0 25 min 1 week

On today’s edition, the summer is about to get its dose of suspense in a brand-new series called Emperor of Ocean Park, premiering on Sunday, July 14 on MGM+, and our guest today is part of that new series. They are an actor, filmmaker and a conservationist from Milwaukee. This is the first time we interview a conservationist on our magazine. You may have seen them on ABC’s Scandal, For the People and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the festival hit Honey Boy. But come July 14th, you’ll see them play against Oscar winner Forest Whitaker and Grantham Coleman. Let’s welcome the multi-talented. Paulina Lule!

Paulina, welcome to SNAPSHOTS!

Hi there. Thank you for having me.

Welcome and as I said, you are the first conservationist we ever got a chance to interview in the 15 years we had this magazine.

Well, I’m sure you have met conservationists. They just don’t call themselves conservationists. Because even if you do the smallest things to conserve, you are a conservationist, at least, that’s how I believe it. That’s how you start.

Yeah, that is true. That is a very good point. I may have to go back in my magazine that may have to dig deep on that.

I mean, even if you recycle, if you put out bird feeders to create habitat for animals in your backyard, even if you’re a gardener and you plant you know, native species in your yard, those are all conservation actions, and therefore you are a conservationist.

Well, thank you. I’m glad you tell us a little bit about conservationists, but we’re gonna get to that a little bit later, because we are here to talk about this new series, Emperor of Ocean Park, especially since it’s based on a Stephen Carter novel. Now for those who have not read the novel but getting ready to gear for the series, tell us what this show was all about.

Okay, so the show, it’s not really a spoiler, the very first scene, very first moment, and in the trailer, the judge, played by Forest Whitaker, dies of a heart attack. The show is essentially about his children, who he’s left behind, dealing with their various forms of grief, losing their father and losing a figurehead in their lives. And they’re his two children, Talcott and Mariah, played by Tiffany Mack and Grantham Coleman. They both believe that he didn’t die of natural causes, that there may be a conspiracy behind how he died, because he was a conservative firebrand judge who didn’t have all friends, like he had a lot of enemies, so there was a lot to the fact that maybe he didn’t die of natural causes. So, throughout the show, it’s them trying to solve the mystery of him and his death.

Very interesting. And I never knew that Forest Whitaker could be killed in the first few moments.

Well, unfortunately for everyone, the show plays in flashbacks, so it plays in multiple timelines. He’s going to be on the show a lot, but, yeah, that is basically the inciting incident of the show, the thing that gets the story going.

And you play Kimmer Garwin, Talcott’s wife, a very high-powered lawyer on the verge of being appointed a federal judgeship. Tell us more about Kimmer and what piqued your interest into the role?

I think the thing I love about Kimmer is that I get to touch on a piece of myself that doesn’t exist in my everyday life. She’s super ambitious in a way where she’s not always worried about what is the person next to me going to think? What are they going to say about me? She sees her goals and she go for it. I think I tend to be on the people pleasing side in my personal life. I love that I get to play that version of myself through her. She is incredibly smart, incredibly ambitious. She wants to make a difference through from the inside. That’s her dream. She feels like she can make a difference in this country from the inside as a member of the Supreme Court, and so this federal judiciary is her first step in this goal.

I take it that you take a cue from Ketanji Jackson or any of the Supreme Court Justices to get your mindset?

Yes, and honestly, any of the black women, Kamala Harris as well. I looked at a lot of her speeches and just really taking into account that, as a black woman, Kimmer knows what she’s up against when it comes to being nominated for this federal judiciary, and she has to be vetted, and so she knows what sort of image she has to present to the world so that she can even have a chance at getting this position. And her husband’s foray into conspiracy, in addition to the fact that, she has this amazing thing that’s about to happen, a life goal about to be achieved, and her husband’s father died. So, she has to do, she has to balance the two. I had this amazing thing happening in my own life, but I also have to be here to support my husband as he’s going through this grieving process for his father. And then you throw conspiracy into the mix, and you just, you just have drama.

Oh, absolutely. Now, are you a fan of the suspense genre by any chance?

Oh, of course. I grew up with the thrillers of the 90s. Along Came a Spider, Kiss the Girls, The Skeleton Key, all of the different like mystery, thriller, drama films, so I’m all about it.

Well, I’m so glad to hear it. And you named a couple of my favorites, by the way.

Good movies. Shout out to Morgan Freeman.

Oh, who wouldn’t want to work with Morgan Freeman. Speaking of which, what is it like to work with this wonderful, powerful cast? We got Oscar winner, Forest Whitaker. We got Grantham Coleman playing your husband. Talk about working with this cast.

I mean, everyone is at the top of their game. It was thrilling, challenging, a little scary, because it’s like you’re working with all these people who not only have accomplished a lot in the past, but in the present moment, are at the top of their game. I learned so much, especially from Grantham. Grantham is such a good scene partner, a good person to work with on that level as an actor. He’s such a giving actor, and so I was very fortunate to have him playing my husband in this in this show, and then just watching the rest of the cast just kill it. It’s just so inspiring. I’m so happy to be a part of it,

I’m sure you are killing it especially your resume speaks for itself. I mean, from Scandal to Honey Boy to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I want to know, when did you realize that you had the gift of acting.

You know, it’s funny, you should ask that, because I think I started acting late. I had a whole life before I was an actor. I was a computer engineer. I lived in Japan, and then I moved to Hawaii. And in Hawaii, I worked in hotels, I worked in restaurants, like all the kind of things that you work in Hawaii, in the tourist industry and but……

If I may interrupt, what Island did you work in?

I lived on Oahu, and I worked in Honolulu.

What are some of the hotels you worked at? I want to see if I stayed at one.

I worked at the Sheraton Waikiki, the Royal Hawaiian and ooh, the Beachcomber, which I don’t know if it’s still called that.

I am not familiar with the Beachcomber, but I stayed at the Alana Moana Hotel.

The Ala Moana. That’s kind of on the far end of Waikiki. It’s like where Waikiki starts between Waikiki and the mall. I know that hotel. I missed that place.

I had this whole life before and I got into acting through directing. I went to Chapman University for grad school for film, and I was there to be a director. And one of my teachers had a connection with an acting school up in L.A. and if you know where Chapman University is, it’s like an hour, if you’re lucky, with traffic. Sometimes two hours away from Los Angeles proper.

She took us all there for an intro class to acting, because she firmly believed… Martha Coolidge, she’s an amazing director. She believes that if we learned a little bit about acting, we could work with actors better. Well, I went to that intro class and was my interest was really piqued. I really enjoyed it, and I decided, “okay, let me take the first year of acting.” So crazy me was like driving back and forth between Orange County and this acting school, taking acting classes twice a week, and then doing full time film school for two years, and I ended up finishing the program and graduating. And once I graduated, I did a showcase, found an agent, and then just started auditioning.

But how it’s funny to me that, like people ask me, “When did you know?” I think I always knew, because when I was a kid, I loved watching movies, and I would always act them out by myself in my front yard. So, what I was like playing by myself, I would act out movies. One of my favorite movies growing up is the classic Red Sonja, starring Brigitte Nielsen and Arnold Schwarzenegger. I don’t know if you know that movie.

Pretty well!

Okay, so I wanted to be Red Sonja, and so I would, as you know, like the intro with the horse, and did it right? I would hop on the back of my couch and pretend I was riding the horse. I always knew that I loved movies, and wanted to do something with movies, like, deep down as a child, but then life kind of takes you around on a separate course. And, being from Milwaukee, we don’t have connections to Hollywood, so I didn’t have someone in my periphery to be like, “Oh, you’re a performer. You like acting. You should do XYZ.” It was something that existed in some far-off land that, like only certain people got to do. So, it took me my whole life to come back to L.A. for grad school and then trying an acting class for me to get into it.

That’s a wonderful story. And you’re in this brand-new series that’s about to come out soon. When it comes to picking out a role, whether it’s in film or television, what is it about a role that says, “This is the role I have to take, whether it’s in science fiction and fantasy or a drama, a comedy. What goes to your mindset about picking the role that you want to play?”

I think for me, coming from a filmmaking background, rather than the role. Specifically, it first starts with the project, right? Like, oh, this is a cool project. It’s talking about some really interesting topics, or there’s some really great themes here that I that I jive with. I’m always looking for projects and then seeing if there’s roles in there. For me, I think every actor probably thinks they can play every role, which is not the case. We wish we could play every role. +

But then, I do get roles sent to me by my team who are saying,” hey, they’re looking at you for this role.” And I think, I think what draws me to a role is if there’s something in it that scares me a little bit. So going back to what I said about why I was drawn to Kimmer, like growing up the people pleaser, sometimes it’s really difficult for me to just say what I want, when I want it, without doing all this calculus in my brain about like, “Okay, if I say this, this person will feel this way. This person will feel that way. Maybe I should hedge, or maybe I should whatever.” And camera’s not like that. And so, I love taking on roles where I can explore sides of myself that don’t always exist in my everyday life.

I hear that I mean as an actor myself, I’ve always played the good guy roles, but any chance I get to play a role that’s nowhere close to me. I love that challenge. I want to portray to my dark side, my evil side. And it’s so much fun playing a person that’s a total opposite. And I love playing antagonists. And I’ve had, I’ve had experience doing so, you know, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and whatnot. 

And one of the projects I saw that you’re working on has ties to your late brother, who passed away in 2022 and it’s a zombie genre horror film. Can you talk to us about that?

I wrote a feature film a while back when my brother was still alive. He was being released from prison, and I was feeling all this angst about him coming out. He had done a lot of programs inside and gotten these certificates, like work certificates, computer certificates, etc, to kind of set himself up for success when he got out. But without getting too in the weeds about the statistics here in Milwaukee about people reentering society, just in general, recidivism is an issue, right? When people are released from prison, they come out, they do their best and eventually end up running afoul of the law again and back, right back where they were.

And so I was feeling really anxious about this, and I had written and directed a short film called The Homecoming for my thesis film in at Chapman, which was also kind of tangentially about like my family and what we went through, what it’s like to be members of a family, of someone who goes to prison, kind of the thematic thrust of that was, we’re also imprisoned because, right? And someone was like, “you need to make the feature version of this.” But it was like, but I’ve already done this story, right? I’ve already said, what I needed to say about him coming home in that way. And so to try and expand it into a feature just wasn’t working for me.

Other side, I’m a genre film buff, you can see, right there is, like The Matrix. The Matrix is the movie that made me want to make movies. I love genre movies, like forever, and so I was like, “I want to make a horror movie.” And I somehow connected. I’m not going to go into two super in the weeds, because it’s a super long story. But like the idea of a zombie film, right? Is that society is turning on these people? And I wanted to turn the zombie trope on its head. And because the zombie films always kind of take place in some suburban area with these very chaste, usually white people who are like, “Oh my God, these undesirables are coming in and like, being violent towards me. What am I going to do? Am I going to resort to violence to survive?”

But here you have people that live in cities like Milwaukee that already have to kind of resort to this life to survive. And so, I wanted to flip it on his head. It’s a story about a man named Miles who’s coming home from prison and he’s trying to start his life over, but the city around him turns on him. It’s about him and his sibling trying to survive the zombie apocalypse. And it’s an allegory about what folks who are reentering society have to go through when they’re dealing with the world being very hostile towards them when it comes to renting an apartment, getting a job, even just existing. If people know, “oh, you’re an ex-con.” So that’s, that’s what the film is about.

Very fascinating. If this film comes to fruition, I want to see it.

Oh, thank you. I’m working on it. We’re doing a proof of concept this, this September. I’ll be launching a crowdfunding campaign for that probably mid-July, somewhere around there. So please look out for it. I’ll send you a link.

I will. Now we’re going to talk about your conservation work, because you had spent most of 2023 working with a nonprofit called The Zoological Society of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee County Zoo in arts education program. Tell our viewers more about the programming that you worked on within these two organizations, right?

The Zoological Society of Milwaukee has a program called the Kohl’s Wild Theater program, and it is a theater show for elementary school age children that teaches them about wildlife conservation. So, every play has a message about a specific conservation action, or actions that children can take to help save the animals. For example, we did a play called Dr. McGee learns about the sea, and it’s a bumbling doctor who’s a veterinarian, and all these sea animals come into his office, and they all have some sort of illness, right? And he’s like, why are all these animals sick? And he travels to where they live, which is a kelp forest, and he notices all the kelp is dying. He’s like, what’s going on? And through his adventures, he learns that, you know, overuse of electricity and fossil fuels are what’s causing oxidization.

Oxidation of it in the ocean and affecting the kelp. And because of that, these animals are getting sick. And so, what can we do? We can reduce, reuse, recycle. We can reduce the amount of electricity we use so that there’s less coal burning and coal usage. Then, we end with this giant musical number that you can do just some simple things. Teaching the kids that you can help animals by doing these very simple conservation actions in your own home. There’s a lot of different plays like that. In the summer, we perform those plays at the zoo, and then in the fall & spring, it becomes a traveling show. It goes to various schools and community centers.

Why do you feel it’s important for future generations to show the empathy for wildlife for generations to come?

There are a lot of studies that are coming out now that state, that empathy is the surest way to get people to do a conservation action. So, when people empathize with animals, and then they are more likely to act and do something to help them and the Zoological Society of Milwaukee with all their programming, not just their arts education programming, but also their conservation education programming for children. That is the main focus is to teach children how to empathize with animals and see them, and it’s done in many sorts of ways.

At the Milwaukee County Zoo, all the animals have names, and they use he and she pronouns for male and female animals. So that people don’t see it as an IT, or see it as this other thing, it brings people closer to them. And you’ll see a lot of the empathy work throughout a lot of you know how the animals are presented, the signage, all of it because, again, studies have shown that empathy is the way to get people to take conservation action.

And speaking of animals, I saw on your Instagram, a couple pictures of horses, archery and Sweet Ray the Bay. Talk about your fascination with horses.

I mean, ever since I was a kid, I wanted to learn how to ride horses. I was that kid who would actually look in the classifieds back in the day for horses for sale, and then calculate how much of my allowance I needed to save to buy this horse. And then I would try to explain to my mom, “oh, the horse can just eat the grass in the backyard, and it can live in the garage.” And ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved horses and wanted one, obviously didn’t get one, and also didn’t take riding lessons, really, either I did the occasional trail ride through scouts or whatever but didn’t get to take lessons because they’re not cheap.

So, it wasn’t until the pandemic 2020 when I was sitting at home, which everyone in the pandemic was doing, and I was thinking to myself, “man, what outdoor activities can I do?” And then I also thought, I really wish I could ride horses. And then I thought, “wait a minute, why couldn’t I before? Because my mom said we didn’t have the money for it, but I have my own money now.” And that day, I went out to the tack shop, bought a helmet & boots. I went to two different schools, picked a school, and I’ve been on a horse ever since.

Wow, and how long you been riding now?

Four years now!

Well, you have been in so many great projects, and I like to ask this question. Is there a role out there that you would love to play one day in your career?

 I mean, it’s a tough question, because, you know, it might not even exist yet, right? However, I’ve always wanted to be in Star Wars. It’s been a dream since I watched Return of the Jedi on Betamax. Am I dating myself? I had a little Betamax tape of Return of the Jedi.

I think another one would be if they do any other iteration and or spin off The Matrix, because The Matrix was the movie that made me want to make movies. I’ve wanted to be Trinity my whole life, so yeah, probably those two. But I’m sure that there’s a role out there that I haven’t even thought of that’s just waiting for me, and I can’t wait to get to it.

See Paulina on MGM+ in the new series Emperor of Ocean Park on this Sunday July 14th

To follow Paulina – here where you can find them!

About The Author