It's the rare child performance that stays with you and builds up a reservoir of goodwill towards the actor. Yet when it comes to Anna Chlumsky's 1991 film debut in My Girl as the smart tomboy hypochondriac Vada Sultenfuss, it's definitely one of those films that lingers and makes you want to keep an eye on that actor. Almost twenty years later, the tearjerker coming-of-age still works ("Put on his glasses! He can't see without his glasses!"); while it may be remembered as the flick that, uh, killed the biggest movie star in the world (Macaulay Culkin) at the time, what gives it its power is Chlumsky's remarkably sensitive, genuine performance.
It's been nice to see the whip-smart University of Chicago grad grow up and return to acting—including a turn on 30 Rock as a character named "Liz Lemler"—and this year's Festival happens to showcase her talents in two diverse films: Julio DePietro's story of relationships and Wall Street, The Good Guy, and Armando Inanucci's war satire In the Loop [the latter summed up by a friend as "you'll laugh and laugh and then sit there feeling traumatized," an apt description for actual satire]. We talked to the New York-based actress while she was on her cell in Washington Square Park, and she was funny, gregarious, completely relatable, and taught us new things, like this fun fact: apparently actor Martin Mull is a fantastic painter, and Steve Martin collects his work! Who knew?
What makes your films Tribeca Must-Sees?
For In the Loop I would say James Gandolfini, of course, and Mimi Kennedy doing math. And that's all I'll say. For The Good Guy, to me, it depicts such a little cross section of downtown nightlife. What we filmed, every location we were at, I was like "Oh, I used to come here every time when I was a boozehound!" [laughs] It brought back a lot of memories.
What's the craziest thing that happened while making your films?
During The Good Guy, we were filming in the East Village, not even, it was more towards Alphabet City. We had an independent film schedule that was more on the weekends, and we were walking towards our location at the bar. These two people were half clothed, you couldn’t even tell what their ages were, and they were laying outside on a blanket, outside the bar that we were going to. One of them had a belt, they were obviously junkies, and they were in complete happiness with themselves. We walked over them, and I was like, "Oh, Junkie love!"
I suppose not everywhere in New York is gentrified!
New York's still a city, not quite gentried.
What about for In the Loop?
During that shoot, we just had so much fun, we just laughed and laughed. Wait, I have something, it's one of [director Armando Inanucci's] stories. In order to research the art direction for the State Department, he had to go into the State Department with a press badge. He told security he was "there for the 12:30," and he just went right on through security, complete with his camera, so he could snap any photos that he wanted.
What are your hopes/fears/wishes regarding Tribeca?
Maybe I'm boring but I just want people to see our films and enjoy it. I would love it if the films could find their audience in some way. It's just fabulous that people in my city will see these films!
If you could have dinner with any filmmaker (alive or dead) - who would you want it to be?
Alfred Hitchcock and/or Bernardo Bertolucci. Hitchcock because I've always been obsessed with his films, from when I was little, starting at seven. When I watch his films as a adult I can recognize how innovative he was as a filmmaker. He always told the stories he wanted to tell. Bertolucci, it’s so cliché to say because he's an artistic filmmaker, but a he has beautiful vision of the world. Even some of the crummiest parts of the world, he can make them beautiful. It'd be fascinating to talk to him.
What piece of art do you recommend to your friends?
I would say, there’s a new one I just found in the RISD [Rhode Island School of Design] Museum, The Hand of God by [Auguste] Rodin, it’s a scuplure, its amazing. I always tell people to check out Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth at the MOMA, books don’t do it justice. And anything by [René] Magritte. [Chlumsky was so enthusiastic and gave such a great answer about the art question that there was no need to ask for favorite films/books/music/what-have-you.]
Can you tell me a little more about In the Loop? It's an adaptation of a British show, right?
It's a British TV show, they had one season (I don’t want to start rumors but I heard that they would do another season). It's on the BBC, The Thick of It. You can YouTube all of it. It’s very similar to our film but it all takes place in the British government. The film is hysterical, it’s the same exact format the TV show used. Armando (the man behind both versions) used almost all the characters from the TV show.
The big question was whether or not it would be able to translate to film and we were all so pleased. He got the story across and it was even better than I imagined. In the film format it packs more of a wallop, in a way, than the half hour format. In the longer format he can address bigger issues and serious issues than the war and all those day to day things.
Are there good female roles in the film? What do they entail? You don't see any women in the press stuff...
There are five females, we're all doing the same job. We're doing our jobs the best way we can and there's not a sense of, "Oh, just the girlfriend" and "Oh, just the mother" and it's so much more about the dealings of the workplace, about foreign government, then about male/female relations in any way.
When did you return to acting? I remember reading about your work as a food writer awhile back. And after In the Loop and The Good Guy, what are you up to next?
It's been five years back in the business. I only sold a few articles as a food writer for online publishers and I worked at Zagat for my entry level job, which I thought would be more food writing, but it wasn't. You have to do the departures in order to find out what you want. I'm still an avid actor and I love theater. I also have a pilot in the can that we just finished. It's a fabulous pilot, takes place in Washington D.C. and it's about domestic politics, not foreign politics. It's called House Rules. That’s what next, I guess, and I have a few more recurring guest spots on the show Cupid [the Bobby Cannavale-starring ABC remake, airing now, of the 1998 Jeremy Piven series]. I was in the original series, too!
Oh yeah, right! I watched the original recently on YouTube. It's so good!
I filmed that in Chicago when I was in college.
What's your role in this new Cupid?
I play Sarah’s receptionist. I was laughing last night, as it was the episode where I had the least to do, I called it my "Kramer on Murphy Brown" moment, like that Seinfeld episode where he was a receptionist. [Laughs.] After that, the rest of what I'm doing is film stuff and working on getting back on stage.
The Good Guy premieres on Sunday, April 26, at 6:00 pm with two more screenings to follow.
In the Loop premieres on Monday, April 27, at 8:30 pm with three more screenings to follow.
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