By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire April 5, 2012 at 1:3PM
In "Damsels," plays Lily, a new student at Seven Oaks, an East Coast college, who gets accepted into a clique of beautiful, dynamic girls -- led by group honcho Violet (Gerwig) -- intent on rescuing their fellow students from depression.
More About Her: Tipton trained as a competitive ice skater, competing twice in the US Junior Figure Skating Championships, something that no doubt helped her place third on cycle 11 of "America's Next Top Model." After leaving that show, Tipton embarked on an acting career, landing several episodes of HBO's "Hung" and a bit part in "The Green Hornet," directed by Michel Gondry.
What's Next: Look out for Tipton in the upcoming zombie romance "Warm Bodies," directed by Jonathan Levine ("50/50") and starring Dave Franco ("21 Jump Street") and Nicholas Hoult ("X-Men: First Class"). Like her "Damsels" co-star Gerwig, Tipton is also a writer, and told Indiewire she has some scripts in the works. "In the past year it's been pretty exciting, because I've worked with writer-directors and actors writing their own stuff like Greta," she shared. "Since I moved down to LA to do that, I've been taken under the wing of a few people I've worked with. I've got some things in development, so hopefully you'll see something in the next year or two."
Going into "Damsels," I was unaware that you were a runner-up in "America's Next Top Model." Call me crazy, but I drew parallels beteen your journey on that show and that of your character's over the course of the film.
Oh man -- I think you're the first one who compared that to this. How interesting! I suppose that Lily's journey could be applied to many situations. I get thrown into a lot of things. You have to find your way. And I'm always awkward at finding my way. I'm okay with that; I accept that awkwardness, I embrace it.
Certainly there is a comparison. I don't think I drew anything from that, at all [laughs]. My approach to Lily was that I went in thinking she was one way, and Whit had a completely opposite idea for her. The end product was what Lily became.
I went in thinking Lily was this sweet, genuine, big-eyed girl from the Midwest. He wrote Lily to be a very plastic character, a negative foil for Greta's character -- cynical, judgmental. Because of the combination of the two extremes, what shaped up was that Lily became very skeptical, but not critical, necessarily. Her skepticism came from a space of general interest and curiosity, but just came out bluntly, which makes her a very rounded character.
She kind of starts out as the film's protagonist in many ways, and then Greta takes over. But she remains likeable throughout.
Yeah, it lets the audience decide where they want to go. Some people I talked to really gelled well with Lily. Other people love the whimsicalness of Greta's character. You're think you're with Lily, but once you're in the Whit Stillman world you're free to pick and choose whatever weirdnesses you want to take out of it.
Which character did you most identify with?
When I initially read the script, I tried not to relate too much to any character because I feel you can bring so much to a character that might not be written. Now, when I see the film, I would definitely say Greta's character. I love Violet's happy-go-lucky, positive outlook on life. My challenge with Lily was playing it so skeptical. Again, Whit would come up and be like, "Be a little harsher with that." We balanced it out finally, but for the first few days we tried this mean approach and it didn't fit as well.
Lily is so settled. I'm not that settled (laughs). I like to dance much more that she likes to dance.
Lily is relatively normal compared to the rest of the group -- she's not prone to giving long, wordy speeches like Violet. Were you jealous of Greta on set?
I did definitely have some of those, but what my character is arguing in those long speeches is normalcy. I had satisfaction as an actor for getting those speeches, but was also laughing because I had this weird banter about being normal, when the way I'm saying things is so abnormal. The fact that Greta and I have a scene where we both have ridiculous outfits all of a sudden, discussing how the world needs more normal people, and I'm in a purple picnic table cloth?! It's so contradictory. But I think my character is misinformed as to what normal is, and she understands that too.
So you were nine years old when the last Whit Stillman film came out. Were you familiar with his work prior to reading "Damsels"?
Not initially. I got the script, read it and fell in love with the fact that I could read a joke on the page, get it at face value, and suddenly laugh at the joke again because something several pages later made the whole thing switch in meaning.
That was very appealing, as well as having such a unique female cast.
And then going back, before meeting Whit -- seeing all of his films, understanding his style. From there on it became the excitement of being part of the Whit world and the Whit cult.
He's been out of the game for 14 years. Were you nervous about working with a director who had to re-discover his groove?
It was nerve-racking. We as actors all loved the script. We loved the idea of what was happening. But of course there was that point where it could go either way. You hear these stories about directors coming back and trying to be too much like they were. But Whit did a wonderful job of making something fresh and new while still incorporating his signature style, which is very difficult to do, I imagine. It worked, thankfully. He seemed on his game while he was directing, but then again I had nothing to compare it too. He's excited to get back in and do more of it.
But certainly there was and is pressure to be in the cast of a film -- his new debut, so to say. I sometimes didn't know what he was doing or how my performance was going to turn out, but we learned quickly to trust him because he's Whit Stillman. We are his chess pieces.
Take me back to your life as a model and why you switched gears into acting.
To me it's a little odd to ever think "model into actor." I modeled once. I was about as far from a decent model as you can possibly be. I did not enjoy the world at all. I fell in my stilettos quite a bit. I got a really bad slouching problem in modeling (it's a cool thing to do that).
But I moved on to LA six years ago, way before the show, for writing and directing. I'd done theater by whole life. Acting was very natural. I never really considered that I was making a transition. If anything it was a transition for me from behind the scenes as a writer to in front of the camera. That was the most nerve-racking.
Did modeling help you get comfortable with the camera?
You know, having a bunch of cameras in front of your face, I kind of got used to that. But no, it's so different I think.
It's cool to look back. I like my path. I wouldn't have changed anything. Has it gotten me to be here? Yeah.
Do you have a gameplan going forward?
I think that I'm getting cast in these roles because I approach them honestly. I don't try to play the pretty girl that's on the page. I can't and don't bring that. There's a smart way to go about that. I like characters that are a little bit quirky because I feel that that's the most real. Also edgy and smart -- or at least smart in their antics, not necessarily in their actual intelligence. Thats what I've been going for. It's almost a cliche to say, but one day when I have kids (young girls), I can point at the characters and say, these are cool roles representing smart or interesting women.