Read our exclusive interview with actress Marin Ireland, whose black comedy-drama, ‘The Understudy,’ is set to hit select theaters in March 2012. The movie follows Ireland’s title character, Rebecca, an unemployed actress who’s living with her equally unsuccessful screenwriter boyfriend. Rebecca’s luck seemingly starts to change when she is asked to be the understudy to famous movie star Simone Harwin in the play ‘Electra.’
Rebecca’s fame increases as the play’s leading women begin suffering from accidents. To keep the spotlight, Rebecca must protect her freedom and cast off all suspicion that she was involved in the accidents. Ireland discusses with us, among other things, what attracted her to the role of Rebecca, and the natural working relationship she had with ‘The Understudy’s co-writers and directors, David Conolly and Hannah Davis
ShockYa (SY): In ‘The Understudy,’ you portray Rebecca, an unemployed actress whose luck changes when she becomes an understudy of a play. However, she’s ignored by the cast and crew, and doesn’t receive attention until she begins causing accidents on the set, in order to be promoted. What attracted you to the role of Rebecca?
Marin Ireland (MI): Well, I had a history with David and Hannah, who wrote ‘The Understudy’ and directed it. We had worked on another project for awhile that involved a lot of improvisation, in terms of developing the script. So when they brought me the script, it was about three quarters done. It sat on the shelf for awhile, on the back burner. They wanted to help me improvise my way around finishing that one again.
Those types of experiences, of feeling the rejection, are overwhelming. All of those experiences of being an actor are familiar. So we had a really good time, getting to explore that, and bringing my own personal experiences to the table.
SY: Speaking of David and Hannah, they co-wrote and co-directed the film together. Do you find it easier to work with directors who worked on the script?
MI: Yes. In this case, they’re so special, because they really do co-direct and co-write. It was wonderful to have them have such an insight and input into the script. They were very clear on some points, where they wanted dialogue to be said as it was written. Other moments, it could be a little more flexible. They had a lot of say over where it could have a lot of room.
Also, the way that they worked together is great. Working with a team like that is nice, because they can share responsibility in a really great way.
SY: ‘The Understudy’ was David and Hannah’s second film, after the 2004 drama ‘Mothers and Daughters.’ Were you familiar with their directorial and writing debut before you began shooting ‘The Understudy?’ What was it like working with relatively new filmmakers on the film?
MI: I had seen the film, they had given me a copy to watch of ‘Mothers and Daughters’ before we started working on another project in between ‘Mothers and Daughters’ and ‘The Understudy.’ That hasn’t yet happened, but I think it will. So I had seen that, and I really liked it. Then I went in on that with them.
I worked with filmmakers primarily at this point, in their second or third realms of movies. I haven’t noticed any significant differences. They’re very clear on their vision. So I didn’t think of them as people who had only made one or two things. They’re very clear and smart, and accurate in terms of achieving their vision, and welcoming you into that world.
SY: David and Hannah also briefly appeared in ‘The Understudy.’ What is it like working with directors and screenwriters who are also actors?
MI: Oh, it’s really helpful, because I feel that one of the most important things that they understand is that everybody has their own process. So they were very eager to learn how each of us needed to work. So rather than demanding certain things at certain moments, they were always very trusting that we would deliver what we needed to deliver for them, and that we had our own way of getting there, and our own process.
They were curious about that, and respectful of that at the same time. I definitely feel that was something that came from being performers, and understanding the atmosphere; people need to find their own space sometimes on the movie set, and their own way of working.
SY: Speaking of the process, how did you prepare for the role of Rebecca? Have you had any similar experiences to Rebecca that you could relate to while getting into her mindset?
MI: (laughs) Certainly, I’ve had my fair share of disappointments. Films that you thought were your big moment and big break, and then somehow, it goes right past you. Every actor I know has a suitcase full of those stories. So that definitely comes into play. (laughs)
But for me, the biggest preparation was the rehearsal time, when we were developing the script. By the time we were ready to shoot, I felt that we had rehearsed for weeks. I felt very clear on what they wanted the story to be, and where I was in the story. That was actually a special time, because we got to collectively get there together, before we started shooting.
I got to map out the script for myself, because I was in all the scenes. So I had to draw a big chart for myself. I knew where I was everyday, and what had happened before and after. Like a cheat-cheat, (laughs) So I knew what just happened, and where I was, so I could keep my own time-line in my mind.
SY: Since ‘The Understudy’ is an independent film, did you face any difficulties, or have to overcome any obstacles, while shooting?
MI: Yeah, I guess I’m so used to working these days on things with that kind of budget. More or less, we were sheltered from those conversations, which was good. But you’ve got a lot to get done in a short amount of time. That’s also part of why we have to be prepared as possible. We shot the whole thing in like 18 days. We had a lot to do in a not so long period of time.
There were some days where locations weren’t available as long as you would need them for. You would always feel that time and money crunch, definitely. This is where the preparation really comes in handy. (laughs)
SY: Besides independent films, you have also appeared in such big studio movies as ‘I Am Legend’ and ‘Revolutionary Road.’ What is the process of shooting the bigger budget movies like, compared to independent films?
MI: Well, in my career so far, most of the bigger movies I’ve done, I’ve had smaller parts. So my experiences are either having a little part in a big movie, or a big part in a little movie. So mostly it’s from the outside, watching how those movies work.
Mostly, just by pure mechanics, you don’t have as much interaction with the director, if you’re not playing one of the leads on the big movies. There’s just so much machinery to deal with, and so many technical things that need attention. You just don’t have that kind of contact, unless you’re one of the stars.
So my experiences for me, working in smaller films, is getting to work closely with the director, who’s often the screenwriter. That’s a wonderful collaborative feeling, for me.
SY: Besides films, you have also appeared on several television shows, such as in recurring roles on such series as ‘Homeland’ and ‘A Gifted Man.’ What is it about television that you find appealing, and would you be interested in reprising your roles on these shows?
MI: Yeah, I really enjoyed those things, getting to do more than one episode of something> it really does have a company kind of a feel. I do a lot of theater, and I like that atmosphere very much-being in a group of people that know each other very well, and have a way of working together.
Also, I feel a lot of writing on TV these days is really quite good. I know a lot of writers that I knew from the theater world. So I’ve been enjoying that aspect of getting to experience something like a company feeling on television.
Especially on ‘Homeland,’ the writing on that is so wonderful. It felt like we were making a bunch of little movies. You imagine a fast-paced atmosphere, but it didn’t really feel like that at all. I really enjoyed it.
SY: Speaking of theater, you’re also know for your theater work, and were nominated for the 2009 Tony Award for Best Performance for a Featured Actress in a Play for ‘Reasons to Be Pretty.’ What attracts you to appear in plays? Do you take a different approach in preparing for plays, films and television?
MI: I really like getting to do the whole story every time. I like just getting on the ride, and you don’t get off until it’s over. You get to throw yourself into it and do it every time, and learn from it every time.
The inverse to that is with TV and movies, you can spend the day on two pages, and never touch them again. But I like both elements of that. They’re both exciting ways to look at scenes and moments and acting.
I really like having that live element of acting, of sharing the experience with the audience. They’ll change it up for you, the way the audience feels. That helps you stay fresh and excited about it.
SY: Do you take a different approach when preparing for theater, as opposed to film and television?
MI: It’s a different type of a process. Usually, when working on a play, everybody learns together in the room about the world, and how you get there. You learn from the other actors as you go. You have more time to build up a performance.
With TV or movies, on the day of shooting, you have to be ready. You have to be ready and open to surprise, but you have to have done the work already, on your own. That’s why it was nice to have rehearsals for ‘The Understudy,’ because we could have that shared history and experiences together.
SY: Do you have any upcoming projects coming up that you can discuss?
MI: Yeah, I did a film, I think it’s going to be called now ‘The Letter,’ with James Franco and Winona Ryder that I know Lionsgate has acquired, so that might come out sometime soon. I had a movie at Sundance this year, called ’28 Hotel Rooms,’ that will also get distributed. It will have a little theater release and VOD, probably in the next couple of months.
It also looks like I’ll be back on ‘Homeland.’ I’m not sure in what capacity yet. I go back to shooting that sometime this spring.
I’ll also be playing Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones’ daughter in a film called ‘Great Hope Springs.’ I think it starts in December. It’s not a big part, but it’s a pretty good set of parents.
Written by: Karen Benardello