Monday, July 3, 2017

8 Questions with Jeff Marchelletta of ‘Sinister Minister’

Lifetimers recently experienced religion gone wrong in “Sinister Minister.” This fact-based thriller premiered on Lifetime in May and has been in steady rotation on both Lifetime and the Lifetime Movie Network.

If you've been wanting to catch it, your prayers are answered. "Sinister Minister" steps back on the pulpit at 9 p.m. (CST), July 9 on Lifetime and again at 1 a.m. on July 10. 

Among its talented cast is Jeff Marchelletta, who plays John Wells. John is trying to win back ex-wife (Nikki Howard), who is being seduced by the evil Pastor D.J. (Ryan Patrick Shanahan).

During his relatively young career, Marchelletta has more than 40 film and television acting credits to his name – including appearances on popular TV series “Criminal Minds,” “Hannah Montana” and “Las Vegas.” The versatile Marchelletta also has appeared in Off-Broadway productions and applies his talents behind the scenes as a partner with Industry Standard Films (along with Cliff Broadway and Josh Mandel).

Marchelletta took time to participate in an e-interview with LM Mental to discuss “Sinister Minister” and his career.

LM Mental: You recently starred as John Wells, the dad/ex-husband in “Sinister Minister”. Do you have any interesting stories about the making of this film?

Jeff Marchelletta: One of the most interesting things about the film was that it was based on a true story. At first, I thought “Really, a pastor who is a serial wife killer?” After the premiere, I saw some online stories come out about the case that may have inspired the movie. According to the Los Angeles Times, Arthur Schirmer, a Pennsylvania man was found guilty of first-degree murder in the 2008 death of his wife. The prosecutors dubbed him "the sinister minister." Then, CBS News reported that he was also found guilty to third-degree murder in the 1999 death of his first wife. He is serving life without parole in jail. Sadly, I’m not surprised in today’s world with ignorant dimwits hiding behind religion. There’s a line in the film where D.J., the pastor (played by the cool Ryan Shanahan) implies he gets away with everything because he’s a “holy man” and everyone believes him. I know there are bad eggs that use religion for their own agenda in every sector, but it makes me think of what’s going on in the middle east with ISIS and how a band of misled evil murderers hide behind man-written words. I believe in God and am a Christian, and go to a couple of really cool progressive churches in Los Angeles. Religious books like the Bible and Torah are beautiful with important historic stories that help teach us lessons. These books are inspired by God but written by man. Anything written by man is open to personal opinion, bias and interpretation. In today’s world, we as an “intelligent” species should all be able to understand that.

LM Mental: Was this your first Lifetime movie? Were you surprised at all of the Twitter activity during its premiere?
Marchelletta: Actually, it’s not my first Lifetime movie. I was recently in another titled “Forgotten Evil,” written and directed by Anthony C. Ferrante, who gained notoriety for the successful “Sharknado” franchise. So, Twitter was really buzzing for that premiere also.

Yes, I am surprised at all the Twitter activity for “Sinister Minister.” It’s exciting and a lot of fun. Jose Montesinos, the director of “Sinister Minister,” started a text thread with the cast. We were all joking around at first, then Nikki Howard (who’s plays the lead Trish) texted us all and said, “Hey, we are trending on Twitter!” I believe Twitter shows the Top 20 trends, so someone on the thread texted “We’re trending at 18!” Then another text “17!” Then “16!” “14!” “13!” “Trending at No. 12 now!” I don’t know which was more fun, the private text thread or trending on Twitter.  

LM Mental: What – or who – inspired you to become an actor?

Marchelletta: That’s a tough question because the inspiration has to keep coming for me. It’s a tough business, so as an artist you need ongoing inspiration. I see a lot of movies, plays and indie films, and am often inspired by filmmakers and other actors. I also find inspiration in class, a getaway trip, museums and more. You’d be surprised where you can find inspiration. You just need to be present and open to it.

My first inspirations, however, came from going to Broadway as a kid. I grew up just outside of New York City. My parents always took us on family trips to see Broadway shows during the holiday season. It was always so thrilling to me as a kid to sit and watch it all happen live. Magical. I still have vivid memories of it.

LM Mental: What have been some of your favorite projects?

I have several but I’ll pick a few. “Criminal Minds” on CBS was a favorite because I was guesting on a highly anticipated two-part season premiere. “Las Vegas” on NBC was also cool; I was guesting opposite Josh Duhamel, who is a great actor. Coincidently, I met him before in Larry Moss’ master scene study class. What was really great about the “Las Vegas” shoot was that the episode titled “Mothwoman” had a Comic-Con theme. That brings me to my next project “Ringers.”

“Ringers: Lord of the Fans,” is a feature-length documentary I produced that explores how “The Lord of the Rings” has influenced western popular culture for more than 50 years. It features interviews with Elijah Wood, Peter Jackson, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin and others. It was narrated by Dominic Monaghan, and we spent three and a half years making it. I learned a ton about filmmaking on that project; it was like a crash course. It was tough at times, but it was a creative team that all listened, collaborated and respected each other. I’m still close with the crew today. Believe me when I say that does not happen on every project. “Ringers” ended up being a tremendous success for all of us. It received a lot of attention, good press, and we sold it to Sony Pictures for worldwide distribution. That was huge for me as it was the first project I ever produced.

LM Mental: What advice do you have for actors entering the industry?

Marchelletta: Work your ass off. Honestly, work hard and keep at it. Work on your craft, technique, your voice, yourself, take challenging classes with good teachers, read plays, do plays, see every film and play you can. It takes real commitment, serious effort and time. You may have to balance it with other work to earn money especially at first. That’s been a key word for me not only regarding the entertainment industry but also in my life - balance. When someone comes to LA to be an actor and says, “I’ll give it 2 years,” they are not in it for the right reasons. For a real creative person, a true artist, there is no time frame to stop. If you really have the soul of an artist then being creative is like breathing. You just need to do it and find a way to be creative in some form.  

LM Mental: Do you feel networks such as Lifetime offer indie filmmakers and actors a good outlet to spotlight their talents?

Marchelletta: Yes, I do. Lifetime and other cable networks are great outlets to get your work out there. Lifetime movies have gotten better over the years in my opinion. Some of their biopics are really good too. I’ve even recently seen some movies that premiered at Sundance play on Lifetime. As I mentioned, I’ve also produced some indie films. A few of them have kicked ass in the film festival circuit; getting great reviews and critical acclaim, winning some awards and getting good distribution. However, I suspect some will never reach as large an audience as say the two Lifetime movies I was recently a part of. I just learned that “Sinister Minister” premiered in the Top 25 rated shows at No. 15 as reported by TV By The Numbers. That’s a lot of eyes on that film and really good news!     

LM Mental: What's your next project?

Marchelletta: I have a few projects in the works. I shot a supporting role in “Union” written and directed by Whitney Hamilton which is currently in post-production. It’s the story of a woman who disguises herself as her dead brother to survive in the Confederate ranks during the Civil War. Whitney really put together a great project and team. It was shot in Alabama at some stellar and authentic locations, and the wardrobe and makeup crews really nailed it. I portray Doc Cobb, a Civil War era surgeon, who is in for a big surprise while tending to one of his patients. You can check out some info, pics and teasers here.  I have a cool role in “The White Orchid,” which was executive produced by the Estate of Humphrey Bogart that should be releasing soon. It’s the story of a shy investigator who assumes the identity of a small-town murder victim in order to solve her gruesome death. It stars Olivia Thirlby, John Carroll Lynch, Jennifer Beals and others. I portray Tony, San Francisco’s Hotel Rex bartender, who has some important clues for the film’s hero. Also, I worked on “Blindness,” an art-themed indie film. It was written and directed by Annette Cyr and will be at the 2017 Palm Springs International Shortfest June 20-26,2017. I portray Charles Lockridge, a high-end Gallery Dealer who is a bit of womanizer with a touch of faux sophistication. Check them out and support indie film if you can.

LM Mental: What would be your dream project?

Marchelletta: Besides being in one of Steven Spielberg’s next movies? Or, the next big sci-fi adventure thriller set in outer space?? I’d like be on a successful well-written TV series portraying a cool school guidance counselor or therapist. I know it sounds crazy but I’ve had that thought. I think it would be a great role and fit for me. Perhaps I wish I had someone like that to talk to when I was a teen. Lifetime maybe?

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