Interview: Yancy Butler Talks Acting, ‘Emerald Run’February 11, 2020
Recently we had the chance to talk with actor Yancy Butler about her career, including her groundbreaking roles in action films and her newest film Emerald Run.
Your parents have a solid background in the entertainment industry. Was it natural for you then to want to explore that or did you have an interest there already?
Yancy: It’s funny, I still don’t know what I’m going to do when I grow up. (laughs) My dad is 77 years old and still in a rock and roll band, he actually works more than I do which is crazy, and my mother was a company manager for Broadway shows, so it was the last family business they wanted me to go into. The deal was I was to go to college and then make a decision and I am so grateful I went to college, did the academic thing and then decided to do this anyway. I had student loans to pay back, I had to figure something out quickly (laughs) but yes, I grew up in that atmosphere and decided to do this.
You’ve done a lot of work in film and television. Do you have a preferred medium to work in or do you simply go where the work takes you?
Yancy: I go where the work takes me but it’s funny, I like how television is so fast-paced, you have an airdate you have to meet. Often with film you have a slower pace, I’m making huge paintbrush dramatizations, but I don’t prefer or dislike either one, it all has to do with the project and whether I believe in it or not.
Television is going through another golden age these days with all the streaming services coming out. Has that opened up a lot of work for you, and quality work as well?
Yancy: It’s starting to because the pendulum has swung so much as there is so much more creative stuff on television, and there’s so much good television out there now. Netflix and Hulu are doing amazing things and it really is opening up opportunities for a lot more actors.
Women seem to finally be getting bigger and better roles in the entertainment industry, which is long overdue. Have you seen a positive change or do we still have a long way to go in that regard?
Yancy: We still have a long way to go. Geena Davis, god bless her, she does a lot of work talking about women in film and I believe we still only make up about twenty percent of the industry. I’m talking across the board as well, producers, writers, directors, actors and twenty percent is a far cry from being there. However, I believe with more of these projects coming up and stronger roles being written that things are going to get better. We had a peak in the early ’90s of stronger women being written, then it kind of dipped down, in my opinion, and it’s slowly getting back up there so we can only hope and pray that we’ll start to fill out more of the industry.
I’m part of a committee, an awards ceremony this year, I won an award several years ago, called Diamonds in the Raw, and it’s an organization that’s helping at-risk and inner-city teen girls, to school them in math and science, etc but they also give them a film boot camp. They teach them how to be directors, cinematographers, producers, and give these women opportunities through networking to get behind the scenes and we have a big awards ceremony every year benefiting these kids, and it’s a red carpet huge event. We recognize stuntwomen in our community, who aren’t recognized at all, but at the end of the year one of the young ladies gets a scholarship and it’s really a great event, more things like that need to happen. It’s a great organization and I’m really proud to be a part of it.
Many people recognize you from action films such as Drop Zone, Hard Target and of course the TV series Witchblade. What has your experience been like working in the action genre?
Yancy: I love actions films and you know, I just fell into it to be quite honest. Dick Wolf cast me in my first major job and I played a, well you can only go down from here Jeff, I was the most beautifully created robot in the world, but it happened to be action-oriented and it was just something that I fell into, I didn’t seek it out. People started seeing me as this tough, hard chick so I started playing these roles and it’s funny because in Drop Zone, that part was originally written for a man, they were looking at Mel Gibson for the part. They decided, John Badham the director, not to make it another buddy film and to make it a woman and I’m really blessed that he decided to do that, and they didn’t take any of the action out. I still got clocked in the face and punched by Wesley Snipes and I liked that they didn’t alter because it was a woman’s role now.
I remember watching those movies, and the TV series Witchblade and thinking about how important it was to see a woman actor take on those roles.
Yancy: That’s right, I agree. I like to consider myself, and I think I was, at the forefront of all of that stuff. I remember these series, the Cagney and Lacey type, that did it without making it masculine, without stereotypes and pigeonholing it into this caricature of what a strong woman should be and I feel very blessed that I was kind of at the forefront of that, it’s important to me.
Let’s talk about your role as Anna on the film Emerald Run. How did this part come about for you?
Yancy: Well the man who stars in it, David Chokachi, and the man who directed it, Eric Etebari, were both in the cast of Witchblade. It came across my desk and they asked me to come aboard and I eagerly said yes.
Was it the role or script that you found attractive, or was it a bit of both?
Yancy: It was the script, actually. It’s about this man’s internal journey through his faith and his family in extremely exciting and dangerous situations. It was really about his struggles and what he was willing to do for his family and questioning his faith, and that really appealed to me.
As an actor, do you have a different mindset when you take on smaller roles as opposed to bigger ones or do you treat them the same?
Yancy: They are really all the same. I’m a background magnet, I love writing a full history of what my character is like, it’s kind of old school but I like doing it anyway. I decided to do this, I’m not a big fan of the business but I love storytelling, it’s the oldest art form we have, so I love being able to story tell and I try to tell the story no matter how big the role is.
What do you think a movie like Emerald Run can offer an audience and keep them engaged and interested?
Yancy: I think like I touched on earlier, I think it will get people to question their own faith, belief system and morals and what they are willing to do for those they love. I think any movie that takes you on that kind of internal journey, makes one question their own values and belief systems and integrity, you know is a good ride.
You mentioned you’ve been in this business now for about thirty years. What would you say to someone who wanted to pursue acting as a career?
Yancy: I would ask them if they would be happy doing anything else, because if you’re going to be happy doing something else then probably do that, to be honest. It’s hard for women out there, it really is, and as I said, I’ve enjoyed the ride tremendously and I’m very blessed and fortunate to be one of the few actors that work. It’s a rough ride so I’d certainly tell them to get an education under their belt before they made that decision.
What other projects do you have coming up?
Yancy: I have a great horror film called Dembanger that won in the South by Southwest Festival in Austin. I saw the film and it’s really good, John Berardo directed it and Brian Frager produced it, it’s really good. I have another horror film coming out called Severed Silence and that’s a really good film and yeah, horror seems to be the genre that everybody’s going for and I like horror films so why not? I also just finished another film with David Chokachi called Last Call in the Dog House, it’s about a bar that comes to life only when people need it, it’s quite interesting. David kind of plays the role of God and I play a Broadway star named Mary, it’s a very creative independent film and we’re proud of that as well. We just realized it’s the 20th anniversary of Witchblade, somebody pointed that out, I can’t believe it.
I want to thank Yancy for taking the time to talk with us.