Interview: Sara Paxton Returns to SXSW with Two New Indies

Even though she’s been acting since the age of eight, most moviegoers only began to discover actress Sara Paxton in the mid-’00s when she starred on the show “Darcy’s Wild Life” and in ‘tween comedies like Aquamarine and Sydney White. She then transitioned into horror with roles in movies like Shark Night 3D and The Last House on the Left, but appearing in Ti West’s lower budget 2010 flick The Innkeepers really put Paxton on the map as someone who could do great character work without relying on big gimmicks.

Maybe that’s why Paxton is back at South by Southwest for the second time, having previously been here two years ago with The Innkeepers. This time, she’s in two movies that have been getting attention, Bryan Poyser’s comedy The Bounceback and E.L. Katz’s Cheap Thrills, which was the first movie that sold at SXSW to Drafthouse Films.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to see the latter before ComingSoon.net sat down with Ms. Paxton under a tree outside the Four Seasons earlier this week, so we mainly spoke to her about The Bounceback, a movie most people who see it will agree she steals as Kara, a tattooed Austin native with a foul mouth.

The movie revolves around Kara’s best friend Cathy, played by Ashley Bell (The Last Exorcism), visiting her in Austin, unbeknownst to Cathy that her ex-boyfriend (Michael Stahl-David from “Cloverfield”) has also come to Austin to try to get back together with her. Kara’s only goal for her friend is to keep her as far away from her ex as possible by taking her out to party and meet guys. (You can watch our earlier video interview with Poyser, Stahl-David and Bell here.)

ComingSoon.net: Since you have two movies at SXSW this year, you’re probably spending a lot more time than usual running around and doing press. I haven’t seen “Cheap Thrills,” but I’ve heard nothing but good things about it.
Paxton:
Yeah, I’m so happy. I was really excited about that because I hadn’t seen the movie yet, so I saw it at the premiere with the audience and we got such a great response, so I was thrilled.

CS: Let’s talk about Bryan’s movie, because it’s very different character for you. We’ve almost always seen you playing the nice girl and Kara’s pretty out there.
Paxton:
(Laughs) I know. I know.

CS: How did Bryan approach you for the role?
Paxton:
Bryan is actually friends with Ti West, and I’m not really sure. You’d have to ask Bryan, but I guess he saw (“The Innkeepers”) and he really liked it and he was asking about me. We had a meeting and he sent me his script for “The Bounceback” like a little over a year ago. I immediately fell in love with Kara. He wanted me for Cathy, the nice girl role, and I said, “Cathy’s great and I love the script,” but I was like, “I have to play Kara.” He was like, “Kara?” I was like, “Yeah, Kara is amazing. I have to play this character,” but somebody else was already attached, but when other girl fell out, I met with Bryan and we got to know each other through Skype. In real life I’m kind of like Kara. (laughs)

CS: I have to tell you that I’ve talked to a couple other journalists who’ve interviewed you and I’ve been hearing stories…
Paxton:
Yeah. (Laughs)

CS: That you’re fairly foul-mouthed.
Paxton:
Yeah, I’m not that crazy, but yeah. I guess I can be foul-mouthed and raunchy, so then I was going to play Kara and I was so excited. I think the only thing that had to work was that Ashley Bell and I had to have chemistry. So he made us have a Skype chat to see if we could get along, and then we did, and then that’s when he said, “Okay, you can be in the movie.” It was like I didn’t even have to audition. He didn’t care about that. He just wanted to make sure that we all had real chemistry, which we did.

CS: It’s funny, because you both have similar backgrounds, coming from horror movies, so did you know her beforehand?
Paxton:
I did know her beforehand. I had heard about her just because we both do a lot of horror genre movies.

CS: Going up for the same roles I bet.
Paxton:
Exactly, yeah. (Laughs) So I definitely knew who she was, but she’s the sweetest, she’s great. We definitely know the same people, but we are so different. Ashley’s like the sweetest, nicest, like polite girl and I’d be on the set like double fisting cheeseburgers, burping, and I became Kara a little too much probably.

CS: She said she was very surprised when she saw you with your hair and all the tattoos. She was really shocked. She got to know you and then she saw you in character…
Paxton:
Yeah, I was too, but I think it worked. I think if I looked like me it just wouldn’t work and people maybe wouldn’t buy it so much. There were already people like, “How did you get that role? You never play that role. I can’t see you like that.” So it was cool to have the tats and the whole thing.

CS: What was it like shooting in Austin? Obviously, it goes to all of these places and some of them you’ve been to before.
Paxton:
Yeah, it was amazing. I love Austin. I know L.A. people don’t move here, but I don’t care. I’m moving here.

CS: Really? I know a lot of people from L.A. who move here.
Paxton:
No, Austin people are like, “Don’t move here. This is our town. Don’t ruin it.” But I love Austin and the people are so nice and the food, I mean, there’s nightlife, but it’s beautiful. Yeah, I love it. It was interesting working here, because if you saw the movie–all the stuff on Sixth Street–it was so difficult. I mean, luckily I didn’t have a lot of stuff on Sixth Street, but I’m sure you’ve probably heard this story, but a drunk guy was peeing into an open business and then he slipped and fell in his own pee like in the middle of a shot.

CS: No, I haven’t heard this story.
Paxton:
(Laughs) We were all like, “Yeah, yeah, that just happened.”

CS: Bryan said there was more improv in this in this than there was in “Lovers of Hate” which I was surprised by.
Paxton:
Really? Well, yes, I know that the boys improvised a lot. Bryan was really open to that. Ashley and I did, too. There’s some stuff in there that we came up with on our own, but yeah, I guess I never really thought of it I like that. There was a lot of improvising, which is fun. I mean, Bryan is so great. He created the boundaries, but he left us play within them and have fun and do stuff. We were always coming up with different funny things to say on different shots, so that was cool. That was fun.

CS: I really liked the guy who plays the brother who hits on you.
Paxton:
Oh, Marshall Allman? Yeah, how funny is he? He’s that funny in real life. If I’m a little bit like Kara, he’s a little bit like Ralph. He’s kind of like an outgoing, bubbly, goofy guy, yeah.

CS: It would seem like that’d be the part with the most improvising.
Paxton:
Yes, he improvised a lot – he was always on. The camera wouldn’t even be rolling and he’d still be coming up with stuff, but yeah, great. He’s from Austin, actually.

CS: Had you heard about air sex before making this movie? Did it surprise you that Austin might have this whole air sex competition thing?
Paxton:
Actually, I thought that I invented that. When I first sat down with Bryan and Megan to talk about that I wanted to be Kara, we were like drinking and having a good time and Megan was like, “All right, so let’s talk about air sex,” and I was like, “Oh, you mean like, the air hump?” because I thought I invented that. There are times when I get really… (laughs) sometimes when something really good happens I do this. (She stands up and shows off her “air hump.”)

CS: It’s kind of hard to capture what I’m seeing right now in print.
Paxton:
Right. That was me humping the air, it was a gyration.

CS: That was amazing.
Paxton:
Thank you. (Laughs) They were like, “What was that?” I was like, “You know, the air hump. I invented it.” They were like, “No, Sara. Air sex is a real thing. Like it actually happens.” I was like, “Oh!” Then, I saw the videos on YouTube and I looked into it. At first I was a little nervous because it seemed kind of ridiculous, like I didn’t know if we were going to pull this off. The more I got to know Bryan and I saw some of his other movies like “Lovers of Hate,” I knew that I just totally trusted him. I knew that as ridiculous as air sex would sound and how it might come off, I totally trusted him and I just got it. I knew that he could do it and still make it believable.

CS: So when you found out you were going to do that, did you have to get all method and spend 10 months training?
Paxton:
(Laughs) Yes, yes. I lifted weights. I had protein shakes. Actually, I was really scared because…

CS: Was that a real audience out there?
Paxton:
Well, it was some extras, like a real audience, but a lot of it was the crew. We shot it at the end of the movie, thank God, because I think I would’ve felt ridiculous on day one I’m doing these stupid moves. By then, we were all really close and good friends, and so I felt okay with it. But yeah, Bryan was like, “Hey, just jot down ideas, like whatever moves you come up with,” like at the beginning of the thing. Then the night before I called him and I was like, “Bryan, I’m terrified. I can’t do this! I’m freaking out!” So he had to come to my hotel room with a boombox and plan out our moves and shoot out ideas.

CS: A movie like this could easily turn into a big party. Making comedies generally must be fun, but when you’re making a movie in Austin and hanging out at all these bars, is it hard to get work done because you’ll all partying or are you still pretty serious?
Paxton:
Okay, had I been playing a different character, it would’ve been hard, but because I was playing Kara, like I ate whatever I wanted. We got drunk after work every night. I mean, we all became so close and really liked each other and I think that comes off in the movie, you can tell. It looks like we had a good time together, right?

CS: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying.
Paxton:
Yeah, okay.

CS: A little too good of a time, maybe.
Paxton:
Well, I think it was okay because… I mean, look, we were all professional. Nothing bad ever happened. We just worked hard and we played hard. I mean, we treated ourselves, but yeah, nothing ever got out of hand. But I also felt kind of okay with it because I was playing Kara like she’s such an obnoxious slob. Like who cares if I put on 10 pounds of weight from eating burgers too much because it’s Kara? Like, she doesn’t give a sh*t.

CS: I was excited to see “Cheap Thrills” because it reunites you with Pat Healy, so do you guys have a lot of scenes together in that?
Paxton:
No, all my scenes are with Pat, but the difference is we’re not so one on one in that movie. In this movie it’s kind of the group, but yeah, all my scenes are with Pat and the other dude, David Koechner, Ethan Embry.

CS: I look forward to seeing it, but unfortunately I don’t have many questions about it. What else have you been doing besides these two movies?
Paxton:
Well, last year was definitely mostly about these two movies, but I did another movie called “I Brake for Gringos,” and that’s kind of like a teen comedy. It’s also a raunchy comedy, but it’s nowhere near as raunchy as the teen version of “Bounceback.” What else did I do? Yeah, and that’s it. So I’m waiting for that other one to come out, and then I’m thrilled to hear about “Cheap Thrills” getting distribution.

CS: Yeah, it’s the only movie I’ve been hearing about the whole time.
Paxton:
Really?

CS: That and “Drinking Buddies,” too.
Paxton:
I saw “Drinking Buddies,” yeah, it was good.

CS: I liked “The Bounceback” a lot, too, and I think there are more screenings of it.
Paxton:
Yeah, I hope people go see it. I’m so proud of the movie and I love it.

CS: I generally like Bryan and I think he’s really stepped up with this one. I really think he could direct studio pieces at this point.
Paxton:
I think so too.

CS: He knows how to make things really funny, which is not the case with a lot of studio comedies.
Paxton:
Romantic comedies suck these days, so it was cool to see. I think “Bounceback” is a really good one, and “Drinking Buddies,” also was very, very well coursed, very well done.

The Bounceback has yet to be picked up for distribution, but you should be able to see Cheap Thrills later this year when Drafthouse Films releases it. If you want to keep up with all things Sara and both movies, you can also follow Team Paxton on Twitter.

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