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Joe Swanberg selects Sophia Takal

Mumblecore veteran Joe Swanberg on the rising director and actress in her Ozu/Cassavetes-inspired new film 'Green'

Mumblecore veteran Joe Swanberg: “Sophia Takal is an exciting mixture of raw vulnerability and sharp self-awareness, which makes her incredibly fun to collaborate with and watch on screen. She’s smart, full of great ideas, and I’m always impressed by her.”

When Sophia Takal’s fiancé, Lawrence Levine, shot a sex scene with another actress, Takal became a little upset. The film in question, Levine’s Gabi on the Roof in July (2010), was an ensemble piece in which he and Takal both starred. “I became really jealous of the other actresses on set,” she remembers. “I was threatened by them and nervous that he’d cheat on me, and I ended up acting out in irrational ways.” She punched him, and broke up with him by text. Takal and Levine are now happily married, but the unfortunate episode needs rehashing because it was the green-eyed monster that fuelled her directorial debut, Green. Deciding to confront the experience, the Brooklyn-based filmmaker headed for Pennsylvania with Levine and her flatmate (actress Kate Lyn Sheil) in tow, to shoot a movie that tackled her turbulent feelings. “I wanted the characters to be isolated in a pressure cooker,” she explains.

Green follows a couple of Brooklynites who move to a rural idyll, only to be invaded by an overfriendly neighbour (played by Takal herself). Inspired by the likes of Ozu and Cassavetes, her camera holds on the awkward threesome in long takes that let body language speak louder than words. “I was particularly interested in why girls are threatened by each other,” she says. The result won Takal an award at SXSW and a follow-up is now in the works, promising to be a similarly nuanced psychological portrait, this time of two aspiring LA actresses. “One of the characters is very waifish and shy, and the other is aggressive,” the 25-year-old says. “My whole life, I’ve struggled with this feeling that I’m too loud, too bossy, too masculine. I’ve always been angry that girls who are quiet and feminine seem to get what they want. I don’t think it’s necessarily true, so I wanted to look at that frustration...”

Working with a close-knit band of friends and collaborators, the New Jersey-born film school graduate also writes, produces and edits as well as directing and acting. Next month, she stars in found-footage horror anthology V/H/S, a gory mash-up of flesheating vampires, demon ghost children and masked hitchhikers that’s headed for the midnight-movie circuit. “I’m actually terrified of horror films – I can’t stand how The Exorcist makes me feel,” she laughs. “But the reality of the shoot was four days in the Grand Canyon, singing karaoke every night with my friends. Sometimes I feel like being on-set is a weird addiction. It’s a connection which is getting more and more difficult to find in everyday life – it gives me a sense of purpose, drive and community.”

Photography Bibi Borthwick