From writer/director Liz W. Garcia, The Lifeguard tells the story of Leigh (Kristen Bell), who flees to her suburban hometown when her career and love life both come crashing down. Once there, she moves into her old room with her parents, hangs out with old friends, and reclaims her former job as a condo-complex lifeguard, without ever thinking about the affect her actions will have on those closest to her.
At the film’s press day, actress Mamie Gummer (who plays one of Leigh’s hometown best friends) spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about why she wanted to be a part of this film, how she related to her character, what made Liz Garcia such a great first-time feature director, how effortless it was to work with Kristen Bell, that she’d like to keep exploring comedy, and how much she’s enjoyed her time on The Good Wife. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
MAMIE GUMMER: I was sent the script, and I really loved it and wanted to be in it. I was very happy to discover that (writer/director) Liz [Garcia] also wanted me to be in it. We agreed on that point. And everything else just came very easily. It flowed pretty breezily. I felt that the story, the landscape and that character was something that I could relate to. Growing up in New England and having a similar adolescence and upbringing, I felt like I could honestly help to tell that story. And I was just really grateful to Liz for writing it, taking the initiative, and stepping up as a female director, helming it and making it happen.
Is this a character that you found yourself easily relating to and identifying with, or did you have to figure her out a little bit?
GUMMER: A bit of both. When you meet her in the movie, she’s at loose ends, but she’s more rigid. Her life is routinized and regulated, in a very comforting way that I am wholly unfamiliar with. She’s a suburban woman with a steady job, and that’s the opposite of being an actor. She’s at odds in her relationship and her marriage. That’s what we see of her, and I think many people have experienced that.
What was it that sold you on Liz Garcia, as a first-time director?
GUMMER: She just seemed wholly and completely capable. It was a great way to spend a summer. I love the energy of an independent film set. No one is there for the money. Everyone is there ‘cause they really want to be there. It makes all the difference in the world. It’s without ego and agenda, other than just wanting to fulfill a creative dream. And it was pretty dreamy.
Is it important to you to do films like this and remind yourself why you love acting?
GUMMER: Yeah, definitely! I don’t think I’m ever really going to run the risk of disappearing into a Marvel franchise. I just don’t know how I would fit into a catsuit. So, I take other jobs to subsidize this kind of thing and make this possible.
This character really seems like somebody who is very together, at least on the surface, but she’s also unraveling a bit herself. How did you see Mel at the beginning of the film, compared to who she is at the end of her journey?
GUMMER: She’s in this sleepy town, and there’s a part of her where something has just been lying in wait, boiling for awhile, and looking for a way and a reason to explode. And then, Leigh shows up and provides the perfect outlet for that. I know girlfriends of mine who, when they were approaching pregnancy and starting a family, consistently went through a period, right beforehand, that was a last gasp kind of thing where they just wreak havoc. They fall apart, in a profound way, because there’s some awareness that that’s the last time they can do that for awhile. They’ve gotta keep it together for the sake of another life.
GUMMER: Yeah, I guess so. I don’t know. That makes sense. That sounds right. I’ll go with that. I’ll take that. I think a lot of people also have kids to reclaim that innocence and experience it over again. If I do have kids, I can’t wait because I’m excited to go back to school to help them with their homework and remember how to do simple math. I think it’s about staying curious and not losing the sense of wonder.
Why do you think it is that people seem to think that, if they can recapture some idealized time in their life, that they can find the happiness that they think they’re missing?
GUMMER: That’s such an impossible pursuit. I don’t know. What else can you do, you know? You do what you can. You have to leave room to grow and make mistakes, so that we can make up for them.
What was it like to work with Kristen Bell on this?
GUMMER: It was so easy. We really lucked out. And with Martin Starr, too. We all just showed up in Pittsburgh and it was pretty immediate. They’re both very, very easy to get along with, and super funny. That was a breeze. With Liz, as well. We all just folded in really effortlessly.
Everybody in this movie is pretty emotionally stripped down. Do you enjoy that kind of work, as an actor?
GUMMER: Yeah, it’s the best! The exhausting stuff is fun. You’re not given many opportunities to do that, but it’s the whole point of acting. It’s definitely a high when you are given the opportunity to do it.
You have a great sense of comedy and comic timing. Does one come easier for you, as far as comedy and drama, or do you want to find a balance of both?
GUMMER: I’d like to keep exploring comedy. I didn’t necessarily think of myself as a comedic actress, but it’s a lot of fun. The science behind it and the tricks of the trade, I’d like to learn more about. I’d like to do a banana peel comedy. That would be fun.
GUMMER: It’s so much fun! That’s such a character, and they’re hard to come by. They do such a great job of introducing people into that show that are so varied, and really interesting and bizarre. Carrie Preston is a perfect example of that, also. They have handled that show so well because it could fall into the procedural track, but it doesn’t. They are constantly evolving and shaping it, and breathing life into it, in a great way.
Do you feel like you’re at a point in your career now where you have really been able to establish an identify for yourself, as an actress, totally on your own and apart from your family (her mother is actress Meryl Streep and her father is sculptor Don Gummer)?
GUMMER: No, of course not! That probably won’t ever happen. I think it’s just going to be my own wonderful handicap, and that’s fine. It’s a good burden to have.
The Lifeguard is now playing in theaters.