Ahead of it's Dances With Film premiere, Shannon had the chance to speak with actress Lauren Ashley Carter about her upcoming role as Julianna/Imitation in Natasha Kermani's IMITATION GIRL.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Lauren, thank you so much for speaking with me today about your latest role in the sci-fi drama, IMITATION GIRL. To start things off, can you tell us a little bit about your characters, Julianna Fox and Imitation, and how they relate to the film?
Lauren Ashley Carter: Julianna Fox is the daughter of a talented and well-known classical musician from NYC. She was a pianist, but lacked the natural talent and discipline. After her father died, she gave up all musical aspirations, floundering without purpose and without money. She turned to amateur porn for a quick buck, but ended up trapped on the hamster wheel.
Imitation is an unearthly life form that clings onto and becomes the first likeness it finds, which happens to be Julianna's. Imitation can take on a human form for a number of days, and in that time she is able to be a part of a tiny bit of the human experience feeling wonder, joy, pain, pleasure, and sadness. When she discovers she is the imitation of a living woman, she is determined to find this other half.
NC: What inspired you to want to take on this role and what was it like to bring to life two different characters?
LAC: I have worked with Natasha Kermani on several projects, and I think she's incredibly talented and she has something to say. I like seeing the world through her perspective because there is magic and hope in it, and I think that the world could do with a bit of both of those things. I try to keep myself challenged and I don't enjoy repeating performances. Julianna and Imitation are both women that I have never been, but they both have had experiences or qualities that I had at some point in my life. I feel like I am far enough removed from these times in my life that I could dig them out without any judgments and that it would illuminate these characters.
I had a lot of time in between the roles, thank God! Imitation was so much fun. It was wonderful to discover the world for the first time and to have a lightness that I don't typically feel. It was very much not like me, but I think by the end, a little piece of her stayed with me; a little piece of that wonder stayed with me. When we got to Julianna, I was sick as a dog! I had one of the worst flu's I've ever had, but it probably helped so that I wasn't able to get too heady with her. I was beyond nervous about doing the fake drugs on screen. I had a drug problem for a number of years, and it's been an enormous fear of mine to have to portray that. I'm happy to say that it didn't trigger me and I'm glad I jumped over that hurdle. The worst part about it was that it did NOT help my fucking cold and probably made it worse. Don't do drugs, kids. And don't do fake drugs, either. On the last couple of days, I was able to work with a body double when I interact with myself. She's a friend of mine, so it was nice to have that familiarity, and from behind, she looked like me so much, it truly did freak me out!
NC: The character Julianna plays the piano and imitation speaks Farsi - was this something that was a challenge to learn?
LAC: Wheewwwww... the piano was the most difficult. I learned how to play very late in life, 15 years old. I've been able to read music since I was about 10, I played the saxophone and sang in choir. I always really enjoyed music theory. But 15 is very old to begin how to learn. I get terrible stage fright, and the only way you'd know is my hands. In theater, I always warn directors not to give me any props in my hands for the first ten minutes. Especially a flimsy piece of paper, or say, a knife. So you can imagine the cringe-inducing tragedy of watching me in a piano recital. I was 15 at my first recital with five year olds and seven year olds playing more complicated pieces. After, my mother said to me, "This is what I'm paying for?" I never participated in another recital. But I did continue to play alone until conservatory when people were so competitive and nasty, I gave up singing and piano altogether. I came into it with a ping-pong sized lump of self confidence and left with craters. To put myself out there again was incredibly difficult. And I told Natasha that at any point if she wanted to hire a double, I'd completely understand. It works, I think. Julianna is completely unprepared and it's nauseating to watch.
The Farsi was so much fun. I love learning languages, and the Persian people and culture are so full of life and beauty. I am so happy when someone sees themselves, or a part of who they are, represented in film where they may have not seen that before or for many years. It's also important to all of us to represent people as individuals and specific, and not as a gimmick.
NC: Porn stars tend to get a bad rep, which is unfortunate considering they are just like us - people with feelings and emotions. What type of research did you do to form your character of Julianna?
LAC: I have been intrigued by porn stars, strippers, and sex workers for a long time because I grew up around a lot of them. That's something I will go into someday, but not today! There are exceptions to the rule, of course, and there are also stereotypes for a reason. Same with any occupation: actors, computer programmers, finance people. When I listed those three occupations, we would probably both come up with a list of words that are similar or even exact. Natasha and I didn't want to make Julianna the exception of the rule, we also didn't want to make her the rock bottom. She isn't trapped like some, she chooses it day after day. She is intensely dissatisfied but lacks purpose. What makes her interesting is that she is self-aware and she has potential. It's swirling under the surface and all she needs is one big push into forward motion.
NC: The film showcases the strengths and weaknesses that women face and it's pretty powerful to see that on the screen. What's it like to be able to show how fierce and strong, and sometimes vulnerable, women can be on the big screen?
LAC: Natasha and the Illium Pictures crew are all interested in telling stories from different genders, cultures, ages, advantage and disadvantage. They make a pretty looking movie, but the stories are just as important to them. That's the only reason I ever wanted to make films. I used to lay awake for hours after seeing a film that moved me or made me rethink something or made me angry. And every time I felt, I want to be a part of this. I want to have these conversations and make pieces that change minds and fill hearts, as fucking corny as that sounds. If I'm going to spend the rest of my life pretending to be other people, they ought to be worthy people with something to say. I'm proud to be portraying fully feeling and thinking characters and not just making pretty pictures. I am learning to embrace my vulnerability as well as my strength. There's a kind of tearing of the soul that you have to do in order to become stronger. Like tearing muscle and building it. I've gone through periods where I have all of my armor up and no one can get in and been told I was cold. We write our own stories and we decide what a woman looks like and acts like. I'm proud to know Natasha and the Illium gang. It makes me hopeful that there are others like us. I've seen some great works in independent film, and I see all of these hungry and talented women ready to pounce.
NC: Last but certainly not least, what projects can we look forward to from you in the future?
LAC: I am acting in a handful of independent films this year, some horror some not. I am trying to figure out this "raising money to make a movie happen" thing that people do. There is a wonderful script called LOVESHY that I am going to direct once that happens.
I'm writing a horror novel that I will be adapting into a screenplay with a great friend and writer. And I started a podcast called IT'S BLOODY SEX about sex and film that you can find on my Twitter or just looking up IT'S BLOODY SEX podcast in The Google. It sounds rather vague, and I guess it is. My one goal is to tell stories, open up a dialogue about sex. I believe that shame and silence correlate directly with violence. I am finding that exhaustive honesty has been incredibly helpful in my own life. It's a fucking challenge, but it's worth it.
IMITATION GIRL will premiere at Dances With Films on June 6 at 7:15pm. For more information visit https://danceswithfilms.com/imitation-girl/.