Interview by James Patrick Herman
Photographs by Jeff Vespa
Thousand Oaks. The Los Angeles suburbs have more of a spotlight on them just by nature of the Kardashians because they took over Calabasas. I grew up like 15 minutes north of there. It wouldn’t be a shock at all to see Kris Jenner tooling around Thousand Oaks. Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner — that’s where his golf club was where I grew up. I had a nice, normal childhood growing up rollerskating and going to Chili’s. There are a lot of tract houses and chain restaurants so they have a soft spot in my heart. I really like going to Wal-Mart.
In 2013, I made a short film named K.I.T. which stands for keep in touch, a saying that we used to write in people’s yearbooks. That was my first and only time. I was in a shorts program with Damian Chazelle, who has gone on to be nominated for 59,000 Academy Awards. I had been writing in the studio system for a number of years, and it was a bright beacon of hope for what it’s like to do something creatively and make all the decisions for your project and then get to celebrate it for a little while. It wasn’t about money or anything like that. It was purely about the art. After I had a taste of that, it’s been hard for me to go back.
I don’t think there is any good response to that question and I don’t want my friends to tease me. Because if you seem comfortable calling yourself a sensation, then the presumption is that you always think of yourself as a sensation. Which is absolutely the opposite of how I feel about myself on most days. But if somebody wants to call me a sensation, I won’t fight and punch you and say: Take it back!
It would be: Who is this person that we haven’t really heard of who has balls to write direct and star in her own movie? There have been a lot of times in history where women have not been in the right place at the right time, and I think for a lot of female filmmakers, we finally feel like we might be. The conversation is reaching a fever pitch.
La La Land was so moving and lovely. I guess there are some similarities between my film and that film, but my film is much more of a throwback adult comedy that skews a little bit darker. What I loved most about La La Land is its lack of cynicism; it felt romantic and hopeful and that is the opposite of my film. I’m cynical. My movie explores the question: Does the perfect love exist? How come other people look like they’re having such a good time in their relationships and I feel dissatisfied even though I can’t come up with a compelling reason for why.
Her name is Annette and she is a good person, but she has a lot of opinions about her friends’ lives. She is someone who is constantly in search of the truth even though she doesn’t really want to hear the truth about herself. She’s more comfortable pretending that everything is OK.
I relate to my character because I wrote her. The character I play is not me; however, there is overlap for sure. So I do identify with her. She means well. She has a hard time understanding why people lie to themselves but then realizes that she is falling for some of the lies herself. Her journey is very confusing for her. We’re both very blunt, unafraid of telling people things they sometimes might not want to hear. And we both like to wear berets.
My first important acting experience was playing Lucy in You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. I was sixteen and it was perfect casting even then: I just did my schtick, which is honestly not that dissimilar from my schtick now. It was just kind of like: “Charlie Brown! You’re such a blockhead.”
Do you want me to tell you my top five jobs? Not in any particular order: Substitute teacher. Ice cream scooper at Ben & Jerry’s, shot girl at an Irish Pub on the Sunset Strip — I would walk around with a basket of shots like sex on the beach, whiskey sour, long island iced tea, that kind of thing. Another weird one: toy demonstrator at FAO Schwartz at the Grove during the holidays. I always did the karaoke machine. Even though I hate karaoke, strangely I liked doing it in that way. One of my most interesting jobs? I was a box girl in The Standard hotel. They have a model who lays inside a glass box in the lobby. They paid me $12 an hour. I would wear a wife beater and boxers or a vintage slip — the girl next door kind of vibe. I remember seeing celebs like Mark McGrath and Seal. It was exciting.
I remember at the director’s brunch, you could stand in line to get your picture taken with Robert Redford. I was like: Oh, my god, I’m there. I waited in line for 30 minutes. And right when it was my turn, he was like: “I have to go.”
Honestly, he is one of my all-time favorite actors. There’s this quality he has — a couple of actors like Brad Pitt almost have it — but he seems so intelligent and self-possessed and also so hot when he was young. In his prime, he was my number one dream guy. Has anyone else answered with such passion?