You can often chart the rise of a young actor or actress by the company they keep, in which case British-born Imogen Poots is doing more than fine. Having come off a film with Catherine Keener, Christopher Walken and Philip Seymour Hoffman, she now stars alongside Colin Farrell and Anton Yelchin in Touchstone’s “Fright Night,” playing the latter’s sweet girlfriend, and an unwitting object of temptation for the former. In films like the striking and austere schoolhouse drama “Cracks” (the directorial debut of Jordan Scott, daughter of Ridley Scott), meanwhile, and last year’s “Solitary Man,” in which she hooked up with Michael Douglas, Poots is showing a range that obviously endears her to casting directors and filmmakers alike. With “Fright Night,” though, the 22-year-old actress has a potentially huge commercial hit-in-waiting, which makes it an exciting but nerve-racking time. ShockYa recently had a chance to chat one-on-one with Poots — an avowed music fan, of Leonard Cohen, The Smiths and doo-wop tunes, among other genres — about crafting (and keeping) an American accent, shooting on location, what academic disciplines she hopes to one day study, and how she’ll be delving even further into music in her next project. The conversation is excerpted below:
ShockYa: So first off, is it “Imogeen” or “Imma-gen”?
Imogen Poots: “Imma-gen.” But people call me crazy things, so it’s all good. It’s my fault for having a fundamentally ridiculous name. I take the blame.
ShockYa: We spoke earlier about working on accents in films. How hard do you find it to hold on to an accent throughout filming once you’ve identified whatever particular regional flavor you have?
IP: I think once you have a foundation there and a prototype for your accent, it’s not too difficult to maintain the cadence. Because if you’re doing a film, it’s often pretty intense anyway, because of the time (crunch), so you’re immersed in it and you’re there the whole time. Plus I was filming this movie in Albuquerque, and I was around Americans the whole time, around Anton and picking up his stuff, his [slang], hearing him say the word “stoked” all the time. As in (affecting a surfer’s tone), “Dude, I’m so stoked!” …I guess when you’re in that environment it’s very helpful.
ShockYa: To me it would seem that in particular cultural idioms would be a stumbling block.
IP: Sure, but often that’s a good thing — especially if it’s an American accent, because then you’re totally committing yourself to it, and if you’re using that language then it’s all a good thing. But at the same time that’s something you can work out. If something doesn’t sit right in your mouth, just for your character’s sake, then, well, with Craig Gillespie, he’s the type of director who’s like, “Try something else, let’s switch it up and say it how you want to say it,” because (ultimately) you’re the one constructing this person, and you want it to be real.
ShockYa: In both “Solitary Man” and “Cracks” you were able to construct specific and interesting characters in the context of broader ensemble pieces. Being an actor, of course, your career isn’t entirely the product of your own invention, so when you’re looking at material and weighing the different elements, how does character sit versus potential collaborators, overall story, etcetera?
IP: I think what comes first is the people making the film, the artists behind it, and from there you construct the role, you see if it’s something that intrigues you, something that you’re curious about and might learn from. And of course the people you’ll be collaborating with is always of great interest. But I feel like this is a time for me to learn so much, and try to absorb as much as possible. At same time you have to seek out some versatility, and you want to play roles that you’re passionate about. Life’s too short to commit yourself to something you really don’t care for.
ShockYa: You mentioned earlier that you’re not a big fan of the horror genre per se, but what was it about “Fright Night” that caught your attention?
IP: Oh, I was very lucky to be considered for this. And I loved “Lars and the Real Girl,” which was Craig’s first film. Anton was attached, and he’s really cool. Plus it was a chance to play an all-American girl — within the horror genre, yes, but taking the characters outside of that. I liked the arc, I liked the idea of her and what she had to do in the film. And [while] there are so many different types movies within the horror genre, the concept of a vampire film intrigued me.
ShockYa: Was the performance instinct something that kicked in for you at a young age, dancing around and showing off for friends and family?
IP: Not particularly. I was always artistic as a kid, and my art was really important to me from a very young age. Acting started to take place when I was about 14 or 15. I was doing theater group in school, which turned out to be something I really, really enjoyed. Before that I was doing art. I used to paint a lot when I was a kid.
ShockYa: You speak about that kind of wistfully. Did you have a formal post-graduate education?
IP: No, and my friends are kind of graduating university this year, actually. I was going to go study the history of art, but I deferred it for a couple of years. But that’s something I really want to do in the future. That and maybe, I don’t know, American literature or American history — those are things that really fascinate me. I think that’s really important, because the more that you can learn the better. That’s certainly something that I want to see through.
ShockYa: Acting affords those sorts of opportunities too, of course — every project could be its own extracurricular study. Obviously certain movies or genres are less research dependent… but in past projects like “Jane Eyre” or whatever, have you found yourself tripping headlong into research, and different eras?
IP: Oh, of course. Some projects really do require extensive research. With something like “Jane Eyre” it would have been foolish not to have read the novel, I feel (laughs), but also to have read about women in that time period, and the society. With “Fright Night” the most research I could really do was understand the work of the others that I’d be collaborating with, and obviously see the original film and understand how we were going to re-imagine it. But I think it’s key especially if you’re playing somebody who actually lived. Then that’s going to require a lot of research. The film I’m going to do next is about Jeff Buckley and Tim Buckley (Daniel Algrant’s “Greetings From Tim Buckley,” costarring opposite Penn Badgley), and that’s something I’m really looking forward to, because Jeff Buckley’s music is very important to me but right now I don’t know so much about his father. So I’m looking forward to gaining that understanding of that period of the ’60s.
ShockYa: The degree to which setting casts an influence depends on the film, certainly. But the American Southwest has a particular currency and grip on this country’s imagination — being the last area settled, and still characterized by these vast open spaces. To what degree do you find yourself being influenced by location filming, both on “Fright Night,” and more broadly speaking?
IP: Well on “Fright Night,” we filmed in a highly residential part of the outskirts of Albuquerque, and it really was bizarre because you have to drive out quite far to get to those places. That was alien to me, because I grew up in London, a metropolis, and that environment lends itself to the idea of your insignificance in the face of the universe and science, and that was highly relevant to exploring the characters in “Fright Night.” It even links into art. You look at (Edward) Hopper’s art, who was fascinated with the desolate and deserted streets. And then you’ve got (Piet) Mondrian, who constructed the city-with-the-grid system. All that, I think it’s something to be very aware of, especially because the environment can really play a character in the film.
Written by: Brent Simon