Imogen Poots‘s face is everywhere this year. She was recently seen in That Awkward Moment, has Need for Speed opening this weekend, Filth hits the states this summer, and maybe we’ll be lucky enough to see her in Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups before 2015. Another movie Poots co-stars in this year is writer-director John Ridley‘s Jimi: All Is by My Side. She plays the incredibly suave Linda Keith, a supporter and close friend of Jimi Hendrix (André Benjamin) in the film.
Speaking with Poots at SXSW this week, I learned she clearly admires Ridley’s strict focus on their relationship as well. She spoke fondly of Jimi: All Is by My Side and, of course, a terrific French bakery in Los Angeles. Our conversation touched on plenty of other relevant subjects, too. If you’re curious about how beautiful Charlestown, West Virginia, really is, for example, read what she has to say about it below.
Congratulations on the film. It turned out great.
Oh, great! I really love it too. It’s funny, the actual screenplay is really linear. They sort of spruced it up in editing.
Did you not see the changes until you saw the final film?
I kind of knew when John said he was going to get [Terrence] Malick’s editor to cut together the film.
[Laughs] You could’ve been cut out of the movie.
[Laughs] This is true, this is true. I really love the film, though. It’s got a kick to it.
Right. It’s refreshingly condensed. The film doesn’t feel like cliff notes like most bio films.
Yeah, I think so. It also feels very present. It’s easy to look at the legend Hendrix was in his short-lived lifetime, but it’s cool to catch him earlier on and not be too distracted by what’s going on.
Leaving the film, you get the impression Linda Keith was one of the coolest girls around.
Isn’t she so amazingly cool? I couldn’t do that [Laughs].
[Laughs] She is. I couldn’t find much information about her online.
Yeah, there’s not a whole lot on her. There’s almost just key bits about her. I watched a lot of documentaries on Hendrix, and undoubtedly she comes into those films at some point. There’s one called The Man They Made God where she was interviewed. She was so poised. There was this manner to her that was very important to John as well. It was interesting to see that juxtaposed with this chaotic and mad rock ‘n’ roll scene. She never loses herself, except for one part of the movie with Kathy.
I thought it was understandable.
I think so! I think it takes a lot for someone that composed to physically assert themselves.
You’ve said before how you love the unpredictability of acting. What was unpredictable on Jimi: All Is by My Side?
First of all, I certainly mean that in terms of what job you’re going to do next or what film you’re going to do. In the moment, André [Benjamin] was so onboard with that, where we would rehearse and play around with it. I think unpredictable in terms of … you never know when someone throws a glass of water in someone’s face if it might miss entirely. You don’t know what’s going to happen, especially with props involved. I just love that nature of it. Nothing is kind of locked down, which helps give blood and bones to characters. You’re moving as them, so you’re not just reacting.
Was there a lot of rehearsal on this?
There was, actually. We got to Ireland a couple of weeks prior, mainly because André was learning how to play guitar left handed, which is insane [Laughs]. We had a lot of time to hangout. We got to a place where there wasn’t a need to always talk, because you’re so at ease with them.
Do you prefer that to showing up at the start of shooting and having to play a relationship with someone you don’t know?
I don’t think there’s a right or wrong. That was actually John’s decision for us to get to know each other. I remember when we were all doing lunch John suddenly wouldn’t be able to come [Laughs], so we could be together. I’ve had moments on a film set where you just show up with someone you don’t know, and that also has its benefits.
Seeing this film last week and now having Need for Speed…
Have you seen it yet?
I haven’t. I missed the junket. Do you try to balance more mainstream releases and smaller films, or has your career so far been a matter of taste?
I don’t think it’s an either or between those two. I do think All Is by My Side is the type of film I’m the most happiest. You know, I’m figuring it out. I did just move to New York, so I have to pay my rent. I also want to make movies about Jimi Hendrix, though [Laughs].
[Laughs] And movies like Filth.
Isn’t that the movie so cool?
I love it. James McAvoy plays such a bastard in it, but you really empathize with him by the end.
He manages to somehow employ the worst traits of any human combined. The whole question is: is he redeemable? It’s really an incredible performance. What do you think American audiences will think about the movie?
It’s definitely not a movie for everyone, but I think the marketing will get across what kind of film to expect.
Right, right, right. Did you see that movie Holy Motors?
It’s such a surreal film, and walking into it you knew what to expect. I think Filth has that. You just gotta get on knowing what it is.
What kind of reactions have you seen to it?
I think it’s interesting because audiences actually … it’s really hard to shock somebody. It’s mainly that character’s behavior, not blood or sperm or any body fluid that’s shocking. The fact that he’s racist, homophobic and sexist, it’s a lot to get your head around. Actually, I think people who know McAvoy’s work will be shocked.
It’s funny you mention American audiences. I just saw Nymphomaniac, which is pretty hardcore, in Germany, and nobody batted an eye. Here a naked woman in The Wolf of Wall Street draws gasps from some people.
Exactly. It’s really interesting, especially with the context of it all. I think Lars von Trier, again, makes cult movies with a celebration of distortion and sex. It’s crazy people felt that way about The Wolf of Wall Street because it’s almost, like, they completely forgot what a manipulative and fantastic role Margot Robbie was playing in that movie. She’s a strong girl. You’re right, though. It’s funny that people gasp at naked bodies, but not at guns.
Right. Most people aren’t gasping at the terrible behavior in The Wolf of Wall Street.
Right! I mean, the protagonist is majorly flawed, but people go, “Oh my god, she’s got cash strapped to her breasts!”
[Laughs] When you’re on set for Filth and All is by My Side, is the work ethic different compared to Need for Speed?
Well, you always want to turn up to work and do the best job you can do, but each film requires different things. The difference between them is that Need for Speed has more money, more people and more locations. It’s a bigger vehicle. Looking at All is by My Side from a creative perspective, there’s more to bite your teeth into, character-wise and plot-wise. The work ethic will always be you want to do the best you can do, in any situation. It’s really the product that will come out slightly different.
Once it comes out, do you focus on how it turned out or the experience?
It has to be about the experience. Otherwise, you’ll go crazy. I think we’ve all made that mistake of wanting to know how people are receiving the film. You’ve made something, so you want to know how it’s perceived by modern audiences. If you let that get to you, then you’ll go totally nuts.
What are the best days on set?
Well, I had an incredible time making this film. I can’t say enough about it. The characters were so good and rich. The story was something I was fascinated by. It’s just thrilling to be in that environment. I do believe it’s not science or arithmetic … actually, that’s so embarrassing [puts her face in her hands], I was just about to quote Truman Capote [Laughs]! Anyway, he said creativity is like magic. You just don’t know what will happen, and those are the best days on set. It’s great and exciting to go, “I can’t believe I just did that! I’m so pretentious!” Films like A Late Quartet I have the best days on. Those are the films I hold onto.
How about the toughest days?
The toughest days are when things can hold you back, like, self-frustration or the hours. Everything is relative, though. The hours I’m doing is different than a much worst off profession. In terms of the industry, I think the worst days … it’s an interesting question. I generally try and have great days, because I feel very lucky to be doing what I’m doing. That’s a very sugarcoated answer, but I really do try. I guess the worst things are when you run to the restroom in some really weird location, you finally get there, and then you realize someone has sewn your zipper to your top and you go, “Wow! I’m actually wearing a onesie and there’s no way out of this.”
[Laughs] One location I wanted to ask about that you brought up in an interview is Charlestown, West Virginia. I’m from around that area.
What were you there for?
I flew to Charlestown because I was going to a wedding, which was in Paintsville in Eastern Kentucky. I loved it.
It’s a beautiful place.
It’s gorgeous! Obviously all around there is stunning. Flying in was one of the most incredible moments for me. I remember it being literally blue. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Even the air is great. So, you’re from there?
No, but I grew up not far from there.
Do you still live there?
I’m living in Los Angeles now.
Oh, cool. How do you like it there?
I like it, but it’s interesting. It’s different because I’m from Washington, D.C., where the bus and metro takes you everywhere, so I’ve never driven before.
Neither have I!
[Laughs] I still prefer the bus in Los Angeles. I don’t want to drive there.
It’s crazy. Some people shouldn’t drive. I know I would be dangerous if I drove.
Plus, for the most part, it’s not hard to get around there with the public transportation.
Yeah, you can take the train downtown.
You meet some interesting people on the train.
You do. The buses are amazing for people watching. I just moved to New York. I did Los Angeles for a little bit. I really loved it. There’s great things about it.
I prefer New York. You can walk anywhere there. In Los Angeles you don’t want to walk.
No, you don’t. Unless you’re a prostitute, you don’t want to.
[Laughs] They’re all on my street.
Are they? Where do you live by?
I live in Koreatown.
Oh, cool! You’re not far from downtown. When I was walking around Koreatown there was a place … I think I was lost and thought, “Oh, this is Koreatown. Shit. I don’t know where I am.” Anyway, I found this incredible and lovely bakery. It was so nice.
Is it a French bakery?
I pass by that place all the time on Western.
That’s the place! I just thought, “This is awesome.”
Jimi: All is by My Side opens in theaters this June.