by Patricia Grandjean
Dec 20, 2012
01:05 PMBox Office
First Q&A: Meg Guzulescu
Barry Wetcher/ © 2011 PARAMOUNT VANTAGE, A DIVISION OF PARAMOUNT PICTURES. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Meg Guzulescu as Evelyn in "Not Fade Away."
At age 9, Meg Guzulescu was already a veteran of stage musicals, having performed in 28 cities over 16 months as “Young Cosette” in the Broadway tour of Les Misérables. Seven years, a couple more Broadway credits (Billy Elliot; Gypsy) and several regional-theater and TV roles later, Guzulescu—also a veteran of the dean’s list at Choate in Wallingford—makes her movie debut in Not Fade Away, writer-director David Chase’s coming-of-age tale. It's in limited release Dec. 21.
We talked about her exciting new role—and other future plans and dreams—in October.
How did you get cast in Not Fade Away?
My first audition was during my freshman year, when I was 14. I was starting high school and had decided to focus on academics and not go out for any auditions. But then this movie came up, looking for an actress who dances. I thought, “How often does that happen?” So I thought just this once I’d try out, not expecting anything to come of it. But after three months of callbacks, I got the role.
Tell us what the movie is about.
It’s set in the 1960s, and centers around my teenaged brother, Douglas Damiano (John Magaro)—his family life and his rock band’s struggle for fame. I play his younger sister, Evelyn, who’s also the film’s narrator. She’s kind of the story’s objective observer, who’s watching and commenting on the troubles within the family and the turbulence of the times.
The movie really encompasses a lot of different themes, including the political and social changes of the era and parent-child relationships—the experience of watching your child grow up with so much more than you had and the jealousy and resentment that can come with that. And it offers a new perspective on the ’60s, in my opinion, really raw and honest.
How does the movie's take on the '60s differ from what you've seen before?
I find that a lot of films like to glorify that era, and obviously it was a wonderful time. I like to say popular music, some of the most groundbreaking musicians, were at their peak then. But there was so much twisted social conflict, particularly related to the Civil Rights movement.
I did a lot of research to really immerse myself in that time period, and found the social changes and turbulence pretty fascinating. This script incorporates a lot of little subtleties—like the influence of the Vietnam War draft—that were very revealing.
How many years does the plot cover?
About four years.
When the story begins, Evelyn is 12—so she ages to 16?
Yes, it's actually a huge age gap. That was very interesting to play.
Some of the advance reviews I’ve read see it as a comedy, others a drama. How would you describe it?
That's a tough question, but I see it as both. I think Molly Price, who plays my mother, personifies the relationship between the movie’s humor and sadness. I probably laughed the most watching her scenes and the things her character came out with. She’s hilarious, but there’s also a very sad undercurrent there. It’s certainly not your typical feel-good comedy. People are probably going to walk out thinking harder than they laugh.
There’s a lot of ’60s music on the soundtrack—did you discover any new bands?
Yeah! I’ve always known the Beatles and the Stones, but I’d never heard the Kinks before—I love them. I was listening to them last night doing homework. And Gil Scott-Heron, who’s considered the father of rap. I got to dance to his song “Me and the Devil" during the audtion process, but you won’t see me dance to it onscreen, because they changed the song for that particular scene several times.
Another big part of ’60s pop culture was fashion. How did you like wearing the clothes?
I loved it; it was hilarious. I wore some of the silliest costumes, and some really cool ones that I wish I could get away with now. I wore go-go boots that were super fun. I also had these pants that everyone laughed at when I walked onto the set—they were red, yellow and green in this absurd pattern, and of course they were high-waisted.
This was David Chase's first feature film as a director. How was he to work with?
Obviously, it was intimidating coming on the set with the guy who was so renowned for "The Sopranos." But he was very nice and so supportive—he gave us guidance but didn't force anyone into giving the performance he wanted. So it was a wonderful experience. It was particularly fun to watch him work with James Gandolfini, because they have such a long relationship and get along so well.
The cast is pretty impressive. Did you bond with anyone in particular?
I learned so much from James. I was worried that I’d be working with this scary mob boss who would hit me if I didn’t say my lines right, but he's really such a kind man.
I got advice every day while working on my scenes; everyone was so generous with their pearls of wisdom. I would come home every day after filming and write it all down because I didn’t want to forget a thing they said.
What other actors do you admire?
One of my all-time favorites is Al Pacino. But it's ever-changing with me; it’s usually the person I’ve seen most recently that I’m obsessed with. I just saw the French film The Intouchables, and thought the lead, François Cluzet, was magnificent. I have trouble at times picking out certain actors, because I so closely associate them with the particular character they've played in a film.
You were at the New York Film Festival recently, where Not Fade Away was the Centerpiece Gala selection. That must have been exciting.
I've done a lot of theater in the past and some TV work, but that was my first premiere and obviously the first time I saw myself on film, which was really weird!
How did you get started as an actor?
When I was younger I used to go see shows at the Goodspeed, Oakdale and Bushnell all the time with my parents. I never "saw" myself on stage; never thought it was possible. But then I started doing plays at the Hartford Children's Theatre. At 8, I went on my first audition—just on a whim—and got hired for a national tour in Les Misérables, which covered 28 cities over 16 months. That led me to Broadway, where I performed in Patti Lupone's Gypsy and the original cast of Billy Elliott.
Your tour with Les Miz must have required incredible discipline.
It was incredible, and I think I was at the perfect age to appreciate that experience, because I was in the third grade and able to visit all the states I was studying in school. We went on field trips every week with the show, so I was exposed to all these different cities and people.
What was the most important thing you learned from that experience?
I think work ethic, and the level of maturity required to work with a cast of adults. It was a full-time job, eight shows a week, so it definitely helped me to mature.
What has been your favorite stage experience thus far?
I think Billy Elliot. It was fantastic to be part of the original cast because I participated in the creative process, building the show from the ground up. It wasn’t like being inserted into a show that was already established. It was really being molded and created around me.
What's the most embarrassing thing that's happened to you onstage?
[Laughs] There's a number of answers to that, unfortunately! I would say, when my skirt fell down during the opening number of Billy Elliott. I have no idea what happened—I'm pretty sure it was buttoned up properly. But I was able to pick it up quickly; I don't think too many people noticed. And I was wearing a leotard, so it wasn't too bad.
Well, my only acting experience of note was playing a dwarf in the chorus of our sixth grade class play, inspired by Norse mythology. In the middle of our big musical production number, which was a working song, the top of the hammer I was hammering with—actually, a mini Clorox bottle stuck atop a ruler—came loose and flew across the stage. So I ran and got it. That, I'm pretty sure everyone noticed.
But you know, that was a good instinct!
Why, thank you. There are big differences between film and theater, aren't there . . .
Absolutely. Obviously, the stage is a lot bigger, while film is more intimate. The camera can be very close to you, just inches away from your face. So film picks up a lot of subtleties, while you need to project more on stage.
And a theater performance is so "immediate," you get instant gratification when you're in front of an audience. But that means there's also a lot of pressure. A film is all process until it's released.
Do you prefer the nightly feedback or the longer process?
I can't say I prefer one over the other, but I definitely appreciate the opportunity to have both. The immediate response of an audience is gratifying, but on a movie set you get that from your director and cast mates. I feel like the relationship between cast mates on a movie is more intimate in a lot of respects; but you don't rehearse for months with the other actors like you do on a stage show.
There is a lot more “down time” between scenes on a movie set, too, right?
Yes, there is. But they manage to keep you busy. I would go off-set and Skype my classes. Choate is very flexible, so during my down times class is often where I'd be. I had a friend in every course who would bring in a laptop so I could do that—I’d be sitting there in my costume and ’60s hair and I’d raise my hand and the teacher would call on me. It was incredible.
So, do you think you’ll be acting the rest of your life?
I certainly hope so. But I’m focusing on school and the college process right now. I have my PSATs this weekend and my SATs next month.
What are you studying at Choate?
I have a pretty standard curriculum. I'm taking AP French and love it, but I'm also really interested in math and sciences. I'm taking biology and I'm interested in biochemistry. I also love creative writing—I would actually love to write plays and screenplays eventually. So I haven't quite managed to narrow down my interests yet.
Are you thinking yet about where you'd like to go to college?
My dream school is definitely Yale. It's close enough to home that I'll be able to see my dog frequently. The course options are incredible and the teachers are some of the best. I just think it's a beautiful school with a great history.
Does Choate offer opportunities to develop your acting skills?
Choate's got a wonderful theater department. It's really diverse; they have one course that's "Acting in French." Maybe I'll take that next year.
I've received a lot of guidance from Tracy [Ginder-Delventhal], the head of the department. She's taught me a lot about how to break down scripts. I did Pride and Prejudice with her in my sophomore year; I played one of the Bennet sisters. But with the film and the commitments that came with that, I didn't go out for other plays because I didn't want to miss rehearsals.
Any dream roles you'd love to play?
A recent favorite musical of mine is Next to Normal. I think it's fantastic, and the premise is really unique. Natalie would definitely be a dream role of mine.First Q&A: Meg Guzulescu