The Verge: Portia Doubleday
At least until the Weinstein Company moved its terrific comedy Youth in Revolt to Jan. 8, Portia Doubleday was shaping up to be have one of the biggest breakthroughs of 2009. That's fine, though -- now she can have 2010 to herself for a while. Adapted from novelist CD Payne's cult classic about the mischievous misadventures of Nick Twisp (played here by Michael Cera), the film features Doubleday as Sheeni Saunders, the captivating Francophile object of Nick's geek lust. Shielded from Nick's advances by fundamentalist parents who dispatch her to school or anywhere else her paramour (and his wicked alter ego Francois) can't track her down, Sheeni represents both a bad influence and perfect muse. In her first feature film role, Doubleday demonstrates a knack for merging those qualities; Sheeni's kittenish warmth radiates even when she wields her sex appeal and unattainability like the weapon it is. It's a neat trick Doubleday attributes in large part to the guidance of Cera and director Miguel Arteta; the 21-year-old actress sat down with Movieline a while back to discuss their crash course in acting and her road to Revolt.
How and when did you first get into acting?
I come from an artistic family. My dad's an actor, my mother's an actress, my sister's an actress. So I kind of grew up in that kind of environment. Oddly enough, I never really knew about my parents' work. I've seen small clips of it, but we never actually spoke about the business. Which is interesting, since now I'm in it. I'm like, "What's going on?", and I recently learned a lot of history from my family. Growing up I did commercials and things like that, but nothing serious. As I got older, my family is really hardcore into academics. They weren't wanting to necessarily support an acting career; it's a really fickle business, and it can be difficult and unstable. They were rooting for education and the whole nine yards. And I really enjoy school, but I was doing academics and I did feel sad. I felt like there was this void in my life. Fortunately, being in the family I'm in -- I guess it's genetics pulling me in to this kind of artistic style. So I went to the Academy of Dramatic Arts. I went to CalArts for a summer program. I studied at different studios. I was just kind of dabbling in it and I realized how important it was for me. It just made me feel like a person, like I was more complete. I love what I do, and I'm fortunate enough to be young and know that for the rest of my life -- hopefully! -- I'll be affiliated with this craft.
This is quite a debut, though. How did it come to you, and how did you know this was the role for you?
I was really hesitant about it at first. It was quite overwhelming. I'd been auditioning for a year, and I didn't know anything. I really didn't. I didn't know what it's like to be on a set; I didn't know what it was like to shoot something. I never really thought about getting the part. I thought, "I'm way too green. It's never going to happen." And I was fine with that! I was actually more comfortable with the thought that it would be something I could work at long-term. Then you have a little bit of control over what happens, and that's kind of my thing. I was going to school, and I was auditioning just because I had a blast doing it. We came across this script, and my agents were talking about it and said, "You've got to go in for this." I read the script and was really intimidated.
This character has a lot of colors. At first she's really confident and really intelligent. She's ambitious. She's also very dry and kind of subtle. I feel like I'm more enthusiastic and animated. So it was nerve-wracking. The first audition, I basically said, "You know what? I'm going to go in there, and whatever happens will be the result." When I left that day I got a call saying they'd sent it over. I guess that's when my nerves getting involved. It was totally overwhelming when I got the phone call. My life completely changed. I mean, I wasn't commuting to the Valley three days a week anymore to go to school. I was off to Michigan.
At some point you had to prepare yourself to be the female lead in this film -- emotionally, psychologically, technically. How did you settle into the mindset saying, "Hey, I belong here"?
Oh, definitely Miguel. I had sent him e-mails about attacking this role; it's really complex, especially when you read the book. It's 500 pages, and there's a lot of Sheeni in there. Miguel just said, "Trust your instincts," and that was the best advice he could have given me. I mean, it's better now, but my technical training was at a minimum. And of course I can't thank Michael enough. He had to put up with someone who was really green, and I fed a lot off his character and what he was doing. So it was a lot of acclimating to their vision. When I read the book and got really absorbed in her character and saw how amazing she was, it was a lot of fun. And Miguel recommended some French films I'm in love with. I actually did develop a pretty intense crush on Jean-Paul Belmondo. So it was just little things like that that boosted my confidence. I was so excited to play her.
And I did fall on my face a bunch of times. But Miguel put me back on the right track. He spoke to me every day and was really hands-on... Just a great, great director. I don't have a lot of experience to compare him and others, but I know he's such a special, creative person. He just knew exactly what do, and I had to trust him.
Pages: 1 2