Marin Ireland in "Sparrows Dance"

Interview: Marin Ireland on Taking the Lead in
“Sparrows Dance”

If it wasn’t for Marin Ireland’s carpool when she was a kid, she might never have had the drive to pursue an acting career.

“It was somewhat accidental because I remember [my friends] coercing me into auditioning with them for these community theater youth shows,” says Ireland. “When I was doing the plays, I just didn’t feel shy and I had the best time of my life, so I never wanted to stop doing it.”

Nor has she shown any signs of slowing down to go by the past few years. Since being nominated for a Tony in 2009 after starring in Neil LaBute’s “reasons to be pretty” on Broadway, Ireland has steadily ascended the ranks of film and television, recurring on no less than two notable series in “Homeland” and “Boss” while appearing in features left and right and treading the boards on both coasts in productions of Clifford Odets’ “The Big Knife” and Bruce Norris’ “A Parallelogram.”

But while her name is on the rise, it’s ironically two films in which her character has no name where her extraordinary talent has been allowed to shine through the most. It was within a single week last year I experienced Ireland’s double whammy of “28 Hotel Rooms” and “Sparrows Dance” (review), the latter of which finally arrives on video-on-demand and at the Quad Cinema in New York this weekend, and I haven’t been able to shake either off since. Both two-handers about relationships hidden away from the world that defy all odds, Ireland’s turns as an adulterous businesswoman in Matt Ross’ “Rooms” and an agoraphobic shut-in in Noah Buschel’s “Dance” are ideal showcases for her range, which runs the gamut from a jittery nervous energy that can fill the screen to a fierce, passionate resoluteness that draws your eyes only towards her.

As Matt Ross, who directed her in “28 Hotel Rooms” recently told me via e-mail, “When Marin is on-camera and she has a thought, or an emotion registers, you can literally see it wash over her face. Which is just extraordinary. It flutters – visibly – over her face. It’s a rare, intensely vulnerable thing and for me as an audience member, really powerful.”

Ireland was recently able to take a break from her very busy schedule, which now includes starring in the upcoming cable series “The Divide,” to talk about her work in “Sparrows Dance,” the comfort of long takes and indulging in an omnivorous approach to her career.

How did you get involved in “Sparrows Dance”?

It’s kind of a funny, strange story. Martha Plimpton was supposed to play this part originally, and it was supposed to be John Ortiz and Martha Plimpton at one point. Then Martha couldn’t do it because her TV show [“Raising Hope”] got picked up and I knew John [because] I had worked on a workshop of “Othello” with he and Phil Hoffman. I was unavailable to do the full production because I was doing a Neil LaBute play — Jessica Chastain actually ended up doing the part — but John and I became very close and he suggested me [to Noah Buschel].  We had the strangest meeting where it was like we met on a street corner. He invited me to go see Mike Shannon’s band play somewhere downtown and we met up beforehand and talked about five minutes. And he was like, “Okay, you seem cool. I’ll send you the script.” And I was like, “Wait, do I have to audition?” He was like, “No, you seem cool and John loves you, so I’m cool.”

[I’m thinking], this is a movie with one person the whole time, how [do you know]…? But [Noah] knows what he knows and I think the producers and the actors he’s worked with, he’s learned to just trust that his instincts are spot-on. So it was really wild. Then John couldn’t do it because John got that HBO show “Luck,” and Noah knew Paul Sparks and I knew Paul, so we were really thrilled. But yeah, it was originally a John Ortiz/Martha Plimpton picture. [laughs] It would’ve been very different.

I don’t know if it was the same on “28 Hotel Rooms,” but I talked to Matt Ross who said you came on fairly late into the process on that as well…

Yeah, especially when compared to Chris Messina. He’d been working on it for a long time.

Is it interesting to step into a role like that?

It really depends on how far away you feel from the role in some ways. Honestly, when it comes to shooting a movie like that, when you feel a connection with the character and the other actors and especially with the director [where] you feel they’re aligned with each other in terms of the vision and the sense of story, then for me, the work happens very quickly no matter what. Even if it may be a long lead up — like the last movie that Noah and I did together is called “Glass Chin” and he mentioned that movie to me while we were doing “Sparrows Dance” and we didn’t actually shoot it for a year-and-a-half. The work itself when it happens, it happens very, very quickly in a good way when you’re kind of really sparking off of each other, it always feels to me like it’s happening very much in the moment. Obviously, there are some elements where having a longer period of time just for some physical preparation for some roles can be important or if there’s some very intense research that’s necessary, but in the absence of those sorts of challenges, the actual emotional work happens pretty fast.

Was there actually much research for this part to play an agoraphobic?

I definitely did some research. I found some stories and some articles and things that helped me understand how that can develop. But it always helps me to read about particular people and to think of it more in terms of personal stories and not so much as the diagnosis of something. Noah and I did a lot of talking about how difficult a time does [this character] have and how strange does she seem. He suggested the tics and stuff and I just threw some at him and let him orchestrate those as he wanted to.

Was this more similar to preparing for something on the stage, given the contained setting and two characters?

I know Noah really likes working with theater actors because he likes to do long takes, so there’s a few scenes in “Sparrows Dance” that he was planning to do more coverage of. Then once we shot the master, he’s like “I’m done. That’s it. That’s how I wanted to do it.” And that’s pretty rare for like a six-minute scene. I sort of feel like I prepare for most of these things the same way. You just learn your lines, know where you’re going and know what you’re up to. But in a lot of ways, that movie didn’t feel at all like doing a play. There were some long scenes that were relatively stationary. And we had two days at the beginning and maybe one day at the end when Paul wasn’t there. It was just me on set and that was a really good experience of that fishbowl that that person’s living in because it was like just a couple of days with just me and Noah and the crew who were incredible in this little space as opposed what would feel slightly more theatrical. That was very unique and a really good way to get into that frame of mind.

Since it was such a short shoot, did you have the luxury of shooting in sequence?

I can’t really recall that necessarily being the case. As with a lot of film things, it tends to be about the location, so we would sort of shoot out the kitchen, then the bedroom. The sequence that in particular was useful was just not having Paul there for a couple of days, so I could move into the space and fully occupy it, but Paul and I have worked together before. We did another little movie once together and we’ve known each other for a long time, so like with Chris [Messina], when there’s that kind of familiarity, so t’s easy to [fall into it]. It’s also like when you’re rehearsing a play, for instance, you rehearse in whatever sequence unless you’re doing a run-through, so there’s something about the out-of-sequence thing that doesn’t really bother me as much.

Noah has some really inventive shots in this film. Was that interesting to work with as an actress?

Well, certainly. The way he works, it can take a really long time to set up a shot and then it’s like this painting. The camera doesn’t move usually, so I found a great freedom in that. There were a lot of shots where it was like, “Ok, the camera’s going to be here or we’re just going to be in your eyeball or we’re going to be looking at this, just do this or just do that and you’re done” – you know, a lot of of technical things that felt like you were helping to make a painting in a way, which is very unique to Noah’s way of working. Then on these kind of long takes, I almost didn’t know where the camera was because it was catching everything. That was really wild and something I really admire about [Noah’s] stuff is that he goes back and forth from these tight, detailed still frames and then these really long, rangy shots where I remember I didn’t really have any idea where the camera was.

It’s kind of metaphorical for the film in some ways that starts small with your character and opens up into this grand romance.

Exactly. I know he really wanted to have that feeling sometimes like when she really starts to lose control of her environment, that kind of chaotic feeling, that sense of her being overwhelmed by all the things happening in that little space.

So speaking of out of control, has this past year been as crazy for you as it might appear from all the work you’ve done? It doesn’t seem like you’ve had a break.

Sometimes it’s such a strange ride from when you shot something to when it comes out. When we shot “Sparrows Dance,” it was a year-and-a-half ago or so and we shot it in nine days. You just really immerse yourself in the experience of doing it and it’s such a different experience than theater where it’s so immediate. But I have been really, really lucky and I’m just really grateful because when you do theater, the audience response happens simultaneously and when you do a movie, especially a little movie, I’ve been really proud of these projects and I’ve been so grateful that these particular things have gotten some attention lately. I really admire Noah as a director and a visionary and an artist and the kind of characters that he writes are so exciting to me. That’s what I’m really drawn to, and you just get excited because when you make a little movie like that, you always assume well, maybe a couple people will see it, but who really knows?

I had read another interview you did where you talked about still finding an artistic identity. Do you have an idea about what you want to do now?

It’s hard because I’m definitely one of those people who wants to do everything.

You can tell from the work.

It’s always for me if the story really moves me and if I find something exciting and challenging about the character. I really always want to do more movies. I find that way of storytelling is so thrilling, but honestly TV now is becoming just as exciting. The writers, the stuff they’re doing on cable and all the shows that are happening there are really fun. I’m still just hungry to do everything.

“Sparrows Dance” is now available on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and Google Play.

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