London-born Imogen Poots is a rising star in every sense of the word. She's a fantastic actor that slips into almost every role effortlessly, disappearing into the skin of every character so deeply that you almost don't realize it's the same actor in each part. Since she was in her mid-teens, she's been working in films for an roster of solid directors, and in the coming year or so, the list only gets more impressive. And she doesn't seem to differentiatte between "important" dramatic films and high-energy genre pieces.
Her first major roles were in such films as V FOR VENDETTA, 28 WEEKS LATER, the Richard Linklater film ME AND ORSON WELLES (co-starring her current on-screen love interest Zac Efron), JANE EYRE and the remake of FRIGHT NIGHT (she played Charley's girlfriend).
In the last year or so, art-house goers might have caught her in A LATE QUARTET (with Catherine Keener, Christopher Walken and Philip Seymour Hoffman) and director Michael Winterbottom's THE LOOK OF LOVE.
I was fortunate for first meet Poots last year in Detroit when she was shooting the upcoming NEED FOR SPEED (I'll have that interview separately in a couple of weeks). And expect to see her in such releases as FILTH, based on the Irvine Welsh novel, co-starring James McAvoy; A LONG WAY DOWN, based on the Nick Hornby novel, with Rosamund Pike, Toni Collette, Pierce Brosnan, Sam Neill, an her NEED FOR SPEED co-star Aaron Paul; KNIGHT OF CUPS, from director Terrence Malick, co-starring Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, and Joel Kinnaman; and director Peter Bogdonovich's SQUIRRELS TO THE NUTS, with Will Forte, Jennifer Aniston, Kathryn Hahn, and Owen Wilson. Needless to say, she's a busy woman.
And just to make you feel a little worse about what you've accomplished in your own life, Imogen Poots isn't even 25 years old yet. But damn the luck, she's an articulate, intelligent and funny lady, so it's impossible to even envy her properly. Her current film is THAT AWKWARD MOMENT, in which she stars as Zac Efron's potential love interest (if he can get his head out of his ass). The film co-stars Michael B. Jordan, Miles Teller and relative newcomer Mackenzie Davis. The big secret that no one wants you to know about THAT AWKWARD MOMENT is that the women kind of rule the film and have more complete character arcs than the male characters thanks to a clever script by writer-director Tom Gormican, giving Poots a chance to turn what might have been a throwaway role in another film into a fully realized person.
I spoke to Imogen Poots last week, and she had a lot to say about the new film, her upcoming films, and about acting in general. She's really a lot of fun. Please enjoy…
Imogen Poots: Hello?
Capone: Hello. How are you?
IP: Hi, Steve. I’m doing good, how are you doing?
Capone: Good. I’m sure you remember it well, but I was on the set of NEED FOR SPEED last year in Detroit, and I think we were all eating lunch as we were interviewing you.
IP: Oh my gosh. Maybe it was sushi day; we had a lot of sushi.
Capone: I wish I could remember. I know it was loud.
IP: There were a lot of cars.
Capone: There certainly were. So, the big secret that is revealed in this THAT AWKWARD MOMENT is that men are just as susceptible to emotional attachment as, at least in the movies, women have been portrayed as being. I think that first scene between you and Zac at the bar is really important, because we’re not really sure who’s picking up who in that scene. It’s a nice balance between the two of you. How much time did you guys actually spend shooting that moment, because it’s an important scene.
IP: Well, I completely agree with you. I actually agree with the whole of what you said, in terms of how women have been portrayed in the past. I actually think what’s cool is I always felt with Tom Gormican, who wrote it as well, was that he wasn’t just saying, “In this movie, the girl is going to be the guy.” It wasn’t any gender switch at all. It was more just like these are people, and this is how they respond to each other and interact.
But, that scene was cool; we rehearsed it a few times with just Zac and I in Tom’s apartment in New York. I think that was the key to it, because obviously it’s stylized in some sense with the back and forth we have. But at the same time, we wanted it to feel intuitive and relaxed and fun. So, I think we rehearsed it a bit and then on the day, you get into the location, and the seating is different. It became just about somebody really has to grab you pretty quick in a bar situation, you know? And I think it’s that sense of humor which grabs her in that scene. For me personally, if someone can make me laugh, I’m almost surprised and immediately intrigued by that.
Capone: How did you first get this script, and was there something about the character of Ellie that grabbed you and made you think, “Yeah, I can do this.”
IP: Yeah, in a big way. I really love the film and have very fond memories of the experience, so in hindsight I love it. But, also beforehand when I read it, I was just really really excited to be a part of something that wasn’t just an ensemble. It felt very relevant. It felt very now. I could go on forever about films I adore that are romantic or comedic in some way together, but maybe they’d be dated now, and that’s why we love them. And I felt like this is cool, because Tom was very cautious not to make it feel like we were trying to do a throwback in any way or imitate another film. It was very much like his own creation, and I get really excited by that. He let me do whatever the fuck I wanted with clothes and hair. He literally let me choose how I would like her to be portrayed as well. So, it was a real collaboration, and I never felt like "I’m the girl in the movie." I very much felt like a part of that group, and that was awesome.
Capone: The interesting thing about the women in the film, Ellie and Chelsea. They’re actually a little bit more fleshed out then even the men are, because we actually meet their families and get a little bit more into some crises in their lives.
IP: That’s so good. You’re like buying into the relationship.
Capone: It was a surprising dynamic, that the women were more built up than the men in a movie that, on the surface, is about three guys.
IP: But here's the thing too, I think that has to say something about Tom as a director. He’s not just written a responsive, one-dimensional role for a girl that’s going to be this catalyst for this friendship between the guys to fall apart or test the friendship. He actually--because it’s probably based on personal experience to be honest--had his heart broken and he understands what the recipe is for that, and that has to be somebody who, in his eyes as the writer, he wanted to bring someone pretty cool and unobtainable and different. And I think that’s always the person you’re always surprised you’ve fallen for. I think that’s what is quite exciting.
Capone: As I was watching it, I kept thinking this seems like a very uniquely New York story, with the ideas of if the date doesn't click right away you move on to the next one, because there are so many more to move on to. Would you agree with that?
IP: What I would say is, I’m from London, grew up in London, I’ve lived in Los Angeles, and I think that’s a place where perhaps you have to find and dig more for the diamonds, rather than be confronted with them everyday. I think in New York, in my personal experience, you can be overwhelmed if you’re a curious person by everything--culturally, socially, romantically. I think it has so much to offer.
But you’re right, with that metropolis comes this like, “If this isn’t going to work out now, then I better move on and try something new and different.” But actually, I think that almost gives this specific dynamic extra oomph, because he could just let it slip when he doesn't turn up for her dad’s funeral. That could be the breaking point, but actually there’s still something salvageable there and undiscovered.
Capone: Yeah, I thought about that scene. I wonder how many women are going to buy that Ellie forgives him for not being there for her at that moment. Well, they might make the exception for Zac Efron; I'm not sure they’d make it for every guy.
IP: Ya think? [laughs]
Capone: Well, I saw an interview with you recently about THAT AWKWARD MOMENT where you discuss the idea of a "disposable relationship." Explain that theory.
IP: In terms of a relationship being disposable, it doesn’t have to have a lot of meaning to it in the beginning. I’m the sort of person--maybe it’s just in my personal makeup--but if you’re going to do something, you really do it. And you really try and make it work, especially throwing in everything to do with distance and, what you said before, you meet a lot of people specifically with this job. But even within that, you find something like the core, the solid. It’s something which technology completely seems to encourage because it provides like a clandestine element too. You can be very secretive, and having access to your phone all the time, are you actually ever present? I think all these things can dilute dating and a relationship in a really sad way.
It’s funny, because people have been talking about the thing in this movie where the guy or the girl will say, “So, where is this going?” But it’s funny because, even that could get dated pretty quick. People just text one another. It’s almost like that isn’t necessary anymore, to actually turn up to someone’s house if you’re going to break up with them or whatever it is to put yourself in that venerable position.
Capone: We have so many more ways of getting in touch with each other than ever before, yet communication breakdown seems like it’s at an all-time high.
IP: I completely agree. I know, it’s the saddest thing. It’s really, really hilarious. I completely agree, though.
Capone: I think it’s safe to say, having watched your films for so many years, and even looking ahead to the many things that you’ve got coming out, you don’t really make a habit of repeating yourself in terms of your choice of roles.
IP: That’s cool. Thank you.
Capone: Is that a deliberate choice? Do you try to seek out new things each time?
IP: I wouldn’t say, in any way, that I have this plan or think, “I’m going to try to be a really diverse actor.” Or anything like that. I think it’s more to do with projects that really speak to me, and if I’m lucky enough to be considered for the role by filmmakers. I could tell you what my favorite movies in the world that I’ve been a part of, and this was one of them, and it was such a surprise to me; it really, really was.
I met you when I was doing NEED FOR SPEED, and that for me was something very very new, and maybe that’s something which you try, and you give it a shot, and maybe you feel comfortable doing it, maybe it’s not for you. You figure all that stuff out. But I feel with something like AWKWARD MOMENT, it’s a genre movie in terms of what it is and what it symbolizes. You can be quite hostile to the idea of it. And then you’re like, “Who am I kidding?” I love ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND. That’s what Tom Gormican implied was a rom-com and I was like, “That was so cool that he would conside that film a rom-com.”
It really came down to wanting to work with somebody like him on this one. I think diversity is really important, and that’s the point, isn’t it? To explore as many different character traits as you can, and understand the human psyche. I do think there is fault in being open to every single thing, for sure. I think you have to know the type of actor you want to be, and if that means some sort of condensed mindset occasionally, I think that's important. So you don’t end up being like Zeus [laughs].
Capone: Well, as soon as you discover your limits, you let me know.
IP: Okay! [laughs]
Capone: You made a movie with Terrence Malick. First of all, are you sure you’re in it? I guess that’s the first question.
IP: [laughs] No, no, not at all. Not a clue.
Capone: Some people don’t land up in the movies they shoot with him. What the heck was that like?
IP: I've got to tell you, it was the weirdest thing: I went into that job thinking “This almost isn’t like going to shoot a movie.” Because you shoot a movie, you often predict hopefully that you might be in the film, or there might be some of you at the end of it. He’d been an auteur I’d adored for years, and to be in his presence and watch the way he works, that alone was--he’d be embarrassed if I said it--very sacred. It’s quite like a spiritual way of filmmaking, because the mechanics of it all fall away. And I think that’s purely because he’s got this incredible team who he works with, who completely are able to indulge and support that intuition of his. But, it was really one of the most extraordinary experiences to date, working with him. But also you respect that he likes to maintain discretion and silence in terms of the type of movie he’s making. That's all part of it.
Capone: Do you have any sense of when we might get a peak at this?
IP: I actually wish I could tell you. I actually don't know. All I know is that they were in post production toward the end of last year. So hopefully it won’t be in 20 years time. But, you never know.
Capone: I just interviewed Will Forte last week…
IP: Oh, isn’t he just the dreamiest person?
Capone: He’s the best, yes. He kept wanting to extend our time, and I literally just ran out of questions. But you guys made this movie with Peter Bogdanovich. Tell me a bit about that.
IP: It was, again, extraordinary working with Malick and Bogdanovich in the space of 12 months. Basically, the coolest thing on the planet, and that cast was wonderful too. Will is just a total dream of a person. But Peter, why I loved him so much are the antidotes he has, you know? He was around Stella Adler and incredible Hollywood types. He really encouraged me and inspired me to learn as much as I could about the past. He’s very much somebody who believes the past informs now and the future, and you can live your life creatively in a quite ignorant way if you don't pay attention to what came before.
But he’s also got this attitude where he’s like, “Oh, I’m so excited that you haven't seen this specific noir film.” One of my favorite things he ever said to me was when I was trying to impress him properly, and I was talking about DOUBLE INDEMNITY, and I was like, “Yeah, I’ve just been exploring the genre of film noir.” And he was like, “Well darling, we just called them thrillers.” And I thought that was the coolest thing, so I was like, “Yeah, I guess you did.” So anytime I felt kind of too kind of 2014, I listened to him.
Capone: Did he bust out any of his impressions for you?
IP: Oh, yeah. Every time he tells a story, he fully embodies that character. Orson Welles, Hitchcock, yeah.
Capone: You made two films based on books by authors that I adore. One based on a Nick Hornby book, and then one Irvine Welsh, FILTH, which I think is coming out fairly soon. But in A LONG WAY DOWN, who do you play?
IP: I play Jess. So, there’s four characters, and the four of them meet on a rooftop to commit suicide. FILTH certainly will be coming out pretty soon, I believe, in America. And with A LONG WAY DOWN, we’re going to the Berlin Film Festival with it to open the film there, so I’m under the impression that that’s the play ground where they’ll be showing the film to people. But I love the film. I’m really excited for you to see it. And Aaron Paul is in it too, of course, who you would have met during your set visit.
Capone: We did meet Aaron, definitely. I think half the interview was spent talking the final episodes of "Breaking Bad," which hadn't aired yet. Going back to NEED FOR SPEED for a second, was that a fun experience for you? You almost sounded a little trepidatious about it earlier.
IP: [laughs] Here’s the thing, I think if you really love a film like THAT AWKWARD MOMENT, you should go to town telling everyone how great it was. I also think that what comes with that is an honesty and a truth about other experiences. You can’t love every single thing you work on, and I think to therefore elevate the ones that you did have an extraordinary time on like this or with Bogdanovich or Malick, you can be quite frank about times when you’re like, “This is different.”
Capone: You should be a politician. You moved around that question like a professional.
IP: Yes I did. Thanks a lot. [laughs]
Capone: Well, it was great to talk to you again. And like I said, the women in the film really stand out as the highlights.