Hard Act to Follow

Heather Kafka on a love/hate history with acting

Heather Kafka
Heather Kafka (Photo by John Anderson)

It's a sunny, drowsy, altogether lovely spring morning in Austin, apart from the inescapable fact that I have just made Heather Kafka cry. Not weep, thank God, not really, but this petite, blond powerhouse of an actor has definitely just crossed over some internal Rubicon from dry-eyed discussion of her work to the realm of tears and smiling, apologetic, momentary silences. The cause? At my prompting, she's attempting to make me understand – in fits and starts – exactly how much her role in Bryan Poyser's emotionally cutthroat black comedy of eros, Lovers of Hate, has changed her outlook, her acting, and her life.

"I grew up [in Austin]," Kafka explains, "and I grew up dreaming about working in the movies. And somewhere in my quest for that, I don't know, it's like it didn't happen in time. Times changed, and I was always sort of having to go wherever [my career] was going, even though I didn't always agree with it. I could never make a living here, as an actor, and it frustrated me."

The phrase "working actor" is bandied about with far too much ease by those who are not, in fact, attempting to make acting their sole means of social, artistic, and financial survival. Kafka, who ended up with the emotionally lacerating role of Diana (one skewed and prickly corner of Lovers of Hate's particularly pointed ménage à trois) simply on the basis of, as she tells it, an audition her agent didn't even encourage her to go to, is all too familiar with the Austin-to-L.A. acting fire drill. (She's a veteran film and television actor, with everything from CSI: NY to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre already on her résumé.)

"When I graduated high school," she continues, "I went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles, and I knew that Los Angeles was not going to be the place for me. It wasn't going to feed my soul, it wasn't going to feed my craft, and it wasn't going to get better. The kind of acting I was being offered in L.A. was not the kind that I thought was going to be very strong in. I quickly learned that it just doesn't ever matter what I think. [I was playing] victim after victim after victim – that's all people want to see when you're a woman on television. You show up, you turn yourself inside out, and you leave. And with acting in L.A., it's like, you can never really slay the beast, you can only duck 'n' dive. I was completely and utterly disillusioned, crushed, and disheartened."

Lovers of Hate was, by her own admission, something of a last-chance/blaze-of-glory role for Kafka. Prior to her audition, she had moved back to Austin with her husband and was four months pregnant: "I didn't know if I'd ever enjoy acting again, and that's all I'd ever wanted to do, since I was 6 years old."

Eighteen months after her daughter was born, Kafka went in to read for Lovers of Hate and got the part.

"I knew, going into it, that it was low-budget, that we'd be together for three months, that it would be intense. I'd done that before. What I didn't know was that it would make me love acting again. That's what Lovers of Hate did for me. That's what Bryan did for me. There are different kinds of actors and different kinds of acting – but this, right here – this is what I do."

A special screening of Lovers of Hate benefiting the Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund takes place Thursday, June 10, 7pm, at the Alamo South Lamar. Lovers of Hate also screens June 14-16 at the Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz. For an interview with director Bryan Poyser, see "Bizarre Love Triangle," March 12.

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