Actress/filmmaker Amy Seimetz is not exactly a stranger to the film set. For most of the last decade, she appeared in shorts and eventually landed a part in Goran Dukic’s “Wristcutters: A Love Story,” which debuted at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, starring Patrick Fugit. She also starred opposite Jess Weixler in Joe Swanberg’s “Alexander the Last” in addition to Lena Dunham’s “Tiny Furniture” and David Robert Mitchell’s “The Myth of the American Sleepover,” which will open later in 2011.
In Megan Griffiths’ “The Off Hours,” Seimetz takes the starring role of Francine, mixing vulnerability, innocence and a latent adventurous spirit, to carry a story about a waitress in an industrial backwater town who yearns to break free of her mundance routine. Francine’s daily life mixes casual dalliances with men and late night shifts at the diner. But then a big-rig driver appears on the scene (Ross Partridge of “Baghead”) and becomes a regular, sparkling hope in Francine that life may offer more.
In a conversation with indieWIRE by phone from the set of another project following the 2011 Sundance Film Festival where “The Off Hours” premiered, Seimetz gave insight on how her own time behind the camera has informed her performance, recounted growing up in a small town and dished out a little advice about life and the state of American youth.
About Francine, what attracted you to her?
I really liked the mood of the whole [story]. I also really liked that Francine is a complete character. She had a lot of faults that she was working through and she was a very complex character to tackle and also she reminded me of friends and family from a small town and those type of characters are very under-represented.
How did it remind you of a small town? Did you grow up in a small town?
Part of my family is from western Pensylvania and I spend summers there, just right outside Pittsburgh and Uniontown. So I’ve got some coal-mining family and the landscape of wherever she was is very industrial and it reminded me a lot of western PA. So it was really appealing to me to tackle the unglamorous part in a way.
So it sounds like she was someone you liked generally, even if you found faults in her. Was she someone you felt an affinity toward?
Yeah, she’s sweet – even with the faults that she has, she’s not doing anything out of malice. She’s doing everything out of boredom.
What sort of advice would you have given her if you were to run into her?
It’d be kind of hard because she is one of those introverted people, you know? If anyone were to ask her if anything was wrong, she wouldn’t be quick to admit anything. She’d say she’s bored but would otherwise say she’s okay. If I were to give her advice, I’d tell her that it’s not going to happen unless you make a move – you’re the only one that can do it.
I think I’ve given this advice to lots of family members before. A lot of times I just have to remind them it’s really not that scary. The world is really not that scary. It’s all up to that person to just leave and get out fast without thinking about it. When you start thinking about it, it gets overwhelming.
I saw another movie you’re in which will come out this year, “The Myth of the American Sleepover” in Cannes. Was acting always on your radar?
Well I started out as a filmmaker and then I would act in my own stuff. Most of the time it was going around to festivals and meeting filmmakers who had seen me in stuff that I made, and then collaborating with them on that end. I love performing. I was a really timid child. I loved the idea of performing, but I was terrified of it. Obviously that’s changed a lot. I thought for a long time I was going to be an orthopedic surgeon. It wasn’t my first thing, but I had always loved it. I started out doing experimental performances & films. Only in the past five years have I begun to focus on narrative.
You just finished directing something recently, correct?
I finished my feature, “City on a Hill.” It’s about a failed revolution. People who get distracted by their relationships and fail to execute what they set out to do. It’s an absuridst film about revolution and the state of American youth.
How has your performing experience informed your directing?
Part of the reason why I performed in my own films when I was younger, was partly because I found it hard to communicate to actors. I found it extremely intimidating. So now, it’s easier for me to communicate and know how to describe what I want based on my experience in front of the camera.
Also you realize what kind of moments you as an actor need to portray what you’re going through. I think that really informs decision making and storytelling as a director.
So then on the other end when you’re performing, what’s your process?
I’ve been lucky with directors that know I’m a filmmaker and take me on because of that. I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with people that collaborate and understand that I know the filmmaking process. In terms of collaborating with them, I’m very respectful of the fact that’s it’s their vision, and in the end I’m serving their vision. That’s very important too. To remember I’m not directing it.
You said that you found a lot of your projects after attending film festivals. Has it just worked out that way?
Early on it did. But in the recent past I haven’t been able to attend as many for financial or personal reasons. When I started out, one of the early film festivals to accept one of my films was the Sarasota Film Festival, which I think is fantastic. It is such a filmmakers’ festival. Sundance is awesome, so is SXSW and Toronto. Those are market festivals.
But as a filmmaker at Sarasota, you get to see movies, talk to filmmakers and get a sense of where they want to go. You have the ability to build these relationships. Early on it was great place to start. Nowadays, people see me in something and I get asked to take part just based on that.
What projects do you have coming up?
They just announced SXSW, and I’m in a film called “No Matter What,” which is about two boys going out to find one of the boy’s mother. She has an addiction to meth and I play the mom. And I also helped produced and am in “The Dish & the Spoon” with Greta Gerwig. And I’m also in “Silver Bullets,” which looks unbelievable. I’m on the set right now of a film called “Possession.”