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Exclusive: Tara Lynne Barr Talks About Her Breakout Role in God Bless America

Writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait’s latest movie, the satirical, gleefully deranged “God Bless America,” centers on an unlikely pair of spree killers. Joel Murray plays Frank, a depressed, middle-aged office drone who’s diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. When Frank sets out to off some of the stupidest, cruelest and most repellent members of society, he comes across Roxy, a 16-year-old high school girl who shares his sense of rage and disenfranchisement. The role of Roxy is a star-making turn for 18-year-old Orange County native Tara Lynne Barr, and not merely for all its foul-mouthed gun waving. Like Ellen Page’s breakthrough in “Juno,” it’s a performance that hinges largely on the loquaciousness of its young actress. ShockYa’s Brent Simon had a chance to speak to the wonderfully sweet Barr one-on-one recently, about the movie, auditioning and exactly who can get the middle finger. The conversation is excerpted below:

ShockYa: It’s not the most original question, but what was your first contact with material? Joel, after all, already knew Bobcat, at least.

Tara Lynne Barr: I didn’t know Bobcat before, which may not be so surprising, because I was 17 when I auditioned for [the movie]. I got the call for the audition and got the synopsis and was like, “Holy crap, I need top read this script!” It was unlike anything I’d ever seen or read before. The character was so intriguing to me, because as a then-17-year-old girl, all the roles I’m going out for are “Hot Cheerleader” and, like, “Emo Girl,” they’re just stereotypes and caricatures of real people. Roxy, to me, even though she’s a fantasy character and not completely realistic, was really different than anything I’d ever encountered before, and that really made me want to work my ass off to get the part.

ShockYa: This is a small budget movie, I think you shot 21 days in a row, but the material is very dense and often wordy. What was the audition like — was it lots of reading with Bobcat?

TLB: Well, for the first audition it was just me and the casting director, and then I got called back for another one with Bobcat. But he was just an observer, he was very quiet and laid back. He didn’t really give any direction, or feedback, he just said, “Thanks so much for coming in.” And I didn’t hear anything for two weeks, so I was like, “Oh, I didn’t get it!” Then I got a call for a second callback, and that was again with Bobcat. Joel wasn’t there, and I was surprised. But they did say that he was going to be playing Frank, and I knew him from “Two and Half Men” and other little guest stuff, and as Bill Murray’s little brother. But the audition process was very much one of protocol, and maybe not as extensive as I would have expected, because Roxy is a bigger part of the movie. But it was a really awesome experience, filming itself, because even though it was 21 days and a more compact schedule than a studio film, it… was kind of like movie camp. Everybody was there pitching in to create this product because we all knew and loved the material. And that’s so rare that you can go on a set and feel that everybody is there because they want to be there, and there because like what they’re doing and working toward. So now I’m spoiled, of course.

ShockYa: The audition process is a completely different skill set than delivering a performance on set, of course. Is it something you have a lot of comfort with?

TLB: I’ve never come out of an audition and been like, “You know what, that was fantastic! There’s nothing I could have done that would have made that any better!” It’s the same with watching myself on screen, thinking about [how] I could have done this or this better. When I was first auditioning I was shaking like a leaf, and a wreck, because you’re in front of two, three or maybe even 15 people that you do not know and they’re judging you basically on whether you can play the character and do it justice. But since I’ve been doing this professionally for like seven or eight years, the stress level for auditioning has gone down, but the level of attention to the material… is still the same. I still want to always give it my all.

ShockYa: You touched on this some before, but I’d be interested in your expanded thoughts on how dense the dialogue is, and what Bobcat’s direction was like with respect to some of those big chunks of dialogue and back-and-forth with Frank.

TLB: He didn’t give a lot of direction, and I think the reasons he cast Joel and I were because he liked what we were doing in our auditions. Of course it’s less than what you would bring to a set because you’re still in the space of finding the character and memorizing lines and what not, but he saw that we were going in the right direction, so a lot of the things he said were [in the vein of], “Keep it up,” “Keep going,” or “Go further.” It was never about analyzing what the characters were thinking in any moment because it was such a quick process. I got the part, there was a one week break, and then we went into filming for three weeks. It was such a tight schedule that there was no time to do research that you might do for a studio film with one of those big, meaty roles. These roles are meaty, but given the constraints you just have to hit the ground running and be in the moment.

ShockYa: The film cycles through an awful lot of satirical targets, with respect to pop culture. And I imagine if you pulled 10 different audience members, they’re going to have 10 different favorite jokes or whatever. Amongst the pet peeves of both Frank and Roxy, what were the ones that struck a chord with you?

TLB: One of my favorite lines is when Joel talking to his co-worker about how he needs to drown out his neighbor’s baby, which sounds like a World War II civil defense air raid siren that goes off every five minutes, like it’s Pearl Harbor. That’s one of my favorites. One of my [pet peeves], though, which isn’t quite in the movie, is when people have crying babies and they refuse to take them out of restaurants or quiet them down, because their excuse is, “Well, she’s a baby, what am I supposed to do?” How about be a parent, that’s what you’re supposed to do! And there’s one line where Joel says that he hates people who buy $100,000 cars and then drive them 10 miles an hour under the speed limit. And I’m not a neurotic driver, by any means —

ShockYa: No?

TLB: No. (laughs) You might expect that. But that’s a funny line to me, because I actually definitely get a little road rage now and then. My friends always make fun of me because I’m such a polite driver but when somebody cuts me off, they get the finger! For several seconds, until they get the gist.

ShockYa: So are you weaving through traffic to get back up (even) to them and flip them off?

TLB: No, no, no, that’s the thing — I’m so polite and let people in, but once they do something to me I get the mouth of a sailor, and then {extending her middle finger} I just keep it there until they realize what’s up. And then I’ll put it down. They need to realize that they’re jerks.

ShockYa: This film has the feeling of a real launching pad performance. Is that sort of career breakthrough already being evidenced, even thought the film isn’t out yet?

TLB: Oh, thank you. I’ve actually gone into some auditions and casting directors have been like, “Oh my gosh I watched your trailer, it looks so good, I want to go see it.” And I’m like, “Well, thanks.” And I have gotten some offers, but we’ll see [what happens] when the movie opens. I’m not going to expect anything, but it would be nice, though. But a launching pad, thanks, that’s so nice. And Joel delivers such a great performance too, he really deserves more roles like these. He knocks it out of the ballpark.

Written by: Brent Simon

Tara Lynne Barr

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A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brent Simon is a three-term president of LAFCA, a contributor to Screen International and Magill's Cinema Annual, and film editor of H Magazine. He cannot abide a world without U2 and pizza.

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