Hayden Panettiere on Fireflies in the Garden, Battling Typecasting, and the Amanda Knox Aftermath

hayden_panetiere_FITG630.jpgOpening this weekend in limited release, Fireflies in the Garden isn't exactly Hayden Panettiere's "new" film. It's more like her embattled, shelved, revisited and re-revisited film -- shot in 2007, a festival curio in early 2008 and thought lost to the indie-film ages until recently, when plans were finally made for its theatrical distribution. At least she's in pretty phenomenal company, starring alongside Julia Roberts, Ryan Reynolds, Willem Dafoe and playing a young Emily Watson in the tale of a family grappling with generations of guilt, misunderstanding, tragedy and maybe -- just maybe -- a future.

Panettiere co-stars as Jane, the teenage aunt to Michael Waecther (played in their '80s era flashbacks by Cayden Boyd, who grows up into Reynolds's disaffected present-day romance novelist). Gone to stay with her older sister Lisa (Roberts) and her domineering husband Charlie (Dafoe) one summer, she and Michael form a bond that carries over to the tense aftermath of Lisa's sudden death.

Movieline spoke with Panettiere recently about Fireflies's scenic route to the screen, how both she and the film have changed along the way, plotting her own careful path forward, and her latest thoughts on Amanda Knox, the American student (and TV biopic subject, played by Panettiere) recently released from custody in Italy after her conviction for murdering her roommate.

Wow, you look great. Are you off to somewhere after this?

No, I just didn't learn until I got here that it wasn't going to be on camera!

I see. I can totally get my camera if you'd like. Where's my phone?

I feel more relaxed not on camera.

Do you really?

I do! I do with these interviews. For some reason when the camera comes up, I've been doing it for so long that you have this internal instinct to "turn it on." And when you're just chatting with someone, you don't feel as much of a need to do that.

That's interesting. You have spent most of your life working in front of the camera; it seems like it would be natural for you. But you'd say you feel more apprehensive?

I have as I've gotten older. It's not that I'm uncomfortable, but I noticed when I was younger that there such an innocence and freedom; you just don't examine yourself quite as much. I didn't have myself under quite as much of a microscope. I wasn't concerned with the things that would come out of my mouth or the way they would sound or the expression on my face, which are all things that you're not supposed to pay attention to when you're acting. As I've gotten older, I've found myself paying a little more attention to it and second-guessing myself and questioning myself. You just have this freedom when you're younger -- this lack of concern to fail or do anything wrong. It comes with an ease that I've found has kind of deteriorated over time. I have my moments where I feel really good about it, but it's all a mindset. If I'm thinking of it that way, then I'm tripping myself out.

Fireflies in the Garden has been in limbo for a while. How many times have you actually talked about this film before today?

None. Well, you're the fifth today, but it's only been today.

It shot over four years ago. What's your remembrance of the film from those days, and how is talking about it today affecting your perspective of it?

Well, I rewatched the film last night. It's interesting, because while I was filming it, there are certain things my character was going through that the audience is not aware of. So it's interesting to try to describe exactly what my character was going through and the problems she was having in overcoming this big obstacle in her life and why she was at her sister's house when it's not something that the audience can see in the film. And I was closer to a teenager back then as well; I was a lot closer to the actual age that this girl was, and that teenage angst, and that feeling of showing up to a house and being handed a list of rules and thinking, "Is this a joke? You're not my parents. I've never had rules like this." And there's this odd relationship between her and the family because she holds the title, almost, of an adult, but she's young. She's the aunt of this kid and the sister of [Julia Roberts's character], where it feels like she should be the cousin of, or the daughter of, or something like that.

Was your character's background actually shot, and it's just not in there?

That's what I was trying to remember. I was trying to remember back to whether or not it was ever mentioned in the film, or whether it was just an underlying issue that the character was going through but the audience wasn't ever supposed to really know. Or if they were supposed to know that something was going on but were not sure what, or the slim chance of somebody in the audience putting two and two together and going, "OK, I think I understand what's going on." Originally I was sent to my sister's house because I had gotten pregnant.

Ooohhhh. Now I get it.

That's what they did back then: send them away to a family member's house so that they would get an abortion and take care of the kid. There are a couple scenes toward the end where you can see she's kind of sitting tenderly in this kind of robe, and that's the inner turmoil that's going on with her. She's not in a good place when she gets there, and frankly, neither is anybody else. She takes this kid under her wing -- this nephew of hers, who's more like a best friend -- and comes to his rescue and promises that she won't let anything happen to him.

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  • Hayden Panettiere Fan says:

    That was a great interview, thank you. Hayden is on a roll at the moment, her latest films have shown everyone that her acting ability is right up there with today's very best actors. I still wish she released an album though, I love her songs.