INTERVIEW: Sophia Lillis and Judy Greer Talk About the Importance of Uncle Frank
Uncle Frank is the story of the titular Frank’s (Paul Bettany) journey as a gay man in the 1970s. His niece, Beth (IT’s Sophia Lillis), moves to New York to go to NYU and learns of her uncle’s relationship with Wally (Peter Macdissi). I talked to Lillis and Judy Greer (who plays Beth’s mother, Kitty) about the film and the importance of their characters.
THE MARY SUE: A lot of your characters come into their own power and find their own strength in different ways, and it’s really interesting because the first three characters that come to mind of yours are Bev (from IT), your character in I’m Not Okay With This, and now Beth. Is that something you kind of look for in rules or do you just bring that to each character and try to find that power that they all have?
SOPHIA LILLIS: I, personally, I love those characters because I look up to them. And I always play characters that I look up to and hope I will become that person, and I will learn from them in order to become like a great strong person when I grow up. So yeah, I guess I am drawn to them.
TMS: And I like Beth a lot. Because she clings to this idea that her uncle told her she can do whatever she wants and so she’s like “okay, I’m going to go to New York and I’m going to do all this stuff” which, with where it is set and the time period, it isn’t necessarily something that would happen that easily and so, when you were first reading this script, what kind of drew you into Beth’s storyline in particular and what made you really want to play her?
LILLIS: You’re right. Her going to NYU as a woman in the ’70s was something great and really hard to do. So being able to take that thing that her uncle said to her as a kid, and she kept that with her for her entire life and worked as hard as she could to actually get there in NYU and away from her family and finally leaving the life she wants to live is something so powerful and so great and luckily in my life, I wanted to act, I’ve always loved acting and being here, because of my parents and my mom specifically, I was able to be where I am today because of what she said to me as a kid where I can be who I want to be and I don’t feel pressure to be anyone else. And it’s because of that that I can relate to Beth in that way.
Then, a dream came true. I spoke to Judy Greer (the perfect best friend any girl who grew up in the late ’90s and early ’00s wanted). Playing Beth’s mom Kitty, Greer brings her charm to the role and the film in a way that brings a light to a relatively dark storyline. So, we talked about Kitty and that Super Yaki shirt that we all love!
THE MARY SUE: I liked Kitty because she got to be a spectator in a lot of ways. While she didn’t have that many scenes, the scenes she did have she was kind of in the middle of everything and wanting to know what was going on. And like I kind of like that in a weird way because it was a story about Frank and Beth but Kitty had these fun little moments and obviously you’ve had such a wonderful career playing these sort of side characters that we all cling to and so is it fun to play roles like Kitty where she kind of gets to watch everything?
JUDY GREER: Uh, yeah. (laughs) Empathetically yes. I wish I would have interviewed with you first thing yesterday because the word spectator is a really great way to describe the character and I did a lot of interviews yesterday and would have loved to have used that so thank you. I feel like sometimes when you’re an in-law in a family, you are a spectator and that was how I felt about Kitty. She’s in the middle of the mix, she’s in the family, but she still is a bit of an outsider. And she is, I think, kind of always wanting to be accepted by these people and, I mean, I love playing supporting roles, I’ve made a career of it. It’s really fun and you have a lot more freedom and you can try a lot of fun things and kind of see what fits and certainly working with Alan (Ball) was such an open experience creatively, we were all kind of allowed to run wild and it was a really wonderful experience.
TMS: I think this movie did a great job, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, of showing that women typically handle these things, especially emotional reveals, better than men do.
GREER: Yeah and I think that’s a keen observation. I think that women can get to the end of their feelings faster and get to acceptance faster. And we can compartmentalize better, you know? We can look at a family member who told us something shocking to us and get past it quicker to like “well, he’s still our family, I still love him and it’s something I’ll process later but we should eat and hang out” like, I feel like women are quicker to get there.
TMS: Yeah and the more I watched this movie, the more I was like “this is a movie I would have dream cast in the early 2000s” especially because Steve Zhan is in this movie. Like this is hands down something I wanted in like 2004. So was that fun to get to work with a cast like this?
GREER: Yeah, it was a dream!
TMS: I mean, you did get to be married to Steve Zhan.
GREER: (laughs) Yeah, it was a great come true. I got to work with Steve and since then, I’ve done another movie with him and we’re getting ready to do a third movie together. I got to work with Margo Martindale and I mean everyone in the cast is just incredible and it was just kind of like being in a master acting class for three weeks while we were there.
TMS: So, I did want to know something. Did you know that there is a website called “Super Yaki” and they have shirts that say “Judy Greer should have been the lead”?
GREER: (laughs) I’ve seen those shirts and a couple of my friends have bought them! And I could not be more flatter and I could not believe that I have not bought one for myself yet. To wear to auditions. Or wear it to put myself on tape now that we have to do that. But no, I mean I’m so flattered by that, I think that’s the sweetest, coolest thing. I would love it if tons of people could send them to directors who could give me jobs-
TMS: We can just start sending them to directors.
GREER: Maybe I’ll just start doing that.
Uncle Frank is available Amazon Prime Video today!
(image: Amazon Studios)
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