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39° Good Afternoon

Kate Lyn Sheil talks new sci-fi drama ‘Equals,’ NYU acting

Actress Kate Lyn Sheil stars in the post-apocalyptic

Actress Kate Lyn Sheil stars in the post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama "Equals," coming out July 15. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Albert L. Ortega

Peruse articles on actress Kate Lyn Sheil and you’ll likely stumble across the phrase “indie darling.”

Like other so-called “darlings” before her — cut to Patricia Clarkson, Lili Taylor, Maggie Gyllenhaal — Sheil exudes a brand of realness and familiarity, which may explain why she gets cast again and again in indies (“Listen Up Philip”) and lately on TV (“House of Cards,” “Outcast”).

This summer, you’ll spot her in two intriguing new films, playing characters named Kate. First is “Equals,” a brooding sci-fi drama out July 15 that stars Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult as officemates who fall for each other — unfortunately, they live in a post-apocalyptic world where emotion is forbidden. Sheil plays Kate, one of their expression-free pals in this tale that seems a mix of “Blade Runner,” “Logan’s Run,” and “Romeo and Juliet.”

Then Sheil takes on the title Kate in “Kate Plays Christine,” an unusual documentary-thriller hybrid that follows her as she prepares for a fictional movie, in which she plays Christine Chubbuck, the Florida newscaster who committed suicide on-air in 1974. Opening Aug. 24, it’s as much a tale about the tragic Christine as it is about Kate, and the art of storytelling.

I love movies like “Equals,” which attempt to show life in the future, like “Blade Runner.” Are you a sci-fi fan?

I do like sci-fi. “Blade Runner” was a huge thing for me. I always watched that movie growing up.

Every time you and the other characters say anything, you’re always so caaaalm. It’s a society with no emotion. How hard was it to perform, but with no affect?

It was a funny experience. Like a strange acting exercise, to do the opposite of what you’re trained to do. To not betray any sort of emotion. All of the actors had a lot of time to spend with one another, and we’d discuss the difficulty of that particular task and how each person was going to approach it. Trying to clear your mind as much as you possibly can — that was my avenue into it. But yeah, it was an interesting challenge.

What was it like working with Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult?

I’d never met either one of them before. They’re incredible actors. And verrrry smart. And funny. They were both a pleasure to work with and get to know. But everyone — the cast and crew — was really great.

You studied acting at NYU. For young aspiring actors out there, what was satisfying about that experience . . . and what would you change if you could?

I’d always known somehow — and I’m not entirely sure where this information came from, or why it stuck in my mind — but I always had it in my mind that if you were going to study acting you should go to NYU. It wasn’t a well-researched or informed decision but just a thought that stuck from some early age. I applied early admission and got in, and that kind of closed the book on college applications. I mean, it’s a very good school. I wouldn’t have changed anything. The major thing I walked away with was the friends I made and the collaborators, who I still work with today. . . . The school is big. In a different version of my life, I could picture myself going to a smaller school and having a more traditional college experience.

With a campus green and all that?

Yeah. But I don’t have any regrets. I did the Lee Strasberg program for four years, which I’d highly recommend to anyone studying acting.

That’s where they teach Method acting. Did that instinctively make sense to you or was there a learning curve?

A bit of both. I asked to be placed in Strasberg, because they teach the Method and it seemed closest to how I actually approached acting. But once I got there, I realized every 18-year-old who shows up thinks they’re naturally inclined toward . . . whatever. And there’s so much to learn. Acting . . . is difficult. (She chuckles.) There was a learning curve, for sure.

“Indie darling” is used a lot to describe you. Does that label make you cringe or are you cool with being considered the go-to girl for indie films?

It’s lucky to have anyone saying anything about you. So, I don’t want to disparage it, or pretend to be over it in some fashion. But of course, yeah, it always feels weird to have a label put on you. But I think that might be slightly outdated. It’s been a couple of years since I was showing up on the film festival circuit. I’m sure there’s a new indie go-to girl by now.

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