The first film listed in your resume is United 93. Was that actually your film debut?
No, my first job was this obscure film called The Secret.
That's coming out on DVD.
Yeah, don't rush to get it. [Laughs] That was my first job. I got it in 2005 when I was 18, and it was really an amazing experience and a very challenging role, but I'm a little green. I did a film called Margaret after that, which actually hasn't been released yet; it's still being worked through, I think in the editing room, and then United 93 was my third job. Juno was my most recent project when it came out, and I had about four other films in the can that hadn't come out yet.
Was Snow Angels made after Juno?
No, a whole year before. I filmed Snow Angels in February of 2006 and Juno in February of 2007. The thing with indie films is that it's a long, long process. For Snow Angels it took two solid years between when the movie was shot and when the movie was picked up and released.
Snow Angels is a far more intense film about damaged people than either Juno or The Wackness. I was very impressed with the scenes featuring you and Michael Angarano because scenes of teenagers trying to get to know each other are so often phony on screen and your scenes together felt honest.
There's a sense of awkwardness that was intimate rather than self-consciousness as the characters tried to find ways to open up and talk to each other, which is hard enough as an adult let alone for an adolescent dealing with those feelings for the first time. You don't see that on the screen often, certainly not done so well.
I think that's hugely in part because the script was so well written. David Gordon Green, who directed, adapted the script from the novel. Most of the things that we say are things that he wrote but he we did spend a fair amount of time rehearsing. We did a lot of rehearsing without the script, before we knew the lines, so we were familiar with the scene, but when you take the scripted things away, that's when the naturalness comes out, and we kept a lot of that in. I think that sometimes a huge flaw with dialogue in films and why it sometimes feels unreal is that it's set in a very unrealistic format, which is I speak and then you speak, and then I speak and then you speak, and we speak in full sentences, and we speak in complete thoughts, and we take turns, and that's just not how people usually have a conversation. There are interjections, there are utterances, there are giggles, especially when you're really connecting with somebody. You don't have to be talking about something serious, you don't have to be talking about something at all - you can just be spending time together. When we were filming the movie, what we tried to do was keep everything very easy. Michael and I would often finish out the day feeling like, "Wait, did we even shoot anything today?" Because the way that we interacted with each other and spoke was the same when the camera was rolling or not rolling. It was almost as though the camera was hidden and it was like taking a peak into what we were just doing when we were hanging out. I was also working with David, who is a very naturalist director. I'm glad to hear that it feels natural.
You also have a great chemistry with Josh Peck in The Wackness, but when you play scenes with Ben Kingsley, the chemistry is completely different. It's not necessarily antagonistic, but there is a stiffness or a formality in your relations, as well as an affection. So how do you develop that tension between yourselves?
I think that Dr. Squires is such an unusual character in that he's so pathetic and childlike in so many ways. Sir Ben and I discussed it a lot, because our relationship is hinted at. It's not quite a father-daughter relationship that we've got going on, and I do call him Dr. Squires sometimes, but we decided that he had been married to Stephanie's mother since she was twelve or thirteen years old and he had been a pretty formative figure in her young life and had taken care of her. He might not really be a father figure, but she loves him very dearly. At the same time, I think she pities him a little bit. I don't think she really takes him seriously. But that's also Stephanie. I don’t think she takes anything seriously.
I sense that Dr. Squires is very protective of Stephanie.
Yes, and I think that she's protective of him, too. It's kind of like they look out for each other very much. He says he doesn't want Josh dating her because she'll break his heart, but I think he's a little protective of her too, he doesn't want to know what his little girl is doing. [Laughs] Well, actually that's not really true. There was a scene that got cut where he asks her for drugs, so it's not like he doesn't know. [Laughs] He's really stoned and he comes to her and says, "The dog ate my weed. Do you have any?"
That's an amazing run, to have landed one substantial role after another before you had even had a chance to make an impression in the theaters. Were you developing a reputation among casting agents even though these films had not been released?
I don't know if it's a reputation. Part of being an actor is auditioning and fighting for things that you're passionate about and auditioning through round after round. Casting directors and film directors can be so indecisive, you wouldn't believe, and it can be very frustrating because they want to see you over and over and over again. It's kind of an endurance test, above all else. I think the reason I got The Wackness was that I knew in my heart that I was perfect for the role. I didn't know if there was anybody else who was as perfect for it, but it didn't matter, and when it came down to it, I just went in there and I felt like I really knew Stephanie, so I did her the way I would do her. The one thing you have to learn about auditioning: It can be a really brutal process and you have to accept the fact that you're either the person or you're not the person and it's something almost completely out of your control.
Because you're going in knowing you're going to give your best performance, but they have an idea of who they see in their head and no matter how good are...
Exactly. And a piece of text is a very open-ended place to start. There are so many different ways to interpret and read and play everything, so the director, the casting director, the producers, etc., they already have a fixed idea of the feel of the material, the look that they have in mind, and so an actor can come in and give a great audition, they can give a great performance, but maybe they just read the material differently or they don't have the right color hair - it could be something that superficial. It's kind of a shot in the dark, but they usually find somebody who matches their criteria naturally. And I think that's what happened in The Wackness.
And then there's connecting with the director or the star, finding the same wavelength...
And it also has to do with chemistry with other actors. A lot of the time, when they're casting a romantic pair or good friends, what they'll do is a chemistry read. They have two people they like, but it's hard to tell how they'll be together, so they often put two people together in a room before they make any final decisions. That's what happened with Snow Angels, actually. I auditioned with Michael Angarano. He already had the role, I was auditioning for the role of Lila, and it worked really well. The same thing happened with Juno.
There are not a lot of really good roles out there, and certainly not as many for women as for men. You've had very good luck and great instincts for finding consistently interesting parts in a small amount of time.
I actually disagree. I read tons of fantastic roles for women in their late teens/early 20s; it's a very popular age right now. I'm not really sure why - some sort of cultural obsession with youth, I suppose, but I get the long end of the straw because that's the age range that I play. There are a lot of roles that lack substance, especially for women, unfortunately, but there's two things you can do. You can approach something in a certain way, and you can approach the filmmakers with ideas and changes that you might want to make. I think what happens a lot, especially with teenage girls - they're just written one-dimensionally; they're concerned with one thing or their feelings and emotions are written off as hormones or PMS or drama and it's a little frustrating as a woman to have the world at large saying to you that your emotions are invalid because you're just hormonal. Which maybe is true, but it doesn't mean that what you are feeling isn't real. I'm sorry, I've kind of diverted off into this larger cultural thing. [Laughs] But I think that there are just as many great roles for women as there are for men and if women actors start standing up for themselves and maybe refusing to play such one-sided, boring women, then maybe there could be more of a change made.
I think what I meant to say, and maybe this is changing, too, but most films are about the experiences of male characters and the women's roles are part of their stories.
That is so true, and I think that something really amazing has happened with films over the last year. Between Juno and Sex and the City, I think that we can start to see a revolution of a little bit more female-centric films. Audiences are sending the message that women are moviegoers, too, and it doesn't have to be a pure chick-flick about getting married to draw a female audience. You can draw a female audience with a variety of different subject matter and I'm excited to see that. It's definitely good news for women actors.
You'd been getting a lot of roles before Juno was released. When Juno hit, how did things change for you?
It changed everything. As I was saying before, being an actor, you have to fight for your roles and I would never have been able to get a part without auditioning for it. Now, I do get straight offers, which is nice. It doesn't necessarily mean anything because sometimes they're straight offers for straight-to-video horror flicks, which I'm not really into. Nothing against them, it's just not my bag. So it's mixed. It's really nice to know that people have faith and confidence in you, enough so that they don't need to see you read, but at the same time, I think it can get kind of dangerous because I wouldn't want to get a role simply because people thought that I was some marketable entity. I still want to earn the roles that I get, so I still audition for nearly everything, even if it's a more collaborative process with the director. But it certainly has changed everything. It's made it much easier and getting work has become less of a fight. It's simpler now, which is lovely.
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