American Pie

  • New York Film Academy Welcomes Acclaimed ‘American Beauty’ Actress Mena Suvari for The NYFA Q&A Series


    On Tuesday, July 14, 2020, New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the pleasure to hold a live video Q&A with critically acclaimed actress MENA SUVARI to discuss her acting career with NYFA students and alumni. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A Series, moderated the event.

    Mena Suvari is an award winning actress known for her roles in hits such as American Pie (1999) and the five-time Oscar-awarded American Beauty (1999). Directed by Sam Mendes, her genuine and moving performance as the character Angeles Hayes in American Beauty earned her a ‘Best Supporting Actress’ nod by BAFTA and a SAG Award for ‘Best Ensemble Cast.’ Suvari also won a Movieline Award for ‘Breakthrough Performance’ for her role.

    Following the success of American Pie, she reunited with Jason Biggs in Amy Heckerling’s romantic comedy Loser (2000) and continued to show her acting range in projects like Jonas Åkerlund’s cult-classic Spun (2002), Rob Reiner’s Rumor Has It (2005), Tony Scott’s Domino (2005), and Factory Girl (2006), amongst others.

    Tova Laiter (Left) and Mena Suvari (Right) during live Q&A

    Laiter opened the conversation by discussing Suvari’s career in the entertainment industry, which began with Suvari booking modeling and commercial jobs, which then turned into guest star roles on television. After booking her first film, Nowhere (1997), other indie film gigs soon opened up for the actress, eventually leading her to her biggest break yet, a lead role in the cult-classic, blockbuster film American Pie.

    Suvari recalls the audition for high school chorus student Heather being very relaxed and not as intense as her audition for American Beauty. After shooting American Pie, Suvari remembers going into film Sam Mendes’ heavily awarded film American Beauty, playing a more dramatic role as Angela Hayes, known for her iconic, risqué rose petal scenes throughout the film.

    “I honestly remember thinking, at the time, ‘I’m so happy to have a job’ not necessarily the big names around me and they [American Pie and American Beauty] saved me at the time during a very personally challenging moment in my life.”

    Kevin Spacey (Left) and Mena Suvari (Right) in ‘American Beauty’

    Suvari, who has experienced shooting some intimate scenes across her filmography, also touched on what it can be like for actors on set when filming a very sensual or more explicit scene.

    “It can definitely be awkward sometimes,” she laughs, “I have worked in all types of scenarios, but when you are shooting intimate scenes you want to keep the crew as small as possible and make everything feel very considerate.” For American Beauty, Suvari recalls everything being handled very professionally and carefully and remembers that Mendes was “very supportive” throughout the process.

    Mena Suvari in ‘American Pie’ (1999)

    A student then asked Suvari how she personally gets into approaching a role when reading a script. “It depends on the project,” she shared. “I am currently working on a project now, for example, where there is a tight family dynamic and I am trying to understand where the characters are coming from and their motivations.”

    Ultimately, Suvari explains, approaching a script is really about collaboration, as well. “I want to approach the writer, the director, and whoever I can to understand the genesis of the story and what it means to them, and ask as many questions as I can.”

    Mena Suvari (Left) and Alicia Silverstone (Right) in ‘American Woman’

    Suvari closed the conversation, by sharing some advice with NYFA students that has always stuck with her throughout her career while she was shooting Orpheus in 2007. “It was something that you think would be so simple, but the director [Bruce Beresford] just said ‘listen, listen listen,’ which can be tricky if you think about it, because you already know the script and what will happen because you are familiar with everything, but you need to be as present as possible in the moment.”

    Laiter then thanked Suvari for joining the conversation and giving students some excellent insight for their future productions in front of the camera or for those directing actors, while Suvari exclaimed she was so happy to be part of the conversation and to speak with the students.

    New York Film Academy would like to thank actress Mena Suvari for sharing her time and her experiences working on set from being a young actress to a seasoned performer. NYFA encourages everyone to check out Suvari’s upcoming film Grace and Grit, set to release later in 2020.


    July 15, 2020 • Acting, Guest Speakers • Views: 1714

  • Head of Casting for Paramount Pictures Gives Advice to NYFA Acting Students

    Joseph Middleton

    Joseph Middleton

    Tuesday night, Producer Tova Laiter brought us Casting Director Joseph Middleton to Warner Bros Theater 4 and we had yet another full house of New York Film Academy students. Middleton is one of the most celebrated and established casting directors in the United States. He began his career casting for ensembles, so that the films he worked on would garner more attention. He was an independent Casting Director for years after starting out in the business and is currently the Executive of Casting at Paramount Pictures. Middleton is always on the look out for undiscovered talent, and has an uncanny ability to spot the next big thing. Some of his most recognized credits include Old School, American Pie, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Bring It On and Legally Blonde.

    Joseph says casting is often about looking for organic, truthful and talented performances. He also talked about the “3rd eye” — a gift that you likely either have or you don’t have when it comes to spotting talent.

    He playfully compared casting to the culinary arts, saying it’s like looking at different flavors and styles. He admitted he had had some luck with his career and how one project leads to another, but stressed that one must really stay on top of their game in order to stay relevant. You need to be constantly looking for talent, watching films and plays, seeing what is out there.

    Joseph accidentally fell into casting. He went to American University to study International Relations and had a dream of going into the service as a secret agent. He came out during his college years and admitted that being gay wasn’t exactly conducive to the culture of the service at the time. Someone suggested he take a gig as an assistant accountant on the film Mississippi Burning and off he went. One day he found himself telling the Director Alan Parker that he thought someone looked “too contemporary” for a scene in the film. Parker told him he had “a keen eye.” From there, the career of a Casting Director was born.

    So what is it that Joseph is looking for?

    “I may be looking for something specific, but if the actor can make me pick their view or vision, then that might be it. Guide yourself toward the Casting Director’s tone, and if you have done your homework, you know what that is.”

    Deal-breakers or examples of such are when actors come in to audition and do not pay attention to what feedback they are getting from the Casting Director. Also, having good energy is quite important, Joseph notes. And don’t try to read the room too much – focus on your job – acting!

    How can an actor get discovered with no real credits or an agent?

    “Don’t wait, create something! Make content, build your reel, develop it if you have to. Nowadays it’s all about having footage or ‘tape’.” Joseph also advised students to get a good headshot that “really looks like you.” Attach video to anything online and figure out WHAT IT IS THAT YOU SELL!

    Any advice for minorities trying to break into the acting business?

    “We just had a ‘China Week’ at the studio. China is a big market for Hollywood studios and I’m always looking for Chinese actors who speak English. The movies are now global and the opportunities are there, but it is not the accent that is the problem, but the diction (so the audience can understand you). Focus on what you have and can offer. If you are young, beautiful and athletic, work on those skills, because stars (like Tom Cruise) often prefer actors who can do their own stunts/ action.”

    Can you give actors some general advice?

    1. Stay healthy – set hours are long and you must be fit for all that work!
    2. Educate yourself in the craft, take classes
    3. Know content, watch films and plays!
    4. Learn letter-writing skills and remember that people like sincerity
    5. Keep your energy good, loosen up if needed
    6. Remember the assistants and associates in the business and BE NICE to them!

    Overall, Joseph was a truly great speaker: informative, sincere and fun.

    Joseph Middleton with Tova Laiter

    Joseph Middleton with Tova Laiter


    December 12, 2013 • Acting, Guest Speakers • Views: 19327

  • Sarah Louise Wilson’s Feature to Air on PBS This Weekend!


    Actor Steve Talley in ‘The Accidental Death of Joey by Sue’

    New York Film Academy MFA Film student Sarah Louise Wilson is riding a wave of success. Her films have played at 30 festivals worldwide. Her first short film, which premiered 3 years ago at Frameline, continues to make the rounds on the festival circuit, and is used as an educational tool in classrooms. She wrote, produced, and starred in her first feature film, Jelly, alongside Natasha Lyonne (Slums of Beverly Hills, But I’m a Cheerleader), and Ed McMahon in his last film role. Shot on 35mm, the film was sold to Sundance Independent and IFC. Her second feature length film, The Accidental Death of Joey by Sue, was bought by PBS, and will make its television premiere this weekend. Variety called it “Stylish and strange enough to mark Sarah Louise Wilson and [co-writer/producer] Neal Thibedeau as helmers to watch.”

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