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Interview: Laura Wheale

For many of us, we strive to find our passion and our purpose for being. Some never do find it, but for the lucky ones, it can change your life. Then there are the few who find their passion in multiple places and one such person is Laura Wheale.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Laura has found her passion in both law and acting. In regards to the law, she is an attorney at Childers, Schlueter & Smith, LLC. She has also started to build her resume of acting credits in Hollywood. She starred in the independent film A Larger Life alongside the late Fred Thompson. She's also appeared in the hit Clint Eastwood film Sully starring Tom Hanks and will next be seen in the upcoming Ang Lee film Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk which also stars Kirsten Stewart and opens on Friday, Novermber 11th..

We sit down with Laura to talk about her upcoming projects, what it’s been like juggling both careers and is she ready to make that tough decision if and when the time comes.

Pop Culture Principle – Did you know at a young age that acting was the career you were going to pursue and when did being a lawyer come into play?

Laura Wheale – I guess you can say I was pretty young. I was twelve years old when I decided I loved acting and not just the performance part of it, but just the collaboration of being with other artists. I took a class at the Alliance Theater and that was my first exposure to acting as opposed to school productions where you are singing a couple of cover songs. So, at that age, I knew that I really enjoyed doing acting and it was a way of expressing myself.

I continued to do community theater and when I went to college, I majored in theater and undergrad. Undergrad was the first place that I was introduced to method acting. My undergrad professor became my mentor and best friend. She had actually trained with Lee Strasberg and she completely opened my eyes to the honesty of acting. Before that, I enjoyed the performance and the social aspect of acting, but getting into the depths of a character, she was the one who introduced me to that and just blew my mind with how far you can go with acting. Her name was Susan McCain and to this day, she is one of my all-time favorite people.

Pop Culture Principle – You did some of your acting training at the prestigious Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. Can you talk a little bit about your experience there?

Laura Wheale – First, it was very intimidating because during my undergrad, my teacher Susan McCain had told me how intense the classes were and what it was like training with Lee. So, one of the summers in between my second and third year of law school, I went out to LA and trained out there. That was my first time getting introduced to on camera acting. Up to that point, I had strictly done theater performance and again, it was another epiphany for me. Film acting to that point had been this anomaly to me and I had no experience in it, so I didn’t really know what is was like.

I trained with Sasha Crane at the Strasberg Institute and he was the head of film and television. For me, it reiterated what I already knew and that was the fact that I loved acting. Being at the Strasberg Institute was a phenomenal experience and I can’t speak more highly of my time there.

Pop Culture Principle – One of your very first projects was the film A Larger Life alongside the late Fred Thompson. Can you tell us a little about that film and your character Laura Bruce?

Laura Wheale – Yes, that was my first film and I was very lucky because the people that were involved with the project weren’t snobbish. I am sure I did some stupid stuff on set, but they never treated me badly or anything like that and I really appreciated that. The first scene in the movie that we filmed was a scene that I was in and I was so nervous. I was hoping I didn’t mess anything up and not set the tone for the movie. It was a lot of fun and it also helped me because it was nice to be able to step in to a smaller budget film and that helped prepare me for working on a film with a much bigger budget.

Pop Culture Principle – Did you get any advice from the late Fred Thompson about juggling two careers?

Laura Wheale – We kind of talked about it a bit as far as transitioning from careers. I feel like kids now have to decide what they want to do with their life so early on in life. We were talking about how lucky we are that we were able to do multiple things that we loved and how it was working out for us. He had kind words to say and told me that it was possible to make it work and if you love it, then just do it.

As a lawyer, you get comfortable with not just your career, but financially as well. Let’s be honest, acting is not as reliable as legal work is sometimes, but his words encouraged me and it was nice to hear. He told me to pursue what you love to do and if you love to do it, do it.

Pop Culture Principle – You have a role in Clint Eastwood’s film Sully. Can you tell us about how you landed the role and what it was like working on that film?

Laura Wheale – I actually auditioned for that and was cast in it after the film Billy Lynn. I went in for the casting directors and did my audition. I found out pretty quickly that I had booked the role and the turnaround for filming was not long after I booked the role. My experience filming Sully was very different because 1) we were filming outside and 2) it was the middle of the night with about forty background actors. I compare it to working on Billy Lynn because we basically shot that film in a house and there weren’t really any background actors.

Getting to work with Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood was just phenomenal. I couldn’t believe that it was happening. They couldn’t have been nicer and it’s funny because I met Tom during hair and make-up. He came up to me and shook my hand and introduced himself to me. It was so surreal!

Pop Culture Principle – It’s been said by many in the industry that Tom Hanks is one of the nicest people. We read that ever in between takes, he would hang out and talk with the cast and crew.

Laura Wheale – In between takes, he was joking around with the cast and crew. He could have easily gone to his trailer and taken a break between takes, but he didn’t and that was amazing. He is just unbelievably nice.

Pop Culture Principle – What can you tell us about your upcoming film Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and your character Patty Lynn?

Laura Wheale – The film is about a group of infantrymen that were in a battle over in Iraq and it was caught on camera. They become instant heroes in the States and are brought back for a victory tour across the United States. My character Patty, is Billy’s oldest sister. The film is also centered around Thanksgiving and him coming home and having Thanksgiving dinner.

It’s about him not knowing how to fit back into civilian life and we get to see that journey. We watch him deal with everything he’s dealt with in Iraq and then him coming back and people not knowing how to talk to him and his fellow soldiers. For his family, it’s like another person coming home. It’s the same person outside, but not inside. Especially for my character, it’s hard for her to talk with him and relate with him because he is different. It’s a phenomenal movie and I hope everyone gets a chance to see it.

Pop Culture Principle – How has being a lawyer helped you in your acting career and vice versa?

Laura Wheale – It’s funny, when I was in law school and when I told people that I was an actress, they would always say I’d be great as a trial lawyer. To answer the question in short, I don’t think so and here’s why. When you are a trial attorney, you can only prepare so much. I can only predict so much of what the defense attorney is going to object to or what the witness on the stand is going to say. It’s a level of improv that you just can’t duplicate.

As an actor, you know what parameters that you are in and you can defect and discover this character that you are portraying. It’s really all in you because you are so focused on your character.

The one way that I think they both are the same is that both require you to remain so much in the moment. So far, that is my opinion and maybe it will change later on down the road.

Pop Culture Principle – Do you see yourself branching out into writing, directing and producing later on down the road?

Laura Wheale – Yes, I would love to. I’ve actually written a script about my first year in law school. I’ve also directed before in theater, but never in film. From the directing point of view, that was my first time making decisions with the actors, costumes and sets. That was very interesting for me and from what I can tell so far on the sets that I have been on, that is what I have seen so far. Good directors are able to succeed because they are so involved with every aspect of the project. They have their vision for the actor and are able to communicate it with the actor and at the same time, walk over to the cinematographer and be able to talk about the technical aspect of lighting.

The script that I wrote is called 1L, because in your first year of law school you are called a 1L. It’s kind of a cross between Girls and How to Get Away with Murder. I think it’s good and I am still tweaking it and in my mind, I hope to get at least a pilot done in the next year.

It’s funny, I wrote 1 L because I wanted to share the experience of going to law school and for me, I don’t think that is an aspect that has been shown before. Shows mainly focus on when you get out of law school and start trying cases.

I wrote the script out of necessity because one day I was complaining to my husband because it was a slow month for auditions. He asked me what I was doing about it and I sat down and asked myself what could I do and that’s when I started writing the script for 1L.

Pop Culture Principle – Will there come a time when you will have to decide between being a lawyer and acting and will you be able to make that decision?

Laura Wheale – I would like to think that I am. When I started acting, I knew I was good at it, but being talented and being able to make a living off of acting are two different things. If it comes down to it, I would choose acting. If it were a perfect world, I would hope that I would still be able to do something legal, but I don’t know what that looks like. If it really, really comes down to it, I would choose acting and purse that wholeheartedly.

Pop Culture Principle – Do you have any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

Laura Wheale – Yes, I am hosting a television show right now that is filming in Alabama called This Is Alabama. It’s a television series, documentary style that is showing the different attractions that Alabama has to offer. What I love about it is that it’s not showing you the main attractions that you would be used to seeing, it’s really getting down to the grassroots of Alabama. I’ve never hosted a show before and it’s been a very interesting experience for me.

We would like to thank Laura for taking the time to talk with us. You can see her in the Tom Hank's film Sully which is in theaters right now. Don't forget, on November 11th, her biggest project to date Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, hits theaters. If you would like to keep up with all her latest news and projects, you can follow her on Twitter @lauralwheale or visit her official website here.

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