Bayside actress makes silver screen debut

Bayside actress makes silver screen debut
Courtesy of Digital Magic Entertainment
By Tammy Scileppi

The future looks brighter than ever for Bayside actress Elyse Price, who says 2018 “started off strong!”

Price is making her debut on the silver screen after catching director Usher Morgan’s eye to play the lead in his new movie. “Pickings” premieres March 1 in Whitestone at the College Point Multiplex (2855 Ulmer St.) at 7:30 p.m. It opens at select theaters across the country March 2.

This intriguing neo-noir about a feud that develops between a crime family and an actual family has been described at festivals as “visually stunning” with “gut-punching” performances. The film centers around Price’s character, Jo Lee-Haywood, a single mother of three who starts a new life in a new city and is trying to protect her children from her violent past.

“She is just a really fierce woman and, as Usher describes her, a lioness who will stop at nothing to protect her cubs,” Price says. “It is stylistically unique, mixing film noir with spaghetti western, with a definite nod to Quentin Tarantino.”

The budding star had no inkling that one day she’d be starring in a feature movie.

“I got a notification from Backstage.com about a trailer to promote an upcoming feature film. I submitted and was called in for an audition, booked the role for the trailer but was not guaranteed the role in the film. After shooting the trailer, it was obvious that Usher and I loved working together, and he offered me the role,” Price recalled.

Since there’s so much that goes into embracing a character, from where does an actor draw to become that person?

“There might be a word or phrase that encapsulates the identity of the character or the story. Or a poem. Or even a single gesture,” says Price. “A song that inspires you can be a great place from which to take your point of departure. What’s important is to find the thing that speaks to you.

“I have played Shakespearean princesses, southern belles, Irish country girls, war widows, turn-of-the-century prigs, prostitutes on the streets of NYC. I love this art form, because you can draw from every moment of life that you experience and figure out how it fits into a particular story. I feel like I’ve been doing that my whole life anyway.”

As fate would have it, her boyfriend Joel Bernard (also a Bayside resident) got a leading role in the film as well.

“He plays my younger brother Boone. Joel was still in California finishing up grad school at [American Conservatory Theater] when Usher was casting the film. I still remember him describing the character of Boone. I said ‘just wait until you meet Joel, he’s exactly what you’re looking for.’ They met a few weeks later and the rest is history.” Price said.

The Bayside lovebirds met at Queens College, where Price graduated in 2010, and it seems as if they were destined to be together.

“I remember seeing him in a show and thinking he was insanely talented. When I got involved in the theater department, we were constantly cast opposite one other and became very close,” Price said.

After her mentor and acting teacher, Claudia Feldstein, cast them as George and Emily in “Our Town,” they really fell for each other and have been together ever since.

The actress recently returned to QC to perform with other alums, including Feldstein, in a fundraiser for the Drama, Theatre and Dance Department — a staged reading of “The Kitchen Plays” (three short plays written by QC alumni). Price said one of her proudest moments was bowing afterwards with some of her oldest and dearest friends.

She recently started teaching an acting class at QC, and she’s also collaborating with Feldstein and Bernard to create their Equity Alumni Theater Company.

When they were drama majors at Queens College, Price and Bernard started an independent theater collective called Benefit of the Doubt Theatre Company, dedicated to keeping theatre a fearless, imaginative and entertaining art form.

“We try to offer as many opportunities as possible, and in the last ten years we have collaborated with over fifty performers,” Price said.

Most recently, they produced the American premiere of “Phantom Pains” by Vasily Sigarev at Under St. Marks Theater. The actors were all alumni from American Conservatory Theater and it was directed by Matt Raines of Studio 6 of the Moscow Art Theatre.

“BotD brings people together across borders and boundaries to create the opportunity to grow personally and professionally in and through the arts,” says Price, who hopes to expand what BotD has started in the form of the Queens College theater company. “The idea was inspired by our collective appreciation for our beginnings at the school and general love for the arts and culture alive in Queens. A huge goal is to be able to make theater as accessible as possible in our Queens community, to be able to provide quality entertainment and opportunities to artists wishing to work onstage, backstage, in the writer’s room or as an audience member.”

Several projects are in the works, according to Price, including a full-length play.

“What I truly believe is there is nothing stronger than building up the people around you. There is nothing more bulletproof than authenticity.”

When she’s not acting, teaching or working at a local Carvel , where she had scooped for 16-plus years, the family-oriented 20-something loves spending quality time with her parents.

“My family is really tight knit — we’re really supportive of each other. My mom and dad have always inspired me because it seems like they can do anything,” Price says.

Her father, now retired, held several important positions including as a first responder at Ground Zero for the American Red Cross after the 9/11 attacks.

“Basically, they taught me that I could do anything I wanted, as long as I pursued it with passion and commitment and integrity,” she said.

A few years ago, Price moved across the country to attend the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, to pursue her MFA in acting.

“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, to leave my family, friends and my boyfriend for the first time in my life and miss all the holiday dinners, the birthdays … But it was one of the most important experiences of my life,”

But fate again conspired to being her and Bernard together.

“Miraculously, my boyfriend was accepted to the same program the following year — even though only ten applicants are accepted into the program. It seemed like a sign.”

Fast forward, and now they have both graduated and moved back to Bayside, reunited with their families and friends — and Price has finished shooting another film.

“We both grew up in Bayside, attended Queens College, spent years all over the place — California, Canada, Ireland, Moscow — and after all these years,” Price said, “we have the privilege of returning to our hometown. Talk about full circle. It is surreal.”