The scotch and lace concerns of the privileged class is a subject matter director Whit Stillman has made a career of satirizing with unerring precision. The dark wit behind the Oscar-nominated film Metropolitan, and Generation X cult-classic The Last Days of Disco, Stillman’s grip on the Zeitgeist is as firm as his eye for bright young talent is enlightened. (Chloë Sevigny’s performance in The Last Days of Disco is proof enough.) 13 years since The Last Days of Disco appraised the social values and sexual mores of America’s burgeoning young intelligentsia, Stillman returns to probe the collective credos, directing a keen, cleverly offbeat group of female undergraduates, the first of their gender accepted to the elite East Coast university the narrative calls home.
Now in theatres across America, Damsels in Distress showcases young Hollywood including the talents of indie-darling Greta Gerwig (soon to be seen in the upcoming Woody Allen feature To Rome with Love), Analeigh Tipton (Crazy, Stupid, Love) and Adam Brody (notably more elegantly glib than audiences will remember him in The OC). Alongside these familiar faces are new ones, including up-and-comer, Carrie MacLemore. CW fans might recall MacLemore from her guest star role on Gossip Girl, but not till you see her in Damsels in Distress — her feature film debut — will you understand why we’re banking on this one becoming a big screen favourite.
Infusing her doe-eyed Heather character with a hollow intellect that veers the character’s misguided moments of reverie towards an end of comedic relief, MacLemore shows intuitive skill in the grace with which she authenticates what the script describes to be her character’s “insipid” attitude. “I love Heather,” declares the actress. “She’s the friend that states the obvious.” As MacLemore explains during our interview with her before the film’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall, playing insipid wasn’t an option. For her character to seem genuine, she had to assume that gravity — black and white though it may be — anchored Heather’s occasionally flippant remarks. Imagining her as a “concrete thinker,” MacLemore shares that she read physics textbooks to get inside her character’s head. Once in, the actress relied on Stillman’s muted approach to drama to guide her though the performance. “He never lied to you, but was always very encouraging,” she says of the director. “He’s very exacting.”
MacLemore gushes as she talks of Stillman, praising his unconventional habit of turning down the dial when it comes to the acting in his films. “It was a big lesson in subtlety,” she says of her experience on set, one the actress is obviously happy to have under her belt. As she explains it, the humour in Stillman’s characters is much like their creator: elevated by eccentricity. “When Whit makes a joke, it doesn’t hit you for thirty minutes,” laughs MacLemore.
As for her own character, she considers herself a cross between the candid Heather and Gerwig’s Violet, the earnest charismatic group leader. Though, if pushed for a description while sticking to the realm of fictional characters, I would say she’s less of a Heather/Violet combo, and more an amalgam of Jane Austin’s beloved protagonists, Elizabeth Bennett and Emma Woodhouse. Fitting, as that author is a personal icon of MacLemore.
Though new to the game, the only hint of green betraying the young actress is the glint of giddy delight that flashes across her face when discussing her first taste of Hollywood. “Everything is so exciting, I don’t feel too overwhelmed,” she shares, adding she’s happy to have co-star Gerwig to rely on for advice.
Classic in beauty, sharp yet quiet in intellect and dewy in her sincerity, MacLemore’s breezy presence is one this audience member hopes to see more of on screen.