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Amy Seimetz swears her long of credits from some of the most important movies of the last few years is just a fluke. "It might look more impressive than it actually is," she says of a resume that includes festival favorites Tiny Furniture, The Myth of the American Sleepover, Wristcutters: A Love Story and Gabi on the Roof in July. "I did a lot of small parts, and that's like two days of my life." But that argument falls apart when it comes to The Off Hours, an indisputable starring role for Seimetz in which she plays Francine, a waitress at a diner in rural Oregon who has been spinning her wheels for the last ten years of her life, rooming with her foster brother (Monsters's Scoot McNairy) who has a crush on her and staying up too late at rock shows. A chance encounter with a truck driver who stops at her diner (Ross Patridge) develops into a strange kind of friendship, eventually giving Francine the courage to look beyond her small-town life.
Though Seimetz has been living in Los Angeles and working as an actor for several years, she hails from small-town Florida, a background she said inspired her to take on a character like Francine. She developed the character alongside director Megan Griffiths well before she was even cast, and once shooting began in the Seattle suburbs she and the rest of the crew slipped into a nocturnal rhythm befitting the characters, all of them working night shifts and existing outside normal human existence. Griffiths will be traveling to Sundance for The Off Hours's premiere this Saturday, an experience she likens to, of all things, a snake-wrangling festival in Texas. "I'll bet their friends think they're totally nuts outside of this festival. But when you go to that festival, it's like celebrated and it's normal, and all of them are living the same life. It's kind of like a film festival."
The film feels very written but also very loose and natural. Was there improvisation to capture that feel?
It was really well written, so there was really no need to [improvise]. Megan cast accordingly, fitting in the pieces, people who could perform in a very naturalistic way. I think all of our instincts were that if we didn't believe ourselves, then we'd want to do it again. I have to give Megan credit for that.
What was the place you were filming in actually like? Was this a real diner that you just took over? And how was it doing so much filming at night?
We had actual truckers stop thinking it was a real diner, because the production designer Ben Blankenship did such a great job with the design. It looked like a full-functioning diner. It had been sitting there for a while. It had seen better days before we got in there. Also your body goes into this nocturnal, cerebral mode, so everyone was in that zone. Everyone had this mood that I think translates on to the screen
How much did you get involved in building the details of the character?
We had a lot of conversations, even before I was cast. I think that's probably why I got cast. I had been spending a lot of time at home in Florida, and hanging out a lot with friends of mine who stayed in town. Not necessarily them but friends of theirs would tell me these stories about these crazy, very bad decisions that they would make. I realized their jobs are such that they're bored, and they're making their decisions based on boredom. I felt very drawn to that character in terms of feeling stuck or not being able to see outside of your small town and not being able to see how it's possible to get outside of it. By no means do I mean to say that's an existence that's so horrible, because if you can surrender yourself to being comfortable and being happy where you are, that's like a dream of mine.
It's like the opposite of what actors do.
I know. I'm constantly moving. So it's actually, it's fantastic if you can find peace within that. But Francine wants something more. She's excited by new characters, excited by people who have seen outside this small town. We talked a lot about that. Physically, my input was just "I think she's wear a lot of eyeliner." You can take a simple thing like that and create a character.
Because she's in a small town, but she goes to shows, her brother is in a band. She hangs out in that way, and I think she has an interest in that punk rock sort of scene. I think she thinks she looks really good with a lot of eyeliner on. Even if she washes her face, if it's clean, there should be smudges of eyeliner on there.
And that seems like something a male director wouldn't think about.
Yeah, and it would be something I would fight for, and he'd say "It doesn't matter, we need to go!"
Did you want to tell this story because you know people like this, and these kinds of stories don't often get told at the movies?
Yeah, definitely. I personally am always drawn to stories about characters you don't necessarily see. This is probably a more common story than lots of other stories that get told. Boredom can be really interesting--that's what I realized doing this and exploring it thematically. Boredom is usually what spurs either bad decisions or any decision at all. If you're constantly moving you can get in a monotony that's just as equally boring as sitting still for a long period of time.
You do seem to be consciously sticking in the indie world, in a way you don't often see from a lot of actors who wind up having a lot of random credits. You seem to be making specific choices.
The way I looked at it for a long time is that I'm a developing artist. I've gotten a lot more comfortable with the audition process, but there's something that really turned me off initially when I was younger, to auditioning. The idea that I couldn't get to the person that was actually making the film really frustrated me. I couldn't have a conversation with them about what we would actually be doing. It starts to feel a little bureaucratic in a way.
The definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. That to me is what I saw happening in L.A. I get asked this a lot-- "Do you have any interest in studio films? If you just went up to any random person and said, "Do you want to be in this massive movie"-- who's going to say no? It's not that I'm doing it because I'm anti, or I hate Hollywood movies. It's just, as an artist, you work with the tools you have in front of you, and these are the tools I have in front of me.