Tall, willowy, and lyrically named, Paris Pickard seems destined for the spotlight. Brunet and six feet tall ("I prefer to say I'm 5 feet 12," she says with a laugh), Pickard wouldn't be out of place on the fashion runways. Instead, she has fallen rather fortuitously into a film project that could not only help to build a reputation for the "20-something" fledgling actress but also have a political impact on moviegoers.
"I don't want people to think we're trying to shove some liberal agenda down their throats, because we're really not," Pickard says as she makes herself comfortable on a corner sofa in a West Hollywood bar. She's speaking about A Marine Story, a moving, trenchant character study with a "don't ask, don't tell" backdrop that will open theatrically in New York and Los Angeles in November prior to a national release.
The independently produced film, which won top honors at this summer's Outfest in Los Angeles, marks Pickard's acting debut. A Marine Story follows Alex (Dreya Weber), a decorated soldier who, after being discharged for being lesbian, is recruited to help Saffron (Pickard), a troubled teenager, prepare for Marine boot camp. The story's timely relevance isn't lost on Pickard; nevertheless, she says, "My hope is that audiences will simply respond to a universal story about the characters."
To get in shape for the physically demanding role as a marine recruit, Pickard worked out with costar Weber, who also coproduced the film. Weber is an aerial choreographer who trained Pink for her recent Funhouse tour and helped create the airborne visuals for Cher's spectacular Las Vegas show. "I was in the gym every day, sometimes before and after work," she says. "I was frequently running up and down hills in 100-degree heat."
When she wasn't training or in front of the camera, Pickard, a veteran art department coordinator with several studio films, including the upcoming Burlesque, on her resume, also picked up a producing credit. She quickly became an integral part of the film's behind-the-scenes production--blurring the line between crew and cast. "She was an incredible asset to me on this film," says JD Disalvatore, a producer on A Marine Story. "There were times when she acted all day, then stayed hours after the rest of the crew left to paint sets and make props. On the day we wrapped, she even helped load the trucks and was one of the last to leave the set."
Pickard didn't pursue the role; it pursued her. Director Ned Farr was looking for an actress powerful enough to go head-to-head with his wife, Weber, who'd already been cast. A mutual friend had invited Pickard to a cocktail party at their home, thinking she might be able to schmooze her way into a production assistant position on the crew while between studio gigs. "But they were looking at me kind of funny," she says. "Ned asked if I'd done any acting." Farr asked her to audition, and shortly after that she was offered the part.
While a few viewers have pegged the film's plot as pro-military, Pickard disagrees. "People who haven't really considered the issue before think gay people are automatically antimilitary," she says. "Some think that people who have been discharged from the military are out there doing crazy things, making out with people, causing problems, and doing it for the attention. That's obviously not the case. In our film, Alex just wants to fight for her country."
Mostly, though, early response has been positive. "People I've spoken with really liked the film," Pickard says. "People who were in the service have thanked us for making it. People who still are say this film gives them a voice they can't have because they're still in uniform."
The film's subject matter dovetails nicely with Pickard's own passions. She recalls that though she used to fantasize about marrying another girl when she was a child, she didn't realize she was gay until her freshman year at Boston's Emerson College. Yet throughout high school she was very active in LGBT issues. "Homophobia in general pissed me off and I was very vocal about it," she says. "My mom was always asking me if I thought I was gay and I was like, 'No, not at all.' I honestly didn't think I was gay. I was not attracted to women at that time. But I just didn't understand why anyone would be against gay rights."
After graduating with a BFA in film direction, Pickard moved to Los Angeles, where she now lives with her girlfriend, whose name she prefers not to divulge. For now, Pickard is working on directing short films and enjoying her acting debut. "It's not something I ever thought I'd be doing," she says. "But I'm happy to be involved in the community in such a positive way."