Emily Meade on ‘Adventures in the Sin Bin,’ Playing Teen Roles and Why She’s Not on Social Media
The Adventures in the Sin Bin, directed by Billy Federighi, is not your average teen comedy. Loosely based on Billy Wilder’s The Apartment, the film follows Brian (Michael Seater), an awkward teen on scholarship at an exclusive prep school, who enjoys unexpected popularity because he owns a van. Desperate for a place to hook up with girls, head boy Tony (Bo Burham) befriends Brian for the sole purpose of using his van, although he also offers to teach him techniques for wooing women. However, when both boys set their sights on the same girl, things get complicated.
Known for her roles in Bluebird (TFF2013), Thanks for Sharing and Boardwalk Empire, Emily Meade has already made quite a name for herself. In this candid interview, we ask the budding starlet about her latest film, the pressures of a wide theatrical release and her upcoming play, Domesticated, with Laurie Metcalf and Jeff Goldblum.Tribeca: While Adventures in the Sin Bin is being described as a “teen sex comedy,” it has a surprising amount of heart. Given that it is loosely based on Billy Wilder’s The Apartment, maybe that is not so surprising after all. What were your initial reactions to the script?
Emily Meade: I definitely didn’t see it as a ‘teen sex comedy.” Sure, the sexual aspect is a large part of the story, but it’s not technically all about sex. In the simplest terms, it’s about growing up. I thought the script was really funny and clever when I first read it. It’s so cute and heartfelt. While the script took some chances, it’s not exploitative and obnoxious. It’s definitely inspired by The Apartment, which made the film really stand out to me. It’s rare to have a teen comedy that’s fun but that also has such great characters. I liked the flawed female love interest as opposed to the super clever teen girl that often appears in teen comedies.
Tribeca: Though you have a versatile tv/filmography, this is your first major role in a comedy. What drew you to the role of Suzie in Adventures in the Sin Bin?
EM: I was always drawn to comedy as a kid. I grew up with I Love Lucy and SNL. It wasn’t until I was older and got into acting that I started being pulled towards drama. The first few things that got me started in my career were pretty dark. Even during the times when Suzie serves as the straight man, I was pleased that she was surrounded by all these wildly, funny characters.
Tribeca: The majority of your scenes are with Michael Seater and the hilarious Bo Burnham. Can you talk about working with them?
EM: They’re both really fun and charming in their own ways. Bo has this physical and intellectual understanding of comedy that’s just amazing. He was a comedian first before he really started acting. We were all holding back laughter watching his scenes. He demands your attention while he’s on screen because he has such presence and a perfect sense of comedic timing.
Michael also has to play a bit of the straight man in the movie, but he too has a lot of heart and understands comedy. He captured the feel of that earnest, awkward period of your life without being too goofy. It’s really easy to relate to him.
I haven’t graduated from “Hollywood” high school, but that’s okay. The only thing that really matters to me is the role and the story.
Tribeca: You’ve worked with established filmmakers like Joel Schumacher and Wes Craven, but you often work with first time directors like Billy Federighi. Is there something that draws you to projects with first timers?
EM: It’s often the script itself that draws me. It’s really two different things. Working with someone that is experienced can be exciting because it’s like you’re entering their world, especially if you like the director. Working with a new or first time filmmaker can feel more like collaboration—you’re finding your way together, which can be really exciting. As they form their own distinctive style, you can find the voice of the character together.
Tribeca: The Adventures in the Sin Bin hits VOD and limited theaters this Friday. Do you think actors have been reluctant to take roles in movies that might be going straight to VOD with limited theatrical releases?
EM: I will admit that I am one of them. I can be really old school and old fashioned and it has been hard for me to accept the concept of the Internet and Netflix series. All these things are very now and I’m not quite used to it. I am still attached to the idea of a movie theater.
Also, when you first start on a movie, unless it’s a studio movie, you don’t know where it’s going to end up. You kind of just have to have blind faith. I hope that I and other actors can learn to go with it. As much as I am reluctant about it, that’s the direction of that the world of distribution is going in. [laughs] People made the transition from silent to talking pictures, right?
I like to have the separation of church and state between my own life and the characters I play.
Tribeca: Is having a big theatrical opening still as important as it used to be?
EM: I think a big theatrical release, if it’s done well, can be really exciting. People love that theatrical experience. However, there is a lot more of a chance of the film being a failure. On the other hand with a VOD release, more people have access to it. The film becomes widespread without increasing the risk of losing more money. It takes the pressure off of needing to deliver. A big theatrical release can be really nerve wracking for an actor.
Tribeca: As an actress working between independent and mainstream worlds, do you feel any pressure to use social media to help spread the word?
EM: I feel a level of pressure. Social media is the norm now for a lot of people in my profession. Maybe I’m stubborn, but I still haven’t let go of this idea of having some protection. There’s something about it that I haven’t quite accepted. I like to have the separation of church and state between my own life and the characters I play. I’m happy to give interviews and do photo shoots, but there’s something vulnerable about putting yourself out there on social media. Maybe I will get into it eventually but so far I have held out, and I am okay with it.
Tribeca: I was really struck by your performance in Bluebird, which celebrated its world premiere at TFF 2013. Can you talk about the experience of working on that film? What was it like to shoot on location in Maine?
EM: It was very cold. [laughs] It’s a very sad movie, but it’s so beautiful. When we were in Maine, we were all staying at this desolate motel that didn’t have a bar or restaurant. We were very isolated. It was a lonely and difficult process but that really helped with the overall tone of the film. We all used that in our performances. It was an interesting way to get to know the rest of the cast. The setting helped feed the palate of the film, which was about the feeling of seclusion. It was hard but rewarding at the same time.
Working with a new or first time filmmaker can feel more like collaboration—you’re finding your way together, which can be really exciting.
Tribeca: As a young actress, you’re able to slip seamlessly between high-school age and women-on-the-verge roles. Is it an advantage or disadvantage to be in that age range as an actress? Does it matter if the roles are good?
EM: I think it’s ultimately an advantage because the more parts you are able to play the more you have access to play. I’m 24 now and I’ve definitely eaten my words a few times. I’ll be adamant about moving on from teenage roles, and then I’ll read something so great or love a character so much that I have to do the project. I just agreed to do a movie where I played my own age, but I’m currently in rehearsal for a play at Lincoln Center where I’m playing a 17 year old.
So obviously, I haven’t graduated from “Hollywood” high school, but that’s okay. The only thing that really matters to me is the role and the story. Though, I have felt that itch to “age up,” so to speak. It’s hard not to be able to utilize certain life experiences to enrich a character.
When you are playing a 17 year old, you have to play as if you have limited amount of life experience to make the part believable. That can be frustrating, but some characters are more limited in development and circumstances than others. I’ve certainly played high schoolers who have been wise beyond their years. However, it’s a blessing and an advantage to play such a wide range of parts.
Tribeca: Is it strange to watch yourself mature, both physically and professionally, on screen?
EM: Yes. [laughs] It can be frustrating because you look back at a character and you wish you could have incorporated something you learned after the initial performance. You can’t help yourself. You look back and think about how you would have done it differently. However, it’s ultimately a part of the process.
I am doing ADR for a movie I shot a year ago. Even though not a lot of time has passed, I feel like I would have done things differently now. I’ve been able to get so much experience since then. Like other people my age, I am constantly evolving and changing. It’s weird to watch. It’s easy to be hard on yourself.
Tribeca: You’re currently in rehearsal for Domesticated at Lincoln Center with Laurie Metcalf and Jeff Goldblum. Can you talk about the challenges you face in preparing for a role on stage as opposed to tv/film?
EM: It has been so, so hard. [laughs] I actually went to LaGuardia School of Performing Arts. It’s technically a high school, but it mostly provides conservatory training. Throughout my time there, I studied and trained in theatre. However, I’ve worked in film and television exclusively for the past six years.
Working with Laurie Metcalf and the other amazing actors, who just have amazing theatrical background, is so intimidated. I’m truly a little fish in the massively huge pond [laughs]. I’m re-learning how to project my voice and act for the stage. You use different tools in film. I’ve become attached to playing subtlety for the camera, but now I have to do that on stage. It’s really challenging, but I love it. I have learned so much from people around me.
Adventures in the Sin Bin is now available on VOD and in select theaters.