heart machine still

Spoiler warning: If you haven’t watched the first ten episodes of this season of House of Cards, there are some small potential spoilers ahead.

One of the strange things about small screen programming and binge-watching is that opinions can form, break, change, and reform in a matter of days and hours, not over the course of whole weeks and months. Earlier this week and on the tail of watching just the first episode of the second season of House of Cards, I happily penned a bit of a rating system for who viewers should be rooting for this season, and although I won’t detail just how and by whom I have been disappointed, mere days later, I’m already scoffing at my own early predictions and hopes for a season that has become more about diminishing returns than building up good stories and good characters.

But although plenty of House of Cards has crumbled into soap opera-styled twists and double-crosses that are increasingly hard to believe, there is one plotline that continues to maintain both intrigue and interest – the near-imprisonment of former prostitute Rachel Posner (Rachel Brosnahan), who has unexpectedly found solace in a close new friend, in the form of Kate Lyn Sheil as the strangely soothing Lisa Williams. The duo met early in the second season, when Lisa reached out to Rachel on the bus to query her about her musical choices. For Rachel, so long trapped by Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly), the concept of a friend was both terrifying and hopeful, and Sheil has delivered a stirring and appropriately tense performance as Rachel’s unlikely new companion. She’s one of the best things about this new season, and her House of Cards turn just might deliver the indie darling to the big time (or, at least, to serious recognizability).

Sheil has popped up around these parts plenty, and recently too, as our own Chris Campbell dedicated a Fund This Film to the Sheil-starring and SXSW-bound indie The Heart Machine earlier this month. Back at SXSW 2012, I reviewed two Sheil films: the disappointing Somebody Up There Likes Me and the far more revelatory Sun Don’t Shine, fellow indie darling Amy Seimetz’s directorial debut. It’s no coincidence that Sheil shows at SXSW so often, and fans of some of indie film’s biggest names and features will surely recognize her.

Sheil’s resume reads like a long-form list of some of the best (or, at least, the most promising) names in the indie game. She’s both a Ti West and a Joe Swanberg regular, she’s co-starred in three of Alex Ross Perry’s features (Impolex, The Color Wheel, and Listen Up Philip), and she’s popped up in other indie outings like The Comedy and Pollywogs. Sheil often works alongside multi-hyphenates Sophia Takal and Lawrence Michael Levine, starring in Levine’s Gabi on the Roof in July back in 2010 and Takal’s Green in 2011. Takal and Sheil even had a bit of fun in a segment of 2012’s V/H/S in West’s “Second Honeymoon,” a twisty little short that includes a big, punchy twist.

Sheil’s resume reads like a long-form list of some of the best (or, at least, the most promising) names in the indie game (which helps account for her often massive film festival presence). She’s both a Ti West and a Joe Swanberg regular, she’s co-starred in three of Alex Ross Perry’s features (Impolex, The Color Wheel, and Listen Up Philip), and she’s popped up in other indie outings like The Comedy and Pollywogs. Sheil often works alongside multi-hyphenates Sophia Takal and Lawrence Michael Levine, starring in Levine’s Gabi on the Roof in July back in 2010 and Takal’s Green in 2011. Takal and Sheil even had a bit of fun in a segment of 2012’s V/H/S in West’s “Second Honeymoon,” a twisty little short that includes a big, punchy twist. 

What Sheil offers (beyond an apparently heady work ethic and good scheduling technique, she’s appeared in thirty-eight productions in just seven years) is something quite unique – an ethereal beauty that can seamlessly slip from charming and soothing to nefarious and haunting. As effortless as her ability might seem on screen, she’s also highly trained, as the actress is both a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (she is originally from New Jersey) and an alumna of the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. She has something rare — grace — and the sort of self-possession that is hard to find on screen these days. Although her House of Cards role isn’t as meaty as her fans might like to see, she’s still been able to infuse her work as Lisa with her trademark style, and it’s helped set apart her particular storyline from some of its soapy brethren.

Sheil, in typical style, has no less than eight projects in the pipeline, including a role in television series The Traditions, dramedy Thanksgiving, Jaffe Zinn’s thriller Children (which she has also included script material for), and Robert Hillyer Barnett’s horror feature Tears of God. The indie crowd may have gotten used to seeing her everywhere, but here’s to hoping that the mainstream gets that same pleasure soon.


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