SXSW 2023 Interview: Donna Benedicto Talks With Love and a Major Organ (Exclusive)

Mustering the courage to be true to their own feelings, no matter what types of emotional and mental obstacles they face in their lives, can be a challenging process for everyone, especially those who are living in a society that expects them to suppress their sentiments. But actress Anna Maguire’s protagonist of Anabel is doing just that with the help of her best friend and colleague, actress Donna Benedicto’s character of Casey, in the new sci-fi comedy-drama, ‘With Love and a Major Organ.’

The romantic fantasy film was directed by Canadian filmmaker Kim Albright, an alumna of the Canadian Film Centre Director’s Lab (2018). ‘With Love and a Major Organ’s screenplay was written by Julia Lederer, which is based on her award-winning stage play of the same name. The movie received funding from Telefilm Canada, along with the WIDC Feature Film Award, in sponsorships from screen industry companies across the country.

‘With Love and a Major Organ’ is set in a world where everyone’s heart is an object and there’s a strong societal pressure to dampen emotion. Lonely Virtual Insurance broker Anabel always follows her heart. At odds with this overly pragmatic society, and after a series of devastating emotional blows, she rips her heart from her chest and gives it to a man she’s fallen for, the strangely unfeeling George (Hamza Haq).

Unburdened by her unique yet cumbersome heart, Anabel finds life easier. George, on the other hand, begins to feel everything, to the shock of his overbearing mother, Mona (Veena Sood. With the help of Casey, Anabel soon realizes she needs to get her heart back if she’s going to survive.

‘With Love and a Major Organ’ had its World Premiere during the Visions Screening Section of last month’s SXSW. In honor of the comedy-drama’s premiere, Benedicto generously took the time the day before the project’s premiere screening on March 12 to talk about starring in the feature during an exclusive interview over Zoom.

The conversation began with Benedicto explaining why she was interested in starring in ‘With Love and a Major Organ.’ “I’m from, and usually in, Vancouver. This was a script that came along that was so different than everything that’s shooting there that I audition for. I was very excited about it because it’s a very unique, different type of story. You need to harness your imagination to understand what’s going on,” she said.

The performer continued: “My character’s name is Casey, and I’m the best friend of the protagonist named Anabel. My character’s pretty comfortable with technology. The world that this movie is set in is basically supposed to be our world, but exaggerated 50 times.

“It’s set in a society where most people don’t have the ability to have feelings, and if you do have feelings, you’re supposed to suppress them. You also have to go to facilities and have people help you feel your feelings. My character’s completely okay with that, and is really happy to use technology and apps to run her life,” Benedicto shared with a laugh.

“But the protagonist, Anabel, is really the opposite of that. So it’s very cool that they’re so different,” the actress continued.

“I love playing my character because she’s very funny and particular about using technology and apps. It’s kind of a reminder about how we shouldn’t be doing that in real life,” Benedicto added with a laugh. “So it was great!”

The performer then further explained the reason why she thinks it’s important to reflect on how technology dictates how people live in modern society, and how the film serves as an important piece of social commentary. “I think movies are made to make you take a look into your life and how much we rely on social media. Without giving too much away, it shows how feelings are important, and it’s great not to suppress them,” she noted.

“You see the big contrast between the two characters of Casey and Anabel. Anabel is all about feelings, to the extreme, and Casey is not about feelings, to the extreme,” Benedicto emphasized.

“So I think it’s very important to showcase that; it helps us reflect on ourselves, and how we deal with these new apps and AI coming out,” the actress added.

Benedicto then delved into what her experience of collaborating with Maguire was like on the set throughout the film’s production. “Anna is a force to be reckoned with, and her energy is amazing. She’s such a colorful spirit. She’s actually very similar to Anabel; she feels all the feels,” she shared.

“As soon as I met her, we immediately connected. I think they cast us perfectly,” the performer admitted with a laugh.

“Anna, Kim Albright, the director, and I all got to rehearse a couple of scenes together, so that we could have a connection, which I felt happened instantly,” Benedicto revealed. “Sometimes we don’t get the luxury of rehearsing for these movies, so that was really nice.

“I hope everyone sees our chemistry on screen! There are some really beautiful moments between us. Anna was awesome and very accommodating and collaborative. Every time we did a scene, it got better and better. I didn’t want to stop doing takes because they kept on getting better,” the actress shared with a laugh. “I loved working with Anna; we’re definitely friends now.”

Further speaking about how each take a scene becoming better as they filmed them, Benedicto noted that “Kim encouraged us to improv on set. She was very flexible, and so was Anna. Kim encouraged us to come up with our own stuff if what was in the script wasn’t working, and Anna’s very good at improv. She’s such a real actor, so if whatever comes out of her mouth is the best version of a take, that’s what they’re going to use.

“We got to play and do take after take until we felt it was right for the story. So that was a good time; Anna’s a very good improviser!,” the performer further praised her colleagues’ work on the film’s set.

Following up on what her experience of collaborating with Albright as ‘With Love and a Major Organ’s helmer, Benedicto further praised the filmmaker by saying: “Kim is one of the sweetest people I know. She gets everything done with so much force, but is also such a sweetheart at the same time.

“The way that she works with her actors allows us to get the feelings out of us. She was very gentle in her direction, but it was very effective. She was so passionate about the story and getting things right, but also playing around. It was the right balance of flexibility and being a bada**!,” the actress shared with a laugh.

“Everyone loves her and loves working with her. Her set is very comfortable,” Benedicto further gushed about Albright. “Usually the director and leads set the tone on set, and they set an amazing tone. Everybody, including all the crew and all of us actors, were happy to be there and be a part of this story. That’s all on Kim and Anna.”

Like the performer previously mentioned, she enjoys shooting projects like this movie on location in her hometown of Vancouver. “Our film got some really good locations in the middle of the city. Considering that it’s a little indie, I was very happy about that,” she shared.

“We shot close to my home, which was really convenient. For a lot of the film and TV roles that I’ve shot in Vancouver, I’ve had to drive about 45 minutes out of the city. But we had some great locations for our movie right in the city!,” Benedicto shared.

“We shot in some of the public parks, and I wondered how we got those locations. But it was wonderful to be able to film there,” the actress added.

Benedicto also shared her excitement of being able to attend SXSW for ‘With Love anda Major Organ’s World Premiere. She stated with a laugh, “SXSW is crazy! But it’s wonderful because so much is going on; there are speakers and all the film events. It’s been lovely and such a lovely experience, and I definitely want to do it again.

“Also meeting everyone in the film section has been great because we all have the same interest. The conversations at the film events get more and more exciting as you hear about what everyone else is creating. Everyone’s is excited about screening their movies out here. It’s just a big celebration with all of these great, different people!,” the performer concluded.

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