A sneak peak at some of the women we cast in the upcoming Evelyn Avenue feature film ONLY CHILD…
I’m more excited about ONLY CHILD than I ever have been about a film this close to the start of a shoot, and a lot of that has to do with the cast. For me it’s all about chemistry. I’ve worked with some fantastic actors, some of whom are returning for this film. But I don’t think I’ve ever worked with such an interesting intersection of performance styles. WOMAN’S PICTURE segregated its actresses through its anthology format. ONLY CHILD keeps putting them in each other’s way. They run parallel in their own stories but make interesting collisions and confrontations throughout. All of the women in ONLY CHILD have some quality I want to explore on screen. All are very strong, and very different:
I think I first saw Grace Zabriskie – or at least really noticed her – in WILD AT HEART, a performance that left me pretty shaken. I saw it with my partner at the time and couldn’t talk after we left the theater. I had a hard time understanding how anyone was talking, and I resented being expected to. It wasn’t just the explicit violence in the movie. It had to do with the violence of the performances, too, and Grace’s was for me the most intensely realized. David Lynch works with a lot of actors but keeps bringing people back, and I always wait for Grace to show up again. Her role in INLAND EMPIRE was one of my favorite things on film that year. There was no real reference point for it. Like something in a dream, it had recognizable reference points, but everything was twisted just so; there was a menace to her performance you can’t really put a finger on. I feel like Grace understands David Lynch very well, and he understands her. When they work together you feel like they’re taking each other to places neither might get to alone. I watched Grace in BIG LOVE and was fascinated by how much there was to her that I hadn’t seen or sensed before. The arc of Lois, her character in the series, was one I can’t imagine many other actors navigating so well. There were parts of that series involving Grace that I could barely stand to watch. They felt too real, like you were seeing an actor bring a little more into the part than most people could withstand. It felt confessional in some way. I wrote the part of Delores in ONLY CHILD with Grace in mind, and could picture her in every room like she’d always been there. Grace makes no compromises when it comes to character. She allows whoever she’s playing to be complex and often inscrutable.
I first saw Amy on screen in Craig Brewer’s $5 COVER. She’s such a natural on screen, performing in a way that can feel almost documentary. Working with her on WOMAN’S PICTURE was a creative highlight for me, because she had very strong ideas, her mind was always working to get inside the character of Loretta in a way that authenticated her. She worked hard to understand where I was coming from, so that she could make sure, I think, that she was doing right by me, but not without doing what she believed was right by Loretta. When she first read the script she said “I know this woman” with a confidence that made me nervous. I thought, Uh oh. Here we go. But she really did know her, so well that I can’t imagine anyone else having played that role. Loretta was written for Amy but at the time I’d never exchanged words with her. Ultimately I learned a lot about Amy and a lot about the character I’d written. I wrote Loretta but Amy created her. It’s rare that someone inhabits your character like that, introducing you to her as if for the first time. Amy brings a lot to her music, to her live performances. She makes a narrative out of her stage act. She’s a storyteller like few musicians are. To see her bring that to the screen was exciting and eye opening. She’s one of the smartest actresses I’ve worked with in the most intuitive way. The tiniest decisions she makes are the best and make you truly feel the character.
Another thanks I owe Craig Brewer. I saw Lindsey in THE POOR AND HUNGRY years ago, before I’d ever made a film, and haven’t been able to stop thinking about her since. I’ve written a part for her in everything I’ve done, but it’s only now that we’re working together. I wanted to write a role that would make up for lost time, and LANA, her character in ONLY CHILD, is my love letter to Lindsey and her unique talents. You never know what Lindsey will do, what direction she’ll take a character in. Her characters can feel like loose cannons even when they’re perfectly still. You know something’s coming. She has some of the best comic timing I’ve ever seen, and can somehow make her characters feel real no matter how awkward or manic they might look. She has that combination in a comedically gifted actress I admire, mixing broad gesture with more nuanced details. The laugh always has weight to it, playing around with gravity. So many actors look at someone they’re playing opposite and you know they’re not really seeing them, they’re not really there. Lindsey always feels engaged, present in the thing. Lana is a little bit of a motormouth. She has a lot of anxieties and constantly struggles with them. She’s sunny but forecasting storms. Lindsey is the perfect person to play her because of what she can do with that kind of inner tension, the way she can make it come out in every gesture and expression.
Aside from Savannah Bearden (see below) Angela Dee is the closest I have to a repertory performer. If I could, I would put her in everything. I would wake up in the morning and my biggest decision would be, What can I do with Angela Dee today? When I first saw her I thought, This is probably what Robert Altman felt when he met Shelley Duvall at that party in Houston. Why is this woman not in every movie ever made? What kind of film can I possibly hope to make without her? Who would possibly want to see a movie she isn’t in? Angela draws from places that always surprise me. She uses her body more effectively than anyone I’ve ever worked with. It’s musical. Like Lindsey Roberts, she does a mixture of comedy and drama that pushes all my buttons. A member of Upright Citizens Brigade, Angela is uniquely talented when it comes to improvisation. A lot of people, faced with the prospect of improvisation, go cold or freeze, or come up with things that suddenly drop all the work they’ve done to build a character. It’s a risk I’m not always comfortable taking with someone. I never feel insecure about it with Angela because she drops nothing; it all comes in with her and comes out fully realized. Her presence in a cast instantly elevates everything, and putting her opposite anyone else is the biggest gift you can give that other actor.
I’m so close to Savannah and so much of our friendship and rapport ends up on screen that it’s hard to talk about what makes her special on film. So much of it is there off screen and it can seem to just kind of translate when you point a camera at her. She’s my go-to actress here in Memphis. I know that anything she does will be worth watching, let alone filming. She seems like she could have been a movie actress in any era, from silents to mumblecore. Her face seems timeless to me and her chemistry is at once contemporary and retro. I feel like Savannah gets very close to my sensibility on screen and she’s something of a female surrogate for me. I feel like if anybody has trouble understanding who I am as a person they can look at Savannah in my films and get the picture. As a collaborator, she’s incredibly supportive, but doesn’t fall prey to taking me too seriously, even when my ego would prefer it. She has great range tonally. She looks like a million bucks. She’s sarcastic and can do that well on camera but always with a bottom line warmth that complicates the role, moving it away from cynicism. She’s generous in the sense she brings so much of her personality and point of view into the character that she transcends my intentions. She plays Meredith in the WOMAN’S PICTURE series, the sister of my character, MACKIE. In ONLY CHILD, she plays LANA’s neighbor. Turns out Meredith lives down the street. Of all the characters I’ve written in this ten year series, Meredith is the one I’m most curious about seeing ten years from now.