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"Humble, honest, and full of good humor."
"You don?t come into contact with a person like Tuff and not come out changed."
"Tuff fights for what for what she believes in. I hope I can say the same for myself."
"When you are in her presence, no acting is needed, only reacting."
"Why do I like chocolate chip cookies? Because they taste good! Acting tastes good!"
"When I am not succeeding and fulfilling my current passion I am unhappy."
Ellary Porterfield  

Interviewed by Mark Sells
November 2005

Humble, honest, and full of good humor. Ellary Porterfield was born and raised in the quaint township of Bend, Oregon. There, she was discovered by a national talent search known as "Best New Talent" in 2001. After performing a comical impression of her seventh-grade teacher, Ellary was awarded first place in the Junior-Teen Actor competition as well as first in the Comedy category. But more importantly, it was at the talent search where she landed her current manager and agent. And became introduced to "pilot season," filming several television pilots for NBC and CBS before landing a role in her first feature film, "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio."

Based on the recollections of Terry 'Tuff' Ryan as detailed in "How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less," "Prize Winner" tells the story of Evelyn Ryan and how she managed to keep her family together by writing a variety of commercial slogans and jingles. In the film, Ellary portrays the author herself, coming-of-age alongside Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson. And even though the role is both challenging and intimidating, Ellary simply nails it. "You don't come into contact with a person like Tuff and not come out changed," she says.

Changed? Yes. But willing to relocate to Los Angeles to pursue a newfound career? Not just yet. For, Ellary feels comfortable right at home with her family in Bend, even declaring it the best place in the world to live. Says the Oregonian, "I just love the small-town feeling. I love that I get to go off and have these thrilling adventures, then come home to a place where every other person isn't in the movie business. It's a nice dose of reality for me." And for anyone lucky enough to make her acquaintance, a nice dose of small town charm indeed.

"Prize Winner" trailer

Reel Questions, Reel Answers

I read that you were discovered after doing an impression of your 7th grade teacher? Tell me how that came about, i.e. how you first got involved in the business.

A nation-wide talent search called "Best New Talent" came to Bend, Oregon in 2001. I auditioned by jumping around, singing and repeating a few lines I had learned at summer camp. They invited me to come to LA to compete in the competition. On the plane-ride down, my mom and I wrote a monologue that was based on my seventh grade teacher doing a sex-education lesson. It was a hilarious one-minute audition because at the time I was just a little 12-year-old talking about such grown-up things in a heavy Jewish accent.

I ended up taking first in the Junior-Teen Actor category and won the Comedy competition. It was at this competition that I met Marv Dauer, my manager. He then introduced me to my agent, Jennifer Craig, and the two of them told me about Pilot Season. That year I spent two months (February and March) in LA auditioning for television pilots. I since have gone down for several more pilot seasons, but now (partly because of the increasing intensity of school, and partly because of my new-found love for film) I only send down tapes of auditions for those shows I am really interested in.

"The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio" is based on the true story of Evelyn Ryan and her 10 children, written by Evelyn?s daughter Terry. And in the film, you play Terry. What was your relationship like with the real Terry and what insight did she give you into the character to help you portray her?

You don?t come into contact with a person like Tuff and not come out changed. Playing a real person is both difficult and wonderful. I had the amazing opportunity of really getting to know Terry, or 'Tuff,' as we call her. She was so open and so sharing about her childhood and her memories of her parents. Not a lot of actors have the chance to call up the person they are playing on their cell phones and ask them about a big scene. It was daunting, but at the same time, a blessing.

Sometimes I would talk to Tuff about little things, like how often she carried around her baseball glove (that prop soon became very worn because I carried it everywhere. Terry was a tom-boy and the glove helped keep me from getting too girly). Other times I would talk to Tuff about her tenuous relationship with her dad. While it took out a lot of guess-work, there was also the pressure of portraying this unbelievable woman. I still stay in touch with Tuff. She is a big part of my life for sure.

What do you hope audiences around the world get from watching the film...in 25 words or less?

Ha! Happiness is a choice. To be happy does not mean to be na?ve or ignorant. Wow, I?m proud of myself: 21 Words!

The film traversed over many years and required you to play Terry at ages 13, 16, and 18. Presently, you are 16. How did you prepare for all three roles? And what did you do differently with each?

Production made that job quite a bit easier on me. The chest-area kept getting bigger as the character aged, cheek-plumpers were added at 13, and false acne played a part in the aging process as well. Also, the clothes were a little more form-fitting the older the character got in the movie.

How are Terry and Ellary similar? Different?

When I first showed up to the set, I had beautiful visions of crinolines and coiffed hair styles dancing in my head. However, Tuff was a tomboy, so instead I was put into old 1950?s boy clothing. I grew to love the comfortable styles and the sloppy short, cropped hair. I was actually lucky in that I was the girl that spent the least amount of time in the hair and make-up chair. Still, I am (admittly) a girly-girly girl at heart, and Tuff is not. In that way we differed, but Tuff and I share many qualities, which perhaps is why we bonded so wonderfully. We both share a love for the written word, we are both family-oriented, and Tuff fights for what for what she believes in. I hope I can say the same for myself.

In order to support her family, Evelyn finds success creating a variety of commercial jingles. During the filming, did you create any jingles of your own? Also, what is your favorite jingle...either from the film or outside?

I did not create any jingles. We kids spent a fair amount of time exercising our brains off the set by posting as many "homophones" on the door of the school trailer though. My favorite jingle in the film was "Stuff into the mouth...chomp and swallow south...sandwich." That or "Back the deli truck...to the lips and suck...sandwich."

What was your favorite memory or moment from the making of "The Prize Winner?"

Besides everthing? I mean the entire experience was such a joy. I guess I would have to say the high light was the last week of filming when the real Ryan children arrived to the set. This was such a surreal week, seeing the real-life people that we had been working so hard to create. And I was genuinely surprised at the resemblance of the actors and the Ryans. 'Weird' is the best way to describe it. I remember thinking it was so 'weird' to be standing around all of these young actors with period clothing on, and then occasionally seeing the older version of those people in modern clothes. It was like some kind of time-travel experience. Oh man, that was hard to describe!

Of course, just the time spent hanging out in the Toronto sunshine on lawn chairs set up outside the Hair and Make-up trailer with a few cast and crew members everyday holds special memories as well.

What was your worst or least favorite part?

It?s interesting. I?ve never been asked this question before. It?s a hard one. I would hate to say anything bad about anyone on this project. Let?s just say that it was a good learning experience. People are under a lot of pressure in situations where a lot of money is at stake and passions/visions clash. I think when people are working on a project (especially something that is based so much on emotion) there should never be strife. Disagreement is good, because it can produce a better product, but a middle-ground should always be reached before the camera starts rolling. While my least favorite part of the project was witnessing strife, it also taught me a lot about the process, and how not to deal with those types of situations. Wow! Good question!

You?ve been quoted as saying: "There is no such thing as acting, only reacting." How did you apply those words? And what things did you learn from Julianne?

Julianne never said those words to me. An old school-play director did. But they never really made sense to me until I started to work with Julie. I remember we were shooting a pretty heavy scene late into the night, and I was nervous. When you want something so bad, and you fight for it, and you compete, and then you get it, it?s easy to think "Yes, now I can relax." I was just so nervous because I wanted to justify my presence, show everyone that I deserved to be cast. Julie helped me to realize that you can?t let any of that matter; that you just have to let the scene take you. Even when the camera wasn?t on her, just on me, she would be crying, making it easier on me. What she did, was make everyone around her better, because when you are in her presence, no acting is needed, only reacting. Pretty deep huh?

What was it like seeing yourself on the big screen for the first time? What was the premiere like?

The first time I saw the movie was in a tiny room on a tiny TV in an ADR building. I had just finished with my ADR (stands for audio something) and Jane (the director) asked if I wanted to see a rough, rough, cut. I couldn?t even tell you my reaction of the movie, because I wasn?t able to really sit back and just watch. Every time I would see a scene, it would take me back to that particular day of shooting and I would be lost for 15 minutes in my own head. Also, it was hard for me to accept my work. I guess all I can equate it to is listening to your voice on a tape recorder. Everyone always says "that?s not what I sound like!" Right?

I went to the Premiere in San Francisco and in New York. Actually, it was funny because in New York, they almost didn?t let me in. My tickets were supposed to be in will call, but apparently they had been misplaced. Just as the doors were closing and I was panicking, someone recognized me and shoved me in. Close Call! From there publicity photos were taken and a long line of reporters with cameras and flashes were attended too. My mom and I laughed because several people with microphones asked me 'who' I was wearing, and flustered I replied back as best as I could. "Uh...I don?t know, I just bought this dress from the department store around the block this afternoon."

Later, tears were shed as many of the cast and crew reunited for the first time in almost a year. After watching the movie (talk about surreal!) about twenty of us went to a wonderful restaurant in downtown Manhattan. It was thrilling, but very comfortable. It was like we had never left. I could go on and on about the premieres.

What do you find to be the hardest part about being an actress? What?s the best part?

Heck if I know! I?m new to this whole gig. I am met with new challenges every day. I guess that?s what I love about acting. You truly never know. Every experience is completely different. People ask me often why I am drawn to acting, and all I can say is "Why do I like chocolate chip cookies? Because they taste good! Acting tastes good!

You?ve declared Bend, Oregon as the best place in the world to live. What makes it so special?

Have you ever been? So special and I can?t even describe why. Maybe because I love how different it is from LA (which I have nothing against, that place feels like home too.). I don?t know, I just love the small-town feeling. I love that I can go downtown (one street) and know the antique store owner by name. I love that I get to go off and have these thrilling adventures, then come home to a place where every other person isn?t in the movie business. It?s a nice dose of reality for me.

In addition to acting, you?ve been studying piano and ballet. Where do you see yourself in the future or what would you like to be doing 10 years from now?

I see myself succeeding. I don?t mean to sound conceded, I only know that when I am not succeeding and fulfilling my current passion I am unhappy. So I guess the better answer would have to be: 10 years from now I can see myself continuing my pursuit for success and happiness. Right now I am happy in the moment, and I hope 10 years from now that has not changed. That is all I can ask for.

What are you currently working on? Where can we see you next?

In January I will be shooting a comedy pilot for NBC called "Baraboo 2010." I will be playing a psycho cheerleader and can hardly wait. I am also currently meeting with 'movie people' on a fairly regular basis so hopefully while I am down south filming the pilot I can turn those meetings into future projects.

And lastly, when you?re not working on a film or television show and not in school, what kinds of things do you like to do in your free time?

I love more than anything to spend time with my family. We tend to get along nicely. I also love to collect vintage clothing and hats and suitcases. In my free time (ha, what free time?) I enjoy rocking out to old tunes, knitting, reading (really), and preparing for my next speech and debate tournament.

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