The gulf between Ink-Stained Wretch and Movie Star seems very apparent on the first Sunday morning at South by Southwest – it's a muggy day, and I arrive at the historic Driskill hotel looking like a soaked manatee with a note pad, while Joey Lauren Adams has a glow that defies the early hour.
Perhaps best known for her starring role in Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy, Adams has established herself as a uniquely quirky and empathetic actress ever since her breakthrough role in Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused. Attending South by Southwest with Apart, in which she plays a sympathetic psychiatrist to a young girl who suffers from precognitive hallucinations – and has a rare condition in which those delusions are shared with a close friend – she spoke with us about working on both sides of the camera and living outside of the Hollywood bubble.
Movies.com: So you're living in Oxford, Mississippi, now, yes?
Joey Lauren Adams: I like it there, I do. It gets brutal in August, but when it comes September and you get that first crisp day, you really appreciate it.
Movies.com: How has that affected your career as a working actress?
Adams: I'm sure I would work more if I lived in L.A., but it's just a quality of life thing. I work enough to pay my bills. And nowadays, I can go to [Ole Miss] and they can put me on tape, and I can have it up, and the casting director can have it in an hour. And sometimes I get my writer friends – there's a lot of writers who live there – and I can get them to run camera and we'll shoot the audition ourselves, and I can edit it and put it up. Today, with technology, it's…otherwise, I wouldn't be able to live there. And then I write, and it's a great town for that.
Movies.com: The ghost of Faulkner watching over you.
Movies.com: Let's talk a little about Apart. Did you observe any child therapists as research?
Adams: You know, I didn't, really, because I knew [writer-director] Aaron [Rottinghaus] had done his research about the disease, and we talked about it a lot. And I've been in therapy, on and off (laughs) so I kind of understood the concept. And then I think really what we did was to kind of play around with different takes. Some that were a little more familiar, some that were a little more harsh, because the film is such a weird film, and figuring out these scenes and where they're going to sit. It's not like you can read the script and know what the scene coming after it is – even if you're shooting out of order, you know the scenes. But I knew that when he was going to edit it, he would be meshing it together.
Movies.com: You want choices.
Adams: Yeah, so I think tonally, where he was with the film could have not meshed with what we got on set. So we just did a bunch of different takes – tonally, emotionally – so he'd have different things to choose from in the editing room.
Movies.com: How did the project come to you?
Adams: I've known Aaron – he was assistant editor on a film [2006's "Come Early Morning"] that I wrote and directed, and he was awesome, he went above and beyond for me. So I heard him talking about wanting to write the script, and then I read different drafts, so I've been in there since the beginning.
Movies.com: I was going to ask, you're a director now, how does that change your process for you as an actress, when you're on set?
Adams: I have a lot more sympathy. (laughs) If they're like, "We need to push your call, is that OK?" I'm like, "Sure." Because I've been there now. It's great; I appreciate so much that Aaron got to make this movie. I know how hard it is now. I understand the casting process differently now – because there were actors who came in that I loved, but they just weren't right for this part. It's great to understand something on another level.
Movies.com: So we're in Austin, where you made your breakthrough film Dazed and Confused. Are there places you always want to go when you're here?
Adams: Oh yeah, of course. Which is why I'm exhausted right now. (laughs) First night in town, I was at the Continental [Club]; second night, I was at the Broken Spoke. Last night, we had our party, so I was there, but yeah, there's lots of places. And my sister lives here, so, yeah. I actually popped into the Radisson, which is where we stayed when we shot Dazed and Confused, and it looks so different. I almost wish I hadn't. Because I have such fond memories of that lobby. We would write scenes for the movie in that lobby.
Movies.com: That's one of those amazing films where it's this ground zero for all these amazing careers. When you guys were making it, you were all sort of on that cusp – did you have the feeling that this was going to be special, or do you never know when you're making a movie like that?
Adams: For lots of us, this was our first film, so we were just happy to be there, you know? Just so excited that I got to call my mom and say, "I'm gonna be in a movie!" And again, Rick completely spoiled us, because he was so amazing to work with. And we'd write scenes, and we'd show up to work the next day and say, "We wrote a scene, Rick!" And he'd say, "All right, I'll give you two takes." And some of them ended up in the movie. I saw Rick on Thursday night in the Radisson Hotel lobby, and we were talking about how in that lobby, we were just kinda hanging out, and Marissa Ribisi and Matthew McConaughey and I were like, how funny would it be if our characters hooked up? And it happened in the film. [Linklater] just made you feel like you were part of the process, and your ideas mattered. He wanted you to think about it, and think about the character. He sent us all music. And then the next film I went and did, I was working on my scene, changing a few lines, and went up to the director, and he was just like, "No. Don't even think about it."
Movies.com: Was that Mallrats, by any chance?
Adams: It wasn't Mallrats, (laughs) but Kevin is that way too.
Movies.com: Oh yeah, he even says so. A moment of yours that I always love from that era, which feels totally improvised, is when you and Parker Posey disrupt a men's poker night by playing guitar and singing in Sleep with Me.
Adams: That was my house, that we shot that at. (laughs) I think the film was a little short, and they liked Parker's and my characters, so they said, "We want to do this scene," and I said, "Come to my house and shoot it." And that was my guitar and those were my songs.
Movies.com: So having gotten to direct, do you have the itch to do it again?
Adams: I do, I do, yeah. It's just hard – I don't think I'm that creative a director yet, so it's hard to read other people's [scripts]. I think there's just different kinds of directors – some directors are really into the camera, how it moves and all of that. I really like working with actors. And so I haven't read a script that someone else wrote, that I thought, "I have to tell this story." And it's hard as hell to direct a film, and it's a lot of your life.
Movies.com: You don't want to devote two years of your life to something that doesn't move you.
Adams: Yeah, and I don't know how people just take a job, like I'm going to take this and make some money, direct this. Because it's so difficult, and you have to fight every day, whether it's producers or messed-up actors or the trains coming by, it's just every day. It's a struggle. So I'm having to write my own things. But I got a job writing a screenplay, off my own film, and then I wrote a screenplay that sucked (laughs), and then I just finished the thing I want to direct.
Movies.com: What else have you got coming up?
Adams: I just did a film called Art Machine in New York, so who knows? Another small, indie film.
Movies.com: You talked about Linklater and his process – who that you've worked with has informed your own process as a director?
Adams: Honestly, it's the writer-directors that I've worked with. And I don't know if it's a different understanding of the material, and they seem to be a little more relaxed with it all. It's amazing how many – the bad directors, which I learned from as well. Because when things are going well, you don't stop and say, "Why are things going so well?" It's when things aren't going well, that you go, "Why am I in my trailer for four hours?" And then you go outside and realize, "Oh, the director didn't do a shot list before we got to work this morning. Note to self: Create a shot list!"
MDC at SXSW 2011:
2011 SXSW Film Festival - Photo Gallery
Dialogue: SXSW Interview with Rainn Wilson and James Gunn
Dialogue: SXSW - Morgan Spurlock Delivers The Greatest Movie
Dialogue: SXSW - Paul Giamatti Grapples with Win Win
Dialogue: SXSW Interview with Apart Star Joey Lauren Adams
Dialogue: SXSW Interview with A Year in Mooring's Josh Lucas
Day Five - Film Ends, >Conan Heads to the Big Screen and Anchor Bay Makes the Biggest Buy in Conference History
Day Four - Tuneful Documentaries and Concert Films
Day Three - Simon Pegg in Paul, Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids, and Interactive in Everything
Day Two - Josh Lucas' A Year in Mooring, Apart and the Not-So-Super
Day One - Source Code, Insidious, Shiner Bock and Smartphones