By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Shelter, a column about New Yorkers and the places they call home, ran in this paper from 1997 to 2006. We've revived the feature, which will run here weekly. Last week, we met writers Lois Morris and Robert Lipsyte, living legend Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, and Australian transplants sharing a 3500-square-foot loft.
Location: Victorian Flatbush, Brooklyn
Size: 900 square feet, two bedrooms, two bathrooms
Occupants: Kasia Kowalczyk (film director/production designer/monster), Tal Harris (film producer/actor/office production assistant, Damages)
You probably wouldn't be surprised to learn that what lives inside a Star Trek alien likes sperm, but not kids. But to peel off the mutated-acorn cranium of a Kelvin alien and to discover, underneath that fibrous goo, a former Stein Mart window dresser. . . who collects heart balloons and draws farting deer . . . and has business cards that promise I MAKE SHIT AWESOME . . . ? Well, that's just the beauty of Kasia Kowalczyk.
Kasia, who rents a two-bedroom nestled among the Flatbush Malls with her husband of eight years, producer Tal Harris (who's currently employed on the FX production staff of the Glenn Close-starring drama Damages), lists her for-hire talents as, "Director/Production Designer/Monster" on that business card. Her Internet Movie Database profile also credits the actress with the ability to tranform into "Dark Shape #1" (2010's Grey Skies) and "Headless Woman" (the 2009 short Hungry for Love), but her most recognizable metamorphosis was as Starfleet officer of J.J. Abrams's Star Trek reboot. The 33-year-old has another cameo in the 2009 Rodenberry retrofit, appearing in a disciplinary-scene crowd shot behind Chris Pine's Kirk as a squishy-featured creature with jowls she now compares to fallopian tubes ("They kinda had like pubic hair at the ends of them"). But it was the former's approximately 18 seconds of Kelvin-alien screen-time that inspired a trading card.
"When I went to work on Star Trek, J.J. Abrams was directing, but I didn't know who he was," admits Kasia, who Trekkies know best as Alnschloss K'Bentayr (serial number SA-890-0404-DB). "I'd never seen Lost!" In fact, she was more starstruck by Karl Urban, the actor cast as Bones, because he'd starred in an obscure 2000 Kiwi film called The Price of Milk. Fame inversion is a common issue for her. "I have that problem, so I'm probably never going to have a really good career in film."
Then again, maybe not. In the land of Hollywood prosthetics, a "freakishly small" head may be a far greater asset than a big name-dropping mouth. That's at least what she was told after modeling for the movie poster for One Missed Call, a corny 2008 J-horror-film remake starring Ed Burns, as a plump-lipped "nanny ghost" with screaming lips for eye sockets. Hired by Academy-Award-nominated special-effects make-up artist Tom Floutz, Kasia later asked what specifically landed her the part. "He said, Well, she has a really long neck and a really small head," Tal recalls. "That's really good for prosthetics. You can build up the head and build up the neck without it looking strange'"
"And you have to be able to handle not being able to eat," Kasia reports. "Being able to live off cheese and olives really helps you maintain a good prosthetics career."
Kasia is slightly statured, sylph-like, with long twiggy arms. Slender but not frail, the sometime wardrobe designer is one of those creative-energy bursts who imparts every detail with an extraordinary flourish. On a recent Saturday afternoon in her Victorian Flatbush living room, she both partakes in, and offers, red wine, apple slices, cheese, and misfortune cookies (I HATE YOU one seems to snicker), and leads a tour of their 900-square-foot place with Tal. Their walk-in kitchen is pink and brown with polka dots; snapshots and notes are taped inside cabinet doors. "I like when apartments have of whimsy, when you don't see things and suddenly you do," she offers. Except in the lavatory. "I don't think you should have a surprise when you're in the bathroom." But even there, the toothbrush holder is a blue plastic elephant.
Over a decade ago, the indie-filmmaking couple met in Athens, Georgia, later expanded to Atlanta, married (she proposed at the zoo). With her directing and him producing, they collaborated on two short films. The first, 2003's Replacing Delphine, was an elegantly eerie fairy tale about a man seeking to taxidermy a child who reminds him of the daughter he lost in a fire. "A lot of people didn't like it," Kasia admits. "Mostly children liked it, and deaf people." The other, 2005's The Bread Squeezer, was a darkly comedic, color-saturated fable of Andrew, a boy who becomes a bread-squeezing addict after his parents die in a tragic Christmas tree accident. (Tal plays the Bread Squeezer as an adult.) But down South, where the two of them splayed out in a 2200-square-feet loft with three levels a private roofdeck, living space was abundant, but opportunities, say, to make the next Pan's Labyrinth or to get a piggyback ride from Vincent D'Onofrio (a personal fantasy of Kasia's) or to play a Star Trek alien were not. Los Angeles was just as decentralized as Atlanta, so their remaining choices were Paris, London, and New York.
We are in the one that prevailed. "Everybody told us about Williamsburg and Bushwick," says Kasia. "We kind of went there and were like, Everybody here is 20. There's rats in the lofts. I'm not feeling this."
"But literally nobody was talking about this neighborhood at all," adds Tal. "It's quiet, it's nice. And the prices were good."
"It also felt ethnically and age diverse," offers Kasia, who was born in Poland.
"Kasia jokes that we're like an old gay couple, because we do like things a little sleepier," says Tal, a 44-year-old who bears a resemblence to Crispin Glover. "And this neighborhood is definitely sleepy."
Not their place, which is a study in anthropomorphism. When bunny slippers are misplaced, they're not lost, they "went off on an adventure in the house somewhere." Packages aren't just vessels. "I really hate when boxes are really simple in the mail," Kasia says. "I just drew this winter scene of deer for my friend and they're all farting in the woods. But then I was like, What if the post office decides that they're gonna keep this?'" Even a handwritten To Do list posted on the foyer door mixes the mundane ("Transfer photos to computer," "Clean apt," etc.) with the fantastical ("Order eyes online" and without explanation, "Puppets").
In the bedroom, a woodland silouhette is painted over the closet doors. "We did this so that when children come over, they get locked in and can't find their way out," kids Kasia, who sort of surprisingly doesn't particularly like, or want to have, babies. As for the framed Mona Lisa with animal ears on another wall, Kasia first started wearing cat ears after a bad haircut, but now when the filmmaker couple goes to festivals, she brings them so Tal can always find her. And all the heart-shaped foil balloons floating around the room? Well, Kasia swears they're not just for show. "We always have heart balloons in the house, somewhere," she insiststhey're a subtle mood-lifter.
On a dresser, there's a framed illustration of a single sperm. "Kasia loves sperm," Tal reports. "It's funny for someone who doesn't want kids."
"I just think the idea of sperm is really, just adorable."
"Dear, where's your glass sperm?"
"I did get glass sperm," Kasia giggles. "Do you want to see my penis lamp?"