With all the young, up and coming actresses out there, you really don’t get much luckier than Kara Hayward. With only a few summer camp and school plays under her belt, Hayward not only got an opportunity to star in a feature film, but the chance to lead Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.
She plays Suzy Bishop, the young girl who catches the eye of Khaki Scout, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman). After quite a bit of letter writing, the two 12-year-old lovebirds opt to run away together, Sam ditching Scout Master Randy Ward (Edward Norton) and the boys of Troop 55 and Suzy taking her kitten, but leaving her three little brothers and parents behind (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand). While Sam and Suzy are enjoying their budding romance out in the woods, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) leads the Khaki Scouts and the Bishops in a search effort to track them.
Not a bad first feature to have on your resume, huh? In honor of Moonrise Kingdom’s big release, Hayward took the time to talk about the filmmaking process from beginning to end, from first hearing of the audition from her dance teacher to what the experience taught her about her abilities as an actress. Check it all out for yourself in the interview below.
I’d like to bet a lot of young actresses auditioned for this role, so did Wes ever tell you what made him pick you?
Kara Hayward: I heard him mention once in a press conference, he said that I read it like I was making up the dialogue myself as the character. He found that very interesting and that was one of the things that he said made him choose me.
Was that something you thought about for the audition? Did you have anything prepared?
I didn’t know much about auditioning or the process so it was kind of just a let’s try this for fun type thing. I wasn’t really sure about anything that I was going to try to make myself stand out; I just wanted to have fun with it. But I’m certainly glad that more came out of it. [Laughs]
Had you ever been to an audition before?
No, I hadn’t. That was my first audition.
Did you want to be an actress before getting this role or was this an opportunity that just came up out of the blue?
I knew acting was something that I enjoyed from a couple little summer camps I had done where I acted in plays as well as school plays, so I knew that I liked doing it, but I didn’t know that it was something I wanted to do for a long time to come until I started acting in Moonrise and I realized that this is what it was really like.
How’d you find out about this audition?
Actually, my dance teacher told me because she has a son who wants to be an actor so she’s always looking at these things and she happened to mention it to me and so I figured I might as well try!
What’d she say when she found out you got the role?
Oh, she was so happy and excited for me. She was just so thrilled! And I would like to thank her for it! [Laughs]
And how about you? What’d you do when you found out you got the role? How’d you celebrate?
I was so shocked! I think we went out to dinner and it was absolutely one of the happiest days ever. It was absolutely amazing. I felt so lucky to be selected.
Clearly you were very excited, but did you ever get the feeling, ‘Oh no. How am I going to pull it off?’
I don’t think so. I think I was too excited to really be thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, how about I going to pull it off?’ I felt so honored and blessed to be given the chance to do something like this that I just knew I wanted to make sure that I did it well and so really there were no oh my goodness moments.
When you got the role had other parts been cast or were you one of the first?
I believe I was actually one of the last because I knew that a lot of the Khaki Scouts had auditioned in September and I was auditioning in February. I believe I was one of the last because filming started only a month or two afterwards.
How was it on set? Did your parents go with you?
My mother came with me to set every day, but what they did was we would go off and she might get a coffee or go to the bookstore. She kind of gets nervous when she hears me act and, in turn, that makes me a little nervous, but really, she did her own thing, I did mine and we really enjoyed it. She was very happy for me. She was so excited and supportive and I really loved having her there.
How about Wes? What did he have you do to prepare? Did he tell you to do anything to really get in Suzy’s head – maybe write a journal as the character or something like that?
Actually, funny you mention writing, he had Jared Gilman who plays Sam Shakusky
and I write letters to each other, the dear Sam, dear Suzy letters in our character’s voice and from their point of view, so that definitely helped me get into the feel of my character’s world.
Do you remember what you wrote? Were they about things that happen in the film?
We did reference the script when we were writing. We would look back and we would take things that were happening in our characters’ lives and we would definitely make sure we would mention those in the letters.
Suzy’s a young girl, but in a very mature situation, so how was that for you? Were you able to relate to her?
I was able to relate to her on some little details. She loved animals and reading, which I share, but otherwise, we’re two very different people and it was very exciting to portray someone who is so different from myself.
I’m a big cat lover, so how’d you like working with that little cat? He’s adorable!
That’s great because I actually ended up keeping him. He’s mine now. He was always very sweet and everyone loved the cat. Everyone would come around when they were on break and they would pat him. He was very loved by everyone and so he’s not really scared of people like some cats are. He’s very comfortable with everyone. He’s just adorable!
How was it working with a big cast of guys? You’ve got Frances McDormand with you, but even your siblings in the movie are all boys!
They were all really fun and happy and bubbly and great friends, and I think that boys, girls, they were all wonderful to work with and I loved being with them.
And how about working with Jared in particular? Wes had you to write the letters, but did you do any standard rehearsing, too?
The month prior to filming every Monday Wes would have us come down to Rhode Island and rehearse a little bit and run over our lines and scenes.
Did you get to do that on set at all?
We didn’t do it quite as much on set. We didn’t want to overthink our scenes. We wanted to do it and make it feel natural.
How about memorizing lines? Does that come naturally to you?
People tell me I have a pretty good memory, so really to memorize lines, I just read the script over until I knew it.
Did Wes let you adlib at all?
There was one scene where at the last moment Wes had a great idea for some things to say so he wrote them down and so I read those. [Laughs]
Would Wes give you a lot of notes in between takes?
He really doesn’t give us a lot of notes. What he would do is he would have us act the scenes out at first just the way we would do it and then he would make changes or tweaks he thought were necessary.
How about the blocking? The camera moves around a lot so did you have a lot of marks to hit?
Really, I don’t think there were too many marks to hit. Of course, with the camera, when they would dolly it they had to be careful to make sure they hit each room or scene correctly. But when they were doing that, what I would do is, behind scenes, before they got to me, I would just stay in my position so that way if they came before I expected it, I wouldn’t be caught off guard.
What about some of your more experienced co-stars? Anyone give you any advice that really stuck with you?
This is more of an example than advice, but Frances McDormand did set the example of rehearsing, just running lines really quick with the other person you’re going to do a scene with right before you film it just so that way you know how to play off the other person’s reaction and it just makes everything easier.
And what about yourself? Did you learn anything about yourself as an actress while working on this? Maybe certain things you know you’ll have to do differently or keep the same the next time around?
I don’t really know if there’s anything I feel like I need to do differently. Really, it depends on what the director wants from the actor and that’s how you change how you do things. But really, about myself, I learned that I can do a lot more – I think this in general for anyone really, you can do a lot more than you think you can when you go and try it.