Julia Garner on Losing Yourself in a Performance
admin • Mar 6th, 2023 0 commentsInterviews

“It’s so hard to play around with your identity,” she says. “It’s dangerous, actually.”

Julia Garner is a little nervous at the start of our interview, and it has nothing to do with her slew of upcoming film projects, many of which are being kept under wraps. “My dog might come in at any second,” she says, eyes darting back and forth between the door and our Zoom. After a long pause, she lets out a sigh. “I think he’s good,” she says. When I tell Garner, who appears on our 2023 Hollywood cover, that I’m thinking of getting a dog myself, she smiles. “You’re going to understand the stressful Zooms of locking your dog in a room, and then…[mimics her dog whining].”

One thing Garner remains calm and collected about is her career. “I don’t worry about it because, to be honest, I know what I’m capable of doing as an artist,” says the actor, who’s been on an award-winning streak since starring in Ozark back in 2017, earning an Emmy nomination last year for her performance in Inventing Anna as well. Still, she remembers the moments of doubt from earlier in her career: “I actually remember those moments more than the good, because I feel like any kind of professional trauma is character-building. It makes you work to the point where you don’t get to that place again. It makes you work harder.” Now, Garner has two new movies coming our way: The Royal Hotel (from Kitty Green, who directed her in The Assistant) and Apartment 7A. Ahead, excerpts from a conversation about navigating a career and wrestling with the complexities of social media.

Vanity Fair: When was the first time you truly felt like a professional actor?

Julia Garner: The first time I felt like acting wasn’t just a hobby, honestly, was when I got my first professional job in Martha Marcy May Marlene. I was 16 and I remember getting that first paycheck and becoming a member of SAG. I was fixated on the SAG card and remember being like, “Wow, I’m a real actor.” That’s where I really learned how to be on a set.

At that time, Sundance was still super independent. There weren’t tons of endorsements happening there. Only certain people had iPhones and BlackBerries. You had to pay for the internet every month, and the people who did have internet were lawyers, not actors. My mom wasn’t going to pay the extra money. Things were a little different.

In terms of your career, how far ahead are you strategizing? Are you always thinking, say, five years in advance?

It’s such a complicated question. When I was 21, I had a pretty dry year. This was before I booked Ozark. It wasn’t a great year for me as an actor. I felt a little hopeless. I wasn’t getting jobs for a few months. It was really hard. I remember thinking, If I’m still in the same place in five years, I don’t want to do this. It’s a really hard business and there are other businesses out there other than acting. I was still young at the time, but it’s tough because in the acting world, 21 is young, but it’s not so young. You’re not 16 or 17 anymore. You’re not the bright, shiny new toy, and this business relies on shining. They love a shiny new toy. I booked Ozark and I kept pushing because I felt like I still had a lot to do.

When you told yourself that you’d quit acting and do something else if you were in the same place in five years, did you know what that “something else” would be?

No. So I’m going to be honest: I’m not good at a lot of things, so I was like, “This acting thing better work out.” I’m somewhat decent at acting. And I just continued to have the stamina, worked really hard, and not have entitlement.

Have you made concerted efforts to protect your true self, versus who you are publicly?

Yeah. It is very hard because I am in a very public business. I try not to give too much of my personal opinion away, because I feel like that’s going to make my job harder. The whole point of my job is for people to relate to me and feel moved and escape. It’s tricky because nowadays, everyone is so out there, and the mystery is disappearing. And when a person doesn’t have mystery anymore, you can’t get it back…

It’s very complicated that an actor has to completely remove themself in order to play a person. It’s so hard to play around with your identity. It’s dangerous, actually. It’s important to surround yourself with the people that are good influences and keep you grounded, and not just necessarily “yes people.” It’s very easy to become jaded in this business. There are a lot of people who tell you and show you at a certain point that they love you, but you have to have an X-ray and really see which ones have that genuine love. My friends don’t have to watch every movie that I’m in. And if they tell me my performance was fine, of course I would be a little bit hurt, but maybe they didn’t like my performance and that’s okay. I want them to be honest and to tell me things. I don’t necessarily always need to have a comfortable conversation.

Who are some of your heroes?

Stating the obvious—of course I love the Meryl Streeps and Cate Blanchetts and Gena Rowlandses. All of those greats. Even great writers like Oscar Wilde or Ernest Hemingway, great storytellers. I don’t think Ernest Hemingway was the best person—he hated women and was a severe alcoholic, but he wrote great stuff. Francis Bacon, his art was so incredible. So depressing and suppressed, but incredible and chaotic. When I see a Vermeer painting, I get inspired by that because you think, Wow, if he was living in this day and age, he would be the best photographer of all time. Cassavetes movies really inspire me too. But then I can also be inspired by something as simple as When Harry Met Sally… or Clueless. Even when things are silly, if they have a lot of heart, I’m inspired.

What’s your relationship to social media?

I’m fine with not playing the game a hundred percent. I’m on there and promote whenever I have a show, but sometimes I don’t post for a month. Sometimes you see actors and they’re like, “I’m so sorry I haven’t posted in a few days.” It’s like, “Why are you apologizing?” Maybe you were busy or you had an awful week and the last thing you were thinking about was posting. It’s gotten out of control. It’s very strange. I understand if you have endorsement deals—I get it, trust me—but don’t apologize for not posting a sandwich.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. [Source]

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