The Girlfriend Experience's Amy Seimetz on Season 2, Redefining the Limited Series, and Her Role on Stranger Things

Amy Seimetz
Photo: Smallz & Raskind/Getty Images

We'd tell you to meet Amy Seimetz, but you probably know her already.

You might know her as one of the brilliant creative minds behind the acclaimed anthology series The Girlfriend Experience, or you may recognize her from her role as Eleven’s Aunt Becky Ives on Stranger Things, but even if you're familiar with her work, you should pay attention to how the indie film director is making her mark on the small screen. Seimetz is continuing as a co-director (and counterpart to Lodge Kerrigan) on TGE’s second season.

The show, which made waves last year as the TV adaptation of Steven Soderbergh’s early 2000s movie by the same name, depicts the intricacies of life as a high-end escort, and this season Kerrigan and Seimetz are pushing boundaries even further: Each has written and directed a completely separate 30-minute, seven-episode series (both with equally varied storylines) that air in tandem.

When we caught up with Seimetz over the phone to talk all things escorts, she said splitting the series has allowed for freer, more “auteur-driven” stories that push the limits on the limited anthology series. “If you're going to press reset for the next season and you're going to have new characters, you might as well press reset on the whole format,” Seimetz said to InStyle. “And not only that, but also a new tone should be present so you can really show people what can be imagined and defy expectations.”

Catch the rest of Seimetz’s interview with InStyle below and find out where you can catch her exceptional work next (hint: a Donald Glover project may or may not be involved). And be sure to watch The Girlfriend Experience on STARZ.

The Girlfriend Expereince
The Girlfriend Experience/Facebook

Going back to the very beginning, what got you interested in telling the story of high-end escorts?

Well, Steven Soderbergh approached me to do the show cause he wanted to have two filmmakers, one male and one female, make the show. And he wanted indie filmmakers to do it, so he approached me about it and I said, "Sir, I came from independent film. I don’t necessarily know how to direct television.” But he told me that I could do whatever I wanted and that I didn't really need to know how to direct television to make it.

What do you think the show gains by having a male director and a female director work on separate storylines?

I think this format allows viewers to understand what direction is and how each director can mold something into his or her own work.

What did you want to achieve this season?
I feel like a lot of shows in limited series don't really redefine what the title is—American Horror Story does it a little bit, but it's still within the same horror genre. And I feel like, with a limited series and one title, you can really push the boundary and do whatever genre you want.

What inspired your focal shift from escorts in corporate offices to a more western feel?

I was inspired by science fiction, thrillers, and American westerns. I wanted to do some genre bending to play with the tropes of each. So I moved away from the world of sealed hotel rooms and corporate offices that we explored last season and go into a landscape that's a little more wild and open. That’s why I chose New Mexico as the landscape and decided to make the character feel like she doesn't belong in this very planetary atmosphere.

Was there a particular episode that you really enjoyed shooting?
My favorite episodes are three and four. I feel like once you hit episode three, everything sort of clicks. And the tone treads into a very gray area because everyone's intentions are in conflict with one another. I think they might make people feel a little bit uncomfortable.

Why do you think fans are so hooked on this show?
It's more honest. I think anyone that's been in a sexually charged situation knows that it's all about communication, but that can be murky sometimes. You might be wondering, "Is this person trying to make sexual advances at me?” “Does this person like me?" Having your own agency within those situations and understanding where your own boundaries are is very important for women and for men. It’s not always cut and dry.

Is that what you want people to take away from watching the show?

Yeah, I think it's always about agency. At least in my episodes, I deal with a lot of situations where it's not clear what consent means. When you watch, you’re trying to figure out who has the power and whether or not people are giving equal consent. I think exploring that and bringing up that discussion is extremely important. Early on, before I started working on this, I made sure to talk to [my lead actress] Carmen Ejogo about this and also about exploring your own identity. How to define yourself when people are projecting different identities onto you was a very important thing for me.

You’ve also worked with Ejogo on Alien: Covenant and you’ve co-stared with the lauded cast of Stranger Things in your role as Eleven’s Aunt Becky. Is there anyone you'd like to work with that you haven't yet?

As a writer-director, I make my own content, so not necessarily as a writer-director. As an actor, Yorgos Lanthimos (director of The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer). I'm just obsessed with his movies. And my dream come true would be to do a movie with Claire Denis because she's just a queen. And Kelly Reichardt—her being a Florida girl, me being a Florida girl—I'd love to collaborate on something some day.

What was it like on set for Stranger Things

It's very fun. The Duffer Brothers are great. At first I didn't know what it was, but I really liked the fantastical elements of it and, of course, had a girl crush on Winona [Ryder] 'cause who doesn't? She's really lovely. And I fell in love with my crew and also with Aimee Mullins who plays Terry Ives. She's just one of the most intelligent and funny human beings. It's so great when you get to meet somebody that you're like, "Okay, great. I've just made a new friend and we're going to be friends for life," as opposed to, "That person was nice to work with, I'll probably never talk to them again."

In addition to that, Millie is just brilliant. She's very, very attune to what she's doing, which I was not when I was her age. I didn't know what the hell I wanted to do back then.

Amy Seimetz Stranger Things Embed
Courtesy Netflix

Do you think working on Stranger Things has influenced your other work?

No. I mean, I love is that the Duffer brothers’ work is so different than mine. Stranger Things is so unlike anything that I would direct, which makes it a treat to experience as an actor. I also like to watch stuff that isn't in my wheelhouse as a director—stuff that is so unlike me that it takes me away like Rick and Morty or even The Good Place, which is another comedy, and Atlanta. I was actually very lucky to get to go on and direct a few episodes of Atlanta this coming season.

That must've been a really fun experience.

Oh my god, that show is so brilliant and Donald and Hiro are magnificent creators, so I'm very lucky. Half the reason I agreed to do it is that they said, "We just want you to bring whatever you have to the table.” What they've created is this amazing storyline where each episode feels like its own story even though there's a backbone to it. It’s brilliant and so well-executed.

What is your directing style is like?

I'm a big believer that the whole movie or show is made in pre-production. You have your locations, you have your actors, you have your lenses—you have everything. So once you get on set, it's play time.

Do you find that you prefer writing and directing to acting?

I developed all of those skill sets together. I started acting when I was learning to direct and write for film, so it all came out of the same intent to tell stories and evoke emotion whether it was through words, performance, direction, or camera angles. I think it helps that I know how to direct when I'm acting because I try to trust what the director is saying and understand that they have their own specific vision. And as a director, it really helps that I know what it feels like to be the actor who's asked to do certain things that you don't necessarily understand or agree with. So I think they all feed into each other.

What would you say is the hardest part of your job right now?
Time management and blank pages that I have to write something on.

What do you do when you need to find some inspiration?

Deadlines certainly help, but as much as I love my friends in L.A. and New York, I don't particularly find either one of those cities conducive to writing. I find my hometown in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Florida interesting. I think any location where there's actual life going on that has nothing to do with making a movie is much more interesting and inspiring to me.

What kind of challenges and obstacles did you have to face to get to this point?

I mean, making movies for no money is not necessarily the easiest thing and that's the world that I came from. I think though, for young filmmakers, it’s learning to take yourself and your voice seriously and feeling like it's worth putting in the effort. You also have to understand that no one's going to give you permission to do something, you have to give yourself permission. You have to hone the attitude that you’re going to do this for yourself and for your work that you're going to do it whether or not someone gives you the go ahead.

Do you think that it was hard for you specifically to overcome those personal roadblocks more so because you're a woman coming up in this industry?

In some ways, yes, but in other ways, no. I come from a very, very strong-minded mother—she's great, super smart and empowered me to always understand that I'm intelligent. So for a long time, I just braved through life just being like, "This is what I'm going to do." I still believe in my own intelligence, even if I’m in uncomfortable situations where my intelligence is questioned. I stand my ground and believe that what I have to say is worth being said.

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