Actresses Kara Hayward and Liana Liberato took the time to speak about To The Stars with Solzy at the Movies during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. This interview took place on the day after the world premiere.
Congrats on the premiere of To The Stars.
Kara Hayward: Thank you.
Liana Liberato: Thank you so much.
What was it about the script that appealed to you?
Kara Hayward: Well, when I first got it—I read it in one sitting and I cried like a baby at a lot of parts which does not happen very often with scripts. I get a lot and I read a lot. Some of them are amazing and some of them are not amazing but the characters were so dynamic and just the story was so beautifully written. When Martha Stephens—the director—we Skyped when we first met and her vision—the black and white. It all came up and she just seemed so wonderful. It was a hard decision for me at all. I was really excited.
Liana Liberato: Yeah. I think I had a very similar response to the script. I remember receiving it and I was like, I have to be a part of this. The first time I met Martha, I basically dropped five pages of notes about my character onto her and bribed her to hire me—like please hire me for this.
I feel like Maggie’s such a dynamic character and she just so many layers. She has a lot riding on every single move she makes, which I thought was really interesting to play—to just be extremely aware of every single movement and choice and word that comes out of her mouth. I just think that that was really interesting. It’s something that I’ve never really come across from character before. It’s ever really a character that played so I was really excited to delve into that.
What did you bring to the characters that were not on the page?
Kara Hayward: That’s a really hard question since I feel like we were both just trying to do the characters justice as they were written. I feel like that’s more of a question for the audience—for people who haven’t seen the script and who can just say, Oh, I liked that they did this because I feel like they’ll notice a lot of things that honestly we didn’t even know we’re going on while we’re making the movie but hopefully we brought some honesty.
Liana Liberato: Our screenwriter did a beautiful job. Obviously no one read the script who is watching the movie aside from the cast. I think the reason that hopefully we did our characters justice is because of how beautifully written they were and how clear they were. It made it very easy to portray. It was honestly a dream for an actor to receive a script like that—or an actress, really, because there’s just not many scripts like that out there that focus on women. There were a few things in which like some of our cast did improvise like that beautiful line at the end where Jordana Spiro says at the very end: “Stop staring at me and play your damn cards.” That was improvised but it was just so her character and it was just a little like nuances like that that kind of came out through the performances.
Kara Hayward: I think we tried really hard to show all of the layers of each one of these characters because on the page—as I’ve use the word before—they’re so dynamic and there’s so much going on. There’s so much complexity that hopefully that’s what we brought to it. We made it come to life.
Is there anything challenging about doing a period piece in 1960s rural Oklahoma?
Liana Liberato: Bullet Bras!
Kara Hayward: Bullet bras! They heard your ribs. It turns out they really squeeze. The skirts have so many layers. I think it turned out looking amazing on screen. I think the costumes turned out so cool but for us on hot days where we had wool coats on—
Liana Liberato: It’s so interesting because I feel like with all of the female characters that in a way each of them possess a sense of suppression. It’s funny how even all the way down to the clothing, there was a feeling of suppression and—
Kara Hayward: That’s true.
Liana Liberato: Pushing things away and down and ignoring it. I feel like it really helped with our characters. There’s so many things that we’re trying to ignore mentally about. That was one of them—even the clothing was just suppressing tight and you felt so into yourself. It was interesting. It’s hard to make an independent movie in general. It’s even harder to make a period piece that’s independent. You have cars. Everything has to be correct all the way down to like the outlets that are on the wall. It was really interesting. It was really fun though.
Kara Hayward: Luckily, our director is a huge mid-century America history nerd so she knew like everything and was able to so easily like pick out what we know what would be correct. She also put a lot of history behind each and every one of the characters instead of just saying, “Oh, the year is 1961, let’s only use clothing pieces from that time period.” Jordana Spiro, who played my mom, was talking about how her clothes were kind of like 30s-40s and that might have been because it was her character was at her prime. A lot was put into the costuming!
What was the experience like working with Martha Stephens and this cast—which includes some incredible performers?
Kara Hayward: We’re going to gush a lot if that’s cool.
Liana Liberato: It was amazing. Martha from the get-go is just like such a fearless leader and just has this sense of calm. She just has this calm presence on set even despite all of the stress of making an independent movie—which is so essential as an actor because it’s so nice to feel grounded and to trust the person that’s leading you.
Kara Hayward: When it’s you know 2:30 in the morning and you’re still doing a scene that you’ve been working over hours and it’s another setup. It’s really good to feel that calm and that patience from somebody.
Liana Liberato: Totally.
Kara Hayward: That came from the rest of the cast, too. Everybody was on their A game every day. I think it was a lot of it was A) because we had an amazing cast and crew and group of producers and director. But another part of it was everybody was so passionate about the story that everyone was so excited to do their best and to give it their all. It felt like we were making art.
Liana Liberato: It really is the beauty behind making an independent movie—everyone is there because they want to make the best movie possible. No one’s in it for the paycheck to be honest. They’re in it because they read the script and they believe in it. They want to make it great so the attitude—I think in general—on set is just always a lot lighter. We kind of know what we’re stepping into when we get on set. Everyone just wants to create so that’s cool.
It’s very strange seeing Tony Hale in such a non-comedic performance.
Liana Liberato: He’s so good, right?
Kara Hayward: He made me cry. That was the part of the movie—that scene with you laying on the ground and when he starts, “You were my perfect baby”—that’s when I saw blubbering.
Liana Liberato: He’s so he’s so good and so honest. I think it’s such a testament to how talented he is because when we’re on set and even during press here, he’s so funny. He’s so light-hearted and it’s awesome that he can tap into that so quickly—it’s cool.
Kara, how was working on this film different than your breakout performance in Moonrise Kingdom?
Kara Hayward: In Moonrise, I was 12. In this, I was 19 so I had a few years to figure out a little bit more—some grounding for my acting process. It was different because—well, I suppose, to start off, Moonrise was my first movie. I never took an acting class. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was just trusting Wes the entire way. Of course, I was trusting Martha the entire way. But this time I was like, Ah, I think I know what I’m doing a little bit better. So hopefully that came across.
Everything was a little less structured I suppose because when you work with Wes Anderson—if you’re holding up a book he’s gonna to have a measuring tape and he’s gonna find out how far away it’s supposed to be from your face. And if you give it an inch by accident, we stop. We have to measure it again and move it back . He builds it. I say it’s a dollhouse. I say he puts these characters in his dollhouse. I feel like Martha—I really needed that for my first time around. I needed that sort of strict guidance to help.
Martha gave us some room for improvising and things a little bit. A little bit more room to play. Both were of course incredible experiences. Two of the best experiences of my life but very different.
What’s next for both of you?
Liana Liberato: I just finished shooting a pilot for a new show called Edge of Seventeen. Hopefully, if we get picked up, we’ll be filming this summer.
Kara Hayward: In February, I’m going to work on an indie movie called Out of Service in New York.
Thanks again for your time and congrats on the premiere.
Liana Liberato: Thanks so much.
Kara Hayward: Thank you.