Exclusive Portraits of Stars at #Sundance2015 by Christopher Ferguson
Nicole Kidman of ‘Strangerland’
For her portrayal as a mother whose teens have disappeared right as a dust storm hits their Australian town, Kidman channeled her native roots—and didn’t have to spend time working on an accent. “I had a lot less work to do because of that,” she said. “Usually, I’ve got to put in hours and hours of work on dialect.”
Ben Mendelsohn, Analeigh Tipton and Ryan Reynolds of ‘Mississippi Grind’
The real-life poker players who shared scenes with Reynolds in the film about a gambling road trip were a source of inspiration for the actor. “We would go to pick-up games and sit with these guys for days on end—they have the most fascinating stories ever,” he said. “And we weren’t in fancy, upscale casinos. We were at the off-track betting sites and dog races.”
Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner of HBO's ‘It’s Me, Hilary: The Man That Drew Eloise’
Dunham and Konner co-produced the short documentary—which airs on March 23—about Hilary Knight, the artist behind the iconic Eloise books. “I’ve always been obsessed with Eloise, and I have an Eloise tattoo,” said Dunham. “Hilary found out about my tattoo and wrote me a letter, and then I went over to his house for dinner. It became quickly apparent to me that some work of art needed to be made about his life.”
Adrian Grenier of ‘52: The Search for the Loneliest Whale in the World’
Producing a documentary about the mysterious “52 Hertz” whale that lived its life in solitude wasn’t all that different from playing the role of a Hollywood star in Entourage, according to Grenier. “They’re both about brotherhood, connection, and not leaving your friends behind,” he said. With this film, “We want to bring people together and feel a sense of community,” Grenier added.
Jennifer Connelly of 'Aloft'
“It was very cold and stark, but kind of magnificent,” said Connelly of shooting the “very moving story about love and forgiveness between a mother and son” in the woods of Winnipeg, Canada. “We had cars nearby to run into and warm up when we couldn’t take it anymore.”
Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis of ‘Sleeping with Other People’
“The whole movie kind of hinges on the relationship between our two characters,” Brie said of the comedy about recovering sex addicts trying to maintain a platonic friendship. “You want to feel like the banter is genuine and that we’re genuinely enjoying each other’s company, which was so easy to do with Jason.”
Zachary Quinto, James Franco, and Charlie Carver of ‘I Am Michael’
The film “has a very unique way of exploring identity,” said Franco, who portrays former gay-rights advocate Michael Glatze on-screen. “As a creative person, my M.O. is to try to question the tacit understandings we have about who we are and to explore what it is to be human, so this was a great character to do that with.”
Rashida Jones of ‘Hot Girls Wanted’
“There’s a lot of shame around sexuality for women, and it’s time for that to be over,” said Jones, who produced the documentary about young women entering the world of amateur porn. The film “sheds light on an industry that is massively profitable, and it’s an opportunity to bring it up and let it bubble up into the mainstream so we can actually talk about it.”
Jason Segel of ‘The End of the Tour’
Segel took on the role of author David Foster Wallace in the film, which is based on Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky’s memoir detailing his five-day interview with the author in 1996. “He was a big influence on me and, I think, readers of the whole generation,” Segel said of Wallace, adding that the cast's main goal was "to try to tell the story properly."
Mamie Gummer and Mickey Sumner of 'The End of the Tour'
Sumner's favorite part of filming in Grand Rapids, MI, involved a trip for sweets with her co-star. "Jason Segel drove me through my first ever Krispy Kreme drive-thru, and I experienced Krispy Kreme for the first time in my life," she said.
Danny Elfman of ‘The End of the Tour’
“I just enjoyed writing the score and playing most of the music—it was heaven,” said Elfman, who made a special deal with director James Ponsoldt when he took on the film. “A silver dollar was in my contract. I have it on my counter at home.”
Kellan Lutz, Winona Ryder, and Peter Sarsgaard of ‘Experimenter’
To prep for his portrayal of actor William Shatner in the film about social psychologist Stanley Milgram’s 1961 obedience experiments, Lutz “read up on the studies that Milgram did, and the controversy behind it all,” he said. “I’m fascinated by the human nature of why and how we make our decisions,” Lutz added.
Sarah Silverman of ‘I Smile Back’
When the comedian took on the dramatic role of a troubled suburban housewife, she found herself in unfamiliar territory. “I didn’t have a bag of tricks to rely on,” she said of being on the set. “It wasn’t something where I could improvise or say, ‘Trust me, I know how this works—I’m the comedian.’”
Alexander Skarsgard of ‘The Diary of a Teenage Girl’
While filming the coming-of-age story about a teenage girl in the 1970s, Skarsgard had to look the part. “I was walking around San Francisco for a little over a month with a mustache and long sideburns,” he said. “We even used a curling iron to curl my hair a little bit.”
Bel Powley of 'The Diary of a Teenage Girl'
“I definitely had to tap back into my 15-year-old self,” Powley said of playing a teen exploring her sexuality in the film. “I think every girl and woman can relate to what she feels and how she acts.”
Ethan Hawke, Avan Jogia, Hailee Steinfeld, and Emilie Hirsch of ‘Ten Thousand Saints’
“It was really interesting for me to play the parent in my own generation’s story,” said Hawke. “In 1986, I was exactly the same age these kids are supposed to be, so it was hypnotic because of how much that moment in time speaks to me.”
Keanu Reeves, Lorenza Izzo, and Ana de Armas of ‘Knock, Knock’
During its 25-day shoot in Chile, the cast got a bit stir-crazy on set of the film about two women determined to ruin a happily married man’s life. “The movie took place entirely inside the house, so we were stuck inside the whole time,” said Izzo. “It was a little tricky, because we didn’t get to go out much!”
Danner’s role as a widowed retiree taught her that dating drama never ends—but that doesn’t mean that the actress has experienced such tumult herself. “I’m doing it vicariously, because that hasn’t happened in my real life,” she said, adding that it's important to be open to new things at any age. “I have a terrible habit of closing in and looking for recluse. Luckily I like my own company, but sometimes that can be dangerous!”
Kevin Bacon of ‘Cop Car’
While filming in Colorado Springs, CO, nature took its toll. “We were out in the prairie with the tumbleweeds and tornadoes threatening, so it was certainly challenging,” said Bacon, who plays a sheriff whose car is driven off by two ten-year-old boys in the adventure story.
Chris Pine, Margot Robbie, and Chiwetel Ejiofor of ‘Z for Zachariah’
Shooting on an isolated farm in New Zealand was “very liberating,” Robbie said of filming the movie about survivors in a post-apocalyptic world. “Life was very simple—I’d spend all of my time in the house, which was in the middle of nowhere, and my phone didn’t even work.” Plus, on-set snacks were easy to find. “When you got hungry, you’d just pick an apple off the tree and eat it!”
Greta Gerwig of ‘Mistress America’
“We shot a lot in Times Square,” Gerwig said of filming the movie about a teenager’s wild adventures with her older step-sister in New York City. The set location played such a huge role that the film was almost named after it. “For a while, we were actually considering calling the movie Midtown,” Gerwig revealed.
Lola Kirke of ‘Mistress America’
“I was glad to be shooting in New York, because it was nice to be home,” said Kirke of filming in the city. “But, there’s something a little distracting about working in New York when you live there.”
Tye Sheridan and Ewan McGregor of ‘Last Days in the Desert’
While on location in the small town of Borrego Springs, CA, the cast bonded plenty off-camera. “There was only one resort in town, so everybody stayed there,” said Sheridan. “If you weren’t in the hot tub, you were usually playing over at the tennis courts.”
Tye Sheridan of ‘Last Days in the Desert,’ ‘The Stanford Prison Experiment,’ and ‘Entertainment’
“There were 12 of us on set at all times—all boys between the ages of 17 and 28,” said Sheridan of filming The Stanford Prison Experiment, a drama based on Dr. Philip Zimbardo’s 1971 study on the psychology of imprisonment. “We would hang out in the green room playing poker, and we were all wearing these weird one piece dresses and ‘70s wigs.”
Callan McAuliffe of ‘The Stanford Prison Experiment’
“It’s based on real life events, so our characters were loosely based on the people that were in the experiment,” McAuliffe said. “They gave me a massive long ponytail, and I had big aviators on. All I had to really do was be mean. I had a few lines here and there, but most of the time I was just hitting people with batons.”
Constance Zimmer, Cobie Smulders, Kevin Corrigan, and Brooklyn Decker of 'Results'
Smulders—who was pregnant while filming—had to hit the gym to look the part of a personal trainer in the movie. “I’d never been a big gym person before, especially with lifting weights,” she said. After shooting wrapped, “I felt so strong and empowered, and really capable of being able to physically handle any situation that would come my way.”
Julianne Nicholson of ‘Ten Thousand Saints’ and ‘The Red Road’
For her role as a hippie in Ten Thousand Saints, Nicholson had “long, crazy hair with a grey streak in the front,” she said. “I play a glass-blowing, Vermont-living, chain-smoking lady just doing her thing in 1988. It’s so completely different from anything I’ve ever done before.”
Jason Momoa of ‘The Red Road’
The second season of SundanceTV’s thriller about a small-town sheriff’s family will return with a bang in April. “We pick up right from after last season’s epic shoot out,” said Jason Momoa. “You get to see the repercussions and then, boom—it’s a year later.” Momoa reveals that there’s more drama to look forward to in the season premiere. “In that same episode we’re going to see a murder happen,” he said.
Johnny Knoxville of 'Being Evel'
“When I was four or five years old, it was the biggest thing when Evel Knievel was on television about to do a jump,” Knoxville (who produced the film) said of his lifelong appreciation for the famed daredevil. “He’s been such a huge influence on my life, and everyone else who grew up in the ‘70s. There would be no X-games without Evel.”
Ron Livingston, Rosemarie Dewitt, Brie Larson, and Jake Johnson of 'Digging for Fire'
“I wanted to play a character who is always ready for adventure,” Larson said of the improv film, which is about a couple adjusting to parenthood. “There was no script, so we got to create our own characters and do our own wardrobe. We’d basically show up on set, have some coffee, talk for a couple hours, and then shoot—but we didn’t know what we were doing.”
Christopher Abbott of 'James White'
Abbott quickly discovered the perks of working with Scott Mescudi—A.K.A. Kid Cudi—on the film about a young man helping to care for his ailing mother. “He was nice enough to bring me and (director) Josh Mond along to a show that he had in Syracuse,” Abbott said. “So, for the first time I hung out with him, I got to go to one of his concerts. I took the bus up there and everything—it was great.”
Makenzie Leigh of ‘James White’
“I think the film carries New York really well,” said Leigh. “It’s all extremely close-up, so it’s always in your face and it feels like New York in that way. It’s always confronting you with things that may make you second guess who you think you are.”
Nikki Reed of ‘Catdance Film Festival’
“I’ve actually worked with a few cats in films, and it’s quite challenging,” said Reed, who hosted Fresh Step’s third annual presentation of cat-inspired short films in its campaign to help shelters find forever homes for felines. “Cats are very independent. They like to do their own thing, and they don’t really care about being movie stars.”
The Cast of 'Me & Earl & the Dying Girl'
While shooting the film about two high school friends—one of whom is suffering from leukemia—in Pittsburgh for two months, the young cast went to baseball games and “just hung out,” said Katherine Hughes. “We went salsa dancing one night, and that was the best night ever.
Melissa Rauch of ‘The Bronze’
“There’s a fascination with gymnastics and how it affects the psyche of a young girl,” said Rauch, who starred, produced, and co-wrote the film about an American gymnast who won the bronze medal for the women’s gymnastics team in 2004. “It’s mind-blowing—we had gymnasts on the set who are 20 years old and talking about being in retirement.”
Adam Scott of ‘The Overnight’
“You don’t choose your friends as much anymore when you have kids,” said Scott, whose character tries to build a new social life in the film. “The other adults you spend most of your time with are people that your children have chosen for you, which isn’t something I anticipated when I became a parent.”
Jason Schwartzman of ‘The Overnight’
Schwartzman became involved in The Overnight, a sex comedy that follows the antics of two couples living in Los Angeles, unexpectedly. “I found out about the movie very last minute,” he said, adding that the suddenness made it all the more exciting. “It was 24 hours before I started shooting, and there was something exhilarating about the fact that I liked the script and that it had to be done in 24 hours.”
The Cast of 'Zipper'
When filming the movie about a political sex scandal, some scenes were harder to shoot than others. “Patrick and I had a car scene that may have taken 12 hours,” said Penelope Mitchell. “It was really hot and intimate, and we did so many takes.” But it was worth the effort, according to Mitchell. “We got some beautiful material out of it,” she said.
Saoirse Ronan of 'Brooklyn' and 'Stockholm, Pennsylvania'
Filming Brooklyn in the Irish town of Enniscorthy was a trip down memory lane for the actress, who was raised nearby. “Some of the extras in the film were girls and guys that I played basketball with when I was a kid, or they went to school in the next village,” she said. “I had grown up with a lot of them. It was basically my personal life and working life crossing over in a dramatic way.”
Cobie Smulders and Gail Bean of 'Unexpected'
“I didn’t want to ask Cobie to run lines with me, because I didn’t want to be that new actress who didn’t know what she was doing,” Bean said of working on the film about balancing motherhood with a career. “On our first day of filming, I was running lines under my breath and she sat down behind me. When I got up to leave, she said, ‘Hey Gail Bean, want to run lines?’ From then on, I knew she was going to be cool.”
Chanel Iman, Shameik Moore, and Kiersey Clemons of ‘Dope’
When filming the comedy about a tough neighborhood's teens who are obsessed with ‘90s hip-hop, “there was always a food truck on set,” said Iman. “I couldn’t stop eating, and they were always pulling me from the food truck to go to set. They knew exactly where to find me!”
Kate Dickie, Ralph Ineson, and Anya Taylor-Joy of 'The Witch'
“A lot of my part is really strange,” said Dickie of her role in the 17th-century horror film set in New England. “I had to breastfeed a raven, which was probably the strangest thing I’ve ever done. It was pretty terrifying—they had to put protective breastplates on me!”
Michael Shannon of ’99 Homes’
To play a merciless real estate broker in the film, Shannon had to understand his character's actions and mindset. “I think he enjoys what he does, but I don’t think he is completely immune to feeling sorry for people,” Shannon said. “He’s aware that what he does has negative consequences for other people, I just don’t think he sees another way to survive.”
Suraj Sharma and Tony Revolori of ‘Umrika’
Revolori had to learn more than just a new language when prepping for his role as an Indian chasing the American Dream. “There are a lot of movements and mannerisms that it was very hard to get,” he said. “I only had three days in India to prep, so it was difficult.”
Kodi Smit-McPhee of ‘Slow West’
While shooting the nineteenth-century drama about a teen searching for his former girlfriend in the American West, “We would listen to classic ‘80s songs in between takes,” said Smit-McPhee. “It was very funny to me that we were in a western film listening to ‘80s music. It was enjoyable.”
Maddison Brown of ‘Strangerland’
Brown turned 17 while filming in Australia, and also celebrated another milestone: getting her driver’s license. “I passed with flying colors on my first go,” she said. And co-star Nicole Kidman was there to congratulate her—and joke around. “She was like, ‘Watch out everyone, Maddison’s on the road. Get off the road!’”
Stephanie Allynne, Jermaine Clement, and Jessica Williams of ‘People, Places, Things’
Clement’s co-stars were impressed with the actor’s comedic chops on set of the film about a separated New Yorker trying to create a new life post-split. “He can say the funniest thing under his breath, and not even stop the scene,” said Stephanie Allynne. Co-star Williams tried to dish the humor right back. “I would try to make him laugh a lot, and it felt so good when I was able to,” she said.