An ‘Old-Fashioned Whodunit’ in the Age of COVID

Upper West Side actress Tara Westwood on filming during the pandemic, reading to NYC Public School students and putting her children first

| 20 Aug 2021 | 03:46

In June of 2020, “Hudson Falls” made television history as the first pilot shot on the initial week productions were allowed to film after the shutdown imposed during the COVID pandemic. As an executive producer of the series as well as one of its actresses, Tara Westwood had quite the interesting experience with her tight-knit cast, including Richard Kind and fellow Upper West Sider Jessica Hecht, since they had to limit the number of crew members during that time. “I would be in a scene with Richard and then I would powder him and do his hair in between takes,” she explained about the whodunit series, which will be available for streaming later this year.

The Canadian native started her career as a model in Paris and once she moved to the city in 1992 — on the Upper West Side, the same neighborhood she still calls home — she attended the William Esper Studio and realized that she wanted to make acting her profession.

The single mother of two, who recalls getting her SAG card from a Kmart commercial, took time off to raise her family, which she notes is the reason for the gaps in her resume. “So once my oldest went off to college, it hit me hard that they leave you,” she said. “That I needed to remember that I wasn’t just a mother ... I was actress that should really pursue my career.”

Westwood, who is known to read to New York City public school students through the SAG-AFTRA program BookPALS, started her own nonprofit, Let’s All Read, during the pandemic. She recruited her industry friends to film themselves reading to engage children who were learning remotely.

Let’s talk about “Hudson Falls.” First of all, I interviewed Richard Kind and he’s so nice. So this was the first pilot shot during COVID.

Oh yeah, he’s great. It was quite the thing. It was super difficult to get approval from the union, as it should have been. They were trying to protect their actors. At the time, it was very difficult to be tested for COVID and then be on a set within 72 hours like you had to be. Because if you remember, in July it was horrible. And trying to find a test that gave you back those results that were PCR was basically impossible. But then we found a test that had a better efficacy rate than what the NBA was using and we were able to prove that to the union and get that accepted as a test. And so we went and shot.

Before that, I had called the main part of the cast and said, “Listen, we have to postpone, we don’t have approval yet.” And it wasn’t that we weren’t meeting the guidelines; they had just furloughed half their staff and they hadn’t gotten back to us. And I said, “But as soon as I hear from them, I’ll call you and let you know.” And Richard, only two weeks ago, confessed to me that when I made that call, he thought, “It’s done. She’s a sweet kid, but it’s never happening.” [Laughs] And then two days later, I called them and I’m like, “Guys, we got approval. Can you get tested tomorrow and be on set in 48 hours?”

Explain the show’s premise.

It’s about a private detective, Richard Kind, who goes to see his ex-wife, played by the wonderful Jessica Hecht, who also lives on the Upper West Side. And he ends up getting pulled into a murder case. It’s a good old-fashioned whodunit. And the cast, they’re all wonderful in it. I would love to mention Elias Plagianos because he is the reason why this pilot got done. He wrote, directed and produced it; he did everything. And this man is an amazing filmmaker.

You also read to public school students.

Yeah, I normally read through a SAG-AFTRA program called “BookPALS” to a school here in New York. And obviously once COVID hit, that wasn’t possible. So I just started filming myself and would send it to the teachers so that they could forward it on to the kids. I have two kids, but they’re older, and I couldn’t imagine what it was like having a school-aged child during that time. And I just thought, “This will give the kids the opportunity to have someone read to them and it will hopefully give the parents a break.” And then we decided to post them online so that you didn’t have to be in that school to see them. I got wonderful people to read for me — Richard Kind, William Abadie, Jessica Hecht, Dean Winters, John Leguizamo, Nicholas Pinnock who is the lead on “The Show for Life” and also Diana-Maria Riva from “Dead to Me,” and I’m not even friends with those last two wonderful people. I just asked them and they did it, because they wanted to help kids and their families during this difficult time.

How old are your children? How did you balance your acting career with raising them?

My kids are in their 20s; I had kids super young ... You know, it’s funny, if you look at my IMDb page, you see that it was very sporadic for many years. And when I shot “Law & Order SVU” a couple years ago, someone on set had looked at my page and said, “What was the deal with that?” And I said, “Well, I was a single mom. I had to focus on my kids.” ... I was also hitting an age where that’s not the easiest time for an actress to start a full-time acting career. And a friend of mine had said, “You’re a good actor. It’s gonna be hard for you to get jobs because you don’t have the resume. You need to produce so that you can get your work seen.” And that’s how my getting into production started.

You also just directed your first film. Tell us about that.

It’s a short film called “Triggered.” It has Isiah Whitlock Jr. in it who’s such an incredible actor. It also has Robert J. Burke who’s in “Hudson Falls” as well, and then an up-and-coming actress, Caitlin Mehner. And it’s about two people who have lost family members to gun violence and are desperate to bring about change, so they take extreme measures to do so.

As a star of “The Grudge,” what was the difference filming a horror movie? Is it more fun?

It’s fun in the sense that, for example, my character, Fiona, was a very dark character to play. Like I’m just killing people the whole movie and in order to get through that — I have to drown my daughter —and in order to do that scene over and over and over again, you go to such a dark place, so when you’re not filming, it tends to be a lot lighter on set because you need to step away from that. So everyone actually does get quite silly in between things on a horror set, maybe more so than, I don’t know I’ve never done a romantic comedy, but I would imagine if you’re shooting that, you don’t need to try to get away from it. I was curious to see what doing such a big budget film would be like when I so was used to indie filmmaking. And our amazing director, Nicolas Pesce, handled that set like an indie film. It was very intimate and really creatively done.