No Place Like Home
Apr 26, 2013
Photography by David Studarus Web Exclusive
For actress/filmmaker Amy Seimetz, her home state of Florida proved to be an important source of inspiration while conceiving her second feature-length directorial effort, Sun Don't Shine. An atmospheric and enigmatic road film, it observes the tempestuous relationship between Crystal (Kate Lyn Sheil) and her boyfriend, Leo (Kentucker Audley), as they drive up the Gulf Coast with a corpse hidden in their car's trunk. As writer and director, Seimetz imbues the film with both lurid noir trademarks and childlike fairytale motifs. Prior to writing the screenplay, she had experienced a death in her family while living in Florida. The St. Petersburg native also had noticed a trend in the crime stories she had been reading—that the unconscionable decisions being made in these plots, more often than not, were taking place in the Sunshine State.
Over the last four years, Seimetz has become one of the most active and respected actresses in a fertile independent scene, appearing in films by Joe Swanberg, Lena Dunham, and, more recently, Shane Carruth and Ti West. She's also a versatile talent, having produced films for other directors in addition to writing, directing, and editing her own.
After attending NYU for a semester to study film, Seimetz earned degrees in English Literature and Art History from Florida State. She moved to Los Angeles for a spell and performed in the multimedia comedy duo Machu Picchu. In 2008, she assisted with art direction for Tom Waits' Glitter and Doom tour. A part in Joe Swanberg's 2009 film, Alexander the Last, tangentially led to her meeting the filmmaker couple Lawrence Michael Levine and Sophia Takal. Seimetz appeared in Levine's 2010 film, Gabi on the Roof in July, which also starred Takal, Dunham, and Sheil.
At Sundance in 2011, critics singled out Seimetz for her portrayal of a nightshift waitress at a roadside diner in Megan Griffths' The Off Hours. This year she earned critical accolades again at the festival, for her dramatic work in Carruth's mind-bending buzz film Upstream Color. She had moved back to Los Angeles to appear in the new HBO comedy series, Family Tree, created by Christopher Guest and starring Chris O'Dowd, but two days after wrapping in mid-February, she flew to Seattle for a small part in Griffiths' Lucky Them, and then flew to Vancouver the same week to screen test and land a recurring role on AMC's The Killing. For the show, she will have to move to Vancouver. She also had a short film that she wrote, directed, and starred in, When We Lived in Miami, screen at SXSW this year.
We asked Seimetz to discuss Sun Don't Shine and her working relationship with lead actress Kate Lyn Sheil for our print issue feature on the two of them in our Winter 2013 issue, which is still on newsstands now. These are portions of the interview that were not used for quotes in that article.
Chris Tinkham (Under the Radar): How did the mermaid iconography in Sun Don't Shine come about?
Amy Seimetz: Two reasons. One is, I was reading a lot of mythology about the temptress, femme fatales, the classic literature of the seduction of women and the stereotypes of how women can be the femme fatales. In classic Greek mythology, there are the sirens, and that translated into these stories of sailors taking the sirens and putting them into mermaid mythology. There are these stories about how these women would lure the sailors into the water and then drown them. My favorite story—which The Little Mermaid is obviously a fantastical, magical translation of this story—these mermaids that were underwater, they would see these ships full of men, and they very innocently would want to, like dolphins, come up to the ships and want to play, invite them in, but these men who hadn't seen women for a long time would jump into the water, and the women would think that they just wanted to play, and when the mermaids realized that the sailors couldn't breathe, they would try to rush them up to the surface. But they were so strong, because they're not human, they would squeeze the breath out of them before they'd get to the surface. I found that to be a really interesting femme fatale story of somebody that's not aware of what they're doing but also slightly aware. Like, "I want you to come and do this thing with me. I want you to play. I want you to come and join me," but not realizing that they're luring them to their demise. And then when they do realize that they are luring them to their demise, they feel very bad but it's too late. And so I found that to be really interesting. Not only does it deal with the femme fatale element, but it also brings in this childlike element that I wanted to discuss with women, and not knowing your power and how tragic it could be. And there's this transformation from being a little girl into being a woman, which takes place in the film.
Also, I grew up right next to this theme park called Weeki Wachee, which is where we shot several sequences in the film. It's this old roadside attraction, and it fell into line with a lot of the Americana that I wanted in the film, where I wanted a more classic road style, like Two-Lane Blacktop and stuff like that. It beckons another time, from before it, and aesthetically it just makes sense in the film.
You met Kate Lyn Sheil while working on Joe Swanberg's Silver Bullets?
I did. We knew each other peripherally, because I was living in New York. Independent film can be kind of a small world, because there aren't many people that are willing to work for free, and so we find each other. [Laughs] But then Joe was making this movie with her, and I'd already known her peripherally, and we spent a lot of time together because it took two and a half years to make that film, and so we spent a lot of time together and got to know each other really well. And then that's when I wrote the part specifically for her.
And you'd recommended her for Gabi on the Roof in July?
I did. I had met Larry [Levine] and Sophia through Jess Weixler, who I did Alexander the Last with, because she was in a film called Peter and Vandy, and so I just very casually met Larry and Sophia [who appeared in Peter and Vandy] out one night. And then they asked me to work on Gabi on the Roof in July, and then they needed suggestions for actors, and Kate was one of them.
One of my favorite scenes in Sun Don't Shine is in the bar when Crystal tells a story about a fight she had with a co-worker. It's my understanding that this story wasn't in the original script.
No, it wasn't.
Where did it come from?
I had written a scene that was much more complicated in that moment, and as part of the process of making the film, I would do rewrites based off of the strengths that were happening on set. And one of them was, I was expecting their relationship in the original script to read more like a brother and sister relationship. But they did such a magnificent job without showing moments of being in love, and so I rewrote the scene in the bar to be this moment where we actually get to see maybe a glimpse of what they were like before this trauma took place. But I also realized that it was all on her shoulders at that point, so to make that moment happen, she's realizing that she needs to butter him up. A lot of the stuff, Kate and I were laughing about. We pulled out some not-so-respectful parts of ourselves in order to get certain things out of the performance. And one of them was realizing, after a giant fight, you've been acting like a massive idiot, or you let your emotions take over—I admitted to her that I do this thing after I get in a massive fight that I'm really ashamed of, where I tell this story that is funny and slightly self-deprecating to warm the other person up and make them laugh and bring them back into a sweetness, almost. Florida is a really violent place, and the first story I could think of that would be really funny was imagining Crystal outside of this world as sort of a fighting girl. Because you see her scrapping in the beginning, and I wanted to ground that this wasn't just a fluke, that she would be somebody that would throw down. But also, let's laugh about this very violent thing and how explosive I am. Let's laugh about my vices. And I found that to be her reaching out to him genuinely and being, "OK, look, I am crazy. Let's laugh about it." Like, "This is my way of apologizing to you, admitting that I'm crazy." And he's not having it.
Can you talk a little about the music in that section of the film? There's a band playing that has kind of a Patsy Cline sound.
Yes, that's Cary Ann Hearst. I originally had a Patsy Cline song in there when I was temping it. And then I switched it out to a Loretta Lynn song. I kept switching it around. Then Ben Lovett, who did the score for the movie, he and I had been huge fans of this woman, Cary Ann Hearst, and her husband Michael Trent, and they do music together. [Ben] actually had met them and was recording something with them, and he was like, "We should put Cary Ann in there right now." And I played around with a couple songs. One of their songs that really helped me through that hard time was this other song I put in there, but it didn't seem right for the movie. But then I found that one ["Long Road"], and I was like, "Yes!" Like, "It's perfect." She sounds like Patsy Cline or Loretta Lynn. She's a real feisty alternative country singer, and that song is really gorgeous to me because there's this feeling that she's on her last straw, and she's really trying to make this work with this guy in this really horrible situation. I'm not afraid of real movie moments. I think the film is very abstract in a lot of ways, but I felt like that was such an appropriate time to have a real movie moment or a moment that reminded me of one of my favorite movies, Urban Cowboy, and this sort of seedy bar atmosphere and finding love within it. That's why I wanted it to be country but something that was more classic than it was contemporary.
What can you tell me about your character in Family Tree?
I play Ally, and I work at a bookstore in Los Angeles. Chris O'Dowd is the main character of the show, and he is on a quest to do research on his family tree. He's inherited a box of stuff from a great aunt, and he goes all around the U.K. and it brings him to Los Angeles, where he meets a whole faction of his family, distant cousins and uncles, and in his search for the family, he meets me, while he's staying in L.A., and we spark a friendship.
What was your experience like working with Shane Carruth in Upstream Color?
It was intense. We shot it for a while. I responded to the script in sort of the same way. In tragic situations, you can't make sense of something, but you're trying to convince the world that there's something else going on. There's this gnawing feeling that there's something bigger happening, and why are we pretending like it's not. There's a feeling in that film that she's trying to convince everyone that she's not crazy, and I really responded to it on an emotional level. He and I get along and agree aesthetically in a tonal sense about a lot of things. And so, for us, in our working relationship, we got each other very easily and were able to access this subconscious language that I don't think is an easy thing unless you kind of get each other. He's obviously very brilliant and extremely talented, and he's got this wonderful and abstract yet concrete sense of what a narrative is, and therefore he doesn't have to paint by numbers.
Are you developing anything else behind the camera?
Yes, I am. I'm trying to put it in motion right now. I don't want to jinx it too much. But I like the juggle of going back and forth between acting and directing, because it accesses two completely different parts of the brain, and I'm very fortunate to be able to do both. And I have a short playing at SXSW this year too that I directed this past summer. So yeah, I plan on continuing to do that, time permitting.
What's the name of the short?
It's When We Lived in Miami.
The project you're developing, you'd like to both write and direct it?
Yes. I am in When We Lived in Miami, the short, but I really enjoyed the process on Sun Don't Shine of not being on screen, of really focusing on the actors and just directing and writing. I think that I'm much more attuned to performances when I don't have to think about what I'm going to do.