Britt Robertson is a huge fan of singing poorly. On stage. With a microphone. In front of strangers.
“I’m the biggest karaoke freak! Any Spice Girls song…Mambo No. 5—I’m a really good bad singer,” Robertson said.
But, her singing stays confined to karaoke venues. Robertson truly shines on set, playing Lux Kassidy for The CW’s new television series, Life Unexpected. And while Robertson might have limited experience singing, she’s no stranger to playing a variety of roles. “As a kid, I would entertain a lot,” Robertson said. “I loved dressing up and goofing around and doing shows for my family.”
By age 10, Robertson snagged her first television appearance as “Little Sheena” for the action-adventure series Sheena. At 12, she was traveling back and forth between her hometown of Charlotte, N.C., and Los Angeles. But even with her respectable resume—which includes a stint with Power Rangers Time Force (“People always make fun of me for it.”) and acting alongside Steve Carell in Dan in Real Life—Robertson acknowledges that her role in Life Unexpected is particularly different. “At first it was really hard to sort of find something to relate to because it’s such an odd concept,” she said.
At age 15, Lux, who has gone from foster-care home to foster-care home throughout her life, chooses to become an emancipated minor. In a twist of events she meets her biological parents. “The character is so different from me, and who I am, and all the experiences I’ve had in life,” said Robertson, the oldest of seven children.
But, like Lux, her life has followed a nontraditional path. At age 19, Robertson is enjoying the Hollywood life, though she works to stay grounded and down-to-earth (she admires Natalie Portman for not being fazed by stardom). Eventually, Robertson sees herself pursuing a college degree (she has already completed a semester of courses), but for now she’s focused on her acting gig.
“All my friends are in college and a lot of them have a really good time, but my fun is going to work,” says Robertson. “I love what I do and I couldn’t ask for a better job or a better life.”
So how are you enjoying SXSW? Have you had a chance to do anything so far?
Kyle Gallner: I got here Thursday, went out Thursday night, saw the Austin-scene a little bit, saw the movie yesterday… so yeah, I’ve gotten to a little bit. Austin a really amazing city, I’ve never been here.
Where are you from originally?
KG: From right outside Philadelphia, a town called Westchester.
Austin is one of my favorite towns.
KG: No, it’s great. I’m loving it here. I’ve never been here, but I definitely wanna come back.
I always think of it like a mix of New York City and San Francisco, if that makes any sense.
KG: It does, actually, it makes perfect sense.
So tell us a little bit about your character.
KG: Aaron is cool kid, he’s a kid who didn’t have a chance to really be cool cuz his mom kinda kept him down and his family was a little strict. His mom definitely had a path for him, but he gets different ideas when he gets to college. He starts seeing the real world, I guess, and meeting different people and he falls for a girl and he’s forced to group. At the end of the movie there are situations that happen and he’s forced to group and you watch him kinda come into his own and kinda be the kid to he was supposed to be but never an the opportunity to be. He’s an interesting guy.
How did you become involved.
KG: Just good old-fashioned audition process. I got the call, I read the script. I really wanted the movie. I did a lot of work on this movie, actually. Kinda like 50 pages of notes, even before the audition I was like, “I’m gonna get this one.” Then I went in and I got a call back and met up with Jeff, I think Sam was in the room, and it’s all history from there.
Now, going into the movie I’m sure you knew that this was semi-autobiographical for Jeffrey, so did he give you any coaching, any advice about how you should approach the character?
KG: No, not really. Jeff was really cool about it. He kinda let me run with it and make Aaron my own. He let me create this kinda neurotic guy who’s just figuring his life out. I mean, if things ever got out of line where he didn’t want it to go, but he didn’t really hit me too hard. He left me with a lot of freedom to really play with Aaron.
So you didn’t feel pressure to be any certain kind of person since it was based on someone.
KG: I did in the beginning. It’s important when it’s based on somebody or based on somebody’s life, you know, you wanna really do it, you wanna make it as real as possible, as true as possible. As soon as we started filming and, you know, just the talks I had with Jeff before we started filming, it was pretty clear that he just wanted to make the best movie possible. You know, we trusted each other and he let me run with it, it was cool.
That’s good because it turned out great.
KG: Yeah, it’s a fun movie.
How long are you gonna be in town?
KG: I’m gonna be here till Tuesday.
And then what? What’s next for you?
KG: There’s always things in the works, but nothing is real until you’re on the set. I have a couple other indies that are kinda in the can right now that are in the editing process and getting finished so hopefully some other film festivals. NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET comes out in like seven weeks.
Oh yeah, that’s exciting!
KG: Yeah, it should be interesting. We’ll see how it goes, it’s pretty cool, it should be out in like seven weeks. I have a couple other projects, but like I said, until they’re real, they’re not real.
Do you have any preference between film and television?
KG: I like film. I prefer the bond we make with people, but I’m also talking from a guy who’s not… my extent of television is basically a bunch of guest stars and a hand-full of reoccurring roles. My only serious TV-time was “Veronica Mars,” and, you know, you form a family there as well, but I like film. It’s like a one-shot deal, you get an arch beginning to end. I just prefer film. I got into acting to play a lot of different characters and play all sorts of people. Nothing against television, but I don’t really wanna play the same person for seven years or five years. That’s personal preference, nothing against it, TV is an amazing thing. Specially now, they’re making TV like films now.
Yeah, I know.
KG: I mean, there’s a lot of great shows that’s like filming a movie. It kinda makes you think, but also, you know…
It’s a long-term commitment.
KG: It’s a very long-term commitment, but there’s amazing TV like, I haven’t seen it yet, I don’t even know if it’s on TV yet, Boardwalk Empire, Scorsese show, I’m sure it’s incredible.
I haven’t seen that.
KG: No? It’s probably gonna be great.
I’m a Lost man.
KG: See, I never picked up on Lost. But, I mean, if the right show came along, you can never say never. It’s gotta be something that makes you go, “OK, let’s sign up!”
What was the biggest challenge of making this movie for you?
KG: I would say one of the main challenges for all of us was time. It’s an indie, not a lot of money, working 6-day weeks for a month straight, first in, last to leave, not a lot of sleep. It’s just kinda the marathon, but I like working like that, I like going home and feeling like you really did something.
Like you really earned it.
KG: Yeah, I prefer that. I like working all day every day. The being on the set but not working for like three days drives me crazy.
Is that what television is like?
KG: TV is different. Like with “Veronica Mars” I was home. They shot in San Diego, but I would drive when I had to film, then I would go home and hang out, so that was fine because it’s not like I was sitting in different state where I don’t know anybody, just sitting around and going crazy.
So you’re living in California now?
How different is that from Pennsylvania?
KG: Umm, east coast/west coast, it’s a very different vibe, it’s a very different feeling. It’s cool, I mean, I’ve been there almost six years now, so I’ve found my friends, I’ve found what I like to do, places I like to go. The adjustment is interesting, but I have a really, you know, he’s my best friend, his name is Jake. We kinda met within like a month of me being there. He’s from Ohio so we both kinda grew into the city together, I guess.
What about your family, I guess they’re still back in Pennsylvania?
KG: No, they’re in LA. My mom was like, there’s no way in hell you’re moving to California by yourself at like 17, 18, so I was like, ok, then we need to talk about this [laughter].
So I guess your family was supportive of your career choice?
KG: Extremely. My family is insanely supportive. My agent talked to my parents about me moving out to California and they asked if I wanted to go and I sat down and had a conversation with my family. ‘Cause I have a little brother, little sister, I’m from, not a huge family, but there’s enough people there that you gotta definitely have a conversation about it. You know, everyone made the move, everyone is super supportive. It’s crazy… they’re crazy [laughter].
They’re not crazy, it worked out!
KG: No, I know, but it’s like, jeez, man, that’s a lot.
Well, that’s all I got.
KG: It was good to meet you.
Going into the movie, I’m sure you knew that it was semi-autobiographical, did you get a chance to speak with the young lady who you character was inspired by?
Brittany Robertson: No, I wasn’t able to. I actually didn’t even realize it was. Jeff likes to keep that personal and I actually didn’t realize it was about him until maybe two weeks into the film. And so, it was interesting after that, and I still really had to work to kinda get some information out of him but after that I was obviously very curious as to who she was and about their story together. He still didn’t even give me that much to work with. I heard that she actually read the script, she hasn’t seen the movie yet, so I’m very, very excited to see what she thinks.
Did he tell why he didn’t give you that information? Did he want you to make the character?
BR: Well, I think, you know, he has a really good idea who these characters are. He lived through it and has a very good idea about these women and Kyle’s character, obviously, and so I think he had a really good gauge as to who these people are and how to direct us as them. And so he didn’t really feel the need to give out all this personal information out of respect for them and also out of respect for his own personal life. You know, very honest man.
Yeah, he’s a great guy, from the ten minutes I got to talk to him.
BR: [laughter] Right.
How did you become involved with the movie?
BR: I originally got the script November, 2008, so maybe before that. A little before that.
That was a long time ago.
BR: Yeah, we filmed it about a year and a half ago. So I originally got the script and my manager was super in love with the character and said, “you have to read it,” and so I did and I really wanted to meet with Jeff, the director. I had a meeting set up, but I wasn’t able to attend and then they asked if I wanted to come in and do a read-through with Kyle, and I was like, alright, cool. So I went in and I read with Kyle for a few hours, we did a couple of scenes from the film and just worked with it a little bit. And then, they were like, “ok, well, we need to see her look the part. We need to see her look rough, tough. like a rough chick.” So then I had to come back in and I put a black wig on, and like colors in my hair and piercings and the whole nine, and they were like, “ok, she can pull it off.” And then, yeah, we started rehearing shortly after.
Now, was that tough transforming into that character? Because you seem like such a nice person.
BR: Yeah, you know… I don’t know. The character jumps off the page so easily and I thinking it was very easy for me to just get wrapped up in who she was. She was very easily understood in my eyes. When I first got the script, I just immediately felt super-connected with her and it didn’t seem too forced at all.
I probably should’ve asked you this first, if you could explain to our readers about your character.
BR: Yes, my character’s name is Beth and she’s 14. She’s comes into the film, she’s the daughter Linda’s, who’s a student at the school where Aaron attends and he sort of gets a crush on [Linda], comes over to the houses and realizes that she has a daughter, who is me, and I get quite the crush on Aaron.
He’s a good-looking guy.
BR: Yes, very. So charming. And I get a crush on Aaron, where as Aaron gets a crush on my mother, so there’s sort of this, you know, triangular love dynamic going on. She’s sort of this guarded 14-year-old. She had a lot of crazy past experiences with her mom, she’s had to take care of her mom throughout most of her life and because of that she’s sort of carried this tough exterior with her.
I knew from Life Unexpected and then I saw you in this film and it was like night and day.
BR: Yeah, it’s different.
Have you gotten any reactions from your family, friends or your fans?
BR: No, I actually hadn’t seen the movie up until last night at the premier [laughter]. I’m a very nervous actor. I get very, very nervous watching stuff that I’m in, so for people like my family or friends to see anything is like, you have to hunt it down yourself. It has nothing to do with the project, it’s always just me, you know, nitpicking performance. I know people who have seen the show and have seen the film and it’s not like I’m stuck in this one roll-type character, which is nice, I don’t feel too stereotyped.
This interview is about a month old but since it never got posted I thought I would share 🙂
As the pierced and volatile teenager stealing scenes in Jeffrey Fine‘s SXSW drama Cherry, 19-year-old Britt Robertson gives one of the finest performances yet in a fast-developing career that’s seen her evolve from child actor to mature young actress in the span of a few years. One of two women who come crashing into the life of college freshman Aaron (Kyle Gallner), Robertson’s Beth is part Juno, part Hot Topic Lolita, an emotionally guarded girl who’s lived through more in her 14 years of life than any teen should.
Robertson herself couldn’t be farther from the confused, capricious Goth teen she plays in Cherry, which is based in part on a pair of women writer-director Fine knew as a young man. After drawing notice in films like Dan in Real Life, CBS’s “Swingtown,” and her new CW show, “Life Unexpected,” the fresh-faced and uncommonly poised actress seems determined to carve out a career of substance as she enters adulthood; catch her next in Rodrigo Garcia’s Mother and Child, in theaters this May.
Cinematical sat down with the L.A.-based Robertson in Austin, Texas, where she premiered Cherry while on break from filming “Life Unexpected.”
Cinematical: What was your initial reaction to the script when you first read it and what made you want to do the film?
Britt Robertson: My agent and my manager sent it over to check out the part, so I read it and instantly I was grabbed by story and the writing, not only by the characters but specifically my character. It was a really fun part and there were a lot of really interesting things that I could do with it. So I wanted to meet with Jeff but I wasn’t able to because of conflicting schedules, but they brought me in to do a chemistry read with Kyle Gallner, who hadn’t yet been cast. We read through some scenes together and they went really well. Originally I was captivated by the movie as a whole because I felt that all the people involved were really passionate about it.
When you do chemistry reads like the one you did with Kyle, how do you get on the same wavelength with someone who you may not have much time to rehearse with?
Britt Robertson: Actually, I had known Kyle for about six years now, so I’d known him and we had a conversation before the chemistry read, so that was easier. But in other situations when you don’t really know someone, the quickest thing you can do is take everything they’re giving you and feed off of it, be in the now, and give back everything you’ve been given.
How did you and Kyle first meet?
Britt Robertson: It’s funny, he’s from Pennsylvania and he was coming out to L.A. for pilot season and I was also coming out for pilot season from South Carolina. There’s this notorious actor hub in L.A. called The Oakwoods and we both stayed there. You meet a slew of actors there, and I met him through a couple of mutual friends and we sort of stayed in touch a little bit along the way.
When you two were cast, how did you start working on your characters’ dynamic together?
Britt Robertson: It’s interesting because in the film, there’s no pre-established relationship – they meet each other as you see them meeting each other. So it was sort of important to discover things as the film discovered them. I didn’t want to force the relationship too much. But we did do a lot of rehearsals to keep the spark, especially for me, having a bit of a crush on him –
You mean your character’s having a crush on him…?
Britt Robertson: Yes, yes! My character having a crush on him. [Laughs] I wanted to make sure the fire was there.
You play a very bold 14-year-old who’s very unafraid of everything, at least on the surface.
Britt Robertson: Beth is 14 but she’s a lot more mature than the average 14-year-old; she’s grown up in a home where it’s been just her mother and her, and she’s had to take care of her mother from time to time. They’ve grown a sort of sisterly bond. Because of the maturity that she’s had to establish at such a young age, she’s got a bit of a shield, but you see the layers slowly unpeeled. She’s also a precocious 14-year-old, but you realize how vulnerable she really is and how emotional she is, as well.
Your role called for you to act out some very mature behavior, considering that Beth is only 14 years old – she smokes, she’s very sexualized. How are those racier elements key to the character?
Britt Robertson: The great thing about me playing this character is that I am actually a good bit older than her, and so I don’t have to dumb myself down as far as intelligence goes. I know a lot of people who individualize themselves based on their exteriors, and they want to be the person that they are presenting to you. I think that’s what was important about Beth; she is someone who she’s not on the outside, but inside she’s a lost 14-year-old. So I think it was important, from Jeff’s perspective as well as mine, to have all those elements to show that she is trying to be someone who she’s really not.
The women in this film are very strong female personalities, and together they tend to dominate Kyle’s more passive, lost character.
Britt Robertson: I’m a pretty outspoken character myself, but not in the sense that my character was. Being an actress in L.A. you sort of have to take on the role of macho leading lady, you have to have a confidence when you walk into a room to tell people, this is my role and I can do a really good job for you. So at least for me, that’s something that you sort of establish along the road of building your career. While we were shooting, it seemed like Laura and I were ruling school — Kyle has a little bit of that in him as well, but I think he dialed it down to match his character. On and off set, I think it was important for us to take control just to get into that vibe. I think it is a really important topic for women, to be strong and to be who they are and pursue their dreams.
Actresses sometimes talk about how hard it is to find truly challenging roles in Hollywood. You’ve got a new television show, but has that been the case for you so far in your career?
Britt Robertson: I’ve had the chance to dive into some really great characters, especially with “Life Unexpected” and Cherry – these are two great projects where I’ve gotten to have a lot to do with my character. I’ve had a lot of opportunity to detail these characters out, and become a better actor because of it. I think it is hard, especially being as young as I am, to find roles that are challenging and fun and keep you on your feet, and aren’t just the typical roles. So I’ve had really good luck with that.
You’re at an age where it seems like a lot of your peers are either still in the Disney teen zone, or trying to transition into more mature roles. Is that something you’ve had to struggle with or consciously guide your career by?
Britt Robertson: Well, yes. My team – myself, my manager, and my agent – we’re all very conscious of what I want to do and where I want my career to go. For me, people like Reese Witherspoon and Natalie Portman, who have transitioned from having really successful child acting careers into adult acting careers, I think that’s something that’s obtainable and something I aspire to do as well. So hopefully that’s the case. I definitely have it in the back of my mind. There are a lot of auditions for things I personally don’t find any gratification in; I love storytelling, but if I’m not enjoying what I’m doing there’s no point in it. I can go to school and find something I enjoy doing just as much as this, so I feel like if I’m going to act, why not have fun doing it? For me, this is what I love and these are the characters that keep me doing what I’m doing, so there’s no use in dabbling in anything else.
Have you considered going to college while you continue your acting career?
Britt Robertson: I have, I completed my freshman year. After the second semester of my sophomore year I had to drop out because of the show, so hopefully I’ll finish that up. I’d probably want to study something completely outside of the business, just to have that option… I’ve always loved biology and science, so maybe something in that area.
Thanks to permission from Liz Tigelaar I have added a ton of Behind the scenes photos of Life Unexpected.