One of the more impressive drama films I saw recently was Lara Jean Gallagher’s Clementine. It’s about a young woman named Karen (Otmara Marrero) who has just broken up with her older girlfriend, D (Sonya Walger). She’s having a hard time adjusting to life without her, so naturally, she drives hundreds of miles north of Los Angeles to break into D’s Oregon lakehouse. While she’s there, she meets an incredibly precocious teenager, Lana (Sydney Sweeney) who is most likely not exactly who she seems.
I had the wonderful opportunity to speak to both lead actresses, Otmara Marrero, and Sydney Sweeney, as well as director Lara Jean Gallagher. Our conversations are as follows:
You have a super impressive career momentum happening right now I think that this role (as Lana) really showcases your talent. So how did you get connected with this film?
Sydney Sweeney: I was actually filming Everything Sucks. And I was in Portland, Oregon, with one of the producers who said that one of their fellow producing friends has this script that he thinks that I would love and I was like, “Please let me read it!” And I read it. I loved it. I asked if I could audition for it. I ended up skyping with Lara the director and booked it two weeks or three weeks after I wrapped and there was like two weeks off for Everything Sucks. Then I flew back to Florence, Oregon and I filmed Clementine for two weeks or it was a 17 days shoe altogether.
Oh Wow. That’s pretty short.
Sweeney: It was. The days didn’t feel long or jam-packed with anything. Because I’ve been on sets before where it’s just like so stressful.
Do you personally empathize with Lana at all and how were you when you were 16 versus how she is?
Sweeney: I think that any girl can sympathize because she’s a 16-year-old girl. Very curious with love and wanting to know what it is, what it means, what it looks like and that’s a very relatable thing for anybody. Whether you’re a girl, you’re a boy, you’re looking at anybody. And when I was 16, I was very curious with love too. So I very much understood Lana and what she was searching for because I think everybody searches for that.
I think especially as women when you’re a teenager, you feel way more mature than you actually are.
Sweeney: I know this sounds so silly, but my mom would always tell me to jump rope while you can. And I never understood that until right now and it’s like stay young and have fun and believe in as much as you can believe in while you can and I wish I would’ve listened and stayed young while I could.
Do you consider yourself a feminist and do you think that Lana would identify as one?
Sweeney: I think that I feel like as a girl, you just are.
But there are people who say, “oh no, I’m absolutely not a feminist.”
Sweeney: There are so many different types. I’m all for women, for women being powerful in any industry. I’m for equal rights. I mean, of course, people can sometimes take things so far one way or the other and there needs to be a balance and I believe in that balance.
What do you think Lana’s goal was with her interactions with Karen?
Sweeney: I think that she was searching for what loves looks like. What does it look like when you get out of this town and what was it like outside of this world? And this woman, Karen, came from this place that she’s always dreamed of and wanted to go to, and she is what she represented in this dream of hers, what the outside world looked like. And I think she was just so curious with her and with that comes the love and the mystery.
“…the truth is you need to let it hurt, like let yourself go through all of that because you will thank yourself that you did.”
What advice would you give to someone going through a breakup? Because I think that’s one of the biggest themes of Clementine.
Sweeney: OH, OH MAN. To be honest, if someone would’ve told me that break-ups hurt so much, I’d seriously be like “WHY? WHY?” I don’t want to give my heart away. Because it is awful, I don’t want to sugar-coat anything. Like you’re crying in your bed for weeks on end and that’s the truth. There’s that whole “be powerful, love yourself.” And yes, you love yourself and be strong but the truth is you need to let it hurt, like let yourself go through all of that because you will thank yourself that you did. Sounds confusing but think of something you’ve gone through and you’ll be so happy that you’re strong enough to go through it instead of burying it away. Because when you’re burying things away, it just builds up and builds up and builds up and it haunts you and I think that if you just let yourself grieve and go through that and… BLOCK THEM ON INSTAGRAM. Don’t see it and let yourself just find you again because so many times get lost in relationships. Who was who you were? I think it’s important to go back to what you did when…what did you do when you were a teenager before you had a boyfriend? What made you happy? Try and find those little things here and there and every day you wake up and it’s a little less painful. I know it’s like it does not sound like it will be, but it will be. And then you’ll be a year and a half later looking back and going, I wish I could go back to myself and give myself a hug and tell her that everything’s gonna be okay.
Also you left the person for a reason. And it’s so hard, like after break up and you’re crying, then all of a sudden we were like, there were all these good things. But you guys broke up because there were a lot of bad things. So, remember that.
“…you’re getting rejected by the thing that you love and it’s so hard.”
Exactly, Oh my God. Ahhh
Sweeney: I know we just need a seminar about this.
I know right, well, I just keep asking you to give people advice here, but this also kind of goes with your own life experience. What advice would you give to teenagers who want to be actors like Lana?
Sweeney: Really, really love it. It is a hard industry and I don’t think people talk enough about how hard it is. You have to deal with rejection, rejection every day. I started when I was like 12-13 years old. So as a 13-year-old girl, getting rejected is like the hardest part because one, you’re going through puberty or going through this new found love that you’re finding in yourself and others and girls and boys are mean and parents…you don’t want to listen to them. Then you’re getting rejected by the thing that you love and it’s so hard. It can tear people down so easily and you just need to make sure that if you want to do this, you love it and you love it for the right reasons.
I thank my parents because I love acting more than anything, but they made sure that I had interest in other things as well. Because when you do get the rejection, you feel like your world was falling apart, have all those other things that you love at the same time, and just make sure you love it and work harder than you think that someone else is working because there’s always someone that’s working harder than you.
I feel sometimes that I’m working my ass off and someone else has already done twice as much work as I have (laughing) Lastly, because I got the hand signal, what projects are you working on next that you want to talk about?
Sweeney: Well, I’m working on Euphoria for HBO. It was great to work on and I think it’s going to be a very talked-about show.
So, the location was amazing. how did you find that and where was it exactly?
Lara Jean Gallagher: It’s in a town called Florence, Oregon, highly recommended. It’s about three hours south of Portland on the Oregon coast. So even though we didn’t see the coast (in Clementine) we only saw the lake, um, there’s incredible sand dunes and the ocean is three miles away, so it’s just this bizarre a place that I couldn’t figure out how to showcase all of its glory because it’s too weird, but yeah. It also has 17 interconnected lakes. We’ve got a lot of community support and did look for the house for like seven months.
We wanted to shoot in Oregon, but looking for a lake house, I had maybe some east coast ideas about it. It’s a lot of federal lands around there. Any of the bodies of waters aren’t around houses, you know, there are hiking trails. So it was actually really difficult to find and it was a dream come true. The family was incredible, just kind of gave over their entire house to us. So it’s awesome. Everything was untouched. It had been built in the 60s and everything was the same. Nothing had been remodeled or anything.
I loved that, it was kind of like a time capsule.
Gallagher: Yeah, and they opened their garage and there was all this furniture in there and we used their furniture, you know, like midcentury modern stuff, and yeah, what a dream!
“When I started to write it, I was my ex’s age when we broke up, so coming to terms with that and just starting to understand her.”
The whole storyline to Clementine seems incredibly personal. Was there any truth in this for you based on a real event that you went through?
Gallagher: Not a single event, I guess, but it was definitely inspired by the emotions surrounding a breakup that I had with an older and more successful woman. And so that was kind of the impetus and really just wanting to work with those feelings and dramatize them further. When I was dumped. I felt like I was 16. It just felt like I’ll just make the character really young like that’s actually like how I felt.
There’s truth in that and just the emotional point of it. When I started to write it, I was my ex’s age when we broke up, so coming to terms with that and just starting to understand her. Like, why would someone want to date someone younger? Like what is that? That feeling of wanting to teach someone something or someone looking up to you, what does that feel like? And why would that be compelling and starting to understand her more than I had when I was going through the break-up.
So would you say you identify with the most out of all the characters?
Gallagher: It’s really a mix. It’s really Karen and Lana. It’s kind of like emotionally where I was and the idea of where do I want to go? This idea of like how do you want to be? Especially if you’re dating somebody in your field or that’s more successful. We see the realities of that and it’s kind of hard to just how to move on from that?
I’m also, I’m from a small town. I grew up on a lake. My work is about that kind of small-town feeling and especially being an ambitious person and especially being a woman in a town like that, it’s a very specific thing. So Sidney’s character, just really understanding her and knowing that she wants to get out and what does that look like and how was she going to do that? And pulling for her to do that. Hopefully, someday I’ll be like D, just a badass boss with a cool lake house. She’s the aspirational character kind of.
(after talking about cats for a second we went back to talking about the movie)
“…just a badass boss with a cool lake house. She’s the aspirational character kind of.”
Were you thinking of Lolita at all when you wrote Lana’s part?
Gallagher: I was. One of my early pitches was saying a Lolita-dynamic between two women, but then I dropped that because just knowing that the age difference isn’t like that. I just wanted to see that dynamic between women, which you just don’t see that often. It definitely happens, but it’s just, he just hasn’t been seen as much in the male-female Lolita dynamic. We’ve seen that, like, a zillion times.
When you were writing this, do you suppose that Karen had been harassing D before the events of the film and that’s why she changed the locks?
Gallagher: Yeah, yeah, actually that was part of the script. There was more. She’s calling and calling and calling and going there [to D’s house]. You know, we had a scene where she’s outside of the house. She’s definitely in a bad place, you know? I don’t think that’s her usual behavior, but she’s being ignored. That’s what causes her to go to the Lake House, which is supposed to be D’s kind of sanctuary. So for Karen to go there and break in is her way to get attention, like a desperate attempt to challenge, attempt for attention.
What advice would you give to someone going through a really bad breakup?
Gallagher: Try to use it. Try to write about it, if you can. Journaling, I think is really important and it was really important for me, to go back to that time. I had my journals, just to be able to tap into that emotion. It’s a gift in a lot of ways. You know, to be able to feel any extremes, especially as any kind of artist. It really is a gift. And so just try and use it.
I’ve gone through a lot of crazy break-ups so I relate to that kind of frantic play for attention.
Gallagher: They just want answers. But at the end of the day, I think a lot of what I was trying to do with a kind of cyclical idea is that no one can help you. Karen’s got to help herself with that. There’s nothing that D can say to her that’s going to make it better. She actually just has to suffer through it and then hopefully come out the other side and make a kick-ass life for herself.
How did you originally get connected with Laura and the film? Did you audition or did she have you in mind or how did it work out?
Otmara Marrero: Well, I wish she had but it’s not that easy for me. My agent sent me on an audition and I was happy to have time that day. A lot of times when they send auditions, you don’t really have a lot of turnaround time to read the full script. And I happened to have time. So I sat down and I read it and by the end, I knew that I wanted to be part of it. I thought it was just as beautiful on paper and I thought Lara was a very interesting storyteller. So I auditioned and it happened to be they were still casting it. Nicole Arbusto, the casting director from Room 104 and I sort of manifested meeting her, cause I was watching Room 104 at the time. I thought it was so interesting, the way it was cast.
There’s a couple of episodes of Room 104 with big names, but a lot of the talent were people like myself. So, I’m manifesting trying to get into Nicole Arbusto’s room and turns out Nicole Arbusto and I was like, my God, this is divine intervention! And so I go into the room and I feel great about the audition. I get a call back to get on Skype with Lara, the director. Then a week goes by and I haven’t heard anything. And so I reached out to my agent Josiah and he’s like, “let me see. You know, you were there in the mix.” Then he calls me back. “Oh, um, unfortunately, they decided to go in another direction and I was like, “there’s no fucking way Josiah, I am the direction.”
So a week passes by and just in my heart, I guess, I don’t think I’ve ever been more sure of anything, but I was really sure of this for some reason. In my heart, I was just like it just doesn’t feel like it’s over. But I’m also if it is over, I’m also really happy for whoever gets to do this. It seems really great. And a week later, they called me and they’re like, oh, they decided to go with you. And I don’t know if Lara remembers this story or not because she was like, Oh, you were always my option. And I was like, I wasn’t in somebody’s options at first.
“…I started decoding my dreams and kind of getting a sense of where my subconscious was.”
I can’t really even imagine anybody else doing it. The sense of betrayal and desperation. Had you recently go through a breakup before the movie? Or like what did you pull from? Because it was just so like, it felt like you were really going through it there.
Marrero: I was really going through it, but I didn’t (go through a break up). A lot of times I tried to pull from my experiences in my life. I felt like for a long time, I used to hold onto my pain because I thought I needed it. When I needed to play what I needed to play her. And I realized that I was hurting myself by holding onto things, just to have something to pull from. You know, the material does the work for you and you don’t need to be hurt to play her. But you’re in there. There’s stuff that you go through in life and art imitates life.
I did this like hippy dippy method called Dreamworks with Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, who’s an actress that I happened to be working with on this little indie called Miss Arizona. When I found out that they picked me for the role and she told me about it. You basically write a letter. You have to do it at night and you have to do it when you don’t plan to wake up with an alarm. You just wake up and you write a letter and you’re like, “Universe! If it is your will, allow me, Otmara Marrero, to find out why I’m supposed to play Karen.” Then you signed the letter and you go to sleep. I dream very vividly and so I would wake up in the morning and I would literally just like word vomit everything I saw in my dream. I put onto the paper in no specific order and I wouldn’t proof it. Just write words like red, fire, green, apple tree. You know, whatever it was that came to my mind. Then I started decoding my dreams and kind of getting a sense of where my subconscious was. It all came together organically. And it was really, really cool to see how my subconscious was in tune with all the elements of the movie, the house or the lake. It’s so hippy-dippy. And I’m like so into it.
Is there anything about you that’s like Karen…or what’s the most like Karen about you and what’s the least like her?
Marrero: Um, that’s a good question. I will say what I realized from the story is that love and heartbreak have no gender. I think that for people that are uncomfortable with sexuality, it’s such a light turning on in your brain to see that when you’re in love, everyone experiences the same thing. When you’re experiencing loss or heartbreaks, you also experienced the same thing as in a male-female relationship and the male-male relationship and the female-female relationships. You still feel that same thing in your stomach. I thought that was like a really cool discovery and that has nothing to do with the question you asked me.
I’ve been through a really, really terrible heartbreak with this guy five years ago that I thought I was going to marry. I saw he was like the one and it didn’t work out. And oddly enough, it’s thanks to that relationship I am where I am today. Because if it wasn’t for that relationship, I don’t think I would’ve ever had the balls to chase my dreams and to say “Fuck it. Let me try and see if it works.”
That’s amazing. I think that a lot of people get stuck in those situations and to be able to sort of use it to your benefit is really great.
Marrero: I think what we have in common is that we love hard because that’s kind of like what you get from Karen, which is why she’s in a rut because she loved D that much. I spiral internally. Internally I will spiral and I will like question my entire existence, but externally I’ll never come out of myself to do something that I might regret.
“I thought that was like a really cool discovery and that has nothing to do with the question you asked me.”
Did you guys get to rehearse prior to the filming? Because you and Sydney were just so good together and I didn’t know if y’all had a little bit of extra time to kind of like get to know each other before the shoot.
Marrero: We actually didn’t. I met Sydney onset when we were getting ready to shoot. I don’t remember now what was the first scene that we shot together. I think it might’ve been something on the dock, but that was the first time we met. She’s such a great partner. There’s a lot of work she does on her own and she comes onset more than prepared. And then it’s interesting because she does a lot of work and a lot of times when you like over prep you tend to like to premeditate a little bit. It’s hard not to start thinking of what it’s going to play out. She comes in, it’s almost as if she like throws it all away and she knows how to just be there and she’s very present. She’s very aware. I almost really, really liked that we didn’t have time to rehearse.
I didn’t meet her until that very first day because it adds to the curiosity of our relationship. I was curious who’s this little girl on the dog by herself? And she was curious, about me, who’s this woman? You know? So I don’t think it was on purpose that we didn’t meet or rehearse. It’s a small movie, but I think it ended up working in our favor.
What advice would you give to someone in their twenties that’s going through a break-up kind of similar to the one Karen and D went through?
Marrero: It’s always interesting when you give advice because 60% of the time you don’t take your own advice. Sometimes I feel like a fraud giving advice. I’m like, “you were just talking about not to be crazy and here you are texting your boyfriend about ‘where are you?’.”
I heard this thing a while ago and like, it never really like fully clicked till I got a little bit older, but I might fuck it all up. But it’s something like this…people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. And when you’re young, you don’t really understand that because like a lot of the time you’re saying, your first love is the one, right? I think like really, really knowing why people come into your life and taking in the experience, whether it’s a good or a bad one, there’s always a lesson. Just understanding why people walk in and out of your life will allow you to keep your power and your sanity.
Love is an interesting thing. I think we’re so conditioned to think that like, you’re only supposed to fall in love once. Like, you’re so conditioned to this really old way of thinking but falling in and out of love, it’s a beautiful thing. I don’t think you need to fall in and out of love every day, but like, you know when you do, you’ve always learned something and you know when something is over, it’s a big lesson because you know, so the next one, you know what it is that you want and what it is that you don’t want. So important, you know? Yeah. And it’s like something that people tell you when you’re going through all that stuff. You don’t believe it, and then you’re like, oh shit. That’s right. You’re right.