Noah Baumbach's "Frances Ha" is full of big surprises. When it premiered at Telluride last September it seemed to materialize out of nowhere, having been shot in secret quite successfully the previous year. Another welcome surprise of the film is the unheralded arrival of young British actress Mickey Sumner, who earned praise in her completely believable and often heartbreaking portrayal of the title character's (co-writer Greta Gerwig) best friend. Sumner fits so seamlessly into Baumbach's world that it seems incredible that the film is only her second substantial role in a feature.
That's certainly about to change, however with the now New York-based actress portraying punk icon Patti Smith in Randall Miller's upcoming "CBGB." She also happens to be the daughter of Sting, giving her an interesting connection to 1970s rock and roll themed film. We sat down with Sumner to talk about the real life close friendship that sprung between Gerwig and herself during filming, and what it's like playing a cultural icon that you also happen to be a worshipful fan of. IFC Films opens "Frances Ha" in limited release this Friday, May 17.
What was the experience like as an actor coming into a film as exclusively cloaked in secrecy as this one? Was it as mysterious to you as it was to the rest of us?
It was pretty mysterious to me. My first audition was just "Untitled Noah Baumbach Movie," there will be no script, you'll get sides once you're in the room. And that was it. And Noah was always on my top five directors to work with, so at that point I was, whatever you want! That's fine! I actually really enjoyed the cold read. There was no time to prepare, no time to overthink, no time to be like, how would Noah Baumbach like me to read this line? You just get it, you read it, and you just go with your instincts.
Once I got the role of Sophie, I still didn't get a script. I was just given my pages piecemeal, day by day. And I felt like this is an experience, and I don't need to control this. I don't really like asking questions anyway. I'm very British that way. It's not how I was raised. I think it's an English thing where you just do as your told. And that's how I sort of felt about this project, was that I trust Noah, and I trust Greta, and I'm going to play along and not ask too many questions and just do a good job with what I'm given. I think it was really liberating for me.
It wasn't until the third callback when I walked in the room and Greta was there. I didn't even know Greta was in the movie.
Did you know Greta before?
I met her once at a friend's house, but we weren't like friends. I admired her work but we weren't buddies. And then I was like, "Oh! It's a Greta Gerwig movie. OK." I auditioned for two roles, and they were working that out. And then finally I got a callback as Sophie, and at the end of it Noah asked me how I would feel about dying my hair, and wearing glasses, and I was like, "I feel great about it! I feel great. I would totally do that right now for you."
I'm assuming the other role was Grace Gummer's role?
How did your relationship with Greta develop? Are you close friends now?
Yeah! Now we're very close. And people are like, how did you work on becoming friends and, first of all, it's pretty easy to be friends with Greta, she's just lovable and loving and you want to just be around her. But also… we made a movie together. Which is the best way to make best friends with someone. You're in a very contained unit and you're working really hard for the same goal and you spend a lot of time with each other.
Well, I think the reason people are asking that is that your friendship, and the love your characters have for each other, is so convincing on screen. It's the driving force of the movie.
I think a lot of that is the writing. The friendship was there on the page already. And I think one of the things I sort of thought about is that best friends don't ever need to show everybody that they're best friends.You're never in public going, "Oh my gawd, I love this person!" You know, you're kind of harsh and rough with your best friends. Sometimes you don't even look at them when you're talking to them. You know that they're there and you have that intimacy. And that's how I wanted to play Sophie, is yeah, they're best friends, but I'm not going to be touching her hair.
They're not those kind of characters either.
No, but I don't think real women touch each others' hair to show everyone they're best friends!
This interview is continued on page 2...