In the movie 10 Days in a Madhouse — The Nellie Bly Story, there is a character based on a real life person who is one of the primary Nurses, Miss Grupe. The historical albeit dark hearted figure is played by the daughter of one of the most famous and renowned artists in modern history, Russian born actress Alexandra Callas plays the historical albeit dark hearted figure, nurse Grupe.
In the movie based on Nellie Bly’s newspaper account of atrocities in the notorious Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum for Women, Ms. Callas plays opposite Caroline Barry as Nellie Bly, Christopher Lambert as E.C. Dent, the Superintendent of Blackwell’s Asylum, and Kelly Le Brock who plays nurse grant. Armed with an ability of superb acting talent, and sometimes serendipity, Ms. Callas came to act in American movies through years of powerful determination against a world of challenges and obstacles.
Alexandra Callas, was born during the cold war in Russia (then, the USSR), to the daughter of renowned Russian Jewish sculptor of Soviet realist works, Lev Kerbel. He was the premier portraitist in the USSR. Kerbel’s creations included statues of Marx, Lenin and the first human to journey into outer space, Yuri Gagarin, as well as outstanding portraits of WWII heroes, heroes of labor and renowned artists. Lev Kerbel was once called “the contemporary Michelangelo” by British art critics. Lev Kerbel’s pieces are located all around the globe, decorating squares, state and private galleries including Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, and private collections.
With such a famous father, there was a lot of pressure on Alexandra to prove herself when, at a young age, she decided to pursue a career in the public eye. And prove herself she did. There are some interesting similarities between Callas’ background and the background of journalist Nellie Bly, who wrote the book 10 Days in a Madhouse, upon which the new movie of the same title is closely based. Like Bly, Callas started young in a career in journalism. At the age of only 15, Alexandra was published as a reporter for one of the major youth newspapers in Moscow, and then her gift for journalism quickly led her to TV News on the established National Channel 3.
At the age of 17, she was already called one of the best young TV reporters of Russia. “It was only after I had proven myself that I revealed that I was only 17. They were a bit irritated that I lied to them, but they kept me on.” They sent Alexandra to cover the weather on May 1st, 1993, but it just happened that she found herself in the midst of crowds of protesters in the time before the second putch. “I found myself in the middle of it. We ended up with a lot more then footage of clouds and sky. I was made part of the news team and my salary was instantly raised.
She was still dreaming of an acting career, but just didn’t have any time to pursue acting, being an extremely busy TV reporter. Soon she was invited to host the show at the most popular FM-station in Moscow at that time — “Maximum”, where she ended up hosting MTV special daily radio news, the Morning Show, Friday night show, Sunday night show and her own exclusive author shows. By 2007, she hosted her own shows on three different radio stations.
But the call of acting was in her blood and at the peak of success; Callas up and quit her radio and TV career, and completely devoted herself to her only dream — acting. Alexandra went on to earn multiple university degrees in acting and journalism as well as graduating from the Moscow State Academy of Fine Arts as an art historian. With a new career in stage and television Alexandra Callas honed her skills as a professional actress.
Flash forward to 2013, when Alexandra came across an open casting call to play in 10 Days In A Madhouse. “When I first read about the movie, my heart nearly jumped out of my chest: I was DYING to be involved. Such a story, such a person, women-driven drama. Somehow I knew from the very beginning, that this story was going to change my life forever.”
Change her life it did. Alexandra was chosen out of thousands of hopefuls to play a major role in the film and was flown to the US to act in an actual closed asylum, in Salem Oregon, where One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest was filmed.
When Alexandra Callas arrived in Salem, they were having a one hundred year snow and freezing weather. “I will never forget when I first saw Alexandra in her white parka,” says director Timothy Hines of Ms. Callas, “She was absolutely radiant and so upbeat. We were all freezing our brass monkeys off and she was oblivious to the cold. After all this little cold snap was nothing compared to the average sub zero winters in Moscow. The first things she said was how beautiful the weather was. She called it, ‘Christmas weather.’ There was something about her spirit that I knew we would become life long friends.”
Callas concurs with her shared kindred spirit for Timothy Hines. “Timothy is an absolutely outstanding person. His knowledge of life and human nature amazes me every time. Although he is very “sharp-tongued” and has a dark sense of humor, he truly loves people and sympathizes with them. He has a rare talent to ‘jump’ into anyone’s shoes at once, immediately being able to understand a person’s mentality and values. It makes him a very tolerant person, a great, ‘character-friendly’ screenwriter and a great, actor-friendly director – flexible, ready to improvise, make changes, and ready to accept actors’ choices, even if they’re different from what he envisioned. Working with Timothy is a blessing. He seems…so Russian to me: strong, honest, very smart, caring, knowing how to survive in any circumstances. The one you can rely on. And, after working together for such a long time, and having been in a lot of situations, we are a true family. And I will never forget the first day he called me, from the USA to Russia, and told me personally that I was cast, and that he welcomed me on board. My heart was pounding, and I was about to faint. I will always be grateful he chose me out of contenders who were from all over the globe, that he trusts me, and then, on set, trusts my choices. He gave me that amazing chance that happens once in a lifetime.”
Callas worked closely with newcomer star Caroline Barry who plays the famous reporter, Nellie Bly, in the movie. Callas says about Barry, “She is fabulous. She’s is a brilliant actor and a loving friend. I trust her very much, trust her opinion, she’s very smart, professional and tactful and has a beautiful heart. In the performance, she is very intelligent in her choices, and has an amazing intuition. We have spent weeks and weeks filming together in Salem, and then in LA, and every day on set I saw new dimensions of her talent.”
Alexandra Callas was also taken with another co-star, superstar, Christopher Lambert, (Tarzan, Legend of Greystoke, Highlander, Mortal Kombat and the upcoming Cohen Brothers movie, Hail Caesar!). “When on set, he’s very serious and concentrated,” says Callas of Lambert, “and behind the scenes — the sweetest, and most helpful, and so fun.”
But her first scenes with Christopher Lambert had an inauspicious start, Callas elaborates, “Ha ha ha, my flight from Moscow was delayed, so I got to the set right from the plane, after a sleepless night and busy days filming in Russia before that. So when I met Mr. Lambert for the first time, I was straggly, partly deaf from the plane ride, and nearly falling asleep on the set. I can imagine what he thought of me, but if so, he never showed it. Instead, he tactfully gave me time to take a breath and get myself together. He is a gentleman, and very… aristocratic. An amazing man. Mysterious looking, so attractive and in great physical shape. And a very thoughtful actor.”
Callas had equally gushing words for Kelly Le Brock, (The Woman In Red), “She is marvelous. There are no men or women who wouldn’t turn their head when she passes by. She is a breath of fresh air. She has tremendous charisma, and is so fun and nice. Kelly, as I know now, herself has been through a lot, and she wrote a book about her life experience, which is about to be published, and I’m gonna be the first one to buy and read it because hers is such an inspiring story. Kelly is so strong, an optimist. Probably because of that she brought something very special to the dark setting of the madhouse. Kelly is an outstanding character actress. Just outstanding. With every take she would bring something different in her performance, and every take was a treasure. I’d love to work with her more!”
East truly has met West in Nelly Bly’s madhouse when Alexandra joined the cast of 10 Days in a Madhouse – The Nellie Bly Story. Ms. Callas will go on to bring grace to the USA as she is already in preparations for her next movie in America. Callas says, “And from the very first acquaintance with the story and the production team, I’ve been living the dream. Like Cinderella. When I was a kid, I imagined USA being a Magic Kingdom where any miracle could happen. And I always believed that. And always knew that, if I know my goals and work hard and never stop dreaming and believing, then one day I will find and follow my yellow brick road to this Magic Kingdom, and will find MY miracle, too. And now it is happening, and I am so grateful for every single moment of it!”
10 Days In A Madhouse – The Nellie Bly Story opening in US theaters September 25th, 2015.
Video Link: http://www.10daysinamadhouse.com
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