Nothing makes a movie more memorable than an actor or actress with diversity, so anyone seeing films at the LA Film Fest 2014 should remember the name Haley Lu Richardson. As a legitimate powerhouse acting double threat, Richardson has not one but two amazing and totally different performances in two separate films in the fest and they’re both equally captivating to watch. In the touching film "The Young Kieslowski," Richardson plays a sweet and charming college student who finds herself in love, pregnant and wanting to keep the baby despite heavy-duty obstacles. By contrast in the dark and brooding flick "The Well," Richardson plays a survivalist kick ass gal who hides her emotions to endure a barren landscape filled with no water, but plenty of wicked bad guys. (Think Mad Maxine with water in for gas!) Both performances have a layered life and show a range that is surprising for an actress so young. (She was only seventeen when she shot "The Well!") In any case we were so blown away by her roles in the films at this year’s fest that we had to highlight the work and get some insight. So below is a candid chat with the surprisingly humble and down-to earth Richardson, whom we believe is a performer to watch for. Great work should always be saluted – here’s...
First off, what’s it like to have two films featuring two very different roles in this year’s LA Film Fest?
Haley Lu Richardson: It’s pretty insane. It’s an honor, but I didn’t realize how scary and nerve wracking it was going to be to see these movies with an audience of people. But it’s something I’ve never experienced – I’ve never had a movie that I was such a big part of premiere at any film festival. This is one of the biggest things that has ever really happened for me. Again, it’s an honor, but I’m scared out of my mind. (Laughs)
The challenge of Leslie in "The Young Kieslowski" is to make a weary Brian fall for her in the space of a single night – how much of a challenge was it to convey her more compelling characteristics in such a short amount of time?
HR: She’s definitely not a cool girl so I think she tries to play off that she’s more independent then she really is - inside she’s nuts. But it really does happen quick because these are two characters who have never been in love. And that whole thing was just written really well. Kerem (Sanga, writer/director) wrote that whole montage of that night, so when we filmed it, it just played into us believing and the audience believing that we were actually falling in love. But you don’t even have to really know what something’s like to envision yourself in those shoes - I don’t even know if I had ever fallen in love with a guy before I filmed that movie. I definitely felt a glimpse of what it could be like for a person to do that and I think that’s part of it. Not making it a real thing that happens to me Haley, but making it a real thing that happens for the character and it worked so well.
Being so young, both yourself and the character, what was it like to portray the various aspects of having a baby?
HR: No matter how old you are, no matter where you are in life, you could be fourteen and pregnant or you could be thirty and pregnant and not ready to have a baby. It was a scary thing to go to that place, especially because it’s something that happens all the time and could happen. But it was insane. When I filmed that movie I’d never obviously been pregnant and playing a college student I had never been to college even. It just goes back to acting and being able to bring yourself to the character. Though a lot of things felt really real, which was weird. I was walking around with that pregnant belly on for most of the movie and it was thirty-two pounds. Kerem made me walk up and down the stairs a hundred times before we did some scenes just so I would have the posture of a pregnant woman.
I’m a huge James Le Gros fan and you had such a wonderful rapport with him as father and daughter – what was he like to work with?
HR: I learned a lot from that guy. He knows himself and he came into the movie confident and that’s something that I am working on. Most of the time I go into a project doubting myself and it’s not because I don’t have self confidence, it’s just because it’s hard and you never know what to expect going into all these different projects. So I went into this project ready and prepared, but I doubted myself. And he came in, he’s a seasoned actor and he knows who he is. He came in confident with this character and it just was so easy to feed off him and have that specific father/daughter relationship and working with him was so cool and I learned a lot.
Leslie wears her heart on her sleeve, but by contrast Kendal in "The Well" has built up an emotional shield until she is forced to act – was it strange to portray characters that were such polar opposites?
HR: Yeah – it’s something I think about a lot. A lot of people get stereotyped into roles just from how they look and I have played such a variety of characters. I’m lucky because I had blonde hair for a while for this TV show I was doing – they had me dye my hair blonde – and every audition I was going out for was bleach blonde. The mean girl, the pretty girlfriend and the dumb cheerleader. They were all that same character and it got really tiring and so finally I dyed my hair back to a natural color so I wouldn’t have to deal with that. But I feel incredibly lucky that I got to play these two different characters and I think it’s made me a wiser and more mature actor.
Your work in "The Well" is quite complex and rich for someone so young – what was your secret?
HR: (Laughs) Well, if you talk to anyone else that was there while we were filming the movie they would tell you that I had no secret. I would be eating a doughnut and laughing at a joke two seconds before they said ‘rolling’. (Laughs) So I don’t know. I think the trick to doing something so heavy at least for me is not being heavy in between when your not filming. Because when you’re in a dark place for too long it gets tiring and for me doing that movie I had to be me - the happy person I am – so that when they said action I could want to go to that dark place and that hard shell. That’s something I think got me through that whole filming process for that movie.
The picture of you emerging out of a black pool of what looks to be oil is legendary – what was in there for real and what was it like to be covered in it for the remainder of the action filled finale?
HR: We were out and it was freezing where we were and there were dust storms and I was covered that black fake oil and I was cold. It was so awful...
But it looked so good!
HR: Well, thanks! I was impressed with the oil fights too. But going into that pool of oil and having to do multiple takes of that was so hard and tough. It was made of Canola oil, black Tempera paint and Hersey’s chocolate syrup, which is what was in my eyes and every crevasse of my body. Would I have rather been in actual crude oil? Maybe...(laughs)...was it really that much better then being in actual oil? I don’t know! I would probably say now that no one would be able to get me to do that again – unless they paid me ten million bucks! (Laughs)
Being a kick ass female character in "The Well" which did you prefer as the weapon of choice – shotgun or samurai sword?
HR: That shotgun went pretty fast, but the sword was epic and I felt so badass. And as a wrap gift production gave me a legitimate samurai sword and I keep it by my bed at night. And I feel protected and with that training I got making that movie it makes me feel like I’ve got a bodyguard. But something that saved me quite a few times that people forget about is that little hatchet that I throw around. But if I had to choose it would be the sword.
So what’s next for you?
HR: Next up I just finished a big round of TV stuff. I have a show "Ravenswood" on ABC Family and then I did the show "Awkward" and I did this other show that’s premiering. But now I’m going to be going to Cleveland and I’m doing a really awesome comedy where I’m playing an Olympic gymnast set in the world of gymnastics – I’m doing that in July and that should be a good one.
Your choices are so interesting – your diversity inspires me!