By Makeda Byfield
In August of 2022, Sam Barlow’s interactive gaming experience “Immortality” hit the market. And if the wave of NYVGCC content about it doesn’t get the message across, then I’ll spell it out for you all: we’re big fans! It’s scary, it’s creative, it’s visually enticing. The game’s protagonist is incredibly entertaining, and it was a delight to unravel her mystery over the equivalent of three movies. It was an honor to experience this piece of art, and it is now my honor to share my interview with the leading lady, Manon Gage! During our talk, we discussed our thoughts about the meaning of horror in general. Manon also talked about her origin story, a mobile gaming experience that would allow the audience to play Immortality on the go, as well as a Netflix release. I’m proud to share my chat with Manon about the creative process of “Immortality,” her path to this role, and what she hopes to accomplish next. -MB
Harold Goldberg: Hey everyone, it’s Harold Goldberg from the New York Videogame Critics Circle and we’re continuing our awesome series about Immortality today with Manon Gage, who is such a great actress in three films and table readings, etc. within immortality. Just so much content there! And we’re happy to reintroduce you to Makeda Byfield who will be doing the interview. Makeda, as you know, interviewed Reggie on his book a few months ago. She’s always excited to do an interview and does a really great job. So I’m going to just sit back and enjoy it just like you are and Makeda, please take it away.
Makeda Byfield: Thank you, Mr. Harold! So Manon, I am so excited to meet you. We are going to start off at the beginning; I’m interested in learning how you got into acting.
Manon Gage: It’s great to meet you, too. It’s very exciting. Um, how did I get into acting? I started acting as a kid. I did a lot of different clubs outside of school, but I didn’t get serious really until I was about fifteen, when I acted in my first professional play in a summer festival in France (I was living in France at the time.) And then that was sort of the moment where I decided “oh yeah, this is what I wanna do, this is what I want to do professionally.” And I was thinking of theatre mostly, but then film and TV was exciting, and from there I applied to drama schools after I graduated from high school. And then after some false starts, I got into Juilliard and then was there for four years, graduated (laughs) thank you! But I wear it as a badge of honor because it’s a great place and also it’s like, a very intense program. And yeah, graduated, moved out to L.A, started auditioning more seriously and Immortality was my first real job, you know, outside of school. And my first dream job!
MB: Oh, that’s so exciting! And I’m literally sitting right down the block from Juilliard right now because I go to school nearby, so it’s so exciting that you went there! It’s like, if I had been here just a few years earlier, we could have been crossing each other’s path but in spirit. And it’s really exciting to hear that you started off in theatre and then went in to try film and television. They’re so different but also so exciting, too. Which one do you like a little bit more and what do you think are the pros and cons of each type of theater?
MG: That’s a really good question. I feel like I’ve done so much more theatre than any kind of screen acting. And also this is such a strange job to have as my first screen acting job because it’s a game. So it’s like, we did have an experience of shooting it like three movies but I don’t know that I’ve gotten, you know, the full experience of being on set and you know, it’s not a video game. So you know there’s definitely more for me to learn there and I loved my experience on set for Immortality and I loved being in rehearsal for plays and performing. So it’s… I would say I love them equally, I’m just less experienced with screen stuff. But I do miss theatre. I haven’t done a play since my last year at school which was 2018, so I’m really hoping that I get to do another play soon.
MB: Oh I really hope that you get to do one, too. Doing plays are so much fun. I did theater in middle school and high school and haven’t gotten to act since so I know like, there’s just something about a play that will always make me happy. I know you spoke about, that Juilliard was a little bit of a hard program. What do you think made it challenging?
MG: Multiple things. First of all, the schedule is very intense. It’s like thirteen to fourteen hour days. You know, you’re in class morning and afternoons, and then in the evening you’re rehearsing for whatever play you’re currently working on. And that’s Monday through Friday. And then six hour rehearsals on Saturday as well. So it’s basically your whole life! And it’s very intense, you know, like I think drama training, acting training is a very intense emotional undertaking, and it’s very physical as well. And yeah, it’s a pressure cooker of an environment because everybody’s there trying to work on their weaknesses or what they want to improve on. And it’s this very New York, intense environment. But it’s also incredible. I met so many amazing people at that school and had so many fantastic teachers and mentors and it’s just one of those things thats both sides of that intensity. The good stuff and then crying in the bathroom in between classes and then going to rehearsal kind of thing.
MB: It sounds like a full time job! That’s crazy. So shout out to you for getting through that. And it sounds like it paid off because you have had a great start to your career. And that’s what we’re here to talk about today, your experience in Immortality! So first question about the game: how did you find the project? And what made you decide that this was something that you wanted to be a part of?
MG: So I didn’t find the project- my agent just sent me an audition for it! So the casting directors were looking for I think a newcomer, because its the nature of the role, you know. It’s this actress who you have to believe existed and disappeared and “is it real? How much of this is fiction?” And they were looking in Los Angeles at the time for a local hire. This was in 2021 and still in the pandemic, like before vaccinations. So there was sort of a lot of moving parts but they called me in, I did a zoom audition. And then I did a callback with Sam, and then like a phone call. And then I got the part. But I will say from the second I got the sides, I was just so interested in this project. It’s just very rare, especially as someone with no credits, you read a script that’s like, this interesting and intricate and complex, and with so many layers to it. I mean playing all these characters across time periods, across genres. It’s true character acting, if you will. As a newcomer, you know, I feel like often-time you’re type cast because that’s what you’re out in the industry to do.
I auditioned for so many “girl next door” types, the girlfriend, whatever. And so to get to do something where it’s like “Whoa! what is this mythical, amazing character?” I was so taken by it and then I read the script. Cause at first I only had the scenes and then I read the script and I was like “OK, this a masterpiece and a work of genius.” And I didn’t know anything about the gaming world but I was like “good writing is good writing and I guess I’m gonna learn.” So yeah I was thrill when Sam and Natalie Watson and one of the other producers cast me.
MB: Now I think I read online that this was one of your first experiences producing? Is that true?
MG: Um, yeah. I mean sort of. It depends on how professional we’re talking about producing. Because I produced a short while I was in school, like a student film with some other people, and then I also produced a play, a student initiated project that I put on in school. And then I was also halfway into producing an independent pilot that I’m working on now, which is kind of like the first real professional thing I’m producing. And that was sort of put on the back burner when I got this job, which was great. Wouldn’t have it any other way. But yeah, I guess in the context of it actually happening and being a bigger thing and not just something I’m making with like, my friends and collaborators, it was my first experience. And it was great! I mean, mostly I acted as like, a creative producer. It wasn’t as much… I don’t think I can take credit for the work that like Natalie Watson and all of these other people on Half Mermaid did. My contribution as a producer was mostly just like story stuff, creative stuff around Marissa and various tweaks to scenes and things and that sort of thing. So yeah.
MB: That’s still a really big accomplishment, congrats! This is so exciting. So what were some of your expectations for producing going into this project and how did they change as you were working on the game?
MG: So yeah, I’m not sure how much I can speak to that because I don’t think that anyone involved in Immortality or Half Mermaid would say that I was a producer on the level of the other producers, you know what I mean? I’m glad to have that credit and I definitely contributed, but very, very small, small scale kind of stuff. But it was empowering to know that that was something I could talk about. Like Sam wanted me to collaborate with him on aspects of Marissa and the plot and stuff, so that was very cool. And I think coming out of that I just learned, also by observing (especially Natalie Watson who’s amazing), you know how intense, how difficult it is to be producing on this level. And also when you’re trying to hold so many things in your brain with this behemoth of a story, like this 400 page thing. So it’s definitely given me inspiration now moving forward back to producing something much more small-scale, this indie-TV pilot, I take inspiration from the other people on Immortality.
MB: That sounds like a great learning experience. And also, thank you for clarifying what your role on the production team was, and the role that Natalie and… I forgot who else you said was on the production team.
MG: Shaun (whose last name I’m forgetting which is terrible). And there are others as well. The producers sort of hung out in their office more, so we had less contact, but then Natalie was king of producing in all aspects. So like the creative and then the behind the scenes, you know, logistical stuff. And she was really the person that I had the most contact with. But yeah, no, I was a “producer”… kind of. Small, small, small (laughs).
MB: Thank you so much for clarifying. We can move on to talking about something you might have known more about and something you had a more active role in: filming! Seems so exciting doing three movies, and table reads, and behind the scenes content – and all for one project. I know you said you started filming in 2021 before the vaccination started; how long did it take to film the entire project?
MG: So it took three months from start to finish to do the whole thing. And we actually, it’s so funny, the vaccines had just come out. So basically I got vaccinated and then like three weeks later, we were rehearsing. And then we were shooting. So it was kind of like “oh my god, back into the world!” And now we’re on set with like, a hundred expletive everyday. And it was very like “Whoa, zero to a hundred!” Because I had just been quarantining, you know, in my apartment the whole time. But yeah, three months. Three very grueling, intense months. But also as you said, so much fun. I mean, there’s so much amazing stuff in there that’s like, you never get to do stuff like that. You know, like this behind the scenes meta stuff, but also all of these different characters. Yeah, it was wonderful.
MB: Three months is mind blowing to me because that’s such a quick time for any project. But for the amount of work you guys were doing, I have to give a round of applause. I can’t imagine how stressful that was, but also how exciting it was to finally have it done, you know?
MG: Oh yeah. I mean, there were moments we thought that we wouldn’t get it done. I mean, it was truly crazy if you think about it. Four hundred pages in three months. I don’t even know how many scenes we were shooting a day but what I do know is it was a lot. And also, we were doing two or three takes per scene. Which for me, especially like as a more of a theatre creature, was terrifying because it’s like … wait what? We’re done? Like, I need two to warm up at least! You know? So that was a learning curve of like “No, you have to come in completely ready to just kill it on the first take because we might only get a couple more. So yeah, it was definitely… the pressure was on.
MB: Yeah. I can also imagine doing this like, not peak-Covid, but pretty in the thick of it, not knowing how the pandemic is gonna progress and how it might impact filming. Like, there is like an urgent need to be like “We need to get this done as soon as possible so the project isn’t pushed off.” So I’m glad you that guys were able to get that out of the way. And I hope that you are proud of the work you guys put out because it seems very well-received. It was terrifying, which I am not… usually not a big horror person but it was so hard to look away from. So I hope you all pat yourself on the back because that was a really good job.
MG: Thank you so much. And I’m so glad we scared you. It’s scary! It’s really scary. The first time I played it, you know, it was so surprising to me because I know everything that’s coming and I know where it is, and then it happens and it’s like… ahh! It’s a lot.
MB: You know you did a good job with the story when you scare the actors who were in it.
MG: Yeah, it helps that a lot of the stuff with the One, most of that stuff I had not actually witnessed being shot on set. Cause when she was shooting, I would be preparing for whatever next scene. So they were surprised just because like, I read the scene in the script, but then seeing it and like her covered in blood is very scary.
MB: This is gonna be so exciting and I hope that everybody watching this gives it a chance, goes ahead and plays. Hopefully, they aren’t super terrified where they like, don’t wanna play again. But it is definitely an experience and if you want a thrill – highly recommend.
MG: Thank you.
MB: The next question has a little bit more to do with like, creating comfort on set. I know there was a bit of adult content on there. So I guess I’d wanna know how like, the cast and crew went about making sure all the actors and crew were comfortable. And also if actors were allowed to have input on the actions that they had to participate in.
MG: Yeah, great question. So, yes, Sam hired an intimacy coordinator from the jump. Her name is Jean Franzblau; she’s incredible. And every actor that was involved in intimate scenes or nude scenes had a conversation with her one-on-one. Went through everything, all nudity and all intimacy that was expected of them in the script. And we worked through them science by scene, what we were comfortable with, what we weren’t comfortable with. And stuff changed. And Sam was open to that. Like there were scenes where I was like, “You know what, I don’t feel comfortable being naked here.” Or like “Why don’t we do it in this way?” So it was definitely a collaboration and I think above all else, Sam wanted everyone to be, to feel comfortable.
But yeah, there is a lot of nudity and intimacy in it, and so we were very lucky to be working with someone whose job it was to make us make us comfortable, give us agency, and then on set, be there for us. And there were just so many rules and regulations around it which basically created a space for us to feel safe as actors, and then totally play. It’s like once we know what we’re doing and I’m not gonna be, you know, concerned that “Oh my god, are you gonna see this art of my body in this scene and I don’t want that to happen?” or “Is this actor just gonna decide to do something crazy?” And once everything is set, then you just have the freedom to go for it like all out. And all of the other actors that I worked with were amazing, so I never felt … you know, it’s very vulnerable but I never felt uncomfortable or unsafe. And I think that’s thanks to Sam and Jean the Intimacy Coordinator.
MB: I’m really glad to hear that everybody’s voices were respected and that everybody felt like they were able to contribute to a safe environment. Especially in Hollywood- well, I don’t know if you consider this Hollywood (laughs), but I guess in the acting industry as a whole, its just a big issue that has been spoken about a lot and so I was just really curious. Thank you so much for answering those questions.
MG: Yeah, of course. I would not have don’t this job if there hadn’t been an Intimacy Coordinator. I think I would’ve just been like “I can’t, I’m sorry, there’s just too many moving parts.” And also if I had met Sam and Sam had been awful, I would’ve just been like “no.” (Laughs) No thanks. Sad but thankfully no, none of that was the case.
MB: That is very fair. I would hope that if you didn’t like the producers or the creators of the game, you would not feel like you were forced to participate. And I’m glad you brought up Intimacy coordinators, too! Because earlier in the year like when Euphoria was coming out and there was a lot of conversation about what they were doing for those actors on that set, the amount of nudity they had on that show. And I saw on like TikTok, I don’t know if you’re on there, they had a lot of people who were Intimacy Coordinators or people who worked with them coming out. And that was a role that I didn’t even know existed prior to that conversation! So it’s really interesting to learn more about them.
MB: Yeah, it is. And you know, they’re a very new role in Hollywood. They sort of came out of the #MeToo movement and all of that stuff. But yeah, when you think about it, if you’re gonna have a fight director for a scene where, you know, you’re trying not to actually hurt someone if you’re punching and kicking and whatever, you know, why would you not… I mean, sex scenes are physical scenes. And there’s another level of safety that needs to be respected, which is emotional safety. You don’t know what an actor’s history is, you don’t know if there’s triggers. There’s so many things that could go on, so it’s insane to me that those just used to happen like a free for all. It’s a step in the right direction, definitely in the industry.
MB: Absolutely agreed. Now I’m gonna move on to a fun question: out of all three movies…
MG: They’re all fun! (laughs)
MB: … in Immortality, which one was your favorite to participate in? And which one was your favorite to watch? Also why?
MG: Oh yeah, good, because those might be different. I mean, they were all really fun. I loved shooting Minsky because I think that’s just where I felt the most powerful. Because I feel Marissa’s sort of at the top of her game, she’s having so much fun, you know, she’s so playful and empowered. And then that character Franny in Minsky is just so much fun to be her. It’s like basically getting to be like Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct or something. Like, you’re just playing, it’s so much fun. So yeah, I would say Minsky. And then shooting it, shooting wise, no watching-them-wise, I would say… it’s a good question. I mean, Ambrosio has a special place in my heart just because it’s so epic and it looks beautiful , but also tacky, you know? It has this whole amazing, like sixties kind of like, erotic, high brow vibe. And Ambrosio also reminded me the most of doing theatre! With the huge, you know, monologues and everything. I think it just turned out great and some of those shots are just stunning. Like with the map painting and desert and tree with the stuff like that, the graveyard at night. So maybe I’ll give a shout out to Ambrosio.
MB: Thank you so much! So I think you’ve covered a lot of the pre-written questions that I had. To wrap it up, I guess I wanna know: now that Immortality is done, what do you have next? I know you mentioned that you were working on a project that you were trying to produce. Do you want to speak a little bit more about that?
MG: Sure! Yeah, so I am about to wrap post-production on an independent pilot that I’ve been working on with some friends for about two years now. It sort of started as a distraction, honestly, like during the pandemic. We decided we would write something and then shoot it remotely, and then it turned into this much, sort of bigger thing. And now we’re really excited about it. I’ve just seen the latest rough cut and we’re all really proud , we’re submitting it to festivals, we’re gonna try to pitch it to people. We’d love to hopefully get to sell it or you know, make the whole show if someone wants to pay us to do that.
But yeah, it’s a psychological thriller called Real Live Girl. And it’s about a Cam Girl who accidentally meets the wife of her most twisted viewer and then really bad things happen. So it stars me and Medina Sangore, who’s someone I went to school with, and my friend David Corenswet is directing. So it’s a little crew, a lot of Juilliard people and other people and yeah, its exciting. I’m excited about it.
MB: That plot sounds very exciting and I can’t wait for it to come out. And I know so much beautiful art came out of the pandemic As difficult as the pandemic was and still is, I think a lot of people were able to put out some great art that was able to keep our minds off of the very real, very stressful, very frustrating times that we were all living through. So I’m excited that you and all your Juilliard friends (and your non-Juilliard friends) were able to put out something you’re so excited about. And hopefully it goes well in all the festivals and everything.
MG: Thank you! And yes, I hope it well. It was a great thing to do and just fun to work with people you love. It’s a different thing than being an actor for hire. And writing too is telling stories in a different way. Feels good.
MB: Well, thank you so much, Manon. Those are all the questions I have for you today. It was really, really nice to meet you. Thank you so much for speaking about your time before Immortality, what Immortality was like, and what you have coming next. I know you’re so…I feel like I should not be the person saying this (since I’m so young myself), but you’re so young and you have so much potential coming.
MG: No, I love it!
MB: Can’t wait to see what’s coming next. This was Makeda Byfield from the New York Videogame Critics Circle, and Manon, would you like to do your outro?
MG: Sure! I’d just like to say thank you so much, it was such a pleasure speaking to you and I’m so glad you loved the game. Thanks for all your well wishes and yeah! This was wonderful, thank you so much.
Makeda Byfield lives in the Bronx and often does video interviews for the New York Videogame Critics Circle.