Sheila Vand on How Youtube Can Help Your Acting

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Photo Source: Wes Klain

Known for her roles on NBC’s “State of Affairs” and in “Argo,” Sheila Vand recently took to the indie film world to play the Girl in Ana Lily Amirpour’s brilliant Iranian noir-vampire achromatic mash-up “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.”

On preparing to play the Girl.
“I watched a lot of YouTube videos; like, lots of cat videos because I knew [Ana] Lily [Amirpour] was referencing cats a lot. She wanted the Girl to move like a cat and have that supernatural energy to her. I also watched a lot of videos of snakes—snakes fighting or dancing. There’s a scene in the movie where the Girl dances, and she wanted it to feel like she was moving like a snake.”

On her approach.
“I used to associate vampires with cheesiness, and I really wanted to resist the blatant horror. I wanted to bring out the humanity and err more on the side of lonely than creepy, although I know she comes off as both things. I didn’t want it to be like, ‘I want to suck your blood’—she’s not that kind of vampire. If anything, she feels terrible that she has to kill.”

On acting in another language.
“Doing it in Farsi was transformative. Everybody running around speaking English, getting direction in English, and then it was like, ‘Action!’ To switch to another language when we were shooting helped delineate the two worlds in a way that you don’t get as much when you’re speaking English the whole time. It’s easy to snap into another person when the words coming out of your mouth are coming from a different place.”

On the collaborative process.
“[Ana] Lily [Amirpour]’s an auteur, so she has a very clear vision of what she wants. We had, like, 10 million conversations throughout the whole process and I read every draft she wrote. It was collaborative in the sense that we would get together for hours sometimes just talking about the character and watching movies together that influenced the character or would feed into the style of film. But it very much came out of the depths of her imagination.”

On the challenges of playing the Girl.
“The biggest challenge was that Lily wanted her to feel superhuman and never wanted her movements to feel too organic, and as an actor you’re always striving for the opposite of that. You always want to feel natural and organic and free, and the Girl is the opposite of all those things; she’s really alert and rigid. She doesn’t feel completely right in her own body, so finding that physical vocabulary was a challenge. I had to always stop myself if I felt I was getting too loose.

“Not having dialogue is definitely its own challenge as well. You have to internalize everything that you want to be saying, and for that I drew a lot upon the fact that she’s an old lady on the inside. I hung out with [my] grandma a lot and observed her in the way that she never feels like she needs to talk unless she wants to. That’s where I rooted her silence—in her age.”

On the surprising politicization of the film.
“Going into the movie, I wasn’t thinking about the ‘Iranian-ness’ or the female empowerment issues; I think that’s something that’s been imposed on it after the fact. I’ve mostly just been fascinated by people’s tendency to want to politicize something just because it takes place in Iran. For me, this is really an American movie, it’s just set in Iran. We made it in America, most of us live here, and a lot of the influences are American. I wasn’t worried about it, but I’ve definitely been aware of it and trying to find how to navigate what we intended for the movie and what people are interpreting from watching it.”

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Briana Rodriguez
Briana is the Editor-in-Chief at Backstage. She oversees editorial operations and covers all things film and television. She's interested in stories about the creative process as experienced by women, people of color, and other marginalized communities. You can find her on Twitter @brirodriguez and on Instagram @thebrianarodriguez
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