Angela Sarafyan is on top of her game and playing the field. In the last couple of years, the young Armenian-American actress has dipped her toe in TV (costarring with Colin Hanks on the short-lived Fox series "The Good Guys") and big-budget tentpoles (she's Tia in "Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2"). She's currently filming James Gray's "Low Life," in which she plays Marion Cotillard's sister.
In the new indie "American Animal," Sarafyan is Angela, a friend of Jimmy's (writer-director Matt D'Elia) who, along with Jimmy's roommate and her friend (also named Angela), becomes sucked into a madcap world of pop culture and personal torture. It's part comedy, part drama and like nothing you'd expect.
Sarafyan talked to us at last year's SXSW about the innovative process of working on "American Animal," along with details on why shooting a "Twilight" movie isn't that different then a tiny, micro-budget indie.
How did you become involved with "American Animal"? Matt D'Elia says you were his first choice for the role.
What happened was that my manager sent me the script, and I read the first 10-15 pages and immediately called him back and said, "I really want to meet this director." The way he wrote the script reminded me of "Waiting for Godot" ... I never read a script that was written in this way before. You don't know where it's going, what's going to happen, even with very simple things happening at the beginning of the film.
We arranged a meeting with Matt and spent several hours just talking and talking and talking, and I had read the script by then and was very excited to be part of his process. The way he wanted to work on it gave a lot of freedom to actors. It was exciting.
The film bounces from funny to horrifying to sad, oftentimes in only a matter of minutes. Were you able to picture the finished project before you started?
I had no idea what it was going to look like, besides the philosophy and what was written on the page, which was fascinating. I didn’t know what he was going to do, how he was going to shoot it. I knew he wanted to shoot it in one place and that it was about the relationships. Based on conversations about "Carnal Knowledge" [Mike Nichols' 1971 film] and how these characters intertwine -- that's what I knew.
Throughout the filmmaking though, it was incredible. I told Matt, it was as if reality and the filmmaking process became one. It's a very strange thing and can be a luxury for actors to be able to do that. Some of our relationships were very much like the script. We were influenced by certain traits of the script; Matt and I really would get into fights and arguments --
[laughs] It was unpredictable. But a lot of fun, because it's based on reality. But that was so much responsibility. I could see how much work and focus it took Matt ... I just remember not being able to process how he was doing all of it. If he would scream at me I would just scream right back. It was fun. It was a good challenge in testing my own sanity and my own views on life.
Are there influences or inspirations that sent you down this career path, and more specifically, ones that made "American Animal" a film you wanted to make?
God, I love John Cassavetes. Throughout my acting career and continuing to be an actor and grow, I think there have been so many outstanding actresses, and I hope I can live up to the things they created and continue that on. I think Gina Rowlands is an amazing actress. [I've seen] her in a lot of Cassavetes' films like "Opening Night" and "A Woman Under the Influence." The list could go on and on. And I love Meryl Streep in the "Deer Hunter." I don't know, I could make an endless list, even actors, like Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Anna Magnani -- so many out there.
How different is the experience of shooting a big, Hollywood movie like "Twilight" as opposed to a smaller film like "American Animal?" I imagine they must be two ends of the spectrum.
It's funny you say that because it was quite the opposite from what I expected. It's a very big, big film and you'd think it would be filled with pressure and ... it's not at all like that. It's very intimate. Easy to do, somehow. The people I work with are so helpful, kind and welcoming. It's been fun to go to work with those kind of people, especially under very extraordinary circumstances.
It doesn't feel as big as you'd think, which has been good for me as an actor. I get to play around and create things and have fun in the moment. We're only one part of it as actors, because the special effects and visual effects all come in [after] ... It'll be a huge surprise at the end, [laughs] I don’t know what it will look like!
Originally published on March 8, 2011.