Interview by James Patrick Herman
Photographs by Jeff Vespa
Sydney, so I wear flip-flops a lot. Where I live there’s this little walkway called Barefoot Boulevard and everyone wears flip-flops. We actually call them thongs in Australia but in the US it can sound inappropriate if you say you’re wearing a thong.
I’ve been there once before. I had a supporting role in a film called The East which premiered in 2013.
It feels crazy. And honestly, kind of overwhelming. There is a lot of buzz about the film. I haven’t seen it yet, but before the festival, I’ll be going to a screening in New York with Bridget Everett, who plays my mom. We have to sit next to each other because we’ll be clawing each other’s arms with nerves.
I’m still trying to figure that out myself. It’s definitely a coming-of-age story, so in that sense it feels familiar and relatable. But what’s unique is the focus on a girl from New Jersey who wants to be a rapper — and to make it in a male-dominated industry that doesn’t necessarily accept her. On top of that, she’s not your typical girl. We see rappers like Iggy Azalea and Nikki Minaj and they’re very beautiful, perfectly sculpted women with tiny waists and nice curves. Patti is just an average girl. She’s trying to make it in a business that is all about image and she doesn’t have the right image. It’s also a misfit story — there are so many characters in this film that you haven’t seen before. It is ultimately about individuals trying to find to find acceptance regardless of race, gender and body image.
Patti is a tough yet insecure girl who has bigger dreams than she can even imagine. She wants to get out of this place where she is stuck and she wants to achieve greatness. This film is about her figuring out how to do that — and along the way she also discovers who she is as a person.
Patti and I walk differently, we talk differently, but we have the same heart. That is where I connected with her: On the inside. And then I learned how to be her on the outside. We are both really passionate about something — rap in her case, acting in mine — and we want to be able to do what we love. Also, we happen to be in industries that don’t promote the body types we have.
One of our producers saw me in The East and he showed my photo to the director. Then he saw a film I did called Every Secret Thing and thought: “OK, she can do this.” He invited me to come to the Sundance Labs in 2014 so that he could workshop some of his scenes. I got this offer, which was like: “You’ll be going away for three weeks where there is no cell reception, you’ll be volunteering and you’ll have to play a New Jersey rapper.” I was like: Huh? What? I can’t do that accent, I don’t know how to rap and I’m pretty sure I’m tone deaf. I was terrified. So I was like: OK, let’s do it. Why not just completely challenge myself? And to this day it was one of the best experiences of my life.
I started taking acting classes when I was twelve. I did an improv class, which was a lot of fun, but I was super-shy and I didn’t talk to anyone for like a year. Then I did a play and all of a sudden I opened up a lot more. Acting helped me to come out of my shell. My first job was a short film here in LA with Rosemary Dewitt and Joel Edgerton. Rachel Weisz directed it. The audition was improv, so I was like: OK, I can do this. This is what I did when I was 12. But I remember having a panic attack after I got the part. I was on my way to the set and I was like: I’ve never acted professionally. I moved to America. I got a Visa. What if I don’t like this? Oh, my gosh. I remember kind of freaking out, but then I had such a great day on set. And I realized that this is what I want to do forever.
I worked in the kitchen at a bistro. I was a dishwasher and then I progressed to making salads. I was great at making salads and now my friends are always asking: Can you come over and make me a salad?
Staying warm. But I’ve been warned that I should look stylish, so I’m going to try really hard to meld the two together. I plan on making one of my family members carry shoes around for me so that I can still wear my snow boots.
I really want to see some films while I’m there. And now I need to get my Sundance selfie on top of a mountain, so I will have to go skiing. And if Bridget Everett ends up in a hot tub, I will be there because that will be an experience to say the least.
I’m going to talk to her about that — we’ll make it happen.
I love that he created the Sundance Labs — such an amazing tool for upcoming filmmakers and writers. He does a lot of good.
I’m gonna have to go way back and say Butch Cassidy. The funny thing is that I only saw it a few years ago after my trip to Sundance. My parents were like: “You have to see this movie! You just went to Sundance.” And so that connection made it feel really cool. His recent movies are awesome but there’s something about classic films that is special.