In Whit Stillman’s new film DAMSELS IN DISTRESS, Megalyn Echikunwoke (24, CSI: MIAMI) and Carrie MacLemore (GOSSIP GIRL, LAW & ORDER: SVU) play two of the titular damsels in need of a lifeline. However, this is not the case in real life. Both feel extremely blessed to be involved with a film they loved – especially one with such an established pedigree.
We had the pleasure of speaking with these charming and affable actresses on the press day for the film. We discussed everything from the cast’s alchemy, to on-set pranks, to where they see their careers heading in the near future.
Did you imagine Heather might be a standout character in the group?
Carrie MacLemore: “I just thought she was so funny and written so well. She’s kind of the group idiot but she says it with such good grammar. And she’s got her own theories that it just sort of outweighs any stereotype you might see.”
How did you each respond to the way this film was written?
Megalyn Echikunwoke: “I loved it. I don’t think it was at all scary or difficult. I thought it was very fun. He’s [ Stillman] so very unique. You generally don’t see that kind of dialogue in film or on television. I think he kind of creates his own genre, the way he writes his dialogue.
When did you first get together when you made this film?
CM: “At the table read. That’s when we first kinda saw where all the pieces were falling.”
ME: “None of us had met before. Table reads are always pretty awkward. Some people are really giving a non-performance and some are giving very big performances and you don’t really know what you’re supposed to be doing. It’s all very interesting.”
VeryAware: Y’all had such great chemistry – you seemed like you were friends. Did you bond off set too? Were there any bonding activities or rehearsals?
CM: “There weren’t too many rehearsals but I did feel like everyone did bond due to the nature of the set. There were no trailers. We were in cottages and together all the time. The filming was so fast paced – no one was sitting around reading books. We did do a few outings which was fun.”
ME: “We were all together 24/7.”
CM: “It was like a big slumber party.”
ME: “We had a lot to offer each other.”
VeryAware: There’s such a wide range of different talents involved with the movie – different actresses from different walks in life – kind of like meeting at college.
CM: “It was a very supportive set.”
ME: “Absolutley! A lot of people were just fresh out of college happy to be there. Lots of Whit Stillman fans.”
CM: “Cast and crew! Everybody was there rooting for Whit.”
VeryAware: Had you both been fans of his work before signing onto the film?
CM: “Before I read the script, I wasn’t familiar with him. But then I went on a rampage and watched all of his films. There was no turning back.”
ME: “I wasn’t familiar with his stuff but I definitely love him now. I can’t wait to be in another one of his movies.”
VeryAware: And now, what are you favorites?
CM: “METROPOLITAN is my favorite.”
ME: “BARCELONA is mine.”
What were either of your college experiences like?
CM: “I went to college in New York City, which is where I still live. And then I’m finishing in a non-traditional way – through a college in Alabama while in New York.”
ME: “So you’re still in college?”
CM: “I am.”
VeryAware: Theater major?
CM: “History. So my experience was different than DAMSELS which is in a rural area, kind of like a Dartmouth. A bubble definitely. But you can’t be in a bubble in New York City because that’s your campus. There’s always the clique of different people that somehow find each other.”
ME: “I actually did not go to college. My college was Hollywood. I worked all through high school and graduated and kept working. I kept applying to schools and differing and just never going. I’m essentially doing what I want to be doing for the rest of my life. And there’s no better education than working. I hope I get to keep doing it.”
VeryAware: Carrie, this is your first feature film. Was this experience any different than doing TV?
CM: “A little. I had just gotten my feet wet on a few TV things. I feel pretty spoiled that this got to be my first one. It was amazing. An absolute dream come true.
VeryAware: And it’s something you’d like to continue as well?
CM: “It is. I just loved it. While we were filming I thought, ‘Gosh. If I never got to do this again for some reason, I got to do this one.”
What first drew you both to this project?
ME: “I was so impressed with the writing. I thought it was one of the funniest scripts I had read in a long time. He has such a unique style – he’s so authentic. He’s unlike anyone else. After reading and researching it, I thought, he was an icon and it would be a real treat to be in one of him movies.”
CM: “Similarly I felt. I remember freaking out and getting on my knees to play it, I just loved it so much. Definitely the writing – his style – and it’s like you either get it or you don’t. And I got it.”
ME: “Also meeting him during auditions. He’s so lovely and collaborative. He’s actually one of the few writers that writes really well for women. Because, obviously, he really respects and understands them. And he also was very inviting of all of our ideas, which is not something that’s normal in Hollywood, especially on television shows and movies where it’s all driven by men. He would ask very directorial questions about what we thought about the decisions he was making that had nothing to do with our characters. That’s really, really refreshing, nice and freeing. It’s so rare.”
VeryAware: Megalyn, your character has a British accent in the film. Was that something that was on paper already or was that something you created? Did you base it on somebody?
ME: “It wasn’t in the script. The character wasn’t written as English but Whit wrote it very specifically based on someone who was Caribbean – maybe from an English Caribbean island. When I auditioned he asked me if I could do any accents. I think he wanted the character to have a certain sense of culture or worldliness. We just kind of created that character. Once we decided I could do a pretty good English accent, we created the backstory and put it into the script.”
What are each of your favorite lines your character got to say?
ME: “I had some really good ones. My favorite was, ‘Pris is a BITCH! She’s a rat bitch!’
CM: “That’s funny. That was my favorite of yours. It’s so shocking. It’s just keeps going.”
ME: ‘It’s jarring.”
CM: “I like when they are talking to Lily about what they do. And Germain Crawford is there being given the donut and taking back the donut. He just nailed his line in the darkest sense.”
Did either of you go to Toronto or Venice?
ME: “I didn’t. I had a good reason. I was working but I was sad to have missed it.”
CM: “Mine was a good reason too for Venice. I was on my honeymoon. I met up with my parents in Toronto for that festival.”
In general, how do you see your future?
CM: “I’d like to do more features – more independent features.”
VeryAware: Any specific genres you’d like to tackle?
CM: “This is my favorite. I don’t know what to say. Oh! And DOWNTON ABBEY.”
ME: “I think we’re in a period where if you’re in TV, it’s not like you are doing something crappy. Some of the best writing is in television. So I’d love to be on a fabulous cable show that only shot 13 episodes and then I could go do movies. I love the independent movie making experience. I’d love to do it all. And in so many genres.”
In a dream scenario, any actors or directors you’d like to work with?
ME: “I would love to work with Woody Allen. I don’t know what kind of character I would play in his world but I think that could be interesting.”
CM: “I’d say Christopher Guest. And Tom Hooper. I loved JOHN ADAMS and KING’S SPEECH.”
Did Greta become a leader on and off the set?
CM: “Yes. I think she’s a natural leader. So it was kind of perfect how everyone fell into place. She’s kind of protective and gave me a lot of wisdom and good advice.”
Were there any funny pranks or things that happened while filming?
CM: “It was Halloween when we were filming. And Whit’s assistant….”
ME: “That’s what I was thinking of too!”
CM: “….was really great. She dressed up as Whit.”
ME: “She really looked like him too!”
CM: “I think she just thought, ‘Brooks Brothers’.”
ME: “He has kind of a costume.”
How did you like the costumes in the film?
CM: “We wore a lot of our own. It was like a mix of our own and the wardrobe department designer that got some things from Brooklyn thrift shops. So it was like a mixture of that and then a few really pretty designer things we wore. Like Dior and Prada.”
ME: “I collect a lot of mid century stuff. So half of my dresses were my own vintage dresses. So that’s nice.”
CM: “We got to keep the random things but not the Dior and Prada.”
VeryAware: How was learning the choreography for the dance sequence?
CM: “So fun! I’m hoping it catches on.”
ME: “Yes. So fun. I think we may have started something.”
DAMSELS IN DISTRESS opens on April 6.