In just over a year, 17 year-old New Yorker Julia Garner has gone from high school student to sought-after actress – slated to appear in no less than five upcoming feature films in 2012. With no prior acting experience, and no fixed intentions to pursue a career in film, Garner’s vocation quite literally found her - and she's taking her quick success in her stride. Taking it, “moment by moment,” the delicate beauty is making a career of having fun, while living every inch the life of an American teenager – “hanging out, eating junk food, watching movies and going shopping!”
There is a candidness and refreshing innocence to Garner – qualities few New York teens, let alone adolescent actors, possess. After the success of her first film Martha Marcy May Mylene, Garner is gearing up for the release of two more: Unicorns and Electric Children - and this is just the beginning. In Manhattan’s favourite downtown hang, Café Gitane, Julia Garner reveals her obsession with All About Eve and love of home-made lasagne with Indigo Clarke.
You’re a born and bred New Yorker, you must be working now out of LA often – how are you finding it?
Julia Garner: I live in New York, grew up in Riverdale, and actually most of the projects I’ve done have been filmed here, which is sort of unusual. Martha Marcy May Mylene, my first feature and the film I’m probably best known for, was shot here in New York – I feel lucky to have been a part of it, the whole cast and crew were amazing. There’s only been two projects that have taken me out to the West Coast.
Did you always dream of working in film?
Julia Garner: This all just happened last year – I wasn’t planning on becoming an actress at all. I went to an open casting call and it was for a TV show called Skins – it was from that casting call, and other agents seeing it, that I started getting offered work.
Were you always creative?
Julia Garner: Yes, but I just didn’t know what to do with my creativity until I started acting – then I found the right outlet. When I think back I realise that when I was little I loved imitating people – I guess that’s basically acting!
In just a year you’ve racked up numerous roles in feature films – what has it been like to find success so quickly?
Julia Garner: I take everything moment by moment and think more about the projects than what it means to be getting work if that makes sense… I just love acting because I get to be constantly creative. It’s so much fun. I love getting into character and playing totally different types of people – I don’t have to be myself, I can be someone else for five weeks.
There’s a lot of talk surrounding your new film, Unicorns…
Julia Garner: I loved working on this film! It’s a coming of age story about a teenage girl who runs away and goes on a road-trip with her boyfriend – I play the main character’s best friend, who’s in the closet and is actually in love with her. I just finished two other films actually too…
Yes you have five all slated for release soon don’t you? Crazy!
Julia Garner: I just found out two days ago that one of my films, Electric Children, just got picked up by the Berlin Film Festival, which is really exciting. This was actually my first movie, and first lead role, so I’m really looking forward to it coming out. I worked with Billy Zane on it, he was great to work with, and Rory Culkin was amazing too. I play a Mormon girl who believes she’s experienced Immaculate Conception. She runs away to Las Vegas to cope with the pregnancy…
You choose pretty challenging projects! What was it like to prepare for this role?
Julia Garner: It’s kind of a funny story actually… My audition was not live, it was a self-taping, and the week that I did it I was coming down with a stomach virus. So I was filming it in my house, feeling awful, and didn’t expect much from it – then I found out two days later I’d gotten the part, and then four days after that I flew to LA to start filming.
You started filming the same week you got offered your first lead role? Wow, you wouldn’t even have time to prepare!
Julia Garner: Totally, it was a whirlwind! (Laughs). When I started reading the script the character made sense to me, I knew I could easily play her. Certain characters will jump out at me when I read a script, I’ll know ‘I can do this’. I could relate to my character in Electric Children, it was so easy to understand her choices and behaviour. We have similar personality traits – we can both be shy, we both have clear goals and she’s brave. She leaves the Mormon compound and goes to Las Vegas on her own to find the man who got her pregnant – she is convinced she got pregnant from a religious tape recording.
Do you feel you’ve been brave taking on so many projects, and such diverse ones, at such a young age?
Julia Garner: Yeah I have been brave I guess, it can be daunting being in this business where you just can’t expect anything – you can hope for things, but nothing is guaranteed. There are surprises coming out of nowhere all the time! I can get nervous, if you care about a project you can’t help it, but once I’ve sort of prepared for a role I feel fine. Straight after shooting Electric Children October 2010, I came back to New York and started another film called Hair-brained with Alex Wolff and Brendan Fraser, we wrapped at the end of November.
Such a flurry of films – it’s all happened very fast for you, is acting something you want to pursue as a career?
Julia Garner: I’m the absolute happiest when I’m on set – I really am. I love shooting all day, meeting the other actors and crew on set, and I just love working. When I’m working I feel great – I’ve found what I want to do.
How is it going to High School with such a hectic schedule?
Julia Garner: I’ve been home-schooled over the past year and will be graduating from my senior year this way, but all my life I went to a regular school. It’s cool because pretty much all of my friends were at other schools anyway.
Film is such an adult world – there’s a lot expected of you on set, do you get to just be a teenager again when you’re not working?
Julia Garner: Yes it really is a grown-up world – so when I’m not working I just hang out with my friends and be a kid! We love hanging out, eating junk food, watching movies and going shopping (laughs). I love Topshop… I just bought the cutest velvet leggings there. I also have hobbies – like I love to cook, I make a really good lasagne, and I also love to knit!
How have your friends reacted to your newfound film career?
Julia Garner: They’re pretty excited about it and happy, not jealous at all. They’ll get really excited about me meeting certain actors and actresses, or if I do photoshoots – like when I was in Teen Vogue. I try not to talk too much about all the things, it’s just my job – but my really good friends do want to hear all about what’s happening.
You seem pretty ambitious…
Julia Garner: Really?! I guess I kind of am. I definitely have a lot of goals and things I want to achieve – but when it comes to auditions I don’t think “I’ve really got to get this part”, I just go into it as though it’s an acting class. The only thing I care about when I’m auditioning is doing a good job – I just want to learn from each experience.
As someone who loves films – are there actresses or actors you’ve grown up watching that you admire?
Julia Garner: Yes! I love Daniel Day Lewis, Betty Davis – I am obsessed with her.
All About Eve is pretty amazing…
Julia Garner: That’s my favourite movie – my all-time favourite. I love every single scene! I love Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslett and Annette Bening – strong, beautiful women. Actually one of the reasons I want to act is that when I watch a movie with great actors I get really inspired and want to be a part of that world.
You admire character actors…
Julia Garner: Yes definitely, and so I guess that’s why I enjoy playing all different kinds of characters myself – I have a lot of fun doing it. When I read a script I make it’s great – because even if the character is amazing, if the script isn’t then the film won’t work.
What would be your dream character to play?
Julia Garner: Uh… gosh I haven’t even thought about that! I guess I’m just seeing what comes along.
So 2012 is a big year for you, you have several films coming out…
Julia Garner: Yes, I have… let me see (counts on her fingers), five films set for release this year! So I told you about Electric Children, Hairbrained, Unicorns and then the other two are Twighlight Zones and also The Perks of being a Wallflower with Emma Watson. It’s a cool movie that’s another coming of age story – I had a small part in it, I’m kind of a dork at the start of the film, but once I enter high school I become kind of pretty I guess, and a bit mean (laughs).
That’s a pretty classic American role – a sweet ugly duckling that becomes a bit of a school bitch…
Julia Garner: Yeah it really is, I’ve never played a character like that so it was really fun. I wanted to do it because it was a great, funny script, and the character I played was so different to me.
How do you select your roles, do you have anyone giving you advice?
Julia Garner: I have amazing support from my family and I listen to their advice for sure. My big sister is my best friend and has really great taste, I trust her opinion and she really helps me choose scripts. She also wants to work in the industry – but as an agent, not an actress, something behind the camera. My mother was an actress as well. She was a famous actress and comedian in Israel 30 years ago – she was one of the stars of Israel’s version of Saturday Night Live. She didn’t want to act when she moved to America, she decided to become a therapist.
Well this is New York – no shortage of people seeking therapists!
Julia Garner: Yes (laughs). My dad is creative too – he’s an artist and an art teacher. I guess I got my creativity from them, and I’m so glad I did because this year has been the best of my life. I just love movies – and being able to act and be in films is an incredible experience, and I feel really lucky.