Ellen, how much did your role rub off on you? During the Q&A, you expressed your aversion to mass consumption. Clearly that stems from your encounter with the classmate you mentioned, but did the experience of embodying Izzy have an especially profound effect on you and on the way you’re going to lead your life going forward?
: I think they're ideas that I've always been really interested in. I think it’s complicated. Knowing and being aware of how my existence suppresses a lot of the world: I know that! I don’t like that that happens. I would like to do the best that I can to have a minimal impact. But even what I think is a minimal impact is absurd. It’s such privilege and luxury compared to so many people. It’s hard. I understand Izzy and I think she’s really brave. Sometimes I wish I were more brave. And then I think, well she is running away and living in the woods; is that brave? Should we look at this infrastructure that we’ve inherited and try to do the best we can to create positive change? That’s complicated. I can go back and forth on it.
I think it’s a tricky time to be alive when we know that there’s incredible disparity of wealth, where we’re destroying the environment, you name it. It’s a tough time to be a person. It’s hard to look at all those things, but I think it’s important. I’m just as guilty and responsible for all of the things that I think about – and I’m aware of that. It’s a complicated thing to figure out what one does with that information.
Watching “The East” at Sundance made me think of the festival’s dichotomy: the commercial (the corporate sponsorships/giveaways, the parties etc.) vs. the truly independent. What do you make of that?
"I think there’s a dichotomy to the work of being an actor, just like there is in life right now." -- Marling
: I think there’s a dichotomy to the work of being an actor, just like there is in life right now. The dichotomy is that your job description as an actor is to try and be present, authentic, genuine, open and vulnerable. And a lot of the aspects of the business surrounding it work in the opposite direction. They make you want to shut down, protect yourself, throw up a guard, be phony. Makeup, hair… all this stuff puts on layers and layers of masks. So it’s two things working in opposite directions in this career; the same way that it’s kind of where we are in the world too. That’s hard.
But I do think this festival does something really unique. When Robert [Redford] came up with the idea, it was actually super fucking anarchist. To do labs in the middle of Utah in show and bring these young filmmakers out here? I remember him telling me stories about how his agent and manager were like, ‘You lost your mind! You’re being offered the biggest film roles in your career and instead we can’t get a hold of you because you’re out in Utah dragging people off the ski lifts to come see films they never heard of before at the Egyptian...' Of course now we look at Sundance as an institution, but he was a revolutionary and an anarchist thinker who created something that’s now an institution. Nobody saw that coming. The space that he’s created here has really protected artists, actors and filmmakers, so they can leave the city behind, take off that armor, come here and be vulnerable – and hopefully keep making things that matter.
Do you feel free here, Ellen? On the way to this interview I saw Kristen Bell get mobbed by a throng of paparazzi after leaving her car.
: I mean, yeah, because that’s what the focus is right now. I’m fortunate because no one really cares about me or what I do, because “Juno” was a while ago. It’s not like my life is difficult. I just live my life.
"It’s so easy to paint big movies with a brush and indie movies with a brush." -- Page
This festival is amazing. It creates such an incredible platform for young and older filmmakers. I was here with a movie [“Hard Candy”] when I was 17, and that changed things so much for me. I’d been working in Canada and that was my first American movie.
It’s an extraordinary place. The reality is that the sponsorship and the branding, it kind of works hand in hand. It’s just like when you shoot larger films that allow you to do the smaller films, but the larger films are great, too. The opportunity to work with Christopher Nolan and shoot a movie like “Inception” was absolutely astounding. Every day I was excited to go to work. He actually works in an incredibly intimate way.
I think it’s so much more individualistic. It’s so easy to paint big movies with a brush and indie movies with a brush. I think what’s going to become more interesting, especially with people as insanely talented as Brit, Zal and Mike Cahill, is I feel like they’ve sort of inspired so many people. People are responding to the fact that they just made something. They made something awesome and they just got it out there. And hopefully that can allow other people to have those opportunities, too. And hopefully the relationship between the larger movies and the smaller movies can connect more.