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A Spielberg on the Cusp of Something Big

Tue, 06/25/2024 - 14:26
Raye Spielberg, an actor and aspiring screenwriter who spends four months a year here, has several film and stage credits to her name and more coming down the pike.
Jen Steele

Raye Spielberg loves to watch people and study human behavior. She has also loved, from a young age, of course, to play and tell stories. This is what has led her to her current path: actor and screenwriter, coming into her own. “I feel like I’m on the precipice of something,” she said. “Something’s coming.”

The Brooklyn-based performer, who spends about four months a year in her family’s house here and a not-insignificant amount of time traveling for acting projects, starred in “Merry Good Enough,” a 2023 indie feature that was screened at LTV Studios late last year. It’s the project she’s most proud of to date, also special because it was the first time she ever acted opposite her husband, Sawyer Spielberg.

“I love when two characters have so much love for each other but they don’t speak the same love language, and things get lost in translation,” she said. “It was a very cathartic project to work on, and very close to home in a beautiful way.”

She just wrapped filming of “The End,” directed by Ari Selinger and starring Tim Blake Nelson, and is set to play the female lead role in a romantic comedy, “Tír na nóg,” by Colin Broderick, an Irish filmmaker. The stage play she starred in earlier this year at LTV, “On the 5:31,” directed by David Zayas Jr., will roll into the Tusten Theatre in Narrowsburg, N.Y., in August with an Off Broadway run to come later on.

She also was in a short called “Pink Flags” opposite her husband, “about a figure skater who thinks she’s being stalked by a guy and she ends up stalking him,” she said. “It’s very cat-and-mouse, very ‘Black Swan’ with cool ‘70s vibes.”

Acting is something Ms. Spielberg knew she wanted to do from a young age. She wrote her first-ever script at the age of 9, recruiting her sister to act it out together. But her sister couldn’t have been less interested.

“Any time someone asked me, ‘What do you want to be when you grew up,’ I said, ‘I want to be an actress-slash-waitress.’ And I meant that.”

She studied in a two-year conservatory program at the William Esper Studio in Manhattan, and has a degree in architecture from Cooper Union. Like so many young performers, she went through her early life thinking she had to have a “fallback career option.” She twice “chickened out” (her words) of going to a prestigious performing arts school after gaining acceptance. LaGuardia High School was one.

“I thought I had to do something more academic, and I was scared. I was terrified of putting myself into a freefall,” Ms. Spielberg said. “I always knew I wanted to act, but when was the time? The timing had to be right. The day I graduated from Cooper Union, I felt so in my head and said, ‘I need to take an acting class, immediately.’ I love and respect architecture, but it wasn’t helping me grow as a person.”

Acting does that for her. It also taps into and satisfies her fondness for people-watching.

“I love to investigate what makes us tick. I love to play and I find it to be a very generous act,” she said. “Acting is cathartic for the person acting but also for the person experiencing and viewing it. I’ve been so moved by certain plays or movies or shows that I can’t imagine not being a storyteller. I have a need to move people, to be a vessel for that story.”

Ms. Spielberg is now on the cusp of something big as a writer, with a spec television script she wrote with Krista Donargo called “The Fortune Teller’s Daughter,” which centers around a mother-daughter relationship.

“Our main character is the mother who is trying to reconnect with her daughter after a traumatic experience,” she said. “They both spin out and hit rock bottom in their different ways, and they have to reinvent themselves. There’s a ton of comedy and a ton of drama. It takes place in New Orleans, where the mother inherits a property that is a psychic shop, and she inherited a lot more than she bargained for. Our characters are well rounded, and I’m having so much fun writing this story.”

The project is represented by A Touch More, a production company established by two famous professional athletes, Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe. Ms. Spielberg loves telling female-forward stories.

“Women specifically . . . have an intuitive power that we often tap into when we go through desperate times or extreme duress. It’s like a superpower, but it’s accessible.”

Her favorite roles “are raw and beautiful. I find a lot of beauty in our flaws, so I love playing characters who do bad things and make mistakes and are trying to figure life out. They stumble and struggle. I find that really fascinating. I love a project that has all the feels — all of it — laughing, crying, angry, all of it.”

Attention, directors — she’d like to play a vampire someday.

Acting for the screen aside, there’s nothing like a juicy stage play to excite Ms. Spielberg.

“You get to live through the experience as if you’re on a train and you can’t get off. You’re committed, so you get the full arc in that moment,” she said. “For the screen, sometimes it’s shot out of order. You have little moments of the arc, but the full effect is when you’re on the stage. You’re in freefall, and there’s so much chemistry between the audience and actors that makes it an exciting unknown.”

When she’s not working on a play or film, she’s still working — meeting with other creative types, getting projects into the pipeline. And she designs and makes clothes for her two young children.

Asked if there is a quote or mantra she lives by, she had a few answers:

“Pay attention to what you pay attention to.”

“You find your destiny on the road you take to avoid it.”

“The best thing to do is the right thing, the second best thing to do is the wrong thing, and the worst thing to do is nothing.”

And then there was a saying on a fortune cookie she once cracked open: “Encourage me and I’ll never forget you.”

“I love the idea that you can have such a big effect on someone’s life,” Ms. Spielberg said. “It can be one person giving someone encouragement — a stranger even. Paying it forward — I really believe in that.”

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