Thursday, January 26, 2012

Imogen Poots, Solitary Woman

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Imogen Poots, Solitary Woman

(from brinkzine.com 5/19/10)
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You may not know the British actress with the very strange name of Imogen Poots, unless you remember her as the endangered teenager in the cult horror film, 28 Weeks Later. But you will. As she moves from supporting roles to leads, I'm predicting she'll be the next Keira Knightley. Check back with me next year. Meanwhile, catch the twenty-year-old in her American debut, Solitary Man, Brian Koppelman and David Levien's seriocomedy about a rakish, self-destructive sixty-year-old, former big-shot car dealer, Ben Kalmen (Michael Douglas). The two writer-directors auditioned numerous American actresses to play Allyson, the spoiled, manipulative, brainy Upper East Side daughter of Ben's wealthy girlfriend (Mary Louise Parker), who sleeps with him when he accompanies her to a college interview--and then tattles on him, ending his relationship with her mother and his prospects of resurrecting his career. But it was Poots, the Brit, who got the part by not trying to play her character as if she were older than her age. It was a great choice because she stands out despite the formidable female presences of Parker, Susan Sarandon, and Jenna Fischer. In anticipation of the film's Friday release, I took part in the following roundtable with the future star.
Q: Your American accent is so good that I had no idea you are British.
Imogen Poots: That's so good to know because there's nothing worse than a bad accent. Occasionally you can slip up on a mine of letters and nouns, so I needed help tweaking here and there. I worked with a voice coach here after rehearsals with the cast and directors.
Q: Is the New York accent harder to get than the generic American accent?
IP: I suppose so. Standard American doesn't meant anything because it's incredible how many different dialects there are. It was important to get it right. Getting the New York accent on my tongue helped me build my character. It helped me adjust to that "American feel."
Q: Is there a difference making films here and in England?
IP: I don't think there is any glaring difference, other than for me being in New York was extremely exciting. I spent some of the best days of my life working here!
Q: What did you think of the apartment you filmed in, where Allyson lived?
IP: That penthouse was absolutely beautiful. We filmed there very early in the shoot and I was still blown away by New York as a city. To have access to that kind of apartment was incredible. I remember that there were many pictures of monkeys on the wall for some insane reason.
Q: Was it jarring for you to move from a British film like Cracks to doing this American comedy?
IP: It was an amazing experience. Cracks was quintessentially British so going into something like Solitary Man, which is set in New York and has an All-American feel, was an incredible change and I couldn't help but dismiss my own British identity.
Q: Was it fun getting to play a totally bored, disaffected, upper-East Side young girl?
IP: Of course! A lot of roles for girls are straightforward, so it was exciting to take on a role like Allyson, who is really a character. She pushes herself to a level where she is really connecting to Michael Douglas's character, Ben, in an insane situation. So she's definitely unique.
Q: What steps did you take to bring her to life?
IP: I guess it was discovering this girl's habitat that stands out. Upper East Side isn't so far from removed Chelsea and other upper-class areas of London. She's someone who disregards her mother. She's a bright girl but is ignorant of her effect on people and the consequences of her actions. When you're young you're not completely aware of what's coming out of your mouth all the time. Allyson is going through that stage She's careless in her relationships, with her mother as well. She's not a straightforward girl who just made a mistake, but definitely has a motive and takes advantage of Ben. I tried to get to the core of that.
Q: Are there shades of your personality in her?
IP (laughing): I'd have to say no. I'm pretty boring compared to Allyson. It would be exciting to be her for a day, I think.
Q: How realistic are the dysfunctional families in the movie?
IP: I think very realistic. That's what works in the film, because it's told in a very naturalistic way. I don't think any families are without flawed people, and there's a moment in your life when you realize that people you looked up to since you were a child can make mistakes. The film speaks true to that sense.
Q: What went through your mind when you read the script and saw that you'd be doing a love scene with Michael Douglas?
IP: The prospect of doing that scene with any actor who is as highly esteemed as Michael was daunting. But once I met him it couldn't have been more different. Because it was him, I felt so comfortable. He's such a calm, caring person that it was just another surreal day at the office doing that scene. It was an intriguing experience making this film with him and I've come away with so many good memories.
Q: How did you prepare for the scenes with Michael Douglas so they'd feel organic rather than choreographed?
IP: We had a couple of weeks of rehearsal. It was very important to realize who these people were and that Ben wasn't going to be presented as a seedy old man and that Allyson wasn't going to be presented as a girl who was being taken advantage of. So we once we had that foundation, it was really fun to play. Brian and David left us room to improvise and keep it fresh.
Q: Why was it important not to portray Ben as seedy when in reality the position he held, a car salesman and trying to pick up young women, was seedy?
IP: Maybe that's just the opinion we came to mutually about the characters. Because I still believe that what happens between Ben and Allyson to be higher than just a seedy encounter. I think there is something poignant, if flawed, that they spend that night together. They were both weak and seeking advice from the other.
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Danny Peary: Why is Allyson the only young woman that Ben tries to seduce who does sleep with him?
IP: I think Allyson is extremely savvy in terms of how she can manipulate people.
It hasn't worked on her mother but she seeks to do this with Ben because she can see his weaknesses. At the bar they connect on this level. I think he saw something in her where he felt it wasn't going to be dangerous or seedy in terms of how impressionable she was. He saw her as a person who like himself has insecurities and was seeking his guidance. I think that's why she was the one. I don't think he would have slept with a girl as young as Allyson if it hadn't been for her intelligence and innate maturity.
DP: But does she sleep with him because she fell for his line?
IP: I think it was a challenge for her. I don't think she is wowed by this guy. She's presented in the film as being bored at times, so this is just something else to amuse her. She leaves him quickly the next morning
Q: What about using him to get back at her mother?
IP: That's definitely a motive for her actions. She tells her mother after it happens rather than keeping it secret.
DP: In reading the script were you surprised that after Allyson discovers Ben working in her college town that she tells her mother he's there and gets him into even more trouble? I was surprised because I thought she found him sympathetic by then.
IP: After their experience together, she didn't expect to see him again. When she sees him again, it's a reminder. She's unpredictable and confused, so it's not surprising she tells her mother, although she and her mother don't have a standard relationship but one that's very up and down.
Q: What do you think of Ben never blames her for squealing on him and destroying his life? He never has a negative word about her.
IP: When they're talking at the bar, they're on the same level intellectually. Post their one-night stand, I think he wonders "Should I have slept with her? Should I have put her in that position?" He doesn't feel he's in position to judge Allyson for her actions because she can say, "I'm a teenager, it was your fault." She has that attitude and intelligence to be able to do that.
Q: He says to her, "You had your shot and took it." It's almost like it's a game doing this pickup thing for him, so does Allyson use it as an opportunity to get back at her mother?"
IP: Exactly. He definitely realizes iwhat she did has to do with her mother. He also realizes that Allyson had to be a pretty good actress growing up with a mother like that. She's very independent and prickly.
Q: Do you think Ben loves Allyson or does he love her youth and vitality?
IP: I don't think he loves anybody. It was just convenient sleeping with her. They'd had a lot to drink so maybe it didn't make sense but just happened. It's interesting to debate whether Ben loves himself or actually hates himself, which is why he'd behave in such an erratic way.
Q: He does try to get back with her after that first night.
IP: Right, but I think that's because he's seeking confirmation that he wasn't in the wrong. Rather than wanting to see her again, he is trying to make sure he didn't do something really irresponsible.
Q: But I think he's also thinking about an eighteen-year-old girl's body and a sensual experience he can't forget.
IP: Yes, that's part of his realization that he's not young anymore. It's hard for someone to realize, "My God, I'm not who I once was." He's struggling with that.
Q: Is that what actors feel?
IP: I'm not sure. I think with actors, if you're good enough or lucky enough, you can continue to take on fantastic roles for years, as Michael Douglas has with Ben Kalmen.
Q: Can you imagine anyone but Michael Douglas playing this part?
IP: I heard that Brian and Dave had him in mind from the beginning. When I read the script, he was already attached to the film so I pictured him as Ben when I read it. So no, I can't imagine anyone else. It sounds like a cliche, but there really is a point where you can make something your own, and I think Michael brought a kind of comedy and tragedy to Ben that is unique.
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Q: Do you think Ben is a creep or someone in midlife crisis, having an emotional breakdown? And why you do think people will be interested in him?
IP: I don't think he's a creep.
I think it's interesting to see a man who has gone from a high place in his life to a point where he doesn't know what to do anymore. Because he's not a young guy and can no longer enter a room and make everyone turn around and look at him. Ben's trying to maintain what he once had. It's interesting to watch him cope and struggle in his later years. He's self-destructive and brings on his own problems, especially with his indecision regarding women. In some cases, they're disposable.
Q: Ben is more than three times Allyson's age. What is your thought about the age difference?
IP: Age is so irrelevant now, particularly in this industry. You're constantly surrounded by people who are younger or older and you're working on the same product. I think relationships where there is a big age difference don't have the same impact anymore because you see it all the time. People fall in love.
Q: Do you think in your business people fall in love because they forget they're just playing a part?
IP: Sure. If someone is playing your love interest it's easy to do. Because you're embodying a character 24/7 and also because of your proximity to each other. You're so intimate in this environment and it's so short-lived that it's heightened. So it's very easy to fall in love with everyone and every thing. I fall in love every day!
Q: In terms of intense bonding on the film, is there any costar you've befriended and have kept in touch with?
IP: I met Jesse Eisenberg and his lovely girlfriend again at the Capri Film Festival, where they screened the film. He's an incredible person. He's twenty-five and incredibly bright and so funny. He was a thrill to be around.
Q: How was working with Mary-Louise Parker playing Allyson's mother?
IP: It was wonderful. She didn't feel like a mother because she's far too young. She's a lovely person. She's so charming and, again, hilarious. The majority of the people in the cast were so funny. I think some came from a comedy background and really kept the set alive.
Q: How was it working with two directors?
IP: Brian and David really complement each other. They had worked together before and their collaboration is really fantastic, and nurturing as well. They both do pretty much the same things and focus on the same aspects. They'll have a discussion about someone and one of them will come over to you. They never both said the same thing to you. They have their own ways of explaining something. I'd never worked with two directors before and it worked brilliantly.
Q: Was the humor in their script or did they let you improvise and create humor?
IP: They're both hilarious and the humor is in the script. They're so intelligent in regard to humor and realized that you can't get much funnier than real life. People in general are hysterical, especially men in my experience. The comedy was definitely brought to life by members of the cast.
Q: You've already made some interesting choices in your career. Can you talk about being in Jane Eyre?
IP: Sure: That's a bit different from Solitary Man. It was directed by Cary Fukunaga, who made Sin nombre. So it's an interesting choice by him to take on something quintessentially English. I think Cary wanted the whole feel of the film to be young. He definitely did that with Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska as Jane. Cary himself is young, so there's definitely this youthful energy to the film. It was a great experience filming in Devonshire, in the beautiful English countryside, and it was great to be part of something that is a British legacy. I rode horses for about three weeks and ended up being attached by a leash to Michael Fassbender's horse. That was slightly embarrassing. For him, too, because he wanted to be a real man galloping away, but he couldn't because he had me.
DP: I went on your Facebook page and discovered a lot of marriage proposals to you. So is your fan base divided between 28 Weeks Later and Jane Eyre?
IP: There are wonderful people who love 28 Weeks Later, some who are part of the cult and others who discovered it for the first time. More often it's universal, fans who just followed bits and bobs of what I've done. So I don't think there's a specific divide in my fans.
DP: What will Allyson be like in ten years?
IP: Hopefully, not like her mother. I think she is already intelligent and I hope she'll grow up to be more self-assured. Having a past like that, I doubt if she's going to suddenly revert into being a very conservative woman. I think she'll always be slightly on the move.
Q: Where would you like to be in ten years?
IP: Hopefully, I'll be lucky enough to work and be happy. A very innocent point of view.
Q: Would happiness come from having a successful career or a successful relationship or...?"
IP: Everyone's different. Who's to say?
Q: Have your experiences as an actress shaped you?
IP: I think so. You constantly find yourself in so many new environments with new people that it can be only beneficial. I don't want to say it makes you grow as a person, but in terms of life experience it's completely extraordinary as a job.

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