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Shame/Lies I Told My Little Sister - Lucy Walters interview (exclusive)

Lucy Walters

Interview by Rob Carnevale

LUCY Walters, aka the girl on the subway in sex addiction drama Shame, talks exclusively to IndieLondon about how her small but pivotal role left such an impact on the film and her career.

She also talks about her forthcoming movie, Lies I Told My Little Sister, her first headline role, and reflects on her path towards success so far.

Q. Have you been surprised about how much of an impact your scenes in Shame have generated?
Lucy Walters: Yeah, it’s been unreal. I can’t quite believe how lucky I’ve been. It’s wonderful when your work actually seems to resonate with people.

Q. You got a lot of people talking about just two key scenes…
Lucy Walters: Right, right, right… I think somebody described it as a poem. It takes what the entire movie is about and kind of distils it into a few glimpses. I feel like those moments really engage the audience because they allow them them fill in the blanks; the ambiguity of them (especially the ending) allows people to project their own story onto them. To me, that’s great filmmaking. Everyone has their own idea of what’s happening in those scenes and I think that’s much more interesting than having it fully explained.

Q. How much more do you know about the character yourself? I mean, does she have a name to you? And a past? Do you know where her future lies?
Lucy Walters: Well, it was a strange situation. I had originally auditioned for this other part of a girl that Brandon’s character meets in a bar and I didn’t really know much about the script as a whole. It was just one little scene, which is a very intense scene, especially when it’s taken out of context. I couldn’t help but wonder, ‘so, what is this [film] about’? I didn’t get that part but thankfully, Avy Kaufman, the casting director, saw something and I’m so glad to be on her radar even just a little bit. She suggested that I audition for this other part of the girl on the subway. I didn’t really know that it would lead to anything.

And I remember I was coming out of another audition and my agent called and said: “Hey, would you be willing to go and meet them?” But I’m a huge fan of Hunger, obviously, and so I went there in the middle of the night to this meeting with Steve [McQueen, the director]. They were in the midst of shooting the scene in Eagle Bar, a famous “bear” club. So I waited inside this bondage club for the scene to wrap upstairs. And then he came down and spoke with me a bit… but only for the time it took to get to Michael [Fassbender]’s trailer. He talked a little bit about what the character was but I still didn’t have much context and no script. He just kind of painted this story. And then we went into Michael’s trailer and I spoke to Michael a bit… but mostly about family and acting.

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that it all came down to those moments… those few minutes as I was walking with Steve and he explained to me what it was he wanted for the character. But to get back to your question, yes, I had to fill it out and decide who this woman was and what had happened to her. I wasn’t specific about coming up with her name but I did have an idea of where she was in that first scene, when you see that she’s intrigued before it gets a little scary for her. But then, over the course of the time-frame in the film, she’s also been on her own journey and she’s become more open to something. I take the subway a lot myself and every now and again you have an encounter… some of them feel serendipitous. So, I also drew on that.

Q. How much did you learn from the experience as an actress for the future?
Lucy Walters: Well, the first thing I would say is that as much as I prepared for the role in terms of trying to figure out who she was and make sure the two days you see her were different, there was also a certain amount of not planning and letting yourself react to the power of Michael Fassbender. When he looks at you, he makes you feel charged. He’s so amazing. So, you let yourself relax, which can be hard to do under the circumstances, and receive what he is giving you. In that respect, there’s no acting required. It’s all about receiving what he gives and reacting to it and I think that’s a testament to him. I have so much respect for both him and Steve McQueen. That said, I wasn’t going into this thinking it could be a career-changer for me. I thought: “Just try and relax and enjoy the experience.” I didn’t know while we were shooting how significant the scene would become. To me, it could have been just a shot or a cutaway. So, I also thank the editor or somebody else in that process that created those scenes and allowed for that to happen

Q. Did Michael do anything to put you at ease?
Lucy Walters: He was great. When I met him, which was that day in his trailer, he came across as a really down to earth person. Like I said, we talked about families and stuff… his working class family roots. I also talked about my family. But that totally put me at ease because it wasn’t about egos or hierarchy… there was no posturing. I never felt that I had to prove myself to be worthy of being in the same scene with him. In a sense, it was still an audition but it wasn’t set up like that. Steve kind of set it up so that he could see two people connecting and I appreciated that. It meant I was relaxed around him. And when it came to shooting, too, I felt relaxed. It wasn’t like we were gabbing the whole time and being silly… he was in his space and working on maintaining his concentration. He has such focus and that allowed me to find mine.

Shame, Lucy Walters

There were also millions of extras – all those commuters I had to be able to get lost in as the first scene plays out, so there was a lot that needed to be choreographed and a lot of technical stuff going on. And a lot of it was dictated to by surrounding… Steve had outlined these very loose signposts along the way – stuff like by the third time we go under the tunnel, you’re going to have to be at this point [in the scene]. So, there was a lot to keep in mind while telling this wordless story. But Michael made me feel relaxed and locked into his concentration so that I felt OK. Also, the subway is not very flattering lighting. So, you’re working hard to play this sexy girl, even though you’re not feeling that sexy yourself, and he was wonderful about that. He sort of said: “You look beautiful… let’s start.” And that was just enough for me to go: “OK.” It wasn’t said in a creepy way or a flirtatious way. But it was enough to make me feel good in that moment.

Q. And now you’ve landed your first leading role in Lies I Told My Little Sister. How is that?
Lucy Walters: I’m really excited for it. It’s been a great year for trying out a lot of small, interesting parts but this is a whole different thing… carrying a film. But I’m really excited about the challenge. And it is going to be a challenge. It’s one thing to be able to create an arc off-screen or whatever, but this is a whole different thing—finding a real journey for a complex character who’s on screen nearly every scene, and track and maintain that organic growth, even though you’re not shooting chronologically. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot. But I’m excited to be doing it with such a lovely and smart group of people. I felt after reading the script and meeting them that this was the right project to be able to take this kind of challenge with. I feel comfortable with them… for a big role like this, you want to feel in safe hands and I do.

Q. What can you tell us about the film?
Lucy Walters: Well, it’s about a lot of things. But what resonated with me… you could read it as a cancer film. But I didn’t get that out of it. For me, it’s the really interesting dynamic between the sisters. It’s so character driven and relationship driven. And I’m drawn to those kinds of films with rich, rich relationships such as the one between the sisters in this. I have an older sister and she’s my best friend—but it’s definitely a complicated best friendship. On the one hand, there’s no one else who shares 99% of my DNA and shares my upbringing so there’s not one who will you ever “know me better,” but that’s also what can make it so intense and sometimes fraught. What really resonated for me in this script was that sister relationship and navigating how that relationship changes as they become adults.

So much of who we are seems to be shaped by our position in the family – our sibling order seems to dictate a lot of our personality as we define ourselves in opposition to the sibling personalities around us. And then, also, I think once our “roles” in a family are set during childhood, it’s hard to break out of them. So in this film, they’ve lost their oldest sister to cancer. And suddenly my character is not the middle child, but the oldest, and there’s a dynamic shift that happens because of that. The characters are trying to navigate the grief as a family, but there are these intense and shifting dynamics, as the sisters are also trying to grow up and blossom into adults, but feeling confined by their vestigial childhood roles. In a sense, it’s a love story for my character and her family. She was really hard on her younger sister growing up, but the loss of the oldest sister has made her appreciate family and she’s trying (and sometimes not so gracefully) to prioritize family now.

Lucy Walters

Q. When do you start filming?
Lucy Walters: We start shooting this summer in Cape Cod, which also has a lot of connotations for me. My dad is a marine biologist, so we have spent a lot of summers on the cape. So, in this weird way I feel a connection to Cape Cod already, even though my experience of it is very different from my character.

Q. How do your parents view your career?
Lucy Walters: You know, they are being incredibly supportive. They don’t 100% get it but they’re actually really supportive. I grew up in a very strict family. We didn’t watch TV much, and if we did it was strictly PBS (Public Broadcast Service), so I missed out on huge swathes of pop culture, which in some ways I think has been debilitating and in other ways feels freeing. My mum is funny, though, because she doesn’t know how to ever say the right thing, although in her weird way I do see her trying. Maybe it because she’s also getting older, but she’ll watch TV now and some of the shows I’ve done and she really thinks about them in thoughtful ways. So, I do see her trying to make an effort to look into this world. And I do I see her really trying to understand it. It’s also funny because I’ve done a lot of bad commercials and sometimes she will get a bigger kick out of those! She has a different take on all of it. But I guess I can feel her support through all of it.

Q. What made you want to become an actress?
Lucy Walters: I don’t know. I think I’m a little too sensitive sometimes! But being able to access your emotions easily is a help, I guess. I’ve been performing since I was a child. I was raised as a violinist. So, I think part of me loves the thrill of not just performing but also telling stories. I love telling stories. I rejected musical theatre at a young age and opted to perform straight theatre. But I don’t really know why. I think I also had a love-hate relationship with it too. I didn’t really take it seriously until recently. I did my under-graduate thesis in economics; I did get a double major in theatre but I didn’t really throw myself into the theatre programme. I think it took me a while to come to terms with it. I’ve always been drawn to the arts, but it took me a long time to get my brain around doing it as a career.

There were also other paths I flirted with. I got into economics and I was good at maths but I’m not somebody who is good at making really rational decisions under pressure – and that’s what a lot of the business world is about from what I can gather. So, after figuring that out and realising that acting was a strength and a passion, I really connected to that and decided: “Why fight against being a more together person than I am? There’s something to be said for being emotionally connected.”

Read our review of Shame