Kyle Gallner on His Sundance Two-Fer Red State and Little Birds

It's rare enough to have one film at the Sundance Film Festival, but youngster Kyle Gallner has two pretty high-profile affairs premiering in Park City, Utah later this week: Kevin Smith's horror film Red State and Elgin James' in-competition Little Birds. Not bad for a 24-year-old.

Gallner -- who starred in A Nightmare on Elm Street last year and was the lead in The Haunting in Connecticut -- rang up Movieline last week to discuss his two new films, the frustration that occurs with unwarranted typecasting, and just what being one of the 7 Fresh Faces of Sundance really means.

You've got two very different movies going to Sundance. How excited are you?

It hasn't really hit yet. I'm more just trying to get ready to go. I think once I'm up there, and I'm on the way to the airport, it'll sink in. It's exciting, but I'm trying to keep my feet on the ground until I get there.

How hard is it to be a working actor at Sundance with two movies debuting?

I don't know what they have prepared for when I get there. I know there's the whole press day after the initial screenings. It's going to be hectic, though, because Little Birds and Red State play within 45 minutes of each other. I have to go to see Red State and leave 3/4 of the way through and do the Little Birds red carpet, then go back to the Red State Q&A, and then go back to the Little Birds Q&A. Back and forth, back and forth.

You're not kidding. Red State has a tremendous amount of buzz right now. How'd you get involved?

It was just a basic audition process. I got sent the sides from the movie, and it was a Kevin Smith movie. I went in and auditioned -- it was actually the fastest audition process I've ever been through. I auditioned on Friday morning, by Friday afternoon they said they really liked me, and then they called me on Monday and told me I got the job.

Were you surprised when you got the sides and it was a horror movie from the guy who is most famous for creating Jay and Silent Bob?

I didn't know it was a horror movie, actually. It didn't really get too specific. The initials scenes kinda start off like a regular Kevin Smith movie -- kind of a comedy. Then tere's one scene that's darker. I was like, "Huh, that's interesting." So I went in and asked the casting director about it, and she told me a little about the script. And I was very surprised to hear what the movie was about, the subject matter, and how Kevin was doing something that's not a comedy.

You co-starred in A Nightmare on Elm Street last spring, and now are at the center of another high profile horror film. Are you worried about being type-cast?

There's kinda a fear of being pigeonholed. I said I wasn't going to do another horror movie after Nightmare on Elm Street, but this came around and it's not your typical horror movie; it's not monsters, it's more real life. I wouldn't even say it's 100% horror movie. It's being labeled that, but I don't know if I agree with that.

But it's still a departure from the normal idea of a "Kevin Smith movie," right?

Oh yeah. It doesn't look like anything he's ever done. It looks completely different, super stylized. It's shot really well, the dialogue is -- I mean, Kevin Smith said he's tired of making movies where all he hears is his voice coming out of other people's mouths. He let us play a lot, he let us improvise and make it as natural as we can. It's going to be a very different movie than he's ever done. People are going to be pleasantly surprised.

It also seems like a departure of sorts for Melissa Leo. She's getting a ton of deserved Oscar buzz for The Fighter, and I read that she stayed in character for most of that film shoot. Did she do the same on Red State?

She does stay in character, a lot. She definitely has a method, a very specific way of working. She's interesting to work with; it was very cool to watch her work. She's just really good. She's really talented. Watching her work is cool, though. She's intense. There's a couple of scenes in there, where I was just like, "Oh my God, I'm going to die" (laughs).

Moving on, let's talk Little Birds, which is in dramatic competition at the festival this year. How'd you get hooked up with that film and director Elgin James?

I was attached for a while. I put my audition on tape in Chicago when I was filming Nightmare, I booked it while I was filming Nightmare, and then the movie had some problems getting made. I was attached for over a year. Then it came back finally, and we got to make it. It was really a good experience; I'm really glad we got to make the movie, because I think it's really special.

You're a tough street kid in Little Birds. Did you revel in the opportunity to do something different than your norms?

That's the thing: A lot of my indie films that I've done are very different roles. The only stuff that's been in theaters has been horror movies, which is why it's easy to pigeonhole me. To speculate that I can only act scared and run away (laughs). My indie films are all different. There's one where I play a lead singer in a punk band; there's another one where I'm a super awkward teen in a coming of age story. The indie roles are really diverse. But until they get out and get seen -- if they ever get seen, they're indie films... (Pauses) It'll be nice for people to see Little Birds, it is a different role than people are used to seeing me in.

That's got to be frustrating. You do all this great work, and then -- for whatever reason -- no one can actually even see it.

It can be frustrating, yeah. Especially when you put so much work into something, and you pour yourself into the character and it's never seen. It's not only frustrating for me as an actor, you get frustrated for the director, who put everything into the film to get it made. He wants it to get seen, the producers want it to get seen; you feel bad for all the other actors in the movie. It's heartbreaking for everybody.

On a happier note, you're on of the 7 Fresh Faces of Sundance.

It's pretty cool. It's a cool thing to be selected for it. I don't know what it really entails.

I was gonna ask you what that meant. Do you think it's something that will help your springboard to further recognition?

You can't really think about it. You can't put all your eggs in one basket. You can't go up to Sundance and be like, "One's competing, one's crazy, and I got picked for this award, so I'm big shit." You just never know. I'm flattered and honored that I'm picked, and I'm really excited about these movies, but you never know. It could lead to amazing things, or I could stay in the same spot. Or, someone could say, "Hey, kid, here's a movie." It's always a hustle.

What kind of expectations do you have for the next couple of weeks at Sundance?

When I was up there the first time, two years ago, I didn't love it, because I thought it was too commercial and weird. I don't know; it was just a weird experience. Trippy. I had a good time, but there were parts -- like, I want to go see a movie, but I can't get in a movie. So, I heard it has changed around, and has kinda of become more of a film festival. It was always a "film festival," but the focus has gotten back on films. But, you know, the film festival is not made for seeing films. You're busy as hell, you don't have time to go see other movies. Which is a bummer. But, I'm excited to go back. I'm a little older, little wiser, we'll see.