Amy Seimetz’s “Sun Don’t Shine,” which is currently in limited release after debuting at SXSW last year, is a startling, visceral freshman film from the “Upstream Color” star. In addition to receiving plenty of support in the form of rave reviews (you can read ours here), the film also serves as an announcement of the arrival of some serious talent. Both its director and two stars, venerable indie character actors Kate Lyn Sheil and Kentucker Audley, are about to be unavoidable in the indie film world.
READ MORE: Amy Seimetz Discusses Her Busy Year and Why She Hates Being Labeled a ‘Breakout’
Both are certainly no strangers to the industry. Sheil has appeared in films by Joe Swanberg, Sophia Takal and Alex Ross Perry, as well as last year’s controversial “The Comedy,” and Audley is himself a filmmaker, having directed four features and a number of shorts while finding the time to curate a website that highlights unknown and micro-budget filmmakers. Currently, however, they’re having something of a moment.
You’ll soon see Audley in David Lowery’s Sundance sensation “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” alongside Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck, and in horror auteur Ti West’s “The Sacrament,” alongside Sheil. Also cropping up in Sheil’s breathtakingly prolific filmography is Adam Wingard’s buzzy horror film “You’re Next” and an HBO pilot from “The Color Wheel” director Alex Ross Perry. We sat down for an incredibly candid conversation with the two, who star in “Sun Don’t Shine” as a hapless couple on a tense, sweltering road trip across Florida to dispose of the body in their trunk, about breaking away from the naturalistic “mumblecore” movies in which they made their name, their upcoming projects, and the dangers of filming in the Florida swamps (alligators).
Obviously this move is pretty intense, and I feel like the conditions under which it was shot only kind of heighten that; the claustrophobic car, the heat, etc. Did that inform your performance at all, being stuck in this small car in the Florida heat?
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Kate Lyn Sheil: Sure.
Kentucker Audley: Yeah. I don’t have a lot of access to immediate anger as an actor, so that was very helpful. You just try to use those things. You get in the car and feel like you have nowhere to move and it creates the condition where you feel like you have to punch out.
KS: The heat was stifling, and Amy wanted that in the movie. So it was good that we didn’t have to act like we were extremely exhausted and hot.
And intensely sunburned.
KA: Any time we don’t have to act.
KS: That’s a plus. Those are the roles we’re going after.
How structured was the shoot? Was it a very specific, rigid schedule every day, or looser?
KS: It was pretty scheduled. WIthin that there was a lot of room to move around. If something didn’t work we would just move somewhere else. The crew and cast were able to move as a small, cohesive unit so you were able to shift it around very easily. But it wasn’t like a loosey-goosey “I don’t know… show up sometime tomorrow and we’ll figure it out.” It was like a real movie.
Because watching the movie from the point of view of this low budget indie, you guys do a lot of crazy stuff liability wise. You go in that river, for instance, that I immediately thought had to have alligators in it somewhere.
KA: She didn’t tell us until after.
So you never saw any?
KA: We saw some, but never while we were shooting. Amy was very clear that there were no alligators in that area.
KS: Until after we shot. The producer asked first, “are there alligators in this water? Should we be careful?” And Amy said, “You should always be careful, but no, there are no alligators in this water.” But there were.
The three of you have all worked together before, and have known each other. Was the creative process more collaborative from the beginning? Did the two of you have a hand in writing the film at all and creating the characters?
KS: A little bit, but it was mostly, in my experience, Amy. She would send us large blocks of prose writing, and that was about it. She would ask for feedback, but I would mostly just say, “that sounds good.”
KA: It was based on her recurring nightmare, and what I was trying to do was just pull out the facts about what she had in her brain so my input was generally more about the narrative that she already had. We had been trying to make a movie together and we didn’t know what to make it about and she told me about this nightmare and I wanted to get in on that. So I was just trying to get her to tell me that full story. Once she knew that it was all upstairs for her it was very little back and forth until we got on set and started rehearsing and playing with it.
KS: I mostly stuck to the script. By the time we got on set there was an actual shooting script. But Kentucker and I would talk about things and figure out how we were going to do things, and obviously Amy was a part of that conversation. For me I always felt like I was delivering Amy’s dialogue.
Was there a rehearsal process? Both characters are so unique and specific that I’m curious about kind of the origins of both of your performances.
KA: We didn’t have time to rehearse.
KS: I think we talked to each other in the phone one time and agreed that we were both very scared.
KA: I think we agreed that they were both… what’s a less harsh version of “trashy?” The people, they’re poor people. You always have reference points to how poor people are, anywhere you are. So I’m fascinated by disparity, and how people who are brought up in small towns without money interact with their environment and how unsocialized they are in some cases. So a lot of the character for me was making him not adept and not adjusted to societal norms.
KS: I think I tried to… I don’t know how to act any other way than find personal reference points for everything in the script. So I just tried to figure out the nearest approximation of how I would respond to that situation. And lots of stuff in the movie is familiar to me; being in a relationship with someone and being in a bad situation. And then extrapolate all of that to this extreme situation. I think the costumes helped a lot.
KA: It sounds frivolous to say that, but yeah, in my experience costumes help an incredibly great deal. It’s almost worth a week of discussions just to see how they dress you and how they put your hair.
KS: I felt really unattractive in the costume so that helps. This character is trying to hang onto her boyfriend. In her Skechers.
KA: We always say our attire is exactly how kids dress. Lots of oversized tee shirts. Long jeans.
Kate, what’s really interesting about your character is a lot of the time it seems like she’s in sort of a trance, like she’s been hypnotized, which I thought was a really interesting direction to take. It almost helps you relate to her in a way because she never seems “crazy,” more just that there’s something else going on, that she’s not herself and there’s something else driving her.
KS: Yeah, I never wanted her to be crazy. I don’t think Amy did either. I relate to the character a lot more than people assume. I think when you’re dealing with a really horrible situation you either try to address it, which Crystal is in a very roundabout way, but Kentucker’s character is very much trying to solve a problem which is essentially not really solvable. And another way to approach the situation would be to check out completely and distract yourself. Crystal is putting all of her problem solving capabilities to the much more specific problem of fixing her relationship with her boyfriend.
KA: That’s interesting, I never really thought about the difference between being in a trance and being crazy. I also think being in a trance is less explored as a cinematic device so it seems richer.
KS: I do that regularly. Even if it’s a problem, like, I don’t know how to write this email, every time it comes up in my brain I’m like, nope, not gonna think about that, that doesn’t exist.Obviously you guys are in an enormous amount of projects coming out soon and in production. The interesting thing about the sort of New York based collective of independent filmmakers that you guys are grouped with is that you’re all making these lower budget movies with your friends, but they all work in so many different genres. I was wondering when you’re in a movie like “You’re Next,” or Ti West’s new movie, do you do it because you’re drawn to that genre or are you using it as an opportunity to work with your friends and people you’re comfortable with?
KA: Both. I’m attracted in moving away from naturalism, which is something that as an actor and director I’ve been focused on almost entirely. I’m always interested in working with people who want to involve plot and genre in their work. That’s what I wanted to do with Amy, is make a genre movie. So the body in the trunk was a strong kickoff for that. As for the horror thing, I don’t know, I never really watched a lot of horror movies. But it seems like a lot of new, young, creative type of energy is going towards horror and I’m starting to become excited about it and I’m starting to become more interested in it.
KS: I’ve always liked horror movies. It’s exciting for me to act in them. But I completely agree with Kentucker. I’m interested in… I had an acting teacher in college who, when we were freshman we we thought we were really great because we could say something and sound like a person. And he said naturalism, just being natural, is, like, step zero. Not even step one. Like, OK, you’ve gotten this far. Now you can start to actually act and make choices and do interesting things.
KA: Shit. I’m at step zero.
KS: No, no! I’m at step zero too. I don’t know how to do anything.
Wait, I mean both of the performances in this film are pretty across the board–
KS: Thank you.
KA: You thanked him before he said amazing.
I could’ve said anything.
KS: I was just thanking you for talking to me… But yeah, genre stuff is exciting to me.
Are you in a place where you want to just keep working with people that you know or do you want to branch out?
KA: I’m interested in branching out but…
KS: Branching out isn’t interested in me.
KA: Yeah, I just moved to New York and started to, for the first time, pursue acting outside of my friend’s films. And it’s incredibly daunting and soul-sucking. Already. Week one.
KS: Try week fifty-two.
There are a couple of upcoming projects I want to talk to you about. First of all, Kentucker, I want to give credit to NoBudge, because I think it’s a really incredible resource for microbudget filmmakers.
KA: Thanks for being aware of it. That’s my main thing. I’m not making any money off of it, but it’s the project I’m most passionate about all the time. It’s another important part of the process, curating other people’s movies and just seeing how other people make movies. And the bottom line is there are just so many movies that are great, quality films and are just lost. And I hope to put some of those back on the scope a little bit.
I want to talk about Ti West’s “The Sacrament,” which you’re both in, a little bit, because it sounds pretty crazy, or certainly a step forward in terms of budget with building giant sets in Georgia and all of this stuff. Anything you can say about that movie?
KS: Kentucker has a much larger role in the film than I do. The set looks incredible.
KA: Yeah, the set. It’s this completely built village in the middle of a field. I don’t know… They told us we’re not allowed to talk about it.
KS: They didn’t say anything to me! It was an amazing experience. I was on it for about a week, but I had a wonderful time.
KA: It was a millions of dollars movie, with trailers. As an actor, you’re pampered…
KS: It was very different.
KA: You had people drive you to set.
KS: And then you feel really silly because you’ve done all the other jobs on a film set and you’re like, I don’t need to eat before those people!
KA: They would drive you there and then they’re like, now you go sit in your trailer, now you go eat at this amazing buffet.
KS: The food was so good.
KA: I guess we’re not really saying anything.
Yeah, nothing really about the movie. But that’s the interesting thing about it too, though, that it’s this huge scaling up for you guys. It’s like the graduating class of the group of filmmakers that you guys work with, but on a multi-million dollar set. It’s a bigger budget genre movie, but with you guys, and Amy, and Joe Swanberg.
KA: Yeah, it’s a really weird thing to happen. And I’m just so eager to see how it will turn out. If it works, Jesus Christ, I’m going to be so happy. I’ve worked in a couple of horror movies now, but it was a really big struggle for me to find my way into that world. I worked with Adam Wingard on “V/H/S,” but that was just as a hooligan, breaking things, but here I had to sculpt some performance out of it and I was unfamiliar with the genre. I was hoping that that would be a selling point rather than a detractor, that I was bringing something fresh to the table, but that was definitely a struggle.
Did he show you guys any horror movies to get you into the mindset?
KS: We were there on Halloween and we watched “Halloween 3.” That was about it.
KA: I actually hadn’t seen any of Ti’s movies before we shot that. I saw “House of the Devil” right after we filmed and was like, shit! Maybe I should’ve tried harder. That was an amazing movie.
Also, Kate, as a huge fan of “The Color Wheel” I want to ask you about “The Traditions,” Alex Ross Perry’s HBO pilot that you’re in.
KS: Yeah… I think they were actually kind of mad at Alex for breaking the story.
That doesn’t surprise me.
KS: Yeah, HBO’s very tight-lipped. But he’s editing it now and we shot it in January. I was really proud of what we did. I think Alex is becoming very clear as an actor and a director. But I don’t think I’m supposed to say too much… (she pauses and pulls out her phone) Should I call Alex?
KA: You’re not going to write this unless we give you a big scoop, right? We gotta have a big scoop! Fuck!
Well, you have so many projects coming out, is there anything that you’re really excited about that you can talk about?
KA: We’re acting in a new movie together for Alison Bagnall, who wrote “Buffalo ’66.”
KS: “Funny Bunny.”
Right, that she did the Kickstarter for.
KA: Yeah, we got the money.
KS: We got the money.
KA: We could give a scoop on that. But it’s all on the Kickstarter page…
Kate, do you have any interest in writing and directing?
KS: Sort of, I co-wrote a movie that I’m in the process of making.
KA: “Sort of… Yeah, I made one.”
KS: Yeah. I wrote it with my boyfriend and we’re shooting it in Kentucky. It’s a Civil War movie. We shot like forty percent of it.
KA: That’s gonna be really good. It’s got all the good people in it. All the greats.
Who’s directing it?
KS: My boyfriend, Zachary Treitz. He made a short called “We’re Leaving” that played at festivals in 2011.