Film Scouts Interviews

Catherine Kellner on "Rosewood"

by Henri Béhar

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Catherine who? If you're not heavily into off-Broadway and deeply independent films (Is there any such thing as way-off-Hollywood?), you don't know Catherine Kellner. Before John Singleton's "Rosewood", the closest thing she had done to a "studio movie" was Fred Schepisi's "Six Degrees on Separation", based on John Guare's play. But maybe you've caught a glimpse of her on television in such series as "High Incident" and "As The World Turns".

In 'Rosewood', she plays Fannie Taylor, the Sumner, Fla. white woman whose claim that she had been beaten by a black man triggered the town's massacre. She may, however, go down in history as the actress who hoodwinked director Singleton into giving her the part.

"I went to the wrong audition. What can I say? I was shooting (dancer-director) Yvonne Rainer's *very* independent movie near New York's City Hall. I got this phone call from (super casting director) Marion Dougherty. I knew she was casting a new version of "Anna Karenina", so I brushed up on my Tolstoy and went.

"I get there, meet with Marion, start yacking about Anna Karenina, she goes, 'Wait a minute. Wrong movie. Today I'm casting John Singleton's 'Rosewood'. I wanted to put you on tape and take it with me to Los Angeles tonight to show it to him. You gotta have a Southern accent, here are the 'sides' (the audition scenes).'

"Now I know nothing about the South. My father was an Jewish Hungarian immigrant who came to this country on a boat. We're basically East Coast: I went to Vassar and my brother is in law school at Yale. I knew the 'Rosewood' people had approached people like Drew Barrymore and Jodie Foster to play Fannie, I knew Singleton wanted 'the real thing', a true Southerner who'd never acted before, which was not my case. I felt I didn't stand a chance, so I did the whole thing in a blur.

"Next thing I know, Marion Dougherty calls my agent. 'Singleton is interested. I showed him the tape, he asked whether Catherine was a Southerner who'd never acted before. I lied'. God bless her. 'I said yes. So tell Catherine to invent a story. A good one.'

"So I did. I flew to L.A. and read with ("Billy Bathgate" 's) Loren Dean. We were both very nervous and quite wary of each other. I thought he was already cast and just there to help me on my audition scene. He thought *I* was cast and was there to help *him* for *his* audition. So things were a bit tense. Until, as we were chatting on the side, we realized we were *both* auditioning. From that point on, it was a breeze.

"Then I'm told at some point, I am to have dinner with John Singleton and Jon Voight. Great! But, oh shit! I have to keep my southern accent, and I know, I just *know* I'll be exposed as a fake and a total fraud.

"But no, that's when they told me I had the part."

When did Singleton find out?

"*Months* after we'd wrapped! I went to see him in the editing room, we were just, like, chatting. And for some reason or other, I started talking about Vassar and my brother going to Yale.

"'Say what?!!!'

"Oops, the cat was out the bag, no way I could put it back there. Besides, I figured it would have been too expensive to reshoot, right? So what the hell?"

How were the cast and crew treated in Rosewood, Florida?

"Eh! There's nothing there but a couple of trailers. It's twelve miles from Cedar Key, which is an abandoned town, and it was three miles from Sumner, where Fannie Taylor and her husband John lived; he worked at the sawmill, as did a lot of the black residents from Rosewood.

"The trailer people were skeptical about us, they didn't know what impact the movie might have on their way of life, their possessions, whatever. It was okay."

The film indicates John Taylor's wife, Fannie, was beaten by her boyfriend - and a good half-hour, at that, before she started screaming and alerting the white population of Sumner. Yet later, in a cutaway shot, Singleton seems to indicate Fannie Taylor may well have been the town slut.

"And she was!", Kellner continues. "A couple of small scenes that were cut from the final movie indicated that she was a bit of an outcast. She complained to her husband that the other women in the town looked down upon her. Kids ripped leaves off her trees and threw rocks at her house.

"But then she became... a movie star. All of a sudden, everybody was on her side, she was having her 15 minutes of fame.

"And it didn't last more than that. Later, when things get out of hand, in another scene that's been cut, Loren Dean - John - says to me: 'See what you've done?' And I reply: 'This has nothing to do with me anymore...'

"And you know what? Three years later, after she moved to another town, she did exactly the same thing. Nobody cared.

"I'll tell you one thing, though. It felt strange, after 'Rosewood', to go back to Los Angeles and play an LAPD cop..."

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