Best known for “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and “Joan of Arcadia,” actress Amber Tamblyn has graduated to directing with her first feature film, “Paint It Black,” an adaptation of Janet Finch’s novel.
The film, which opens at the Village East Cinemas on Friday, stars Alia Shawkat (“Arrested Development”) as the punky Josie, a young woman whose boyfriend Michael (Rhys Wakefield) kills himself. As she deals with her grief, Michael’s fairly unhinged mother Meredith (Janet McTeer) shows up and blames Josie.
Tamblyn spoke with amNewYork about the film, and her recurring gig on Comedy Central’s “Inside Amy Schumer.”
Had you considered directing before or did Janet’s book inspire you to do so?
I hadn’t thought about directing a movie; it wasn’t something that was on my mind. When I read it, I had a really visceral reaction ... I feel like films are so limited as far as how they capture how women feel. Grief is always this one-dimensional thing where women just cry. I really wanted to make a movie that felt dangerous, like you were inside their minds and didn’t quite know what was going on, but understood that it was dangerous.
Knowing how popular the book was, did you worry about making changes that might upset its fans?
No, because I had such a strong notion of the type of movie I was making. I felt like it wasn’t about being true to the story Janet wrote. It was about being true to the world she created. It didn’t matter if some things were literal or not literal or linear or nonlinear, I just had to make sure that the audience felt the way I felt when I was reading the book. That, to me, is what made it powerful.
How did you end up with Alia Shawkat and Janet McTeer in the main roles?
David [Cross, Tamblyn’s husband] was one of [Alia’s] biggest supporters and fans. He said, “Look no further. That’s your Josie,” and he was absolutely right. I feel like Alia hasn’t been tested yet as an actress. She’s so talented and comes off so preternatural on screen that there’s so many dimensions to her. This film is really a way to showcase her as a dramatic actress, which I don’t think she’s done a lot before.
Janet McTeer is just the queen ... I’ve always loved her as a stage actress, and in preparing to meet with her, I saw everything she’s ever done, and was like, “If she says no to this movie, I don’t have a movie.” It was perfect for her, so I was very fortunate when she said, “Yes.”
Having directed a movie, is it something you want to keep doing?
Not always. I’m always circling a new idea. I have a possible new film that I’m thinking about. That’s how “Paint It Black” started. I was just thinking about it, but I definitely would love to direct again.
How did you end up as a regular on “Inside Amy Schumer”?
Actually, it was Questlove, who is a very good friend; he DJ’ed our wedding, and I’ve known him for many, many years. On her first season, I guess they were looking for a quote-unquote name or somebody to do a guest spot on the show. I think Amy had expressed to him that she was a fan of mine, so he reached out to me and said, “Hey, there’s this young up-and-coming really funny comedian; you should do her show.” I said, “Sure, I love to support funny smart-ass women,” having no idea that she was going to become one of the biggest stars, but it’s been so great.