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“Princess of the Row” actors Edi Gathegi, Tayler Buck join Ivy Film Festival for virtual talk

Gathegi, Buck discuss getting into character, research for film

The Ivy Film Festival welcomed actors Edi Gathegi and Tayler Buck for a conversation about their film “Princess of the Row” Wednesday evening.

Gathegi and Buck were introduced by Ivy Film Festival directors Grace Attanasio ’21.5, Jessica Dibble ’21, Sasha Pinto ’21 and Claire Zhang ’22 and interviewed by industry team coordinator Rachel Carlson ’23 and staff member Charlotte Wall ’22. 

“Princess of the Row” follows Alicia Willis (Buck), a foster child who runs away to live with her homeless, mentally ill, veteran father, Beaumont “Bo” Willis (Gathegi). The film’s title refers to Los Angeles’ Skid Row, where Alicia’s father resides in a tent and resultantly where she spends much of her time. Bo was the perfect father before serving in Iraq, but he returned with a traumatic brain injury and PTSD, leading him to be detached from reality. The 2019 independent drama, directed and written by Max Carlson and also written by A. Shawn Austin, offers gut-wrenching reflections on filial piety and the definition of family. 

Prior to becoming a director, Carlson was an editor. While editing a movie trailer that Gathegi was in, Carlson saw his potential for “Princess of the Row,” and wanted to contact him about the project. Eventually, Carlson came in contact with an executive producer that was working with Gathegi at the time, and had a phone call with the actor. 

“I read the script and it was just beautiful. It was like a beautiful story and it was exactly the kind of story that I've been wanting … for quite some time,” said Gathegi. “I have a connection to homelessness and this film dealt with homelessness, it dealt with the foster care system, it dealt with veterans and brain traumas. It was a really special world.” 

Gathegi quickly developed a passion for the project, realizing he wanted a seat at the table to “contribute his ideas and sensibilities” and ultimately became a producer on the film. 

According to Gathegi, 13-year-old Buck was “the best in the game.” He shared an anecdote about how at her audition, Carlson passed a simple, handwritten note to another producer saying “she’s the one.” 

Buck attributed her acting success to the fact that she related to her character. 

“She (Alicia) is 12 and I was 13 at the time that we filmed this. I just fell in love with the character,” Buck said. 

In preparation for the role, Gathegi spent a significant amount of time performing character research. The first step, he said, was arming himself with as much knowledge as possible about the issues his character was facing. At first, he tried to read books about the different mental conditions that his character suffered from, but found that the books he read were mostly for family members assisting those with an illness rather than what it was like to actually suffer from the illness. 

So instead, Gathegi began engaging in conversations with real people: “I got that kind of information by having discussions with people that were suffering from some of these issues and watching documentaries of people who are suffering from these issues,” he said. 

Gerard Hall, a man who had a similar backstory to Gathegi’s character, helped the actor fully embody the role. Hall, a veteran who was experiencing homelessness at the time of filming, served as a liaison in Skid Row to introduce Gathegi to people and their stories. Since the release of the film, Hall has been able to find a place to live. 

“He would walk us through all the different areas, introduce us to people, sort of give us the stamp of approval that we were allowed to be there, because we were going to try to tell a homeless story with honesty, love and integrity,” said Gathegi. “I just had conversations with the people … to hear what their experiences were like, what events in their lives led them to the streets, and those were the most illuminating conversations and elements to my research.” 

Gathegi also realized that it was difficult to get in and out of character due to the complex nature of Bo, so he decided to go method, staying in the role until the end of filming. This helped Buck form her on-screen relationship with Gathegi, which, in turn, helped her get into character as well. 

“We didn’t really have a connection as father and daughter because he was in character all the time,” Buck said. “That only really helped the movie and helped me with Alicia’s character because she doesn’t really have a connection with her father.” Prior to the wrap party, the two co-stars had never even had a real conversation.

At the end of the discussion, Gathegi offered a few words of advice to listeners.

“Once you find your passion, hold on to that, and fly. Don’t let anybody stop you,” he said. “If it’s a career in the arts, it’s a war of attrition. You’re being denied every day. You have to have a tough enough skin to knife through all that rejection.”


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