The story of how hard it is to make it as an actress in Hollywood has been told many times, most recently in this year’s Oscar front runner “La La Land.” Yet what often gets lost in the romantic stories of chasing one’s dream is the psychological damage that accompanies the precarious career path.
“The life of an actress is one of the hardest and most traumatic things you can do,” said actress-turned-director Sophia Takal when she was a recent guest on IndieWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit podcast. “You are constantly putting yourself out there to be judged how you look, how sexy you can be, how attractive you can be.”
With Hollywood offering so few complex roles for women, Takal said it’s easy for a scarcity mentality to develop where other women are constantly viewed as competition. Often she would find herself judging actresses who were getting roles.
In 2011, these feelings of jealousy and competition became so overwhelming, it forced Takal to look inward and realize a great deal of this was stemming from self-hatred about not fitting into some ideal embodiment of femininity.
“I can track all the friendships in my mind, ‘that person’s beautiful, that person’s feminine, I want to be like that person — I want to become friends so maybe I’ll learn to be beautiful and feminine too.’ Then the process of getting to know them leads to all these resentments,” said Takal. “I would end up destroying friendships because I was jealous of how successful they were.”
Seeing that what actresses go through as emblematic of how women perform in their day to day life, Takal collaborated with her husband and frequent collaborator, Lawrence Michael Levine (“Wild Canaries”), who turned these emotions into the script for “Always Shine.” The story would be about two actress friends, played in the film by Mackenzie Davis (“Halt and Catch Fire”) and Caitlin FitzGerald (“Masters of Sex”), who go on a weekend trip to Big Sur to patch up a damaged friendship.
In Takal’s first film, “Green,” which also included themes of jealousy and competition, she added some horror-like music to make the film more interesting. After seeing “Green,” horror writer Simon Barrett (“Blair Witch”) told Takal he liked the film, but felt someone should have died.
“I remember thinking about that so much and thinking next time someone’s going to die,” said Takal.
Seeing the story of the actresses’ weekend getaway as a horror film allowed Takal to create a heightened sense of danger around what she believes most women experience every day. She was also anxious to add a complex portrayal of women to a genre.
“I was witnessing a lot of low budget horror movies that a lot of people were coming out to see, that I thought were kind of misogynistic and I didn’t like the way people were being portrayed as just a pair of tits running around screaming,” said Takal. “I wanted to contribute something that was different and hopefully would be entertaining enough that the same people, who were watching those movies that were exploiting women, might watch this movie and reflect on their culpability.”
“Always Shine” opens in 10 cities this weekend. It’s also available for purchase on iTunes and other VOD platforms.
Listen to the entire podcast BELOW:
Previous episodes include Ira Sachs on “Little Men,” Web Series 101, “Kate Plays Christine” director Robert Greene, Kirsten Johnson discussing her life as a “Cameraperson,” the “Night of” location manager on shooting in New York, Andrea Arnold on “American Honey,” Kelly Reichardt, Gianfranco Rosi on “Fire at Sea,” Barry Jenkins on “Moonlight,” Ezra Edelman on “OJ: Made in America,” Paul Verhoeven’s refusal to be censored, “The Witch” director Robert Eggers on adapting “Nosferatu” and Screenwriter Eric Heisserer about adapting “Arrival.”
The music used in this podcast is from the “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present” score, courtesy of composer Nathan Halpern.