When Mark Janicello approached me last month about his brand new film, “The Finellis,” I must admit that while I was honored, I was a bit confused. People don’t typically reach out to me about movies. However, as I read the movie’s bio, Mark’s bio, the impressive list of awards already received, it became clear. Beautifully, crystal clear.
After a whirlwind few weeks of the holidays and soaking in every possible moment with all of my kids home, I finally had 90 minutes to preview “The Finellis.” The storyline is one of connection and re-connection; of facing that which makes you uncomfortable; of never, ever giving up on your dream; and of realizing that your life’s purpose may not be at all what you thought it was. I laughed and was touched by sweet moments, but the most poignant 10 minutes for me was Kim Tatum’s portrayal of Eva and Tony’s (Mark Janicello) raw honesty and authenticity in those moments.
I am delighted to share with you a Q&A with Mark and Kim. I encourage you to watch “The Finellis” and be reminded to never give up on your dreams!
Heather Hester: What was your inspiration for “The Finellis?”
Mark Janicello: After about a year of living and working in Germany I, was approached by a number of TV producers about creating a series for me. They felt I was a great TV personality. Unfortunately, the German production companies were only interested in a Reality Format like “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” or something like that. I am much too private a person to have a camera team following me around 24 hours a day.
I felt that I had lived a pretty extraordinary life and wanted to use my own life experiences as a “jumping-off point” to tell stories that could inspire, entertain and perhaps give hope to an international audience. From day one, it was clear to me that I wanted to keep an “international viewpoint” on whatever I was doing. I have been blessed to work in 49 countries. Travel and life experiences have given me a global viewpoint that I felt I could use in an entertainment format. Out of that need to “tell a story,” “The Finellis” was born. Though I used my person and my life as a starting point, this is fictional entertainment — but still authentic to the life I have lived, the people that I have met, and the situations that I have found myself in. I believe it was that authenticity that has helped “The Finellis” win awards all over the world even before anyone has really seen it.
Heather Hester: You explore culture in an indirect but poignant way. Can you share your thought process for Tony being an American living in Germany?
Mark Janicello: I’ve lived in many different countries. Like I experienced first hand, I wanted to put Tony in an unfamiliar place, in a foreign country, with a foreign language, social mores, etc. This serves two purposes. First, his “support network” is nowhere to be found. When you live in a foreign country, no matter how long you are there, there is still a part of you that feels like a “fish out of water.” Secondly, and most importantly, for the dramatic and comedic purposes of “The Finellis” — having Tony be an “American in Berlin” allowed me to subtly show how Europeans and the rest of the world view (and sometimes) comment on Americans, American Culture, etc. It adds another layer to our film and allows the movie, while still “American” in sensibility and comic quality, to have a “truly international” feel.
Heather Hester: Kim’s character, Eva, is quite layered. Even though she plays a smaller part, her presence speaks volumes. What inspired you to write her character into “The Finellis?”
Mark Janicello: When I first worked in Germany, one of my very first leading ladies was a transgender woman who is quite famous in Germany. At that point in my life, I had never met anyone who was transgender. Accordingly, I didn’t know how to behave, what to feel, what to think, etc. I was SO FAR out of my comfort zone that I completely withdrew. I was never rude or disrespectful, but I was not myself. Over the course of the rehearsal period for that production, at one point, the director pulled me aside and said, “Mark, what’s going on with you?” When I told him of my discomfort with my leading lady, he said something to me that I never forgot and for which, until today, I am still grateful. He said, “She has gone to extraordinary lengths to be seen as, and live her life as a woman. She has undergone countless operations and more to live her life as she felt it should be. Just treat her as you would ANY other of your leading ladies.” In that moment, I realized how small-minded and fearful I was being. I felt ashamed of my behavior and immediately began to treat my co-star as the beautiful, talented, clever, and funny woman that she is. We became very good friends and have remained friends all these years.
This experience was life-changing for me in many ways. It was also something that I thought would dramatize very well, so I wrote an even more extreme version of this story for Tony Finelli and the movie. As it turns out, this 17-minute sequence is one of the highlights of our movie and makes “The Finellis” something more than just a very funny movie. It makes it a very funny, touching, and extraordinary film because Kim Tatum (aka Mzz Kimberley), who plays our Transgender character, gives a simply marvelous performance. Through our work together on this film, I have not only gained a wonderful professional colleague but a good friend. I love Kim dearly and am so proud that she’s in my movie.
Heather Hester: Music and humor are clearly two important vehicles for you to share your stories. Why?
Mark Janicello: I was a professional opera singer for 30 years, though I never really fit the “mold” of a classical singer. I always felt I had to cut off a LOT of my personality to be a classical singer. I am an entertainer at heart, and I LOVE comedy. My dream job probably would have been being a “Not Ready for Prime-Time Player” on “Saturday Night Live.” I love making people laugh and using a character and situation to create a genuine comic effect. That’s one part of my personality. However, having performed all over the world, for every conceivable kind of audience, I also learned that music speaks with the human soul. It goes past your conscience thought, and it touches the heart and mind of the listener. I felt that to combine comedy with music as well as with the dramatic parts of the film would be the best way of making “The Finellis” something out of the ordinary, and more importantly, to make the audience FEEL something. I’m not interested in just tickling anyone’s funny bone. I want to wake my audience up and force them to have an emotional response to what they are seeing and hearing. Music goes a LONG way in making that possible.
Heather Hester: Is there a message that you want your audiences to walk away with?
Mark Janicello: I want people to understand that “where there is life, there is hope.” I lost EVERYTHING that an adult man can lose, his name, his reputation, his career, his money, and his family. I had every reason to kill myself, but I didn’t. I never gave up and have fought my way back to having the kind of life I always dreamed of. I’m now 59 years old. I’m not some “pretty young thing” with 6-pack abs and a perfect face. I’m a middle-aged guy who has been through the mill and come out on the other side. Whoever watches “The Finellis” should feel inspired to live their life to the best of their ability and to never, EVER give up. If you’re willing to do the work, you can achieve your dreams.
Heather Hester: What made you decide to help make “The Finellis?”
Kim Tatum: It was a storyline I couldn’t say no to. It puts a trans woman in a positive setting. In today’s climate, humanizing members of the trans community is extremely important, with so much false propaganda being displayed by certain members of society who want to keep us oppressed. In the past, and sometimes today, our community was always depicted on screen as deviants, prostitutes, or murderers. A part of society that fuelled negativity. These hurtful genres are not the visibility needed. It doesn’t bring pride and can engage in a trans person’s mental health. It’s also important for a wider audience to see us as a positive part of society. I think your average trans person would watch “The Finellis” and feel pride which would make me very happy.
Heather Hester: Your character, Eva, is beautifully written. What does it mean to you to have a character like her shared with the world? I personally appreciated her gentle directness. Do you feel her character and message will help remove stigmas and fear surrounding transgender people?
Kim Tatum: You get the chance to watch a businesswoman of color who happens to be trans living an honest life filled with love and respect. She’s married to a man who is older, but she’s the one with the money. She’s smart, lived a life, and has a good head on her shoulders. The Finellis are helping with the process of ending the stigma surrounding the trans community. This visibility is very important. All marginalized communities in film have been treated with the utmost disrespect, but we continue with this struggle to be seen as a part of society that is free to be who we are without always being ridiculed.
Heather Hester: “The Finellis” is filled with humor and music – what other messages would you like for audiences to realize as they view the film?
Kim Tatum: What I love about playing Eva is she has friendships with people who are not just in her community. She becomes good friends with her husband’s best friend’s wife. You also have her come into contact with the leading character, played by Mark Janicello, who never met a trans person and feels uncomfortable at first but realizes they have common ground and become friends. It’s a message society needs to learn. So many times, we live in our own boxes and do not take time to get to know others who are completely different from us. If we did, it just might make this planet a better place to live.
Kim, I could not agree more with that thought! I am grateful to both Mark and Kim for sharing their lives, their passions, and their truths with us. Mark added the following thoughts upon reading Kim’s answers –
Reading Kim’s answers to your questions, Heather, made me EXTREMELY proud of our film — but for new and important reasons.
I wrote the LGBTQIA+ storyline for “The Finellis Movie” because I wanted to tell a story that was based on a real-life experience that was important to my own development as a human being. However, after reading Kim’s answers to your questions and understanding her perspective, I see what this film is achieving in an entirely different light. It was truly my subconscious at work, without my even fully understanding what these scenes could mean to the LGBTQIA+ community.
I am honored, if in some small way, “The Finellis” brings a new and more open perspective to all communities and people.
Learn more about “The Finellis” HERE
Watch it on your favorite streaming service HERE