Makes a (real) movie
Lana poses pensively in an Oregon forest.
The summer she turned 10, while her schoolmates were throwing pool parties and hosting sleepovers and gorging on Sponge Bob cartoons, Lana E. Green made a movie. Not the kind of movie you or I might make, with a little pixilated camera and a laptop. A real movie, with real movie stars, on location in Oregon with a Hollywood crew.
The Hollywood stars with whom Lana E. Green made her first movie weren’t B-listers, either, not second-shelf outliers. No, her movie “mom” was the Oscar-nominated Chloë Sevigny, and her movie “aunt” was the beautiful up-and-comer Jena Malone. In her very first moviemaking at-bat, Lana E. Green stepped up and swung for the fences.
How does a regular kid who does regular things—violin lessons, homework and chores—end up getting cast in a serious movie? The old-fashioned way: with lightning-strike luck and real talent. Green was appearing in a Broadway Bound Kids production in Sonoma when filmmaker M. Blash happened through town. In Lana’s performance, Blash saw something familiar. He’d been working on a script called The Wait for some time, and central to the story was a wispish little girl. Blash’s young character was a child with the tempered qualities of an old soul, and Green, with her honeyed skin and her penetrating gray eyes, with her self-ease and sophistication, seemed a dead ringer.
So M. Blash, whose first full-length film, Lying, won a new director’s award at Cannes, and whose arty Levi’s ad campaign, “Go Forth,” generated a tsunami of critical response, invited her to audition for his movie. So Green, with her watchful mother in tow, boarded a plane for Portland, flew up there on three separate occasions, got shot doing a bit of this, a bit of that.
“They just asked me questions and they filmed it.” Green says in her whisper-talk voice. “I didn’t really know it was an audition. It was just regular talking, to me.” She is both articulate and tongue-tied, both a little girl and eerily grown up, and she was all of 9 years old when her luck broke wide open.
The Wait tells the story of a family muscling their way through the death of their matriarch. The dead woman’s children mourn in the usual ways, excepting Sevigny’s Emma, who–through a complex series of plot twists and turns–comes to believe that a giant house party will bring her mother back from the dead. She’s got her body laid out in a specially chilled room, and spends a week preparing for the resurrection. Green’s character, Karen, is Emma’s daughter, and her mother’s unhinging unsettles her, too. “She doesn’t know what is happening,” Green says of her character. “She doesn’t know what to do with it. She goes in and out of different feelings. In one scene she pretends to be her dead grandmother, and you don’t really know if she’s possessed or not. She’s trying to get her mom’s attention. She does what her mom wants her to do, but she’s thinking so much at the same time.”
Karen’s pensiveness is a good match for the little actress who portrays her; Green is, by nature, more apt to listen than speak. This capacity to absorb, this sponge-like tendency to soak up experience may explain how a 9-year-old girl can accurately portray complicated adult ideals. “Well, I would basically find a connection with a scene. In acting, you have to become the character, you have to make connections with the character. How is that character like you? What in your life is related to that character? This girl in the film is just always herself, she never tries to be anyone else, kind of like me,” Green says. “I just got really attached to the character.”
Authenticity is essential in the movie-making business; without it, the audience will not buy in. We instinctively know when the actors are just acting, and when that fourth wall gives way, when we see past the curtain, the magic falls flat. And so actors must become a family of sorts, they need to—as Green suggests—inhabit their characters. When Green’s role as Karen required that she fall from a tree, she wasn’t convinced she could pull the stunt off. She was scared, in a word, of the hard ground below. So her director volunteered to lie underneath, to sprawl on the packed dirt and cushion her fall. M. Blash, Hollywood player with a shelf full of fancy awards, spread himself on the hard ground so that Lana E. Green wouldn’t have to. “They were my family,” Green says simply, “my film family.”
Memories from that summer are still vivid and clear, and Lana E. Green lights up when she shares them. Like the days in a forested location that had been ravaged by fire, where the actors were cautioned not to wander because of nearby cougars and bears. And the morning Green’s hip-length hair was chopped off and curled into ringlets, only to be replaced by extensions the same afternoon. But the best was the day the script called for a chipmunk. A production assistant—camouflaged in war paint and outfitted with a snare—spent hours trying to bag one of the wild critters. Just as he despaired, Jenna Malone sauntered past, casting her sweater like a net over a scampering chipmunk and bundling the surprised animal up. “I have so many great stories,” Green says in her soft voice, “I was sorry when it ended.”
The Wait makes its debut later this year. With luck, it will be screened at the festival at Cannes. Does the dead grandmother in The Wait finally revive? Is the ending of this story a happy one? Lana E. Green isn’t giving anything up; almost 12 now, she’s too seasoned for that. But of Lana herself, with her unforgettable face and deep reservoir of poise, one is likely to draw certain conclusions: a future of tremendous potential, a destiny in which she actually nails the longest long shot. And if she gets famous and builds a life in the movies, if she outruns the odds and breaks big? Lana E. Green smiles shyly but doesn’t break eye contact. “I think I would have a lot of fun,” she says.
Makes a (real) movie