Sophia Lillis is no stranger to the world of make-believe horror. For a 20-year-old actress who has actually currently filmed not one but two projects that included being drenched from head to toe in phony blood– the scary smash hit “It” and Netflix’s supernatural series “I Am Not Okay With This”– trafficking in worry is all in a day’s work.
So after trotting the world from one sprawling film set to another, Lillis decided to face down some real-life anxiety by pursuing work onstage. Having fulfilled writer Will Arbery at a market celebration a few months ago and consequently devoured his play “Heroes of the 4th Turning,” Lillis auditioned for and scheduled a production of the 2020 Pulitzer Reward finalist at D.C.’s Studio Theatre that runs through Oct. 23.
Sure, Lillis shot the dream impressive “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Amongst Burglars”in 2015 in Northern Ireland, as well as Wes Anderson’s star-studded” Asteroid City “in Spain. But stepping onstage in Studio’s 218-seat Mead Theatre eight times a week? That’s a nerve-rattling undertaking for one of Hollywood’s many magnetic increasing skills.
“It’s extremely, very, really, extremely various, “Lillis states throughout an interview previously this month at Studio’s 14th Street space.” I don’t know why I do this to myself. I’m like,’ Okay, so I did this thing. Now let me try to do something entirely various in a totally different environment and be entirely exhausted.’ Since obviously I like that? I do not understand, possibly this is my method of being an adventure applicant.”
Set around a fire pit in a Wyoming yard, where a late-night celebration amongst a group of conservative millennials grows combative,”Heroes” makes for a piercing deconstruction of evangelical ideals, conservative moralism and intergenerational politics. Lillis plays the chronically ill Emily, the youngest, most open-minded member of the four friends on hand and the daughter of the local Catholic college’s newly designated president.
“She is an elegant and absolutely fascinating entertainer, “director Sivan Battat says of Lillis. “It’s a really challenging play– politically, spiritually. The text of it is really intellectual, and she has actually brought a great deal of wisdom and a great deal of truly intriguing reflections on the character and on the world of the play into the practice session room.”
Lillis isn’t completely brand-new to theater: As a kid studying at the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Movie Institute in Manhattan, she played Winthrop Paroo in” The Music Man.”(“Could not sing at all,” she recalls. “However it doesn’t matter when you’re 8 and playing a little boy– the voice cracks are an acting option!”) After she invested her teenage years leaping from one on-screen project to another, her desire to circle back to the stage only grew.
“I enjoy television, and I like movie,” says Lillis, who made kudos for her leading roles in the 2019 motion picture”Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase “and 2020’s “Uncle Frank.””However I felt like in order to widen and improve at acting, you need to learn how to do theater. It’s sort of truly frightening.” Lillis chuckles, lets that remark sit for a beat, then blurts out “oops” and continues:” I do not understand why I keep stating things that are most likely going to sound bad. However it’s type of an intimidating leap, to go into the theater world after being so familiar with simply remaining in front of [a] cam.”
The endearingly unassuming mind-set is a consistent throughout the interview. “Sorry if I’m mumbling a lot– I have a very limited vocabulary,”Lillis states, through worried laughter. After another response, she asks forgiveness: “This is very, really vague and not practical to you at all.”
It’s that rejuvenating absence of ego that Lillis’s partners say rollovers to the practice session hall, where the actress has actually excitedly learned the ins and outs of carrying out onstage while still bringing experience and maturity that belie her youthful liveliness.
“She does not require you to understand she’s in the room,”co-star Laura C. Harris says.” But she’s constantly listening, she’s constantly observing, and then she will make her point with simply exceptionally well-thought-out and incisive and emotionally intelligent insights. And there’s a worldliness there that you may not find with all people her age.”
That aids Lillis in her portrayal of Emily, who, at age 25, is five years older than the starlet. Lillis states she was drawn to the character by her inherent compassion, and the implication that Emily’s desire to understand others’ distress is sustained by– and possibly fuels– her own unnamed illness. To much better understand Emily’s conservative ideology and medical condition, Lillis pored over various texts sent out by the Studio personnel and browsed Dupont Circle’s Second Story Books for more resources. Lillis’s Catholic upbringing provided a window in Emily’s deep faith too.
“She attempts to understand what other people are believing and tries to feel sorry for them and attempts to feel for them, and I believe she does it so much that it injures her,”Lillis says.” Each character has their own methods of handling their inner turmoil and their faith and their views and how they rationalize them. However Emily has her own method of handling it, also having all of this pain and using that discomfort to connect with other people. And I just thought that was such a beautiful thing.”
When it pertains to funneling such suffering, Battat applauds Lillis for being able” to communicate this complex and frequently unpleasant interior of a character while likewise staying present in the scene.” It’s a raw vulnerability Lillis has actually taken advantage of before: She played an abuse victim in the “It” films, a teen struggling with self-harm in the 2018 HBO limited series “Sharp Things” and an outcast resolving adolescent stress and anxiety in 2020’s “I Am Not Okay With This.”
“I think those are the most intriguing characters to play,” Lillis discusses.” I mean, to have a character that does not have any inner turmoil or trauma to go through, it’s type of unrealistic. Everybody is going through something. To really attempt to be these characters and comprehend them and like them … it’s more enjoyable, it’s more reasonable, and I think you discover a lot.”
After finishing”Heroes, “Lillis figures she’ll end the year by heading back to Brooklyn– she has actually moved into her own place, 4 blocks from her household home– and taking a while off. Asked what sort of phase roles she ‘d like to play going forward, Lillis demurs: “I do not know. Who can I play? Let’s see how well this goes.”
She then captures herself one last time.”That was a joke, “she exclaims. Decreasing her eyes, she speaks directly to the voice recorder in front of her and reasserts:” That was a joke.” Whatever follows, Lillis feels “Heroes”will leave her better geared up as an actress– not simply to work onstage, but to take on more mature characters, after going far for herself as a teenage scream queen and coming-of-age heroine.
” With film, I look quite young,” Lillis says.” But with theater, I believe there’s a bit of a flexibility in being able to take the next enter playing really, you understand, an adult. It feels a little challenging– just somewhat. But I’m happy about this next action.”
Heroes of the 4th Turning Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St NW. 202-332-3300. studiotheatre.org.