Actress Julia Garner on ‘Grandma’ and walking for Balenciaga.
In her new film Grandma, Julia Garner plays a teenager whose life has taken a wrong turn. Her character, 18-year-old Sage, needs $600 to have an abortion, after getting pregnant by her dope-smoking, knucklehead boyfriend. Sage’s mother, an uptight commercial lawyer who multitasks on a treadmill and desktop PC, wouldn’t understand. The boyfriend, as we’ve established, is a douchebag. So she turns to the grandma of the title, Elle, a lesbian poet and academic still reeling from the death of her life partner, to help her out. But the Bank of Granny has run dry – Elle merrily shows Sage the nice wind chimes she’s made out of her cut-up credit cards – so the unlikely pair head out on a road trip for Elle to collect debts due to raise the money for Sage’s abortion. The film is feminist, funny and touching, powered by the veteran comic Lily Tomlin’s turn as the beatnik Elle, and with some wonderful support from the likes of Orange is the New Black’s Laverne Cox.
It also marks a breakout point for Garner, who makes the tricky task of playing opposite Tomlin look effortless. Was she intimidated about working with such a legendary comic? “I didn’t become nervous until I was packing my suitcase to go do the film,” says the Bronx-born actress. “I was like, ‘Oh shoot, I’m going to be in a movie with Lily Tomlin.'” But at 21, Garner is already an old hand at acting. She started taking classes when she was 15 to combat her shyness and at 17 she made an impression in her film debut as a cult follower in Martha Marcy May Marlene. A film buff since she was a kid – she cites Bette Davis as an influence – Garner hasn’t really taken a wrong turn in her career choices, with engaging roles in The Perks of Being a Wallflower and We Are What We Are and a recurring part in the television series The Americans. Next up is a country noir film, from the pen of Winter’s Bone novelist Daniel Woodrell, called Tomato Red. The title is a reference to Garner’s hair color in the film, which she says still hasn’t quite washed out. “It was so red and I’m gradually going back to blonde but for a while it’s been this weird champagne color,” she explains. “I have to make an appointment.” Garner lost her signature blonde curls for another performance this year – walking in the Balenciaga show at Paris Fashion Week in October. It was, she says, a daunting experience and perhaps the only time professionally she has taken a wrong turn. “I walk fine in heels, usually, but thank god we were all in flats,” Garner says, laughing. “We had to walk at a fast pace and the models with their long legs were walking so fast in front of me and behind me. In rehearsal on the runway I had a Derek Zoolander moment where I couldn’t turn left. I did the whole blue steel thing when I couldn’t turn left!”