Film & TV

Actor Amy Seimetz on How Death Made Directing Seem Easy

Film & TV

Actor Amy Seimetz on How Death Made Directing Seem Easy

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Amy Seimetz has been pretty busy—she’s Chris O’Dowd’s love interest on the Christopher Guest/HBO series Family Tree, recently co-starred in Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color, and has numerous other projects on the horizon. But she’s still managed to crank out her first narrative feature, Sun Don’t Shine. Set in the seediest, seamiest version of aestival Florida ever committed to film, the low-budget thriller follows a guilt-riddled couple (Kate Lyn Sheil and Kentucker Audley) as they drive along the Gulf Coast with some pretty incriminating evidence bouncing around in the trunk of their car. Though Seimetz had just taken a red-eye from Vancouver, where she’s currently shooting episodes for The Killing, she mustered enough inner sunshine to eagerly chat with us about her sensational Florida childhood, dealing with death, and what humidity sounds like.

Sun Don’t Shine captures something about Florida that I’ve felt, but have never seen in a film before.
Before I wrote the script, I was piecing together visuals and sounds that indicated what it felt like to be in Florida in the summer. Damp, sweaty, gross. You feel dirty all the time, like you can’t take enough showers. Even getting out of the shower, you feel dirty again because the humidity just clings to you. And if humidity made a sound—and I explicitly said this to the composer, the DP, everyone—it would be this buzzy, bass-y drone. As a teenager, I’d ride around with boys who had, like, the souped-up speakers in their cars, knowing I wasn’t supposed to be there. That drone would vibrate through your body, reinforcing that feeling. You could feel it to your core.

And the violence?
Florida’s a very violent place. I mean, you can walk on the street and be fine, but nobody walks anywhere in Florida anyway. There’s an aggression that I haven’t found anywhere else. In California, it’s passive aggression. In New York, people get it out by yelling. And then in Florida it’s scary because no one says anything—they just do violent things.

Where do you think that comes from?
I think the heat makes you crazy. The crime rates in certain areas are, like, the worst in the country. I didn’t realize this until I moved away, but the end to an argument isn’t always a fist fight. And then there’s all the crime stories that come out of Florida, the strange, bizarre characters.

The face-eater, the seven people who killed that one guy.
Casey Anthony. And usually serial killers make a stop in Florida. It’s, like, on their tour. I always joke that people are either escaping to or from Florida, on vacation or running from the law. And then the kidnappings! So many kidnappings. I felt like I was going to get kidnapped all the time. My elementary school teacher told us that the men trying to kidnap you might actually like it if you screamed, so you should do something weird like blow snot in their face to throw them off so you can get away.

What were the biggest challenges in making a narrative feature?
I hate saying this, but it came out pretty easy. I did it at a time when there was a lot of death in my family and nothing, in a film sense, seemed hard. It made me fearless in these other realms. Like asking for money: All they can say is no. All you can do is make a bad movie and who cares—there’s tons of bad movies out there.

You’ve worked with Kate Lyn Sheil and Kentucker Audley before. Let’s talk a bit about how you got them involved.
I wrote the script specifically for them both. Kate I knew from Silver Bullets—we worked on that for like two-and-a-half years. She’s demure, delicate. But she’s incredibly complicated: She likes to be the wallflower, but when you tell her to perform, she goes 100%. She also has that bass-y vibration going on behind her eyes when she gets emotional. And we both love films with explosive performances by women. Kentucker I met a long time ago at SXSW; I was in his film Open Five. He’s a strange dude: evasive, elusive, alluring, incredibly charming, and looks like a scruffy young Paul Newman. And he allows ridiculous things to come out of his mouth in this natural, tumble-y way that’s very southern.

Was any of the film improvised?
There’s certain lines I needed them to say, but I wasn’t a stickler. Part of the reason I brought anyone into the project is because they’re a good storyteller. They know the tone, so they know what to do.

You shot on 16mm. How come?
We wanted to evoke a seventies feeling—I had been looking at Two-Lane Blacktop and A Woman Under the Influence. We wanted to capture this new form of Americana, of the road trip. We needed something textured that had a life of its own, and the grade of film is much more vast than digital. We were shooting at high noon and I didn’t want white skies with a well-lit face. I wanted to see a grade.

How do you feel about the film now?
I love it; it’s so personal. There are meditations on death that are directly from my life. You can be as intellectual as you want about death, but internally there’s a survival mechanism that makes you not feel it. You have to deny it to keep going, which is kind of the point of the movie: To keep going, they have to deny there’s that thing in the back of the truck. You’re supposed to let go, but when you lose somebody, suddenly there’s something that needs to be solved, a mystery. You’re supposed to stop everything and be like, “I can’t go to work right now. I have to solve why human beings die.”

You’re in Christopher’s Guest’s new HBO series Family Tree. How did that come about?
He’d seen stuff I’d done and then I went in and just talked to him. That’s it. It was one of the strangest jobs I’ve ever gotten. I didn’t even audition. Well, there was a casting director involved. [laughs] But in my fairytale world, Chris Guest is going through Netflix movies and is like, “Oh, who’s this girl!”

Photo by Jeff Vespa/Contour by Getty Images.