Like many of us, Imogen Poots isn’t sure how to feel right now. It’s mere weeks until our new president arrives, and we can’t be 100 percent sure how bad — or how not-quite-bad — things are going to get. “It’s a funny thing,” Poots tells us. “It’s this strange period where you know something is a reality, but you can’t see the evidence yet. Then you suddenly realize the evidence is everywhere.”
The English actress — 27, and recently of “Green Room,” “Knight of Cups” and the Cameron Crowe show "Roadies" — agrees we need temporary distractions. Cat videos work. Or there’s her latest film, “Frank & Lola,” a dark neo-noir about love and obsession. The indie stars her and Michael Shannon as strangers who fall in love. But when he learns about her shady past, he becomes unhealthily driven to learn more. At least it’s not as grim as the news.
I’m reluctant to call “Frank & Lola” a neo-noir, because it doesn’t really play like a typical noir. It’s more a romance and a drama.
Yeah, it’s interesting. The director [Matthew Ross], when I met him, he reeled off a bunch of movies that inspired him. But he stressed that the subject was obsession. I think of it as a romantic tragedy. There’s something really tragic about a couple setting out to do their best, and it just doesn’t work out. They kind of f— it up for themselves and for each other.
You’re a big noir fan, too, right?
A friend of mine introduced me to film noir. He showed me the film of “The Naked City.” That was the first one that got me. I remember someone who made those films saying, “You know, we didn’t call film noir ‘film noir’; we just called them thrillers.” It’s a way of understanding them afterwards.
There are plenty of people who see the great femme fatales — like Barbara Stanwyck in “Double Indemnity” — not as villains but as empowering. They’re driven and they know what they want.
Even today, you come across female characters in a script, and someone will say to you, “This is a really strong character! She’s a badass!” Every time I hear that I say, “Oh, go away.” [Laughs] Some of these strong female characters, they’re actually not that strong. It’s someone else’s idea of strength. It’s just like, “We’re gonna give her a gun and she’s going to be wearing these kinds of outfits and saying these kinds of quips.” It’s like, “Pfffft.” In the theater you come across a lot more female characters who are fully fleshed out.
Even in indies it can be tough, though there are always exceptions.
One of my favorite films I’ve seen recently is “Certain Women,” the Kelly Reichardt film. It’s a real masterpiece — a gorgeous, gentle masterpiece about female relationships, and the fragility and the overwhelming nature of love and sexuality and physicality. The characters are just people, just human beings.
What was it like to play Lola, who has to be both mysterious and a believable human being?
Here’s the thing: When you’re in a film, when you’re playing a character, until you watch the movie as a filmgoer, you don’t even consider that you’re playing someone who’s in any way mysterious or enigmatic or inscrutable. To you that’s a real person.
They’re people who are crippled by what they’ve done before they met.
Everything in your past defines you, whether you like it or not. The past is a character in your life, isn’t it? So when you meet someone and fall in love, there’s a strange guilt. You see Frank act out in strange ways because of that. You see Lola make bad choices. More than saying, “This is a classic line-up of the victim and the hero and the femme fatale,” it’s really about two people who are so self-destructive they can’t make it work. When it comes to love, whether you’re a parent of a child or if it’s a relationship based on love or friendship, there’s going to be some madness in that. Love and sanity, they just don’t work. [Laughs]
This movie really captures that feeling of being in a new relationship: It’s exciting at first, then you start to wonder, “Who is this person I’m with?” And that doubt can, in some cases, make you irrational.
Yeah! And maybe you become someone you don’t like anymore. It’s a real trip. If there’s one single guarantee in life, it’s experience. That’s something you get to see with this film: Here are two people who had an idea of how it might work, and it really didn’t. You don’t know who to believe, who to respect. So, yeah, it’s a real rom-com — just a treat for Christmas. [Laughs] My mother was asking me, “What it about?” And I was like, “Oh, it’s just lovely. Just a lovely, lovely film.” [Laughs]