Things got crazy at SXSW 2013. So crazy in fact, that it was impossible to cover everything and I opted to skip out on a little something called “Short Term 12.” Nine months later, I had seen the film a half dozen times and named it my second favorite movie of the year. But even though I missed out on a few months of celebrating the film’s prowess, now I can watch it as many times as I’d like because “Short Term 12” is due out on DVD, Blu-ray and digital platforms on Tuesday, January 14th.
The film stars Brie Larson as Grace, a young woman working as a supervisor in a group home for at-risk teens. Grace knows everyone. She knows how to get Luis (Kevin Hernandez) out of bed in the morning, she’s mindful of Keith’s (Keith Stanfield) temper and she can beat Sammy (Alex Calloway) in a race to the edge of the facility property. Kaitlyn Dever’s Jayden, on the other hand, proves to be a particularly unique challenge and not just because she’s suffering through a troubling upbringing, but also because Grace sees a lot of herself in Jayden.
To support “Short Term 12’s” upcoming DVD release, Dever took the time to talk to ShockYa about bringing Jayden to screen in a staggeringly collaborative way. Check out what the rising star told us about director Destin Cretton’s unique on-set environment, getting the chance to develop the character on her own, the challenge of working in an ensemble and loads more in the interview below, and be sure to catch “Short Term 12” on DVD, Blu-ray or digitally tomorrow. I truly cannot recommend it enough.
Before we get to “Short Term 12,” can you tell me about your rise as an actress? What made you want to commit and make it a career?
Kaitlyn Dever: I had always wanted to be an actress and I think what made me want to do it is always seeing people on TV. When I was little I used to watch TV all the time and I wanted to be in it, and I’d always ask my parents and after asking them a ton, I was about 9 or 10, they put me in acting classes. They really thought I was just gonna quit it like I did with all of my other activities that they put me in like ballet and gymnastics. [Laughs] But I stuck with it because I loved it and then after that, I had been there for about a year and a couple of agents came out to the school in Dallas where I was living, and they saw me and they wanted to take me to LA. My parents thought it was crazy and that it was the most insane thing ever to move out to LA and audition for things. They thought I wouldn’t get anything because the business is hard, but they still believed in me and that’s why they brought me out and after that, I booked the first thing I went out on when I came out here. And it was just kind of on a roll from there.
Was there any one job that made you feel like you were really on your way more so than others?
I think before “Justified” I had been doing guest starring roles and smaller parts in movies, and I kind of felt that when “Justified” happened, I was doing it constantly and it really allowed me to become someone else, like the whole jump of a character, and I feel like that’s when I felt like it was the real deal.
So now where did “Short Term 12” come into the mix? In terms of release dates, you already had some solid titles to your name, so did you need to audition or were you offered the role?
No, I auditioned for it. It was just like any other audition; I was sent the script and sides, I read both of them and went in for the audition, they called me right back, I went to the callback. It was just like, audition, callback, I booked it. It was a very simple process and it was just like any other audition process I think. It was just a really good script and I really wanted it, so it was a little more excitement than I would have in any other audition. I had so much excitement going in because it was such a good script.
What was it about the script that really spoke to you?
It was everything. Yes, the character was really cool. The character was doing something that I was happy to jump in for and really become that person because she’s such a character, but everyone who read the script, the main thing that read to them was just the realness of it and how it’s just a really real story, how honest it is and I feel like that’s what jumped out at me when I read it because you don’t get that in many scripts.
This was one of my favorite movies of the year, but at what point did you realize you had something special here? Was it immediately when you read the script, while you were making it or maybe even after it was complete?
We all loved the script so much. We all thought it was going to be something special. But then once we saw it put together and how Destin, the director, he put everything together so nicely and the music and everything that he did was unbelievable. I was shocked when I first saw it. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. This is like 100 times better than I thought it would be.’ And I thought it would be amazing when I was shooting it! And then it was even more amazing when I saw it completed! I think that we thought it was going to be something really great on set and then all this buzz and all of the good feedback its getting has just really been a shock to all of us because we worked very hard on it. The director, he’s such an amazing guy so he really deserves it.
Can you tell me about working with Destin? Is there anything he did on set to make him stand out from other directors you’ve worked with?
He made this amazing environment that has not been on a lot of sets I’ve been on. He created this environment, he made sure everyone was on board, he made sure that everyone was working towards the same thing, which was trying to make the film a great one and the whole entire crew was just one big, giant family. And also, I never felt stressed on the set. Destin was so laid back and so he’d just like, ‘Oh, if we don’t get this shot in, we don’t get this shot in, you know, it’s getting late.’ [Laughs] And other directors might stress out and get really antsy or whatever, but Destin would just create this smooth, calm, non-stressful environment. It was just the greatest. And then what was cool about him in terms of working with our characters, he would let us sort of decide what we wanted to do with our character and he was always open to talking about anything. He would sort of let us make our own decisions and then, you know, he would definitely come to us and give us notes, but it was like a team effort and it was awesome.
Is there a piece of Jayden that you came up with that you’re particularly proud of?
I don’t know why this is jumping out at me right now, but I think in the script I was supposed to be just waking up and they had me dressed for the scene, they had me in full costume with her hair pulled back in the ponytail, makeup on and I was all dressed for the day and it was like 7 o’clock in the morning and we were just sitting around in the facility and I went up to Destin and said, ‘Hey, can I be in PJs?’ He was like, ‘Yeah! That’s great!’ He’d be open to whatever and I felt really comfortable going up to him and asking him, ‘Can I do this in a scene?’ But then also there were some things that I never would have thought that the director would think about like, I came in for the audition looking like my character and, I don’t know why, I also thought they’d dress her more goth. I was sort of thinking it’d be so typical to have that one goth girl in the movie. [Laughs] But they made her really cool and her clothes were really boring. She wasn’t goth at all really, so that was a cool thing that they had thought of for Jayden.
How about in terms of performing? Did any of your co-cast have particular techniques they liked to use that you had to adjust to?
Keith, on set, he was in character the entire time. In the script, he’s kind of standoffish to people and he was trying to be like this all the time so when we fist met Keith, he was in character and so we were like, ‘Yeah, Keith’s cool. He doesn’t really talk to anyone.’ I don’t think I ever said a word to him on set, really. He was always in his ‘don’t talk to anybody mode’ and in his character basically [laughs], and then after we were done with the film and we were doing the festival circuit thing it was like this new person came out of him and he’s this funny, nice guy. That was something I think everyone had to kind of adjust to because we weren’t really sure how to approach Keith when we weren’t shooting and it was an interesting thing because I’ve never worked on a movie with somebody who’s been in character the entire time. I go into character maybe a couple minutes before we’d start shooting, but he’d be in it the whole time. It’s kind of cool.
Is there anything you had to do to put yourself in Jayden mode? Maybe even draw something?
That was a cool thing. The drawing thing, they had this full out journal that someone had already written in and I would just sort of trace over their drawings in scenes. You’re also thinking about the character and just knowing – because I read the script so many times and I wanted to know Jayden like the back of my hand. Getting into character for her was, beforehand, you just sort of have to go, ‘Okay, what’s happened before this? What’s going on now?’ And you just kind of think about it and thinking about Jayden’s story especially; it’s just awful. At some point, you’re just like, ‘Oh my god. This is so, so sad.’ Sometimes I’d think about the octopus story that I read and how so sad that is.
Wrapping up on a positive note, you’ve got the success of this, I believe two films in post and you’re currently shooting something. Can you tell me about “Men, Women and Children?” Who do you play in that?
I can’t say much about it, but I play Brandy. I play Jennifer Garner’s daughter in the movie and the whole movie is basically about the Internet and it’s about a bunch of peoples’ lives and how they connect to each other through the Internet and how the Internet is a bad thing – not really a bad thing, but just sort of how it effects people in different ways. I’m so, so excited to be doing this. Working with Jason Reitman is the coolest thing ever and the rest of the cast is really great, too. I’m still shooting it. I go back sometime soon. [Laughs] I’m still trying to figure out my schedule because I’m shooting my TV show and this movie at the same time so I’ve been flying back and forth from the movie location to my show here in LA and so I just kind of take it day by day. [Laughs] I don’t really know what my schedule is for tomorrow!
A very good problem to have!
I’m so, so blessed to be able to do it because I love being busy and so keeping busy is one of my favorite things, so being able to do two things at once is awesome.
You’re clearly incredibly successful, but New Year, new goals, so is there anything you’re striving for in 2014?
I’d love to keep doing movies that are challenging, so I’d love to do more films, especially while I’m on my hiatus on the show. I like to do as much as I can [then], but I’d also like to get my music in. I play guitar and my sister and I, we have a band sort of that we’re forming. That’s one of my goals this year, getting my music out there. I’ve written a lot of things and I just want to start recording. That’s also something I’m really excited about.