With several high-profile films to be released within the next few months, Shirly Brener has been a busy actress. She currently shares screen-time with legends Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino in Jon Avnet’s thriller, RIGHTEOUS KILL. Amongst her many projects, included is the much anticipated crime drama, STREETS OF BLOOD, also starring Sharon Stone and Val Kilmer. Shirly also stars in indie film director, Jake Torem’s latest project, LETTING GO, in which she plays the manic depressive lead character, April, alongside Bokeem Woodbine and Christopher Knight. Shirly also plays the roles of actress and producer in the upcoming film, SESSION, starring Steven Bauer, to be released in 2009. Shirley can also be seen in the crime drama, HONOR, which will also be released in 2009 as well. Apart from her serious roles in dramas and thrillers, Shirly’s versatile acting skills come to life as she stars as “Britney” alongside Lindsay Lohan and Cheryl Hines in the upcoming comedy, LABOR PAINS, to be released in 2009.

In this interview Shirly Brener talks to Marta Walsh about her fascination with acting which began as a child riding along with her mom, a famous film and theatre Israeli actress, to all her plays and shoots , how at 21 she landed her first major motion film role in “Highjacking Hollywood”, what attracted her to the role of Natalya in Righteous Kill with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, her acting experience in the upcoming movie Streets of Blood with Sharon Stone and Val Kilmer,   her role of Britney alongside Lindsay Lohan and Cheryl Hines in an upcoming comedy Labor Pains, her dream acting role. Shirly Brener also reveals some of her beauty secrets, and her future career plans.

PHOTO CREDITS: Brian B Hayes Photography.

How did you end up in a career in acting?
My Mother was a famous film and theater actress in Israel. I used to ride along with her to all her plays and shoots and recite all her lines and the other actor’s lines and was fascinated by the whole thing. From an early age I took piano, dance, art and singing lessons. I always knew I was an artist. I asked my parents early on to get me into the business, but they didn’t want me to become a child actor.  My mom and I shot a campaign for the French chocolate “Merci” when I was 2 years old, the ads and commercials aired all over Europe. Later on when I was 15 I joined the prestigious Theater program at Beverly Hills Highschool and by the time I was 21 shot my first major motion film starring Henry Thomas titled “Highjacking Hollywood”.

What attracted you to the role of Natalya in Righteous Kill with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino?
Gosh! What didn’t attract me to that role??? First of all working with two of the greatest legends of cinematic history and together in the same film and together in the same scenes with me! Second, the whole team of producers, director (Jon Avnet- “Fried Green Tomatoes”), other cast of A list people and the high budget all made it super lucrative. Also I really enjoy playing characters that are emotionally complex and challenged and that come from a darker place. Natalya is am Eastern European prostitute. I did a lot of research on human trafficking from Russia and the Balkans. It was fascinating and amazing all the detail I discovered. And working on the foreign Slavic accent which was a much welcome challenge. Finally the actual opportunity to share the set and learn from Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, really a pinnacle moment in my career. The icing on the cake was going to the premiere in New York and seeing my name big in the main titles- a gift from the producers.

Can you tell us about your experience in the upcoming movie Street of Blood with Sharon Stone and Val Kilmer?
I am obsessed with Streets of Blood. It was one of my favorite shoots to date. Charles Winkler the director (Irwin Winkler’s son- “Raging Bull”, “Goodfellas”) is one of those directors that just lets the actors go go go. He lets you explore what you have to bring to the character. When I met him for the film. I had my hair all strait and very little make up . He looked at me and said “ I know you can do this role but how are we going to rough you up?, you are way to classy looking”. I told him to trust me and that I will surprise him on the set. I play Selina who is a crack taking white girl living in the ghetto post Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. I went to one of my favorite people in LA- Robert Easton, the greatest dialect coach! And worked on a deep Louisiana- black, plantation accent. I also watched a ton of films like Hustle and Flow and Spike Lee’s documentary “when the Levees Broke” for inspiration. Finally I walked into a hair salon deep in the LA Ghetto and asked for African braids all the way to my waistline, 6 hours later I turned into Selina. When I arrived in Louisiana I WAS the character, I embodied Selina. Charles was shocked! He barely recognized me. I had to do a lot of drugs in the film and I asked the props to get me any “fake” white powder to consume. Like I mentioned before, I immerse myself in my vision, my art and I do all it takes to bring the character the raw reality that think it deserves. I recently went and did some voice ADR on the film, it was the first time ever watching myself on screen where I didn’t see myself, I thought I was watching a documentary. I knew I reached a new level in my work and was very moved by how my commitment affected the result. The film looks a lot like “Traffic”, one of my all time favorites and I hope it does well when it comes out in a few months.

You play the role of Britney alongside Lindsay Lohan and Cheryl Hines upcoming comedy Labor Pains. What’s Britney like in this film?
Brittany is a 9 month preggers girl that has absolutely every pregnancy issue – acne, cancels, bloatness, back pain, hormonal mood swings. It’s very very funny. Lindsay was great to work with; she is so talented and so shy and sweet and pretty in person! Very different than her tabloid persona. I’m looking forward to see the final print.  For Brittany, I got to draw upon my own experience when I was pregnant with my toddler- Mila. I had sciatica, and heartburn and couldn’t keep food down and couldn’t sleep. So  for this role I just used my own self and life experience and added a comedic twist to it. I love romantic comedies; it’s a genre that I hope to do a lot more of.  That’s actually my other side. It’s actually my REAL self. I try to see the humor in everything in life. I am always cracking jokes. Especially on sets where everybody forgets that you need to have fun while you are working otherwise why do this?. I’m always the girl looking for the comic relief, playing practical jokes. My humor is pretty crude though…it’s kinda perverted, but who wants an actor around that mopes all day. You want a fun person that can be lighthearted even when playing a drug addict. It’s a people’s business and a huge part of it is getting along with large groups of people. Nothing like humor do to that!

What do you love most about acting?
I love getting up at 5 am when it’s still dark outside and all the excitement on a set. I love the group and team effort aspects that go into making a film, TV show etc. I have always been a movie fan and buff. I double majored at USC part Art History part film Critical Studies. There were years that I watched a film per day. I like that movies or TV provide a sort of escape for people, whether on the humorous or the dark sides. I also really enjoy the social, political and artistic affects that you can make with great projects, send messages etc. Some examples of that could be “Schindler’s List”, “Monster”, “One flew over the cookoos Nest”, “The Godfather”. Personally I love what one of my teachers defines acting as anthropology- I study people and bring them to life; I study life and history. I enjoy becoming another person and making them as real as possible but always keeping my canvas an integral part of me. I love being part of the puzzle. But mostly let’s not forget that it’s called the “Entertainment Industry” and deep at heart, I am an entertainer and know that that is my job.

What would be your dream acting job?
My dream acting job? Hmmm….I’m currently on a film called  “Touched” I play the Lead- Monique who is a Manic Depressive, bi-polar abusive mother. This is my dream role, I’m actually living my dream! It’s the best-written role I’ve ever done. And it’s based on a real life story, which is scary. I cannot even begin to describe how I went about prepping for this one- but the usual methods, online research, documentaries, films, real people that I interviewed. I have to go from extreme sides of emotions in a matter of seconds; it’s very challenging. I have very high hopes for this project and the character reminds me a bit of Jack Nicolson in The Shinning or Faye Dunway in Mommy Dearest and also Charleze Theron in Monster. Those are all career-defining roles. But aside from this one, I would really love to star as the lead in a big budget romantic comedy and id also love to play a Jewish girl in a world war II film. My dream acting role would actually be to work with directors of the like of Ridley Scott, Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorseze , Darren Ornovskey and Woody Allen .

What other exciting movie roles or projects are you currently working on, and what’s next for Shirly Brener?
My guest appearance on Criminal Minds on CBS just airing and I just wrapped also on two TV films one is based on H.P Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror starring Dean Stockwell and the other is called Judgment Day.  Mila (my 3-year-old) and I just shot short film that will air at the People’s Choice Awards. I have the Israeli crime drama- Honor- premiering in the spring. Also I have the film that I produced and acted in the psychological suspense thriller  “Session” starring Steven Bauer (ScarFace, Traffic) circulating festivals premiering at Cannes. I have another lead in a film that I just wrapped titled ‘Letting Go” starring Bokeem Woodbine and Christopher Knight and Sam Golzari that is also doing the festival circuit now. And I just had another project greenlit for my producing end. A film title “Unraveled” which I will also star in. It’s in pre production currently and we start shooting in the spring in Louisiana .  Currently I’m shooting the project “Touched” also starring Hollisten Coleman (Medium), Shalim Ortiz (Heroes) and Aloma Wright (Scrubs), till mid January. I’m working on many other things on the acting and producing ends and I have several irons in the fire, but nothing else that I can discuss right now. 

I keep my hair beautiful thanks to…
Hair masks that have deep conditioning and the fact that I just cut 5 inches off of it. I’ve had long hair for about 10 years. When I got the offer for Labor Pains to play a sort of soccer mom, I thought it would be a good change to match the character. Then post the project my hubby said “go shorter…do a Katie Holmes” so I did…I love my very couture runway bob. It has since grown out to my shoulders, but since I have to change my hair a lot for roles   it’s always a challenge to keep it healthy.    

My favorite skincare products are…
I’ve never been a skin product girl, I don’t really believe in them, I kinda think a lot of the commercial manufactured ones don’t really work. My dermatologist dr. Julia Hunter got me hooked on this all natural line (because she knows I’m an all natural girl) – called Cosmedix, I use their natural pure C (its pure crushed vitamin c) on my face every night. I also have another Niacin- powered skin therapy product called NIA24, it’s a skin-strengthening complex. All these products can only be bought in specialty dermatology places or online.    

The best lip-gloss I ever owned…
Is lip Glass by MAC, it makes your lips so juicy! think anything lips from Mac is amazing. Their glosses and liner line are truly remarkable.  

My signature fragrance is…
I don’t like fragrance too much. It’s always offensive to me when people put perfume and it’s too much and then others have to breathe a smell that they don’t really respond to. I like natural body mists in vanilla or peach or green tea flavors that are barely noticeable. I do like Addict by Dior, but its very strong, so only a little zip is enough for 2 days!! Feminine by Dolce & Gabbanna is great too as it has that fresh out of the shower scent.
The one beauty product you will always find in my makeup bag is…
StudioFix powder by MAC, makes my skin flawless and not shiny.   

My number one beauty secret is…
Number one beauty secret is healthy living- a combination of nutrition supplements and exercise. I don’t drink alcohol, I don’t smoke, I don’t eat dairy, wheat, sugar, artificial sweeteners, and coffee. I focus on organic veggies and mostly turkey, chicken and fish and a bit of meat. ( I sometimes cheat of course! When Mila has a cake at a bday party ill totally indulge with her as I never want her to not be a kid and enjoy the fun things in life, and when I’m on a set I’ll raid the craft service table from time to time and eat some crap along with the rest of the crew..) But it’s all about balance! As long as you do something 80% of the time you are good to go. I have been taking supplements for several years, mostly omega 3 fish oils- those are miracle workers- they give you energy, they help your brain function and keep your metabolism going. In addition to all the regular vitamins and minerals that I add as today’s food is so processed, we don’t always get all the benefits from it, even when eating super healthy.  I also am a Bikram yoga girl, I practice it regularly about 3 times per week, it keeps my body lean and I sweat out all the accumulated toxins in the heated room. I combine that with regular gym workouts that focus primarily on calisthenics –(I got so in shape in the last year, that I often get asked if I’m a trainer…I think I might add that to my resume in 2009 and start helping others) I add a flavor from time to time of dance classes, karate and tennis. I keep really active and I drink a lot of water.  

What one or two things some people may not know about Shirly Brener?
I gained and lost 50lbs- with pregnancy, I still sleep with my highschool  retainer to keep my teeth strait , I am working on compiling recipes for a cookbook that is based on my gourmet cooking- I often host pretty extravagant dinners at my house.  I love being a mom and I regard Mila is my most precious achievement to date!

It was great to discuss beauty secrets with Shirly make sure to check out her role in Righteous Kill and the upcoming Streets of Blood.

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There Are 8 Responses So Far. »

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