The “Selma” Interview
with Kam Williams
Tara Talks about Portraying Civil Rights Martyr Viola Liuzzo
Tara Ochs is an actress and voice-over artist residing in Atlanta, GA. She has also been a comedy improviser her entire career and credits that skill with opening many doors.
Tara can currently be caught performing with Atlanta-based theatre company Dad’s Garage, where she also teaches improv to people of all ages. Previously, she worked with The Second City troupe, and was a company member of the L.A.-based improv companies ComedySportz and ACME Comedy Theater.
Tara’s television credits include Crossing Jordan, CSI:Miami, One Tree Hill, Army Wives, Close to Home, Samantha Who? and Single Ladies. And her voice-over credits include numerous national and regional radio spots, as well as over 40 audio books with Audible and Hachette Publishing Groups. She lists M.M. Kaye’s “Shadow of the Moon” and Dale Kushner’s “Conditions of Love,” as among her favorite reads.
A graduate of Florida State University, Tara considers Pensacola, Florida her hometown, although her family moved around quite a bit when she was a child due to her father’s enlistment as a Navy pilot. His service has inspired Tara’s love of country, while her mother’s dedication as a schoolteacher has motivated her to work with young people in the arts.
Here, she talks about portraying civil rights martyr Viola Liuzzo in the Academy Award-nominated film, Selma.
Kam Williams: Hi Tara, thanks for the interview.
Tara Ochs: Thank you Kam! You look really nice today. Is that a new sweater?
KW: Thanks! And, yes, it was a Christmas gift. What interested you in Selma? Were you aware of the march?
TO: I was NOT aware of anything to do with Selma or the marches. Living in Atlanta, you can’t help being surrounded by the vestiges of the civil rights movement, so naturally it interests me. But this particular moment in history, I was unfamiliar with. Once I was introduced to the story via the audition, I was thrilled to come across an example of such a large number of people coming together to support the movement.
KW: How about the character you played, Viola Liuzzo? Had you heard of her?
TO: I also knew nothing about Viola Liuzzo. It wasn’t until I received the script that I learned of her enormous contribution to the movement. It was a surprise – I had no idea that a white woman had lost her life in the struggle for civil rights.
KW: How did you prepare to play her? Did you speak to her children or anyone who knew her?
TO: At the time of the filming I had not yet gotten in touch with her family--the turnaround for this film was incredibly fast. From script to screen in just about a year! I am currently in touch with them however, and so thrilled to have their support.
To prepare I did my good actor research--I Googled. The resources I came across that had the most value for me as a performer were the book “From Selma to Sorrow” by Mary Stanton, and the documentary Home of the Brave.
KW: Did you feel any responsibility to portray Viola right, given that she was martyred?
TO: Absolutely! The weight of that responsibility was overwhelming. I speak a little about that on my blog [ www.taraochs.blogspot.com ] In short, I wanted to approach Viola as a woman, not as a saint--so I looked for those details that made her seem human to me.
KW: Is there a cause bigger than your own self interest, for which you might be willing to pay a big price, perhaps even sacrificing your life?
TO: The first answer that comes to mind is my family. But I suppose that’s not a cause. [Chuckles] In a way, though, it contributes to the things that I feel passionate about. For example, my father is a veteran, so patriotism runs deep in my family.
KW: Did it ever get emotional on the set, given the historical importance of Selma?
TO: [LOL] Constantly! CONSTANTLY! I can’t tell you how difficult it was to keep it together as we marched on that bridge with actual survivors of Bloody Sunday. And the final speech back in Montgomery? There was no need to act that day.
KW: What message do you hope people will take away from the film?
TO: Hope. And perhaps a clearer understanding of why non-violent protest is the most effective way to agitate.
KW: What do you think of the criticisms being leveled at the film, suggesting that LBJ is being portrayed unfairly?
TO: What controversy? The film clearly shows LBJ for who he was--a master politician. And it clearly shows Dr. King for who he was--a master activist. It just doesn’t seem like a controversy to me. I am cheering for both LBJ and MLK by the end of the film.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
TO: I’ll have to think on this one.
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
TO: This past Saturday – I was practically in tears. My high school outreach improv team had their tournament and they were absolutely brilliant. I could barely catch my breath.
KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
TO: My Dungeons and Dragons group. We play weekly, and I play a Battle Cleric who worships a sun goddess. Pathfinder edition, if that means anything to you.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
TO: I’m working my way through the “Wheel of Time” series because I want to get to the ones written by my favorite author, Brandon Sanderson.
I’m taking turns with that and “Misquoting Jesus” by Bart Ehrman. I’m sort of nerdy about theology.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last song you listened to?
TO: “Glory,” of course.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
TO: Shrimp Creole, my grandma’s recipe.
KW: Was there a meaningful spiritual component to your childhood?
TO: Absolutely. I grew up in the Episcopal Church, and it was a key part of my social and spiritual life
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
TO: About 50 different people. When I was little, my mom used to put me in the corner when I misbehaved for time out. But the corner she stuck me in had a mirror. I love making faces.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
TO: I have a terrible memory, but I used to have a recurring dream which I later realized was a childhood memory. I lived in Japan from age 2 to 4. The memory was of me in a park with the Great Daibutsu [Buddha] at one end. I got to climb inside that statue. I remember perhaps being awed for the first time.
KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
KW: The Gabby Douglas question: If you had to choose another profession, what would that be?
TO: I would have gone with astronaut, but I heard that’s harder than being an actor. [Chuckles]
KW: The Harriet Pakula-Teweles question: With so many classic films being redone, is there a remake you'd like to star in?
TO: The Apartment.
KW: What’s in your wallet?
TO: It’s lean. Just the cards I need, always some cash, a MARTA card [Atlanta Transit] and a Fox Bros BBQ [restaurant] sticker. [Laughs]
KW: Thanks again for the time, Tara, and best of luck with Selma and the rest of your ventures.
TO: Thanks Kam! I’m going to go memorize my rap battle lyrics now. Have a good evening!
To see a trailer for Selma, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kPgs2zshD9Y