Director Dan Steadman was about 10 minutes late hopping up onto the main stage of the Lincoln Theatre to introduce his latest movie, but the friendly audience wasn’t grumbling.
“Proximity” was filmed in and around Belleville, and the lead actress is from Fairview Heights. It premiered in Belleville at noon Saturday, but had been seen earlier in Centralia. The movie follows the trials of Ella, whose domineering mother is intent on her daughter marrying by the time she’s 40. Ella’s soon caught between a much younger man who makes her laugh, and the man of her mother’s dreams, who is a doctor.
Also featured in the independent film is St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright. He plays Roger, an old boyfriend of the 39-year-old main character.
The sold-out movie had one showing planned for Saturday, with all the actors who had speaking parts walking the red carpet in the late morning. “You just do your star thing,” said a friend to Sandy Sparks, who was surrounded by admirers.
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“It’s lightening in a bottle with this group,” said actress Jackie Manker, of Fairview Heights. Manker plays Ella, a character she easily identifies with in some ways. She said Ella’s initial focus in life was on her career; Manker also focuses on career and her daughters, she said. She’s mom to two daughters, and is a real estate agent for Century 21 as well as a Spanish interpreter. She says her jobs offer her flexibility for her family as well as for her acting pursuits.
“Ever since I was young it’s been my dream to be other people I’m not,” she said, admitting that might make her sound a little mentally unstable. “But acting gives you the liberty to do that without being judged.”
Unlike Manker, Sparks only recently caught the acting bug. She saw the movie “Belleville” at Ronnie’s Theatre in Missouri, where she lives. Shortly after, she saw a casting call for a movie that was supposed to be sports-themed; the retired teacher now ushers at Cardinals games and jumped at that chance. She was assigned a small role in “Somewhere Between Arnold and Festus,” another Steadman film.
“I’d never done anything like this,” she said.
Sparks said her character, Ella’s mother, is a “well-meaning but overbearing character ... Other than that, she’s a pretty nice woman.”
Sparks doesn’t see many links between herself and her character, saying she’s been on the planet long enough to know you have to let people go their own ways.
“I’ve seen the trailer, and that’s not Sandy,” said Marge Finklang, a friend of Sparks.
Finklang was also an extra in the film, and was expecting to see herself in two scenes.
“Extras have to be totally quiet – just pretend you’re talking,” she said.
Actor Bill Finkbiner, the doctor and ideal husband candidate in the movie, said his “survival job” is in fitness and nutrition, but acting is “definitely my preferred source of income.” He says his character is a good guy, but perhaps tries too hard.
“We all have insecurities in different ways – sometimes we keep a little guard up on things. Outwardly he’s pretty much perfect, but realize maybe not.”
Manker is immensely proud of “Proximity.”
“It’s hard not to sound pompous ... but I called all my friends and family (and told them), ‘if you’re going to see one of my projects, this should be the one.”
Before the movie, actors with speaking parts walked the red carpet and chatted with friends and family.
Finkbiner had a similar reaction, saying his reaction to an earlier screening was “wait, this is actually really good.”
“The Midwest is blowing up, basically” Steadman said of movie-making in the area. His company, Circa87, recently had a movie, “Expect Delays,” air in the United Kingdom. He said the company is planning a sitcom that will be filmed before a live studio audience, “like if Condeleeza Rice had dated JFK in college.”
“Those of you who just laughed, please be a part of that audience.”