Chuti Tiu on the set of Pretty Rosebud
Milwaukee native and actress-screenwriter, Chuti Tiu, is in town tonight to screen Pretty Rosebud, a micro-budget feature film she not only stars in but also wrote.
Tiu has made the pilgrimage back to Southeastern Wisconsin along with her actor-director husband Oscar Torre (The Hangover Part III) in order to screen Pretty Rosebud, a long-gestating passion project of Tiu’s that also serves as Torre’s feature film directorial debut. The screening is tonight, 7:30, at the Marcus Majestic.
Torre also plays a supporting role in the film which is centered around Cissy (Tiu), an unhappily-married woman slowly crumbling under the pressure of family obligations. She’s the chief breadwinner and resents being put in that position by her immature husband, and she’s constantly hounded by her own family and in-laws about when she’ll finally get around to adding motherhood to her long list of duties. As a result, she has a series of flings in order to escape her stress-filled life.
Tiu’s professional acting credits date back to the late 1990's, including roles in film and TV projects ranging from Oscar winner Sally Field’s feature directorial debut, Beautiful, starring Minnie Driver; last year’s Vince Vaughn-Owen Wilson comedy The Internship; FOX’s 24; and ABC’s Dragnet remake with Ed O’Neill.
Tiu is a graduate of Divine Savior Holy Angels, a college preparatory high school in Wauwatosa. She spoke about how her time there shaped her.
“I have to say that because of who I was at that time, I think it was a really good idea that I was in a single-sex school environment," Tiu says. "I was one of those people who could very easily have been sidetracked by some cute boy. It made me focus on my studies. Being there instilled and solidified a lot of core values I still adhere by, including female empowerment.”
Tiu knew that she wanted to be a performer from an early age.
“In general, I have always loved performing," she said. "I’ve always liked taking people on an emotional journey. I used to do it through virtue of classical piano. That’s where my love of storytelling and giving to an audience really started. Mrs. Clara Saler, an amazing piano teacher, taught me a valuable lesson when she said, ‘You’re always telling a story in whatever piece you’re playing.’ I literally would visualize not just an emotion but main characters and what happens to them, and what I was trying to convey with the Beethoven sonata I was playing or with the Chopin nocturne I was playing. My love of performance and storytelling definitely started there.”
Her love of music (she plays both the piano and the trombone) and live performance eventually led her to take the leap into theater work. She got her big break when she was cast as “Eliza” and served as the principal dancer in a high school production of “The King and I” that went onto play the Pabst Theatre after winning an award for excellence in theater.
Like many professional actors who attended college, Tiu didn’t major in theater arts or performance. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University with a double major in economics and political science.
“I really, really wanted to take acting lessons and continuing performing, but I knew that my parents would not condone me majoring in acting or theater,” she shared. “I was definitely led to do something else that was more practical. And the thing that looked good on paper was -- and now this going to sound funny -- at some point I wanted to be one of the first female presidents of the United States.”
Tiu shared what drove her political aspirations: her love to help and inspire people, and her love of public speaking. However, she realized that a career in the political arena wasn’t in the cards. “I like to try to make as many people as possible happy at one time,” she continued. “As you grow older, you realize that politics is not the way to do that!” Tiu considered law but found out it was far more fun to play a lawyer than to be a lawyer. "I managed to find ways to feed my acting bug while in college.”
Tiu came up with the story for Pretty Rosebud in 1999 and originally intended for it to be a play. As she workshopped the material, she came to the realization that it would be better suited for the screen than for the stage. Then what followed was a long gestation period, or as she prefers to label it, “the chicken period.”
She was in a state of limbo as to how to get a film project off the ground. And she admits she let the lack of know-how stop her. She hoped that at some point funding would miraculously appear and she’d be able to make the film. Her husband, Oscar Torre, gave her the reality check she needed to proceed full speed ahead on the project a couple of years ago.
“He told me, ‘You know honey, if you don’t get this film made soon, you’re going to have to play the mom role,’” she said. His words calmed whatever doubt she had. “I didn’t devote all this blood, sweat and tears over all these years for someone else to play the lead role.”
Suffice it to say, they both got to work and made it happen.
Pretty Rosebud has been making the rounds across North America and racked up an impressive five jury wins (best feature film, best director, best actress, best screenplay and best cinematography) earlier this year at the Idyllwind International Festival of Cinema in California. The film was also honored at the ReelWorld Film Festival in Toronto, Ontario, Canada last week.
The film will be the closing night film at the Big Island Film Festival in Hawaii later this month. It has played to sold-out capacity crowds in Salt Lake City, Miami and Los Angeles in recent weeks. And, if all that weren’t enough, Tiu and Torre are in the process of securing distribution for the film which will play the Cannes Film Market this month during the run of the world-renowned Cannes International Film Festival.
The couple has several projects in the works, including a starring vehicle for Torre.
When asked whether she would consider filming a project here in Milwaukee or the state, Tiu said, “I would love to! I think it would be great to actually capture the culture, the topography, the architecture, the diversity of people and events of Milwaukee on film or television. Milwaukee is an awesome city.”
Pretty Rosebud screens tonight, Wednesday, May 7, at the Marcus Majestic in Brookfield at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at comeseemymovie.com