From writer/director William Robert Carey, the indie dramedy Angels in Stardust tells the story of Vallie Sue (AJ Michalka), an imaginative small-town teenager who struggles to realize her potential in her Oklahoma community, built on an abandoned drive-in movie lot. With a neglectful mother (Alicia Silverstone), sensitive younger brother, mysterious Indian neighbor and an imaginary cowboy friend (Billy Burke), Vallie Sue hopes to overcome her environment while aspiring to become a writer.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Alicia Silverstone talked about why she was drawn to the role of Tammy, how quickly the film came together, why she sympathized with such a despicable mother, why she loves getting inside the head of her characters, how much fun she had with the sexy wardrobe, and shooting the mother-daughter smackdown. She also talked about what she looks for in a project, why theater made her fall in love with acting again, finding a balance between work and family, giving back to the world around her, and her next book, The Kind Momma, due out in April. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
ALICIA SILVERSTONE: They put the whole movie together very, very quickly. I’m sure they had been working on it for a very long time beforehand, but once they got the green light to go, I think they had a week. So, I got this call and I went to meet with them.
When you are considering signing on for a smaller film like this, that really is pretty ambitious in its storytelling, does it feel crucial to meet with, or at least talk to the director first, to make sure that you’re on the same page?
SILVERSTONE: Yes. I went to the meeting with a bunch of questions, and got those answers. Also, you’re just taking a risk. You’re just going for it. This was an example of a really, really good script with, most importantly for me, a really good character to play. Well, it’s not really a risk. The risk is only in the outcome. You’re going on a journey. You’re going somewhere to play. And at that time, it felt right to spend that 11 or 12 days exploring this kind of role because it was so different and so challenging for me. It was really exciting to be able to show people, “Look, this is very different. Isn’t it interesting?”
When you read the script, what was it that stood out for you?
SILVERSTONE: When I got the script, I was really drawn to Tammy. First, I was drawn to the fact that it’s a coming-of-age story. I can’t help but be a sucker for those. They take you to that place. They’re moving. I just love them. And I thought this was a very interesting take on it. And then, Tammy is just this complex character that’s so different than anything I had ever done. I feel like it was a completely different role, and I was really, really excited about that. The main reason I did it was to be able to be this wacky Tammy.
SILVERSTONE: Once you take on a character, for me, I just always use everything that I am inside of her. When you read the script, you could easily decide that Tammy is a terrible mother and awful person. But if I play her like that, it’s not going to be that interesting to me, artistically. Also, there were hints that she still loved her children so much, in her own demented way. So, what was more interesting to me was to play the struggle. And of course, that’s inside of her head. If you’re outside of her head, she’s just a really bad mom. But because I’m being her, I don’t feel like that about her anymore.
I feel like I could give you a whole defense about Tammy, which is that she’s trying so hard. As far as she’s concerned, she’s done an excellent job raising these children. Well, maybe not an excellent job, but they’re alive, they’re fed, they have a roof over their heads, and they know that she loves them. That’s all she can offer. And unfortunately, their needs are in conflict with her needs, and her needs have to come first. When you’re on an airplane, they say that you have to put your oxygen mask on first, so she has to take care of her needs. She focuses on that. She loves her kids so much, but she needs her stuff more than she loves her kids. And it’s not even more, so much as they’re in conflict. That’s the struggle that you witness.
She’s a horrible mother, but you can sympathize with her, in the sense that clearly she wasn’t equipped to become a mother.
SILVERSTONE: Yeah. She was absolutely a teenager. Her advice is so awful. It’s the worst advice, ever. I just love the speeches that she gives, and the things she got to say. The bad advice she gives to her daughter made me chuckle. It was so sad, but so delightful, too.
Were you hesitant, at all, about playing the mother of two kids, one of whom is a teenager, especially knowing that you work in a business that tends to be quite ageist when it comes to actresses?
SILVERSTONE: No, I never think about that. I just look for the role, and it was such a delightful role. Also, I was playing quite a young mother. I was actually flattered because it’s often that people think I’m too young. It was quite flattering to get to do it. I’ve also played a mother before, to a 12-year-old, quite a long time ago. Again, that was a very young mother who had the baby when she was a baby. So, I think it’s wonderful. You go where the role is.
This character has a lot of emotional highs and lows. As an actor, do you enjoy doing the big, intense moments, or do you prefer the more quiet moments?
SILVERSTONE: I like it all. I love getting inside of people’s heads and playing what drives people and what makes them do what they do. That’s always been what’s most interesting to me about being an actor. The analyzing of what’s happening, but even more so, just letting it all go and playing is fun. I love just seeing what comes out of you.
Tammy definitely has a wardrobe of tight, short, low-cut clothing. Was that ever uncomfortable to wear, or did it really help you get into character and into her mind-set?
SILVERSTONE: Well, my son was about a year old when I did the film, so my boobs were nice and big from breast-feeding and I had lots of curves, so I thought, “Who cares? This is who she is. She’s a curvy, sexy woman.” It’s fun to be in that space. It was very helpful. I had a really good time, doing the costumes with the costume designer, because we got to be really trashy. We had to figure out how trashy to go.
What was it like to work in this location, with a trailer park in the middle of a drive-in movie theater?
SILVERSTONE: I could walk around barefoot in the sand where we shot. The art department did such a good job of creating this little world, and the D.P. did a really good job of visually showing you what was happening. It was really interesting.
There’s a bit of a mother-daughter smackdown in this film, that was probably a long time coming for both of them. How was that to shoot?
SILVERSTONE: You both know exactly what you’re doing, so there’s nothing personal about it. It’s more about fun and doing the best work you can do. AJ [Michalka] and I worked so well together. They showed us what they waned us to do, and we were both able to say, “That doesn’t look real. Let’s play with that and make it so that it’s more scrappy and not choreographed.” So, we got in there and did it. You just work together and have so much fun. She was wonderful to work with. It was such an easy delight.
When you do a low-budget film like this, it really becomes a labor of love for everyone. Were there any crazy things that happened on set, or did things go relatively smoothly?
SILVERSTONE: There’s always all kinds of things that happen on set. The main thing that I can say is that Adam [Taylor], the little boy, is so delicious and adorable, and so is AJ. The three of us were a little dynamic trio that just loved on each other. We could snuggle and hug and kiss, and be together and take care of each other through everything. So, whatever happened, we were together. And we worked a really fast, quick schedule. I think one day, they did one take and were like, “That’s a wrap,” and we were like, “Wait, what?!” It’s low-budget filmmaking. It’s the Wild Wild West.
At this point in your career, what is it that gets you excited about a project and gets you to sign on, and what typically makes you decide to turn down a project?
SILVERSTONE: That’s a good question. I’ve been lucky and blessed to get to have amazing theater experiences. I worked with David Mamet, where he directed me. I’ve done two of his plays. I worked with Laura Linney on Broadway, with Donald Margulies and Daniel Sullivan. That’s the crème de la crème of theater and acting. Getting to work with them was just so inspiring and exciting. I want those experiences, over and over again. When we were doing “Time Stands Still,” I remember that Laura looked at me and said, “You have to know that this isn’t going to come around a lot,” and I was like, “No, it has to come around again!” But, it just may not. It was a very special time. So, you do the best you can to reach for that and, in the process, just hope that you get to work with really good actors on really interesting material, and hopefully with really great directors. Those are the goals. It just depends on the circumstances and what’s happening. I’m really lucky that I have a lot of other interests that keep me very stimulated and satisfied, so that I can easily wait for the right thing.
You seem to have really found a healthy balance between work and family, and even giving back to the world around you. Is that something that’s always been important to you, or is that something you had to find and develop, over time?
SILVERSTONE: I’ve always been very distracted, sometimes to my detriment. I’ve always been very distracted by changing the world and having the best relationships. Now, I’m at a place where I feel like I can really try to balance it all. When I do theater, I feel so inspired and so absolutely like it’s where I belong, and it made me fall in love with acting, all over again. Now, I’m at a place where I can see that I can be that, and I can also be an author of books that help people, and I can also be an amazing mommy and a healthy person. It’s trying to find the balance in all of that. At other times, I’ve been distracted and not really focused on my acting, at all. And then, I turn around and go, “Oops, what happened? Where was I? All this time went by.”
Do you know what you’re going to do next, in your acting career?
SILVERSTONE: I don’t. I just finished something, and now my next book, The Kind Momma, is coming out in April. Before I got on the phone with you, I was literally going through my final pass before I have to turn it back in. And then, it’s going to be out, so I’ll go on tour with that. I have an exciting other project that I’m launching, that’s in the health realm, as well. I’m just so excited to rest a little bit and be a mommy. When I say rest, I have a 2 ½-year-old, so that’s not really possible, but I can have a little more balance for awhile. And then, after the book tour, I’ll see what comes.
Angels in Stardust opens in theaters on February 21st.