Elizabeth LaPrelle (“Oza Abner”)
Cast as Oza Abner in the 2019 drama The Mountain Minor, how did that opportunity arise?
My friend Susan Pepper is also a producer of the film, and she reached out to me to see if I was interested in reading the script. I met Dale Farmer in Cincinnati when I was there to play a show; he gave me a copy and asked me to read it and consider a role. One thing he said from the beginning was that he was interested in hiring musicians as opposed to professional actors so that music would be authentic.
Have you performed as an actor before your role in The Mountain Minor?
Not since acting class in college! Probably the peak of my activities around theater was actually high school when my friend and I co-wrote, co-directed, and acted in a series of plays. It was so fun! But I mostly focused on traditional music coming out of college and spent several years touring.
While fictional, the movie was based on real-life stories. How did you approach learning about your character Oza Abner and preparing for the role?
Dale Farmer, the screenwriter and director, did a great job of taking a very personal family story from his own life and editing it down—not just for the audience, but for us actors. So he gave us some details to work with, some history, but didn’t overwhelm us with too much. I think as a novelist, he has some lovely language for understanding the essence of the character. I remember him talking about Oza as being the force that keeps the family together, yet she’s dealing with having lost one of her children. I have an one-year-old son now, but at the time, I drew more on the part of me that wanted to be a mother one day.
What was the filming process like?
It was incredibly fun! I’d never been in a film before this. We were on a beautiful farm in a beautiful cabin by a stream in Western North Carolina, and on set, there’s lots of time you spend just standing or sitting in the location, waiting for technical things to get set or reset. For me, those waiting times helped me settle into the feeling of “this is my home; this is my life; I am this character.”
Growing up in a community rich in Appalachian music, share with us when you first became involved with music and when you decided to pursue it professionally?
I grew up in a musical family. Not that my family did all traditional or Appalachian music, but music was part of life and how we related to each other. I started participating in Fiddlers Conventions at a pretty early age, and I went deeper into it as a teen—that’s when I recorded my first album, started doing more research, and started going to sing in public at gigs. After college, I decided to pursue music full time.
Steeped in a love for the old-time and bluegrass music of the Appalachians, who were some of the musicians that had the biggest impact on you?
Sheila Kay Adams, the seventh-generation ballad-singer and storyteller from North Carolina. Ginny Hawker, the incredible singer from West Virginia.
What inspired you to play banjo as opposed to other bluegrass instruments?
I tried guitar, I tried piano, and when I tried banjo, it just made a lot more sense to me. I also just love the way banjo sounds with voice, and the way it can provide a rhythm and a texture without being quite as squared-up as guitar.
What brand of banjo do you play?
I play a Slingerland from the twenties that was refurbished several years ago by Mac Traynham, a luthier from Southwestern Virginia.
You are also part of the duo Anna & Elizabeth, known for including dance, shadow puppets, and crankies. How did that collaboration form, and what is the inspiration for your shows?
Anna & Elizabeth formed when both of us were living in Southwest Virginia post-college. We were both interested in using theater techniques and elements of other art mediums with traditional music to make a more varied, emotional kind of show. So we worked with a lot of visual mediums and did a lot of research together to craft our performances and albums.
There is a line from the movie, “These old mountain tunes will bring you back home.” What does that mean to you?
The family story depicted in The Mountain Minor is not an uncommon one for Appalachian folks. A huge number of folks moved during the Depression from a rural setting to an urban one looking for work, leaving family members and property behind. To me, that line has a literal meaning for Charlie (my son in the movie). He does come home eventually! But it also has a meaning for all kinds of folks who recognize some feeling from this story. It was true for me, whenever I’ve lived outside the area where I grew up, the music connected me to home.