Many actors will tell you that when you read a great script, you just know. But for Grace Van Patten, it was actually not knowing that made her so excited to jump into David Robert Mitchell’s new film, Under the Silver Lake.
“That was by far the craziest script I had ever read, and something that I just could not picture,” Van Patten says about the film. “But I loved David’s previous film, It Follows, so I was curious to see how it would turn out, and it was super fun to watch. It was so freeing to be able to play such a positive-thinking, confident-in-her-body party girl who looks at life through rose-colored glasses.”
A conspiracy theory fever dream, Under the Silver Lake, stars Andrew Garfield as an L.A. slacker who follows what he believes are hidden messages in the city’s pop culture to track down a girl who suddenly moves out of his apartment complex in the middle of the night. Though you might not guess it from her credited role as “Balloon Girl,” Van Patten’s character has one of the funniest and most fateful parts to play in that journey. While the film received mixed reviews following its 2018 Cannes premiere, it feels destined for cult classic status, likely settling somewhere between the film culture caché of Withnail & I and The Big Lebowski. And if we’re gauging Silver Lake scenes based on the likelihood of future hipsters delighting in recreating them, Van Patten in a mod polka-dot dress, holding a balloon and excitedly bouncing to R.E.M.’s “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” will be right up there at the top.
Under the Silver Lake is just the latest turn in a career that’s already had some fascinating ones. At only 23 years old, Van Patten has already co-starred in two films to premiere in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, and she’s co-headlined a Broadway play with Glenn Close. But it all started by hanging out with her dad at work.
Van Patten’s father, Timothy, is arguably this century’s most prolific director of prestige TV. Not only did he helm more episodes of The Sopranos than any other director—he directed 20 episodes, while the next-highest number for anyone was 13—he has also directed episodes of The Wire, Sex and the City, Deadwood, Boardwalk Empire (18 episodes), Black Mirror, and the first two episodes of Game of Thrones. Consequently, Van Patten virtually grew up on the set of The Sopranos, and she was immediately drawn to the performances. “I was intrigued by the transformation of the actors,” she says. “Watching actors like Edie Falco and James Gandolfini transform into characters that were nothing like them… that seemed like the coolest thing to me.”
Although Van Patten appeared on two episodes of The Sopranos when she was eight, she didn’t seriously pursue acting until she was a teenager. Her father stressed that acting may not be something she could rely on, but she dove in, attending Manhattan’s famed Laguardia High School of Performing Arts. Van Patten then appeared on an episode of Boardwalk Empire as a teenager, but not in an episode her father directed; it was actually by Jake Paltrow, whom she felt brought things full circle since Jake’s father, Bruce Paltrow, was once her father’s mentor.
From there Van Patten landed the starring role in Adam Leon’s 2017 Netflix film, Tramps, which received excellent reviews and was a constant fixture on the festival circuit that year. Van Patten cites filming the movie in New York and touring festivals with the cast and crew as her favorite acting experience thus far, and she felt especially connected to everyone involved with the film.
Since then, Van Patten has been working with some of contemporary film’s most acclaimed auteurs. First up was Noah Baumbach’s 2017 film, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), which put her toward the top of a cast that also included Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler, Emma Thompson, Adam Driver, and Sigourney Weaver. But it took a while. Van Patten didn’t officially get the role in Meyerowitz until almost 10 months after first auditioning for it. And the role also required some risqué scenes that she initially didn’t know about, because she didn’t see the full script until after she was offered the role. “I was out when I got sent the script, so I sent it to my mom and asked her to print it,” Van Patten says. “She started printing it out and I just get a text saying, ‘Page 32??’ And I’m like, ‘What is it?’ Those were the slightly pornographic scenes that I had to do.”
“I definitely got nervous,” she continues, “because obviously I had never done something—or had even thought of doing something—like that before. But I read the full script and thought, ‘This gives this character a whole other dimension.’ She goes off to college and finds herself through these crazy films. It just felt necessary, and that’s definitely what I look for when I see risqué stuff like that.”
For the last two years, Van Patten’s schedule has been packed. She shot Under the Silver Lake, but missed out on attending the Cannes premiere because she was appearing in Hamish Linklater’s Off-Broadway play The Whirligig. She guest-starred in three episodes of the acclaimed Netflix miniseries Maniac, by director Cary Joji Fukunaga. She starred as Joan of Arc on Broadway opposite Glenn Close, at the Public Theater’s production of Mother of the Maid. Of that role, Van Patten says, “It was by far the most challenging thing I’ve ever had to do, and the most rewarding. I almost didn’t do it because I was too scared, but then I figured that’s exactly the reason to do it.”
Van Patten has two films in the docket. First up is Good Posture, which just premiered at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival. It’s the directorial debut of Dolly Wells, who has been a close friend of Grace’s since they were in a play together years ago. Next is Karem Sanga’s romantic thriller The Violent Heart, which co-stars Mary J. Blige and will premiere later this year. The film shot in Nashville, and marked the first time Van Patten worked outside of New York or L.A.
And from there? Van Patten has a wishlist. Her favorite recent films are The Florida Project and The Favourite, and she would adore the chance to work with their directors Sean Baker and Yorgos Lanthimos. But most of all, she wants to dance with the man who brought her to the ball: her dad. Despite his remarkable directing resumé, Timothy Van Patten has never helmed a feature film. If and when he does, Grace wants to be there. MM
Under the Silver Lake opened in theaters April 19, 2019, courtesy of A24. Feature image: Character arc: Learning from master actors at an early age, Grace Van Patten quickly found her footing in film, TV, and a star turn on Broadway as Joan of Arc—her most challenging role “by far,” she says. Photograph by Sophie Elgort. This article appears in MovieMaker’s Spring 2019 issue.