An interview with Elisabeth Rohm on the set of Cities of Light.
Can you tell us a little about how you became involved in the film?
Elisabeth: By divine intervention, actually! About a week before the call came, I was having an active longing to deepen my spirituality.
My mother recently passed away - she was very dharmic, and always the one I'd call for the right thing to do. Without her, I was feeling very lost and in need of guidance.
Once you have a child you begin to listen to your inner voice because you have to guide them, and when you lose your mother you have to deepen in your inner voice because you no longer can ask them personally. You begin to really want to hear God speaking to you. I was saying to God, "I need guidance on a daily basis" and then I got a phone call a week later asking me if I wanted to do this film.
The casting agent had heard that I was somewhat exposed to Eastern philosophy in my childhood, and wondered if I might have a personal interest in it, which of course I do. I met with Shivani, and it was clear in the moment. I was to then Skype with Swami Kriyananda, and feared that I would be grilled on my spiritual qualifications for an hour. Instead he was very brief: "I like your eyes. Yes, let's do this."
How was it to be with Swami Kriyananda?
Elisabeth: It is easy to fall into your ego when you are in the presence of someone like Swami, because you can think that you must be pretty profound to get to be around a saint.
As I tried to transcend that privilege of being with him so much, of reacting from a "me" point of view, I realized that when I was with him, I was in the presence of God. It had nothing to do with the two of us - God was simply there, and I began to get into a quiet place and hear this more divine experience.
He's funny and human, which makes being around him simple, rather than a much more complex situation. He is one of those people that have made loving God really simple, really easy.
When people see you so moved in the final scene with him, how much of that is you, and how much your character, Juliet?
Elisabeth: I came here with my own personal request to deepen as a person in this life, but I always look at what is going to advance the story in the most believable and dramatic way. What serves this movie and people who would watch it is that Juliet comes in with skepticism and curiosity and maybe a little bit of judgment and discomfort with this lifestyle.
There were times when I was in character and very out of touch with myself as I was spending time with Swami, because it doesn't serve the movie if it's always about Elisabeth. However, I also want the film to have some resonance of what was really important to me, and what serves this movie the most is that I'm myself at the end.
After trying to be as truthful in a character as possible, it's a very uncomfortable feeling to then allow yourself to put yourself on film.
If you're ready and you happen to stumble on a place like this, it will do something to you. Juliet didn't come for it and it happened accidentally, and it might not have happened to me, and I would have acted that it did. But it did happen, and I got it.
To share that experience, in that last scene with him, was a deliberate choice to be myself. When I ask Swami to bless me, it's the first time that I'm really receiving it as Elisabeth. As I stood there right before the scene I said, "let them see what you came for. It's okay. It's the most vulnerable you're ever going to be, but it serves people."
Whenever you really see an opening like this, a totally real transformation captured on film, it's like shaktipat for anybody who is seeking God, whether they want to live in a community or not. Shaktipat is when you are touched by a Saint, and their energy goes into you, like a jolt to your system. This movie has that, and part of it is because something really did happen to me here.
Is it easy for you to incorporate your spirituality into the work that you do in film?
Elisabeth: Instinctively over the years I've recognized that if I'm very quiet before I perform, or if I'm very prayerful before I go to work, actively praying in gratitude, I have a much better day, and a much better performance. It takes me out of being reactive, and enables me to "get out of the way."
Swami Kriyananda said that about writing. He says, "I don't write. God writes." For me I find acting much more interesting if after I do my work I ask, "what is this supposed to be?" then get out of the way and let God show me how to do it. I'm just a vessel.
If you can really do that, even if you're playing someone of low consciousness, that piece of creativity is going to be seen. Ultimately, I think you can offer your creativity to a higher power, so that it has some subtle resonance with people beyond what your intellectual choices were for the performance.
Do you believe that your inspiration and vibration can be captured on film, not only visually and audibly, but also energetically?
Elisabeth: Absolutely. Some filmmakers like to work without scripts, or work with people who aren't actors, because an authenticity comes out that is unrehearsed, and energetically more divine, because it's real. Since actors are trying to be real, the results are not always very high vibrationally, because there is so much more thought involved than feeling.
I think that is the trick for an actor - let go of all the rehearsal, all the memorization, all the choices, and just fly. The art of acting can be very high vibrationally, because what you're learning is to just be. When you start to "act", it all falls apart.
Are there any projects that you'd like to do?
Elisabeth: There are a million things that I'd love to do, but I'm going to stop saying what I want and just continue to receive those things that I'm supposed to be doing. It seems that whenever I let it go, I end up exactly where I'm supposed to be, and when I'm trying to make things happen, I just spin my wheels like a car stuck in a deep rivet of mud, and go nowhere very slowly.
Are there directors that I really love, actors that I admire? Absolutely. But it's ironic how you end up working with whomever you are supposed to work with, and if you look back at all the pieces of the puzzle of your life as an artist, you'll see how they all fit together pretty perfectly.
I love doing TV, I love doing film, and I love writing. I wanted to be an author when I was in college, and wrote one book and self published it. Disappointed with the results, I threw my toys into the sandbox and said "I don't want to write anymore."
But really, I feel that I am meant to be a writer, and it so happened that I got a blog on PeopleMagazine.com which awakened my love for it again. Out of that came a book deal which actually is going to serve more than any of my other books.
You let something go, and then it plops right on your lap right when you're ready to do something more valuable.
Do you see acting as a vehicle for spiritual development?
Elisabeth: Acting can become a spiritual experience, because it becomes very boring after a while to think about yourself all the time! That empty experience runs dry quickly, or at least it did for me. You begin to long to think not of yourself, and to have something else to put your energy into.
You begin to realize that you're not just this little self - you have an opportunity to channel something much deeper. I think that many people who are very successful are deeply spiritual, and you can really see how they let go on stage, singing or acting. You can see that they've totally let go of the wheel, and watching them is an angelic experience because they are just somewhere else.
So it can be, because if you're ready for it, "me" is going to become boring really quick. As you move along, you begin to realize that your light isn't about you - God gave it to you to serve others.