The first things you notice about triple threat Hilary Barraford are her big blue orbs, whom others would dub “eyes.” When she trains them on you, you immediately feel like you are basking in a feeling of joy and happiness.
Next, is her infectious laugh.
It’s an emotion that’s so big, so warm it fills a room within seconds of telling Hilary a good joke. And that’s what the Converse high top-wearing actress, writer and producer has done since moving from Boston to Los Angeles – fill a room with her talent and creativity.
Born and bred in America’s Walking City, Hilary, who possesses a Kaitlin Olson comedic swagger, has always been a storyteller. After college, a life-changing experience with director Brad Silberling on Moonlight Mile led her to Los Angeles.
She’s since appeared on Showtime’s Emmy-nominated and Golden Globe-winning United States of Tara with Toni Collette, and on both sides of the camera for Oscar-nominee John Sayles’ Go For Sisters with Edward James Olmos and Mahershala Ali, which received an Independent Spirit Award nomination after premiering at SXSW.
Continuing to play on both sides of the camera, Hilary executive produced and co-starred with Deanna Russo + Lisa Ann Walter in The Ice Cream Truck, hailed by Variety as an “eccentric horror opus.”
Recently, Hilary, who counts Shaft’s Richard Roundtree among her friends, appeared in Lionsgate’s sci-fi Life Like (Drew Van Acker, Steven Strait and James D’Arcy), social justice drama Equal Standard (Ice-T) and horror short Hot Dog, which garnered her two Best Actress awards on top of 18 awards and 50+ festivals globally.
Hilary’s currently developing a full slate of projects she will produce + co-star in, including Miles From Yesterday with Virginia Madsen, plus a comedy series with Beacon Pictures.
We had a chance to shoot the shit with Hilary, and learn about her upcoming projects.
Hilary you are an actress, writer and producer. Answering with just one hat on your head, who is Hilary Barraford as a storyteller?
Ah, my favorite hat. I love that you use that word “storyteller” because that’s really how I’ve always seen myself – the form it takes just depends on the story. I’ve always been someone to speak up for other people, almost always through art. As a storyteller, I’m most passionate about stories that shine a new light on underrepresented experiences – whether that’s people of color, the LGBTQ community or just the female experience as a whole. But it’s not all serious, I love a script with a lot of humor and heart too. After all, if it ain’t entertaining who’s gonna watch it?
What inspires you as an artist?
This is gonna sound cheesy, but I’m inspired by vulnerability. When I see people who aren’t afraid to go there and reveal some dark, deep truth that always motivates me to do the same. ‘Cuz it’s not easy doing that. Or comfortable. But it’s always what I connect to most on screen, or in a gallery, or wherever art is.
That rawness, that realness is what moves people. Stand-up comedians are great at this – taking some embarrassing little thing you’d never tell anyone and bringing it out into the light in a hilarious way that kind of normalizes it. I also love that you’ve gotta really do work to get there, but it’s what gives a great performance or a great story that x-factor. It’s probably why I love dark comedy so much – finding humor in our darkest truths.
When was the moment as a “Bahston” girl you decided “I need to perform?”
Well, I’ll tell you when it wasn’t. It was not when I was 6 and my neighbor Lisa tried out for Annie and I went with her. They asked me to get up there and audition too and that was not happening. I wanted nothing to do with any of that, like to an arms-crossed degree.
In school, I was painfully shy. But whenever there was a video project, mine would always be the most elaborate. We’re talking off-book with Shakespeare on my balcony, on location in a forest for Narcissus & Echo, directing Socrates’ trial in my parents’ sunroom.
But it eventually found me, the acting bug. My childhood friend Beth (who had starred in some of those videos with me, btw) convinced me to join her in auditioning for a Boston modeling agency soon after we graduated from college. I literally dropped a stack of candid college graduation photos on those poor people, cap n’ gown n’ all.
But by some miracle, they signed us both and one of the first castings we went on together was for locals for the film Moonlight Mile with Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon & Jake Gyllenhaal. That was my first on-camera job, as a featured extra. Not only did I absolutely fall in love with being on set, but there was a new online casting site running a raffle when we went to audition. I won a free membership and started getting called in for stuff in New England.
I showed up and they were like, “Read this.” I could read, I’d just graduated from Williams College with an English degree. I think the first time I got to yell like a crazy person in an audition did it for me. The moment I realized how many different people I could be is the moment I decided I needed to perform.
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What energizes you about productions?
I always say being on a set is like running away to the circus each and every time. I love circus folk. I get so energized being around people just in general (hello, extrovert!), but in production I’m obsessed with the total collaboration of it. I love all those insanely creative minds coming together to create total magic – and how jazzed they all are to be doing it, too. The buzz of creativity during productions is straight-up addictive. There’s nothing else in the world like it.
You’re always on the red carpet? Do you believe it helps a budding career?
Ha! Guilty. I do a lot of red carpets. And I like to think it helps, but who knows? First, you ain’t meeting new people sitting at home. I like to be out and about because: extrovert, as I mentioned. But also if it’s a premiere, you’re getting to see someone else’s accomplishment on the night when it’s the most perfect, the most loved.
Being in a room like that is almost always inspiring (unless the movie sucks and it’s awkward for everyone lol). But I also do it for another reason. So much of being an actor these days goes way beyond wrap. You’ve gotta promote the heck out of films – especially indies – to get them seen.
So supporting my own films on red carpets, as well as other people’s films, is important to me to show filmmakers that if they hire me, I’m in it for the long haul. I’m someone who shows up.
Plus I spend so much time in jeans and sneaks, it’s nice to be super girly once in a while (and I’m grateful to Dennis Kenney, Elizabeth Meredith, Tamira Wells + 260LA, who all help me do that right).
We’re in a time of transition with pandemics etc, how does that affect you?
You know, it’s been interesting. At first, it wiped out or stalled everything I had going – acting roles, projects in development. I think it was especially hard on the creative community because we had to all face who we were without the thing that made us feel creatively fulfilled. Talk about floating for a minute. But then the transition started to go the other way, and I saw a pretty amazing (and lucky) shift.
I signed with a new management company, MGMT Artists, during all this plus Boston agency Model Club (kind of full circle there with my origin story). And I’ve been able to dig in on the development side with my producing partner Matthew Aaron and just get ready to be ready with a slate of TV and film projects – including a comedy series we’re developing with Beacon Pictures that we’re really excited about. Plus I also finished writing my own pilot and am starting to shop that around, and I have quarantine to thank for the time to do that.
What do you envision as our new normal?
Our new normal will be clunky, but workable. On the production side, we’re already moving forward with new protocols which is so amazing to see. I just wrapped on a sci-fi short called Assimilated, and that was my first taste of a Covid-safe set. I had to get double-tested before the shoot and on set there were layers upon layers of rules for our protection.
I really appreciate my union, SAG, and all the unions working together to make sets safer. Sure, the protocols are cumbersome, but I’m happy to work like this for as long as we have to just to keep working. And I think the producing side will be the same – cumbersome but doable. It ain’t how I like to do things certainly, and I do still believe LA is a face-to-face kind of town and always will be.
But for now if we can still create stories and make deals on Zoom, so be it. The most heartening thing to see is that none of it is stopping. Things are casting, development deals are happening, people are shooting. I think as long as we can keep things relatively safe, this will be the new normal for the foreseeable future.
When you’re reading a script what is the things that makes you say, “I want to be that character?”
It’s the same thing that makes me want to write or produce something – if it throws a middle finger to someone in some way. I love characters that are unapologetic, strong, surprising and original. And especially ones that get people to think in a new way or see things differently.
Thus, the middle finger to an old way of thinking (but always in an artistic sense, of course). I also love a challenge, so if I read a character and the idea of playing her scares me a little, that’s a big ol’ check in the “f**k yeah” column.
Do you have a ritual you go through for Day One of shooting?
Oh, you mean being terrified that I’m going to suck and then remembering I love what I do and I might actually be good at it? That’s always a fun ritual. But more tangibly, the night before I always walk through the script one last time, try to scan the whole call sheet to get a sense of people’s names and make sure to get some decent sleep (even though I’m kid-on-Christmas excited).
On the day I like to show up a little early, get a big-ass cup of coffee, and say hello to as many cast and crew as I encounter before being sat in hair & makeup. I love those first hellos before everyone gets busy. They’re the best way to start the day.
Tell us about your latest project?
I’m super excited to have a great short film playing at the Oscar-qualifying LA Shorts Fest through the end of the month! It’s a screwball noir called The Hit. I play Marcy Frumpkin, a hard-hearted hit woman who falls for her suicidal mark. All those words together should tell you you’re in for a doozy of a 7-minute short. The festival’s also done filmmakers a huge solid by making all films free to watch on their YouTube channel, which is as good as it gets in festival land. Check it out here.
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Also check out comedy series Bulge Bracket on Amazon Prime. And coming soon for worldwide release: social justice drama Equal Standard with Ice-T and ensemble dramedy The Way We Talk.
Colin Costello is the West Coast Editor of Reel 360. If you’re a Woman in Film (and TV) contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @colinthewriter1