Imogen Poots: Scream Queen

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Magazines > Foam (October/November 2011)
Photoshoots > Shoot 33 (Hilary Walsh for Foam)

Fright Night’s up-and-coming ingenue goes goth and then quotes Southern Gothic literature.

Imogen Poots does a mean Charles Bukowski. She’ll also do a pretty convincing Allen Ginsberg. “They’re on my iTunes,” she says, “you’ll be listening to Depeche Mode, or something, and then it’ll be like, ‘I saw the best minds of my generation…’ It’s awesome.”

So begins a surprising interview with the incredibly surprising star of this August’s Fright Night. We certainly weren’t anticipating sitting across from someone we’d last seen on-screen in intense hair extensions and supplementary boobs swapping Faulkner and Leonard Cohen quotes or discussing various means of remembrance.

Rushing into the diner at the Standard in West Hollywood, the London-based actress immediately dives in, extolling her well-considered philosophies with a combination of confident intensity and early-20s squirminess. The scenery makes her uneasy; the stark white of the restaurant reminds her of a somewhat nightmarish experience she had while staying at the Mondrian in New York. The two days spent in her lavishly bare hotel room with nothing to do was a sort of a worst-case scenario for her: “I called up my brother and said ‘I’m feeling really weird,’ and he said ‘Well, you have to do something. Find a catharsis.’ I went to an art shop on Canal Street and I bought these stencils and started doing huge stencils [on the floor of] my room. [I thought,] I’ve got my stencils; I’m going to be fine.”

Later in our conversation, it becomes clearer why a few extra days with an empty schedule in a stimulus-free room would create such panic. “It’s that terrifying feeling of being numb,” she says, “That’s the fear. You end up seeing so many cool places and finding out interesting things or meeting people that blow your mind, or leave you cold, or whatever. But when you feel numb, that’s such a terrifying prospect.” It’s this trepidation that keeps her feverishly running in and out of art shops and bookstores wherever she goes. While filming Fright Night in Albuquerque, New Mexico, she bought so many used books that she had to have a friend ship them back to her in the U.K. “I find a lot of things uninteresting, so when [I] can find something that holds [my] attention, or curiosity, I suppose, that’s a good thing…I think it’s important to have other things that you’re interested in to feed your mind.”

It’s with a similar passion for eluding boredom with which Imogen seems to trip along most aspects of her life. In fact, looking at her body of work, it would seem as if her entire professional career was structured around amusing herself. In the course of a year, she’s gone from period lady (Jane Eyre) to predator (A Solitary Man) to prey (Fright Night). “There’s a pressure that can be put on an actor that you must be [versatile],” she says, “I think it’s easy to say, ‘I’m not going to do that or I’m not going to go down that road.’ You try to not be afraid of how you’ll be perceived.”

And yet, as contradictory as it is given the contents of her resumé, her opinion of versatility is surprisingly low. “You can only play a character the way that you feel them to be true,” she says, “and if that means they laugh the same as the girl you played in the 18th or 19th century, well it’s fine.” Rather than seeing each of her characters as varied and different, she looks for links between them; the thought being that what ultimately compels her about each character must make all of them somewhat similar, genre or story notwithstanding. “Sometimes you read a part. You feel like you know them. Sometimes I’ll read a part and think I don’t know them at all. I don’t really know [how] to access them. When a role speaks to you it’s like ‘WHAT?’ and it becomes something you really want to explore.”

Those roles that “speak” aren’t necessarily highbrow, either. At times, her characteristic meanderings can land Imogen in seriously un-heady territory. In Fright Night, she plays vulnerable and frustratingly under-sexed Amy Peterson—the requisite babe foil to Colin Farrell’s overtly predatory vampire villain. “The director, Craig [Gillespie of Lars and the Real Girl] approached this commercial beast with a very character-based background,” she says, “it was fun playing her. You can’t even intellectualize it too much, it was just fun.”

At this point in her career, finally having the ability to be pickier about projects, the self-proclaimed aging child actor (“a child actor with a pension plan”) is cutting her teeth by working opposite—and learning from—some of Hollywood’s most superlative stars. As if a steamy make-out with Michael Douglas or acting as neck feast for Colin Farrell weren’t enough, her next film, A Late Quartet, is heavily star-studded, with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Christopher Walken, from whom she gained the nickname Stinker. “I just loved him,” she says, “He would say ‘Hey Stinker, you stinkin?’ I was just happy to be around him.” With each role, she learns from her lauded co-stars, collecting and growing with each new challenge. For A Late Quartet she learned to play violin, an experience that left her in near hysterics: “Some people go into tears or fits of laughter and I’m definitely the laughter,” she says, “You’re doing these quite phallic hand motions, so there I am alone in a room going like this [gesticulating]. But, I picked it up and I loved it.”

Relentlessly self-aware, she notices the fleetingness of each of her projects, which are booked solid these days. “It’s a bad thing, I think, if you just go the next job, the next job,” she says, “You can forget why you were doing it.” Which brings us back to the all-white room at the Mondrian, Imogen stenciling like her life depends on it. “I find that if I’m traveling there’s an innate fear that I’m going to forget everything because the experiences are transient,” she says, “so [I] want to solidify moments with something permanent.” She recounts a particularly stirring passage from Faulkner’s Absalum, Absalum! that stuck with her. “You pass a note from your hand to someone else’s hand and the presence of that piece of paper is defining the moment in a really complicated way,” she explains, “That really rang true. It’s such a shame if you never leave a mark on something—whether it’s your life or someone else’s.”