Simple is not the word that comes to mind when describing Julia Garner. Not yet even five years in the business, the 20-year-old actress is quick becoming an acclaimed staple on the film festival circuit with accolades from international critics, hooked on Garner‘s versatile onscreen performances. Not bad for a girl who picked up acting in hopes of overcoming her shyness. The native New Yorker credits the talents behind her rising star to acting coach, Pamela Scott — whom she met at the age of 15, while taking classes at the city’s esteemed T. Schreiber studio. “She is my acting guru,” says the actress.
Evidently drawn to fringe characters, Garner’s ability to inhabit the soul of the outsider is manifest in Martha Marcy May Marlene — her first feature film role — just as it permeates the 2012’s sleeper hit Electrick Children, a breakout performance that would prove to solidify her status as one of Hollywood’s brightest young talents.
While an actress recognized for portraying unconventional characters, coming of age under atypical circumstances (see her performance as one of two sisters forced into cannibalism for the sake of family tradition in last year’s We Are What We Are), it’s not her capacity to relate to the Soda Pops of the world that have her signing on to play such parts, in fact, it’s the exact opposite. It’s a matter of being…well, “simple” actually, according to Garner.
“I’m going to be very honest with you,” starts the actress with a smile in her voice. “I’m a simple person. I’m not a complex person, but I like playing complex characters because me as a person, I’m so not complex…I’m actually kind of boring…or, I’m not boring…I’m simple. Boring? Another adjective that seems as ill-fitted as “simple” to use when describing Garner.
Whether her knack for playing lost souls is owing to being simple or not (we say not), it is her want of a challenge that ultimately leads her to such roles. “I sort of tested myself,” says Garner about her foray into acting. “Like, if I can do this, than I can do this.”
Petit with a halo of blond curls and a voice that drips syrup, the actress’s touch of the celestial lends itself to roles where innocence and naivety are paramount character features, as it was with Garner’s wide-eyed Rachel character in Rebecca Thomas’s Electrick Children. A fundamentalist Mormon living with her family in a remote semi-luddite commune, the teenager believes she has been impregnated — immaculate conception-style — by the voice of a man singing Blondie’s “Hanging on the Telephone” off a tape she has heard.
Garner‘s latest project repurposes her ethereal beauty, gussying it up Lolita-style for her role as Marcy, in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. The actress’s first blockbuster film (her next biggest feature would be 2012’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Garner plays a dancer and Lady Luck to actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Johnny in Robert Rodriguez’s sequel to his 2005 adaptation of the Frank Miller graphic novel series.
With the film hitting theatres this summer in August, we talk to Garner about transitioning from indie-flicks to a mega box office film, plus take a moment to chat about her career goals and the inspiration behind her gorgeous personal style.
So to start, can you tell me about how you first got into acting?
It just basically started as a hobby to overcome my shyness when I was a teen.
Then it just developed from there?
I started doing a lot of student jobs, and then this one student filmmaker’s girlfriend was interning at a casting office, and there was an open casting call…and I didn’t want to go, but my sister was like “you have to go,” so I went. And then out of 1500 kids — and this was just in New York — it ended being me and another girl. And then a couple of months later, that same casting director was casting Martha Marcy May Marlene, and that was my first movie.
Did it kind of click for you in that film, or was there another moment when it became clear that acting was it for you?
Ummm…you know, it’s weird because when it clicked for me was actually in my acting class. I all of a sudden got lost in the moment. And when I snapped back into reality, I just really liked that feeling. I was like, What just happened? That was amazing! So I kind of just became addicted to it, and thought, this acting thing is unbelievable. (Laughing.)
And that was the beginning of everything.
Yeah, so I said to myself, I think maybe I want to try this out as a profession, just test it out, and then let me see if I get anything. And then one thing led to the next….and…nothing bad happened, I always got good feedback.
So far, your career has focused on festival films such as Rebecca Thomas’s Electrick Children…
Yeah, it’s a great way to start.
It is! Coming from that background, did the set of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For feel quite different? It’s such a huge production, I imagine it might have been a bit overwhelming at first.
It was different, yeah…there were a ton of stars — non- stop stars (laughing). But at the same time, it wasn’t so different, weird as that sounds.
Despite all those stars on set?
I feel like everybody’s shooting days are very short on Sin City because it’s a green screen. You just go in and you go out. So the cast that I was working with was small. Then the only thing that was really different was the green screen.
Really, that’s it?
I forgot almost that I was shooting Sin City (laughing) because it was kind of a small set.
I guess that would be easy to do with only 2 or so of you together at once.
The only thing that would make me think, oh, this is Sin City, was that there was a green treadmill and a fan and then the green screen.
Was it strange getting use to acting against the green screen?
It was weird. For the first day, it was just very strange…and then after a while I got use to it because I thought, what’s the difference between this and going into an audition and imagining everything there when there is only the chair, the reader and the camera? It’s kind of the same thing; you have to imagine everything — your mind is working constantly.
Were you a fan of the first film or the Frank Miller graphic novel series at all before signing onto the role?
When the film came out, I was too young to see it, but I actually watched the film probably a year before because I had never seen it before — I mean, I had no idea that I was going to be in the second one. It’s a fun movie — very fun.
That’s the general vibe a Robert Rodriguez film gives off, kind of pure entertainment. How was it working with him as a director?
First of all, he’s such a gentleman — so nice. The thing that I love about Robert Rodriguez is that his mind is non-stop creating, which I find fascinating.
He’s a really impressive filmmaker, he does everything, he produces, he edits…
Yeah, he’s a river of creativity — it just never stops.
Tell me a bit about your character Marcy? Is she something of a lost soul?
So…she befriends Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character Johnny and she becomes his Lady Luck. I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say, she ends up in the wrong place, at the wrong time…and Johnny does not react well to that.
Sounds like they have a strong connection?
He thinks of Marcy as a good luck charm.
And you don’t mess around with a guy’s good luck, especially in Sin City! You can’t really talk about the film without talking about fashion, it being so stylized. Was it fun getting dressed up as Marcy?
Yeah because I don’t get to dress like that everything (laughing). And I liked my outfit.
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