Sophia Lillis one of our most promising young performers. She has tousled with an evil clown in the new adaptation of Stephen King’s It and she played the younger version of Amy Adams’ troubled reporter in the astonishing HBO limited series, Sharp Objects. In Alan Ball’s Uncle Frank, she flexes her muscles as a young woman witnessing the evolution of her family’s tolerance when she spends time with Paul Bettany’s title character. Lillis is our window into this emotional journey, and she delivers an optimistic, subtle performance.
The key to Uncle Frank is the bond between Lillis and Bettany’s characters. If we ever doubt that Beth’s curiosity is coming from less than a genuine place, the entire film falls apart. Luckily for us, the relationship we see on screen is one that translated off screen as the two actors got to know each other.
“It was very natural, to be honest. We had one rehearsal beforehand to get to know each other and work on the lines to see how it fit. I got to see how he was working. As for the relationship, the characters were close to us as actors. I tried to learn from him by seeing him work and see him become this character in a way I never thought before. I watched him work and, in a way, I viewed him as a mentor. It worked, in a way.”
I wondered if Beth ever knew that her uncle was gay. Uncle Frank is set during a time when homosexuality wasn’t talked about openly in a positive light, but Lillis told me that she could tell something was different with Frank. As two outsiders in a family seemingly bent on living life a certain way, Beth and Frank wordlessly connect.
“She felt there was a slight distance between the two of them. Beth looked up to him as this amazing person who had no faults, and she only saw this one side of him as this man who she looked up to. There was a distance and she could always sense that when he was home. When he was hiding a big part of himself away from her, it sort of made sense. It wasn’t something she was expecting but hearing it, it was more of a realization. It clicked for her.”
In one of the film’s best moments, Beth is on the road with Frank and his partner, Wally (played by Peter Macdissi) and she is hit on by a presumptuous young man who works at an auto body garage. He stupidly insinuates that Frank and Wally would give permission for Beth to go on a date with him, and she stands up to the creep without any assistance. We see how Frank’s influence is truly affecting her.
“It’s her moment of her standing up for herself. She is growing by being with Frank and seeing how confident they are–Beth is really becoming her own young woman. At that point, I don’t think she would’ve done the same thing because she didn’t have that confidence because of them, in a way. She loves them but she was an outsider. By the end of the movie, she would definitely would take that stand again.”
Lillis was excited to work with actors like Bettany, Macdissi, Margo Martindale and Judy Greer. She has see all of these powerhouses on screen before, and she couldn’t believe she was in the same film as them and she had the opportunity to act opposite this great company. She learned while observing her fellow performers, and it’s interesting to learn that she took in a lot of information while listening to their anecdotes and stories. Lillis might be more like Beth than she even realizes.
“Who wouldn’t be so nervous acting with these people? And opposite them! They have this down to earth energy that was so nice to be around. Two of the times around that I felt like this was the scene where we’re eating at Frank’s house with his fake girlfriend. I got to really sit with them and watch them act. A lot of the stuff they did was just amazing. When we were done shooting the take, we would still sit around like a family–it felt like the camera wasn’t even there. When we shot the ending, we didn’t have specific lines, and they were telling fun or embarrassing stories on set. Everyone was so open.”