Two of the best performances we saw at SXSW this year came in a narrative short. Sarah Gertrude Shapiro’s Sequin Raze does more in twenty minutes than most features do in nearly two hours. Anna Camp (The Help, Pitch Perfect, True Blood) and Ashley Williams (How I Met Your Mother, Margin Call) sat down with Paste to talk about dropping pizza, drinking tequila, and accidentally sleeping together.
Paste: This is such an actor’s showcase. So one question I’m not going to be asking is why you decided to choose this. Because it’s obvious.
Williams: But everybody asks!
Camp: I’m glad you’re like, hello! I mean, the script and the characters and everything!
Paste: It takes a lot of balls in Hollywood for a beautiful actress to be playing dumpy and plain. I still don’t understand how they plained you up that much.
Camp: I know! You’re so adorable.
Paste: Exactly. Right?
Williams: Let me tell you. It was quite easy.
Camp: No! Hours, hours.
Williams: Everybody keeps saying, oh, are you so unselfconscious. That that’s how you looked and stuff. But I’m like, that’s how I look every day. When I look in the mirror, that’s how I look. It’s very rare that I put make up on. So I’m like, no, no no. That’s me. Everybody else is super surprised. But no. That’s how I look when I go to bed at night, when I wake up in the morning. When I’m running errands. When I’m at the gym. That’s how I look. So I wasn’t shocked and surprised-
Paste: But it wasn’t just a look. It was your whole body language that was different. In The Prince of Tides, Pat Conroy says about one of the characters, ‘You could write a reasonably accurate character sketch of him by watching him cross the street,’ and in the first few seconds of seeing your character’s body language, I knew who this character was.
Williams: Holy Cow! What a great compliment. Thank you.
Paste: Tell me about finding that physicality. Because it’s different from how you normally move. Was that the beginning of the process, the end of the process, how did that come?
Williams: I think to be honest, a lot of it was from the fact that because we did five night shoots in a row, I was actually fatigued. And I was playing a character who, in her bones, is absolutely exhausted and has been for years. So that heaviness and that weight was a big part of it. And the other thing, Sarah kept saying to us, ‘slow down,’ do you remember that?
Williams: Cause I’ve said this before, but working in comedy, I tend to try and find little bits. All the time. So when we first started shooting, the very first night we were shooting, I had this whole bit I thought was hi-larious-
Camp: It was! It was really really funny.
Williams: It was super funny. If we were making a sitcom of Sequin Raze. But Sarah came up and she was like ‘Ok, don’t do that ever again.’
Williams: She was like, ‘that’s not what we’re doing,’ I was like, ‘I don’t understand! Ok, why don’t I do this, I’ll pretend to fall and then I’ll lose the tree, but I’ll get it and I had this whole thing were my sneaker fell-
Camp: It was like a Charlie Chaplin-
Williams:Yeah! It was like a vaudeville thing, it was like…
Paste: She was like, “Yeah, when I get the Apatow contract, I’ll call you.”
Williams: Yeah. Exactly. Totally. Totally.
Camp: And it would have been great if it was that movie.
Williams: Part of how she got me out of doing my Ashley sitcom shtick was to say, “please slow down.” And then I would slow down. And she would say ‘slow down again as much. Take what you just did and double the slowness,’ so there was this kind of heavy… slow quality. And that’s where all the physicality came from. I didn’t practice. It just came out of the pace and fatigue.
Paste: It just came out of your natural genius; ‘I didn’t practice it.’
Williams: Never. I’m just telling you there was no technique involved. There was very little technique involved. It was just fatigue.
Paste: And for you Anna, I want to talk about the intensity that character lives in for the entire short film. You don’t have a break from that intensity. So for five nights of shooting, I’m interested in what your process is to get to that point. Where you can be in that world for five straight nights. The whole time the camera’s rolling.
Camp: Yeah. I’m always very into in taking in the environment of what’s actually happening. Because I’m actually sitting here. I’m actually on this lawn chair. I’m actually tired. I’m actually cold, I actually don’t want to be wearing my heels right now, I actually want to go home. And if you think about that and combine it with all the back story I gave Jessica, like when I picture my mother who can’t afford to buy food, when I picture the fact that I don’t want to go home and the fact that my house looks like and what it smells like and when you combine it all in to that one thing, it’s like you just breathe with it. And you keep breathing. And I feel that it just stays that way, it just stays that way because I was so tired. I was really tired while shooting it. I didn’t know what was going to happen in this room, I’d never worked with Sarah before. I was scared-
Williams: She was! She was scared.
Camp: There were a lot of real things-
Williams: We had this moment in our dressing room. And when I say dressing room, I mean some child’s bedroom that we shared-
Camp: We had to take the frames and turn them down because-
Williams: They were like pictures of his friends. And we were like, “They’re staring at us!” So we turned them down.
Camp: But we didn’t know! We didn’t know what was going on!
Williams: We didn’t know that we had this like…..meeting at one point, where Anna was like, I don’t know what’s happening. I’m terrified. And I literally said to her, “Listen, if this is terrible, no one is going to see it. And if it’s amazing, people will love it. So we need to hold on for the ride, because there’s no way that us not trying or emotionally checking out is going to benefit us.”
Camp: So let’s get some trust, let’s just do this.
Williams: We are here. It is the middle of the night.
Camp: I’m just going to do my job and do my work.
Williams: Put your head down and fucking make it happen.
Camp: Trudge up the hill, because it’s four-
Williams: It’s four in the morning, and we’re not fucking around-
Camp: And you’re all I have! I mean, it was like, we bonded.
Williams: We totally did. And fast. There was this moment we were running lines and it was somebody’s line and we were like, ‘What’s the line?’ and we both fell asleep. And they came up and were like “We’re ready for you on set!” and I was like, “Did we just take a nap together?”
Camp: Yeah! We totally did! Like I barely met the girl, I barely know her and we’re like sleeping together.
Williams: We just took a nap together.
Paste: Ok, y’all need to be in like eighteen movies together. Because you’re like Martin and Lewis here. This is great.
Camp: Well, we were thinking about doing the sequel to Sequin Raze and switching parts. And I’m going to play her part-
Williams: That would be so fun!
Paste: Oh, man. That would be incredible.
Williams: I said that I would do it as long as we could shoot it during the day.
Camp: Yeah! I’m down, I’m down, I’m down.
Williams: Five day shoots in a row, I’m in.
Camp: I would love to play your part though. That would be cool.
Williams: We’d have to let that dress out. Right now!
Paste: So there you go. Future directors out there, there’s your way to get Anna and Ashley into a movie.
Camp: Let me dye my hair, shave my head!
Paste: On a slightly more serious note, one of the things I thought was really cool about this movie was this. I made a short film two years ago and I told my collaborators when we started that one of the keys to understanding the script was that no one says what they mean in this script. Everything they’re saying is either a subterfuge or a lie or something they’re saying to pass the time, but its never…they never say what they mean.
Williams: Like Chekhov.
Paste: Exactly! And that was sort of the way I felt about this film too. The language there was almost incidental. It almost could have been a silent film. You know? So tell me about playing language not straight. Because that’s obviously very different from the sitcom world where everything is on the nose, literal-
Williams: Like Shakespeare. That’s a really interesting question.
Camp: I love that first scene where I’m pushed under the light, the cherry blossoms are there and there was a moment where I felt like I was in another world where my eyes were like glassing over and I could see you barely and it wasn’t about the words at that moment, it was about telling you that I wasn’t going to crack. And I kept thinking over and over, “You’re not going to get me, you’re not going to get me.”
Williams: I think that’s what makes it so easy in this movie, that we both had such clear objectives. So, you don’t need the words. If you know-the words don’t matter. You are hyper-focused on what you need and just getting it. So whatever words come out, great. I had to get hyper-specific about what tactics I was using and when, but your right. The words kind of didn’t matter.
Camp: The objectives helped.
Paste: And you met for the first time on this-you didn’t know each other before?
Camp: We didn’t, no.
Williams: We have a friend in common and I texted him and was like, “Hey, Anna Camp — cool?” and he was like “You’re gonna love her!”
Camp: She brought me a bottle of tequila on our first read-through day and I was like, “I’m gonna love her!’”
Williams: That’s how I make all my friends. I just bribe them with alcohol. Will you love me if I give you a present?
Camp: And I did. But I would have loved you even if you didn’t.
Paste: My favorite moment in the whole movie, throwing the pizza down, was that in the script or was that you?
Williams: Yeah. I think. I don’t remember. Honestly. It was five in the morning. Honestly. But I remember her… she was like, “Take a piece of pizza and walk out the door.” In the scene prior. And I did. And she was like, “Ok, I want you to take six pieces of pizza.” And I like literally had all this pizza in my hands and it became the pizza scene. And then she was like, “Ok, take two and at some point like lose them.” But also, I have a lot of business in that and it’s all one shot. And the guy was going backwards and the sun was coming up so we did that in like three takes. It was a very hard shot. It was on steady cam. Steady Camp?
Camp: Right here! That’s me.
Paste: That’s your alter ego. You got Unsteady Camp and Steady Camp.
Camp: Today I’m Steady Camp.
Williams: I’m a Dolly. But yeah, I had to take the thing out of my ear and had all this stuff I had to do. So at one point I was like…blah. You know?
Camp: It was great. I love that moment so much.
Paste: One more question. What has been your experience in short films thus far, and do you want to explore it more? It sounds like you had a great experience with it.
Williams: I had a great experience with it. For me it’s all about who’s involved. You know? There were a lot of amazingly well done short films and a lot of really bad ones. So it seems very cynical to say that I would love to be involved in the great ones. But you know. They need to be well written. They need to be clear. So, yeah. I love the medium. I think it’s such a challenge to tell a story and I think, to be honest, the shorter, the clearer, the better. I love it.
Camp: To get to have a character who has such a great clear arc in twenty minutes. To really fully realize that, is such a challenge. And it depends on the role. If there’s a role in a short that that’s cool, yes! You know?