Actress Kayli Carter talks Netflix, theater, working with fellow Brooklynite Paul Giamatti in new film
One of the delights of the Winter 2016 season at St. Ann’s Warehouse was the American Repertory Theater’s production of “Nice Fish.” Co-written by and starring Mark Rylance, the play combined equal measures of Eugene Ionesco and Sherwood Anderson. It offered an alternately doleful and hilarious take on life in the Upper Midwest. One of the most memorable elements of the production was the performance of a young actress named Kayli Carter, who played “Flo,” the only female member of the cast.
Carter, a Florida native and Brooklyn transplant, is not a new figure on the stage — or on the screen. She has appeared in “Machinal,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Spring Awakening.” Her film and television resume includes Amazon’s “Z: The Beginning of Everything,” “Rings” for Paramount and “Godless” for Netflix.
Now she can be seen in Tamara Jenkins’ first film in ten years, “Private Life,” acting alongside Brooklyn Heights resident Paul Giamatti. Carter plays Sadie, a twenty-five-year-old Bard student. Sadie is restless and confused, but also warm and generous — as she demonstrates by agreeing to donate her eggs to her “art Mom and Dad,” played by Kathryn Hahn and Giamatti, respectively.
After the recent screening of “Private Life” at the 56th New York Film Festival, the Brooklyn Eagle had an email exchange with Carter. Below are edited excerpts.
Eagle: Did you feel the need to create a backstory for Sadie — or did Tamara put it all in the screenplay?
Kayli Carter: I never feel the need to create a backstory with a script as good as this one. I’m also a firm believer that everything you need to know about the person is there in the text, and it’s more important to me where we meet the character, when we see her, what are her immediate circumstances. Tamara is such a gifted writer — she puts more specificity into these people than I’ve seen in any script in quite a while.
Eagle: How much rehearsal time did you have with Kathryn, Paul, etc.? What was the rehearsal process like?
KC: We didn’t have much time at all, just a few days before we started shooting. Tamara invited us all over to Paul’s house and we read the script together. I think mostly we just started to develop what would be our three-pronged relationship. None of us are precious “let’s talk about it” actors, so the process felt more organic.
Eagle: Did the Thanksgiving dinner “revelation” scene require many takes? There’s a lot going on in that scene; was it tough to orchestrate?
KC: For sure that was the longest day for one scene. It’s funny that you use the word orchestrate, because that’s what it felt like — a piece of music. Our wonderful cinematographer, Christos Voudouris, is so empathetic and connected to the actors, he found all of these beautiful, natural moments of behavior in-between the dialogue, which I think makes the scene really sing. I don’t remember it being as take-heavy as it was coverage-heavy.
Eagle: Because it seems like a set where everybody bonded, was it hard for you when the film wrapped and you had to say “goodbye” to Sadie?
KC: It’s never hard for me to say goodbye to a character when it’s time to let go. But these folks, Tamara, Paul, Kathryn … I mean this was an embarrassment of riches for me to work with. The experience itself was so fulfilling that when it wrapped, I thought, “You might be in trouble, because they don’t make movies like this very often.”
Eagle: Do you deliberately try to juggle film, television, theater — or is it more a question of choosing the best material regardless of the medium?
KC: For me it’s always a matter of script. I’m a theater gal, that’s my training and it’s what I go back to; I think it keeps you good. But with places like Amazon and Netflix disrupting the game, the work in TV seems to be deepening. To tell you the truth, I thought I was going to be sort of un-castable in film and television. I’m not the girl next door — I’m the girl who lives next to the girl next door. I’m very happy to say that casting directors haven’t agreed with that. I’m just looking for interesting people to play and every medium has space to do that.
Eagle: What part of Brooklyn do you live in and what made you decide to live in the borough?
KC: I live in Bed-Stuy, on the border of Crown Heights. I can walk my dog and only see people I recognize, and it really feels like a neighborhood. Our street is nothing but gorgeous brownstones and it’s what I dreamt living in New York would look like. For the most part, all my friends live in Brooklyn, so we cook together, we board game together. Their houses are my favorite places to be.
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