The first thing you notice about Imogene Poots is her smile--it stretches across her face and lingers longer than the average upturned mouth, punctuating the end of practically every other sentence she utters. It's hard to blame her; things are going well for the British actress. She's got six films slated for release this year--including Greetings From Tim Buckley, which is currently available via video-on-demand and has a slow roll-out in theaters starting May 3. Though the movie is ostensibly about the folk icon Tim Buckley and his son Jeff Buckley (played by Penn Badgley), Poots repositions it as a tale of fleeting love through her role as Allie, an intern who has a brief--but deep-connection with the younger Buckley. It could be a character you write-off, but instead Poots imbues her with Penny Lane-levels of confidence and independence. Before the film's big premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, we sat down with Poots to talk to her about going through a nu-metal phase, wanting to be like Michael Shannon, and being asked to brush her hair every now and again.
Although the film is based on a concert that actually happened, your character is fictionalized. How much freedom did you have to fill in the blanks with Allie?
It was an interesting thing, I remember it was like the idea of Almost Famous or something like that, and somebody who you feel could have been real because it just made sense. And when I read the script it made sense, because she was an assemblage of many different figures in [Jeff] Buckley's life at the time--women around him and her ideas in performance art--but I think also of course he fell in love, of course he had these girls, and she was someone specific to him to being a catalyst in going back to find his father, and going to the tribute concert and following that through. He was enigmatic and she was enigmatic too, and I think its kind of not knowing too much about someone that allows the audience to invest in their relationship.
Yeah, I love the fact that she's not just some groupie who's a footnote in the story.
It's funny because people say to me, "Oh is she a love interest," and I say, "Well yeah, of course she is, but there's a whole dynamic there that the film explores. It's really a love letter to New York during that time too, and you understand more about his relationship with his father to the relationship that he has with Allie. It's kind of a great thing.
Was it as fun as it looked running around New York for the movie?
We had a blast making it! It was really fun because it was the summer in New York. I think both of us were going through different changes with people in our life, or something like that, and the director is a very, very free spirit. We [ran on location], all round the West Village and then in Brooklyn, and these are all original locations too, like Cafe Wha? I'd read Just Kids a couple months previous and it was very romantic in my head, and it's kind of funny because there are some cities in America that really deliver that. You have these romantic ideas and then you can actually live them, if you want to. And I loved the music, I loved the costumes. We had a lot of fun.
It's such a musical film, but did you listen to a lot of music on set?
Yeah, I did actually. I listened to a lot of Tim Buckley during the shoot. And then it was cool because when Penn actually played "Once I Was" I hadn't heard him do that one yet, and it had become a favorite of mine very, very quickly and it still is, and when he performed that it was very authentic in terms of, like, "Wow," you know? I think it's so important, I always listen to music on set. I think it's really a great, great thing and it can kind of take you out and bring you back. There are some songs that I'll just listen to again and again on my headphones for years, and I think that they don't grow old and they effect you in different ways. It's the best. And it's always a relief when that song comes on when it's on my iPod.
What are some of the songs you have on your iPod that affect you like that?
I love "This is the Day" by The The. That's my favorite song, it's amazing. And then I love Tom Petty, The Smiths were kind of a band that I listened to a lot when I was 17, 18, which sounds kind of miserable but they introduced me to so many other bands. Do you know Karen Dalton? She was singing around the same time as Tim Buckley. She's so cool, she has a song called "Something On Your Mind" and it's unreal. I love Grimes, she's so good! She's so cool, she's amazing. I went to see another band in LA, Doldrums, who are from Montreal and it's that kind of Canadian dream-pop--they're great.
Were you really into music when you were younger?
I was. Literally, like, Linkin Park, Korn.
Oh you had one of those phases.
Yes, it was ridiculous that phase. Because you started off with Blink-182 and everyone's like, "That's OK, that's understandable." And then you start being like Lostprophets and [Marilyn] Manson and everyone's like, "Meh, I don't know how I feel about that." But I think its so funny, the phases that you go through, and music was definitely something that I found myself, and I love it for that.
It seems like the rest of the projects you've got coming up aren't as music-oriented as this one.
The way I feel about it is the last 18 months have been projects I've adored making, I've just been so excited about. And in that sense I feel ecstatic because the things that are coming out I feel really proud of and you can't really beat that. Then at the same time, it's like a restless thing in a sense. But I definitely feel really great about it, and it's funny because with independent films you don't know when they're necessarily going to come out. They can come out a year later or, like, two years later, so things always bustle when it all comes together.
With such varied projects, does it feel like you're evolving as an actor?
I hope so! And I think as soon as something makes you think differently it's a positive thing. I think you just have to be really brave because no one else is going to help you do that or tell you to do that. So, whatever that means to you. Bravery doesn't necessarily mean taking a huge risk, it means doing something that you've wanted to do for a long time but have been held back. But also, it's the little things that I think are really important--even how set is run! Like with this film, it was like, "Let's go get together have Bloody Mary's and screwdrivers and read through the script," and it was just very fun.
Have there been any projects that have felt like a real big learning experience for you?
I think all of them have in their own ways. I feel like this was a learning experience because in terms of [just letting go] and it is OK to just do something because you feel the ned to or want to, and if someone doesn't feel the same way they'll tell you about it. But certainly working in the last year I had the chance to work with James McAvoy and Christian Bale, and these are guys who are so gentle and so great but then it's incredible to get in touch with their acting, it's really something else. Everyone's so different.
It seems like some of your upcoming projects have the potential to be major blockbusters. Are you ready to be a household name?
I feel like you've always got to be cautious of that. But I think fundamentally there's a certain place you can be where you end up doing great roles, and I think that you look at actresses or actors who do that--take Michael Shannon, we don't know anything about him but he's working for directors and doing amazing things right now. But really I wouldn't ever put [fame] at the forefront of your mind, but of course you can't be naive about knowing that if you're going to put something out there then there's a load of shit that comes with it. So you just kind of have to decide if it will define you or not, which I hope that it doesn't. I think for women it's far more complex, but still I think there are some big stars now--like Jennifer Lawrence, the way she handles herself is fucking awesome. Whether or not she thinks that, but it's great. And I think that everyone is building towards that kind of attitude and it's a really wonderful thing.
Have you felt like being a women in Hollywood there are certain things that you didn't realize would be expected of you?
Yeah of course, the number of phone calls about, "Make sure you brush your hair," it's astonishing! But then you realize actually the good people are so happy that you didn't brush your hair. It's a funny thing. But after a while you can't pretend to be something that you're not as a person, because then you cheat yourself in life. I think that you have to be really comfortable in your own beliefs and try to be a good person, but Hollywood is a funny old thing.