You’d be hard pressed to find a more balls-to-the-wall comedic performance at SXSW this year than Sara Paxton’s scene-stealing turn in the breakup/makeup romantic comedy “The Bounceback.” In Bryan Poyser’s Austin love letter, Paxton plays Kara, a heavy-metal loving wild child nursing a nasty breakup, who’s called upon to come to the aid of her best friend Cathy (Ashley Bell), after Cathy’s ex shows up in Austin intent on wooing his old flame back.
Best known for her work on the teen and horror film circuits in movies like “Aquamarine,” “The Last House on the Left” and “The Innkeepers,” Paxton proves in “The Bounceback” that screwball comedy is where she truly excels. It’s no wonder a character in the movie refers to her as a Goldie Hawn-type. She’s that funny.
Indiewire sat down the Paxton in Austin (she’s also here with another, albeit darker comedy, “Cheap Thrills”) to discuss her inspired turn, this new stage her career, and performing air sex (yes, it’s real thing) on stage in front of a live audience at the Alamo Drafthouse.
Now where are you from exactly?
I’m originally from a suburb outside of LA called Woodland Hills and my family still lives there. I always wish I had a cooler answer than that.
No, I just asked that because you make for a very believable Austin resident/lover in “The Bounceback.”
I think that Austin and I just really jive. I know that everyone in Austin is like “don’t move here.” But I’m like “fuck that, I’m moving here. This place is amazing.” I love it here and I think that what also helped make that transition a little more smooth was that when I first met Bryan and Megan when I first read the script I sat down with them and we had drinks and we hit it off immediately, we just clicked. So I just feel like I belong here. It feels like home. I love it here.
Was Kara all on the page before you came on board or did you bring a lot of yourself to the role? I’m guessing the latter.
There was a lot of Kara on the page. Bryan originally wanted me for Ashley Bell’s character Cathy, because that’s normally the kind of role that I play I guess. And I read the script and I thought, “oh my god, Kara is amazing. I have to play this girl.” And so I don’t know how I convinced Bryan to let me do that, but I feel like there’s a bit of Kira in me in real life, so I guess in some of our Skype meetings I showed him that. A lot of Kara is on the page, but I like to think I added my own flourishes to it.
I’m familiar with you from “The Innkeepers,” which I adore…
You got to earn some chuckles in that film, but I’ve never seen you really go-for-broke like you do in “The Bounceback.” Have you been dying to go all out and do a full blown Goldie Hawn-esque performance?
Oh, totally. Goldie Hawn is my idol so thank you so much for saying that.
Well, you’re called her in the movie, right?
Yes, Marshall [Allman] said it. He totally ad-libbed it. I loved doing “The Innkeepers,” and all of the horror stuff, “Shark Night,” and “Last House on the Left,” and everything. It was really fun, but I was ready to do a comedy and especially one like this. When I read it it was raunchy but lovable and when I met Bryan and watched his other movies, I think the script could have gone kooky in some place and wouldn’t have been so good in less capable hands. I think Bryan did a really good job of having the crazy comedy bits there but still keeping it really grounded and believable. So yeah, I’m really excited that I’m a part of this because its something new and different for me and I get to show a different side of myself I guess.
You don a lot of tattoos in the movie. How long did that take to put on?
It’s funny because the way that they do it is just like how you do it as a kid. Like you peel off the thing and put it in water, but they were super strong stick. So we’d put them on like that and they would last five days, so we’d redo them every five days. But yeah, I’d be walking around Austin with this sleeve and I’d be at Whole Foods, and some girl would come up and say “I like your tats.” And I’m like “thank you?” I didn’t know what to say because then I’d be that douchebag who’s like “oh, no, they’re fake, I’m doing them for a movie. I’m an actress” So I just went with it.
Talk about method.
Oh yeah, I went full blown “Lincoln.” It’s funny because nobody would recognize me like after work when we went to a bar to have drinks. They’d be like “hi, oh you.” Because they would take my hair out and I wouldn’t have the crazy makeup so no one would notice me.
Air sex, have you ever heard of it before?
I actually thought that I had invented air sex. Because in our first meeting I said “So, air sex. Because you know, I do the air hump.” And they were like “what is that?” And sometimes when I get really excited and like something I’ll do this little air hump. [Paxton gets up and starts humping the air…] You can’t see what I’m doing but I’m gyrating in a sexual way, like a Muppet character. [She sits back down.] And they said “no, we’ve never heard of that, but air sex is real.” So I started looking up YouTube videos at home and I was just like this is ridiculous, oh my god. I just thought it was so funny. I got to sit in on the audition process for the Jeff character, played by Zach Cregger. And so I read for a bunch of different dudes and he didn’t understand the air sex. I could see why you would think it might not work, but I was really sold and into it. I was pumped about it
Did you choreograph that small dick routine before getting up on stage at the Alamo Drafthouse?
No we had to choreograph beforehand. We shot that the last week with a live audience filled with people we didn’t know but also crew members. So by the end we were all BFFs so I felt a little more comfortable. But throughout the filming Bryan would be like “so are you guys coming up for ideas for air sex? Is it coming to you, you got this right?” And I’m like “oh my god, three weeks away.” And then the night before I had a panic attack I thought “I can’t do this, my ideas aren’t funny,” and I called Bryan and I was like “we have to go over some stuff, come over.” And he came over to the hotel room and it was us in the room with the furniture moved and corny music on my laptop just spit-balling ideas, trying to come up with the funniest thing. So he helped me a lot. It was a group effort of us just tossing ideas back and forth, but by the end of it when I was getting up there, I knew what I was doing. I had the routine all figured out in my head.
So were you happy with it?
(Laughs) I guess. It was really embarrassing to do the routine, because the first time you do it everyone’s laughing. Then the second time they’re still kind of laughing. By the 18th time I’m doing it, no one is laughing. Or there would be sometimes where Bryan would need sound, so he’d be like “audience, fake laugh.” So I’m doing all of this stuff to a room full of strangers.
If you can do that, you can do anything though right?
(Laughs) Right, I’ve conquered all of my fears.
Do you feel like you’re at a new stage in your career, veering off into more comedic territory?
I hope so. It feels really cool to have two movies in the festival that I feel I’ve done something really different in. Something that I feel people haven’t seen so much. So, I hope so. I love doing comedy and I hope that people see this movie.