotionally invested in the characters. I want them to have the experience of watching something that’s mysterious and spooky, but have the ability to be emotionally touched too.”
Phoenix Forgotten is currently available via Movies on Demand, YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes.
A Refreshing Malevolence
Currently in post-production is the first U.S.-made animated horror film, Malevolent. Alongside Morena Baccarin, Ray Wise, William Shatner, and Bill Mosely, Florence lends her voice in the film portraying Kelsey. Hartigan described the fun she had in portraying this character.
“It was a really awesome experience for me. I play this woman who is a valley girl that has a terrible, terrible family. You find out very quickly that it’s not an ideal situation. This woman is incredibly damaged with tons of emotional problems, and she feels entitled. That was super fun for me to play.
I never get to play spoiled women. Waiting tables in my early L.A. days, I would come across these people. It’s an interesting psychology when you grow up very entitled, and how that translates through life in how you communicate with the world. I think it’s so fascinating. To be able to play this type of person was a real treat.”
The Beauty Of Vulnerability
Florence Hartigan studied classical singing at an early age, and in college, she started writing her own songs and performing them. With an essence like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Joni Mitchell, Hartigan wears her heart on her sleeve through her music. This reporter asked her the difference between the vulnerability of acting and the vulnerability of creating music.
“Acting is always you, but it’s you plus a layer of imagination. You use things from your life, you use things to inspire you, and you kind of take the strategic bits of what you understand about other people, and you breathe your own life into a character that’s been written. And that can feel very revealing and scary, at least, I always think it’s better when it does! That’s what’s vulnerable about acting on film. But with music, at least for me, that extra layer of imagination is removed—I’m not playing a character. It’s just me. It’s like, ‘Yeah, that’s what I feel like. Here it literally is.’ It’s complete vulnerability.”
Florence plays the guitar with exquisite precision, and her voice is angelic, yet powerful. She sings very personal stories and masterfully uses commanding crescendos, with an impressive range, to emphasize exact words and meanings. Perhaps no song is a better example of this than “Song for Gwenny.”
“It’s about my grandmother. I wrote that as she was passing away last January. She was just an amazing contradiction of a person; she was incredibly affectionate and warm, and on the other hand, she could be pretty difficult to interact with. She lived in Austria right before WWII broke out. Being a Jewish family, they moved to London to avoid that whole catastrophe. She grew up in England, and I spoke to her about growing up in the that environment—she was in London during the The Blitz—and the last time I hung out with her I asked her what that was like.
“‘Well, you just don’t think about it, just like you don’t think about being hit by a car when you cross the street. It just becomes part of the fabric of who you are.’ She described hiding underneath the table when the sirens would go off. It’s crazy, just the stuff that becomes normal to people that you just can’t imagine. But that became a part of her, and part of her personality.”
Choked up with tears, Florence described the impact her grandmother had on her.
“She was so caring and warm, and I think I was one of the few people that saw that warm side. She’s not someone I saw often because I moved halfway across the world, two different times, but she is a large part of what makes me—me. In the song, I have lyrics that say, ‘Written in my heart, written in my DNA.’ She’s a part of who my mother is, and my mother is part of who I am.”
Florence spoke with honesty and passion, which is how she delivers her art. Whether she’s bringing an audience (or a reporter) to tears through her music, making them laugh through her skits, or enticing excitement on the big screen, Florence Hartigan continues to create and inspire art.
[Featured Image by ZB Images]