Coming up quickly in the ranks of the cinema, Rhoda Jordan is more than a pretty face from music videos and horror B movies. With credits including: actress, writer, producer, teacher, singer, and ghostwriter, Rhoda Jordan has covered a lot of ground in a relatively short amount of time. I recently had the opportunity to ask Jordan a few questions about her career as well as her collaboration with husband, writer/director Eric Shapiro, that resulted in the indie thriller, Rule of Three (reviewed here).
Justin Smith: Can you tell us about your transition from music videos to B movies to working on your own projects?
Rhoda Jordan: Well, I love acting, and I moved out to L.A. to pursue it, but its main drawback is that you can’t control the content. So I found myself involved in a lot of projects that I really felt no connection to. As an actor, you get so excited and pumped up when you book something. I’d feel so thrilled to be getting parts in these music videos and B movies, but after each project, I found that I was incredibly unfulfilled with the lack of depth. So my husband, Eric, came up with the narrative for Rule of Three, and I wrote the screenplay with a mind toward having strong, complex characters, including one for myself (laughs).
JS: What was the inspiration for the concept and characters in Rule of Three?
RJ: Eric came up with the main story beats, and then it was my job to figure out the characters’ psychology and specific behavior. For budgetary reasons, we could only use one location, but we didn’t want something simplistic with two people in an apartment, so Eric figured we’d use a hotel room, which gave us the chance to have different occupants moving in and out. Once we had a general sense of who the characters were and what they’d be doing, I had to fill in their behavior, speech, and little idiosyncrasies. It was fun because, in the abstract, they’re B movie characters — deviants, rapists, neurotics — but in our film, they get handled with A movie attention. Instead of just seeing a couple have a threesome, you see them discuss and plan and negotiate the threesome. Instead of just seeing the rapists attack people, you see them planning the action, discussing what wine to drop the roofies into, and discussing where they’ll be standing when the victim walks in. So I got inspired turning these types into three-dimensional people, and making it into what we’ve been calling an “arthouse grindhouse” movie. It’s got the lurid, lowdown characters but they’re brought to full life.
JS: One of the many impressive aspects of Rule of Three is the cast. How did you and Eric acquire such a good cast for a low-budget indie thriller?
RJ: Half of them were friends of ours. I’d worked with Tiffany Shepis before in a film called Death Factory, so she was accessible. But a lot of the main roles required a casting call. We got literally thousands of headshots and reels, and spent a couple full weeks sifting through them, to find the most exciting people possible. We knew we wouldn’t have time for fancy camera moves or two dozen takes, so we needed warriors, and that’s who we got our hands on.
JS: There are a lot of opinions in regard to exploitation and empowerment of women in cinema. What are you insights in this matter? Can they co-exist, or are we fooling ourselves?
RJ: They can definitely coexist. A lot of the misconceptions in this area separate female attractiveness from female power. We live in a male-dominated society, so our concepts of power tend to come from masculine ideals. Being hard and tough and stubborn, et cetera. But feminine power has its own design. The female body is powerful. Female magnetism is powerful. Rule of Three is generally about men who are afraid of women, and therefore need to control them. Without giving anything away, when you finally see sexuality onscreen in the film, the male actor keeps his distance from it; he’s in awe of it. The power is too much for him.
JS: How was it working with your husband/director, Eric Shapiro, on Rule of Three? Any good stories you’d like to share?
RJ: We were really scared going into it because we’d never collaborated before. He’s a fantastic horror/sci-fi author, and he was always working on his projects, while I was attending to my acting. Rule of Three was the first time we put our heads together on something. Our main difference was that I’m a huge reviser, and I’ll do a dozen drafts of something, but he likes to avoid that because once he hits a strong emotion, he doesn’t want to revise it too much ’cause he thinks it’ll get flat. So that was our conflict: He thought I’d never want to finish, and I thought he’d be willing to finish on a subpar draft (laughs). But we learned a lot from each other; I taught him to be more patient, and he taught me to be more proud of what we were getting in the short-term. Then by the time we rolled, we were a unit. The thing was ours together.
JS: On the subject of working with family, have you worked with your brother, jazz guitarist, Stanley Jordan? I read that you were interested in singing when you were younger.
RJ: Wow, you’ve done your homework! Yes, I did used to sometimes accompany him on vocals while he performed guitar, back when I was a teenager! Stanley’s such an amazing musician, and I was so fortunate to be able to do that with him. I’m a huge fan of jazz music.
JS: In addition to being a writer, producer, and actor, I learned that you are also a meditation and yoga teacher, tell us about that.
RJ: My husband and I started taking tantric meditation classes in late 2007. Tantra is all about being in the moment, and embracing what you can call everything-ness — opposites, paradoxes, contradictions, light and dark, fear and joy — all in the course of experiencing bliss. I loved it so much that I became certified to teach it, and have been doing that while working on new film projects. It all goes together; the tantra is very chaotic and creative, and it promotes a kind of expansiveness in our work.
JS: Can you shed some light on the ghostwriting company you have with your husband?
RJ: Funny use of words, in terms of shedding light, since it’s such a secretive industry (laughs)! Eric and his partner offer custom writing to private clients, and I freelance for them on different jobs. We do fiction, nonfiction, scripts, speeches, memoirs, everything. The company has been going strong for about nine years now.
JS: Do you have any current projects in the works?
RJ: Right now, we’re developing a new feature, which we’ll hopefully be able to spill more on in the next few weeks. We also shot a short film adaptation of a short story by Jack Ketchum called Mail Order, which is going to be wild. We really got a chance to break free visually on this one. The editor, Randy Stoudt, just referred to it as “Oliver Stone on ether.” (laughs)
JS: What is your advice for aspiring writers and/or actors and actresses?
RJ: The way things are now, it’s all about just making what you want to. I was reading about Edward Burns shooting a feature for nine thousand dollars, and he said it perfectly: “There are no more excuses.” You want to write movies, act in movies, direct movies, then you can actually make it happen without having to wait. Rule of Three is an example of that: one room, ten actors, really to the bone. But we got into huge festivals and landed a great distributor, and the film managed to infiltrate Netflix and gain legitimacy. We didn’t have a million bucks or a matinee name, but we were compelled to get it made and get it out there, and anybody who dreams of doing that can do it. And then hopefully get the million bucks for a future project!!