Film still from "Fort McCoy." Photo Credit: © Marzipan Entertainment.

Film still from “Fort McCoy.” Photo Credit: © Marzipan Entertainment.

GALO: Even though your characters are living through a war, there is a nostalgic element to the film. What did you learn about this era from your grandparents and mother that might be different from today’s society?

KC: One of the big differences is that during WWII our whole country was behind the war effort. Even little kids would collect scrap metal to turn in. And you can see in the movie, all the rubber went to the war effort, so people didn’t usually have spare tires and had to ride on rims when a tire blew. Women didn’t have nylon, because it was used for parachutes. Everybody’s efforts went into the war, and everybody in America was affected by the war. Tom Brokaw dubbed WWII as the “Greatest Generation.” When I interviewed my family members about that time, they did look back with great nostalgia, even though there was a lot of tragedy. To this day, my mother can’t watch WWII movies because it brings back memories of the soldiers she knew that died. My great-aunt (played by Lyndsy Fonseca) said that if they could go back and live in any place or time again, they would go back to that time. There was a great movie during WWII called The Best Years of Our Lives, and the title encapsulates exactly that. A lot of people look back, and even though there was so much sadness, there was also a coming together as a community and joy. And for many of them, they look back and view it as the best years of their lives.

GALO: You filmed the movie at the military base and at Norskedalen, a nature and heritage center in the area. The scenery is stunning, and the house in which your family lives looks authentic to the time period. Can you tell me how you discovered Norskedalen?

KC: We are still so grateful that we got to shoot in Norskedalen. The setting is absolutely beautiful — the flowers and expansive blue Wisconsin skies with puffy clouds. It’s really gorgeous. We actually had trouble finding a home to use, because the real cabin that my grandparents had lived in has since burned down. The concrete foundation is still there, but the home is gone. So I was searching locations all over the area, and we ran one last ad in the paper in case we missed something. And Norskedalen saw it and called.

GALO: Serendipitous!

KC: No kidding! It was the perfect setting — it’s absolutely beautiful there.

GALO: You received the Best Actress Award at the Milan International Film Festival for your portrayal of Ruby, your grandmother. How do you think she would respond to these accolades?

KC: I think my grandmother would have been very excited. She was an amazing woman, and it was my great honor to portray her. I admire her so much. She was way ahead of her time: she was a feminist, a phenomenal mother who made her kids’ lives magical, as you see in the film. She loved walks and flower fields, and she would make all their clothes and cute costumes. She even made her own clothes and was a very classy dresser. After the war, she became a Head Start teacher and taught a couple generations of underprivileged children. She believed women should have a career and really defended the rights of the underprivileged and the poor. I think she would’ve been very excited to see her life and her family’s life portrayed on the screen.

GALO: And your mother and great-aunt?

KC: My great-aunt and mother have both responded so positively. My mother made an exception and watched this movie. She came on the festival circuit and was so overcome with emotions that she couldn’t answer any questions during the Q&A. I admire my mother so much — she’s the best person I know. It’s been exciting to share this with her.

GALO: Your great-aunt was portrayed as an 18-year-old by Lyndsy Fonseca. Was she happy with the portrayal?

KC: When my great-aunt first saw the movie, I surprised her because I didn’t tell her that we had secured rights to the song, “I’ll Remember April,” which plays on the radio when Andy Hirsch and Lyndsy Fonseca, playing my great-aunt and uncle, are on a date in the car. It took forever to secure those rights, and I am forever grateful to Jo Stafford’s family who cleared them. My great-aunt and uncle had an over 60-year love affair. I’ve never seen anything like it. The day my great-uncle died, they were still as in love as you see on the screen. My great-aunt was flabbergasted when she heard the song come on the radio. It was so emotional for her; I think I probably should have forewarned her. They were big animal lovers and because that was their song, they named all their dogs April and had a succession of April 1, 2, 3…

GALO: While the majority of the film takes place at Fort McCoy, there are flashbacks to battle scenes, particularly from the viewpoint of your uncle, who had just come back from fighting. Are these scenes an amalgamation of your research into the battles, or were they, too, part of your family’s life story?

KC: The stories that you see on screen all really happened during the war. He hadn’t told these stories to his children. He gave me permission to tell them. I was very grateful. One of his sons watched the movie, and it was the first time he had learned of his father’s experience. My great-uncle read the script before he died and knew it would be made. He was really thrilled that this story was going to be told.

GALO: What a gift he gave you. I think so many of that generation returned home with a deep sense of stoicism — and basically lived the rest of their lives under the notion that what happened on the battlefield, happened on the battlefield. But that’s not to say that they didn’t suffer upon their return.

KC: WWII soldiers suffered in silence. I’ve heard so many people in audiences say that if they did tell, it was on their deathbed. Someone told me that her father shared everything with her son because he was doing a school paper. And it was the first time she had heard about his experiences and what he went through. I think for anyone who has family members still alive that lived through WWII, it’s important to ask and keep those stories alive in your own family.

GALO: In light of the wars, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and violence that have continued since WWII, what message did you hope to bring to your audience?

KC: Part of the theme is that there’s good and evil in the world, but in-between is a long blurred line. We hope that we can learn the lessons from the past. And it’s all about acceptance. We are all people, and all have so much in common. Most people just want to live a good life and take care of their children. If everyone could get rid of that hate and start accepting each other, obviously, the world would be a much better place. The other message I wanted to bring out is community and family, because people really came together and supported each other — and the more we can do that, the better off we will be.

GALO: You are writing and starring in your next film, Piggy. Can you tell us a bit about it?

KC: My next film is about a former valedictorian prom queen who has to save her family’s farm from a corporate pig factory take over. It’s a comedy, but underneath it tackles the issue of factory farms, which are so horrendous in terms of hurting animals. But they are also devastating to the environment and have health risks for humans. It gives me hope to already see that we move more and more toward letting animals range freely and to go organic on our farms. It’s a win-win for everyone. Organic and free-range farming are both very profitable. I’m excited about Piggy, because in addition to the message, it’s very fun and heart warming.

“Fort McCoy” opens at select theaters this week. For a complete listing of film showings across the country, visit Monterey Media.

Video courtesy of Monterey Trailers.