Talking with Q'orianka Kilcher, who plays Pocahontas in Terrence Malick's The New World, you realize two things: First, she's a normal teen – full of energy, smiling easy and often and a little overwhelmed by the buzz of press around her work in the film. At the same time, she's not a normal teen – on-screen, she seems preternaturally mature, and show-biz speak drops pretty casually into her conversations. Talking one-to-one in San Francisco in January, she spoke with Cinematical about working with Terrence Malick, the cultural burdens of playing an American legend … and how it's hard to track down some Malick's classics at your local Blockbuster.
Cinematical: How do you feel watching The New World now?
Q'orinka Kilcher: You know, I feel kind of like it's a dream. ... When I see my posters in a movie theater or something, it's kind of really funny. I look at it and I'm like … "Huh …this is funny, this is weird." I just remember the entire experience when I watch the film, and I play the entire filming and those events back in my head when I'm watching the movie and it's a memory of a wonderful, amazing learning experience.
C: You had the on-set experiences, and many of the scenes of the film felt pretty improvisational in terms of the physical quality of them ... and then you had to record a lot of voice over.
C: Was that a protracted process of putting your role together? Did it feel like it took a longer time than a normal film shoot?
QK: Well, we did the voice-overs at the end, and I had no clue where they were going to put them … (So) I'm not really sure, because I've had smaller roles – I've never had the main role, so I'm not really sure what is long and what seems not long – but to me it seemed short. I mean, yeah, it was challenging, and it was kind of hard sometimes, but it seemed to go by too quickly.
(More with Q'orinka Kilcher after the jump. ...) span style="font-weight: bold; font-style: italic;">
C: What would be the most unexpected thing you found out learning during the making of the film?
QK: To really not worry about being perfect; to really, really be true to yourself and to the spirit of your character, and to just really work on your impulses. Because I was actually kind of scared, because I took acting classes since I was five, and I still do now, and I do things here and there – except I never had such an emotionally challenging role as in this film. Sometimes I would be crying for four or five hours straight, and I didn't know if I was going to be able to do it honestly or what was going to happen, so I would go on set and right before – and it sounds maybe a little silly – but I would ask the spirit of Pocahontas to try and kind of guide me and help me in telling her story as best as I could to the world. I would just let feelings that came in me overwhelm me and flow out of me; I was kind of like an instrument in a way, being used …
C: I can only imagine you reading the script and going "Okay, I'm a daughter, I'm a sister, I'm a member of a community; I'm an ambassador, I'm a lover, I'm a mother …" As you read through that script, do you think 'Oh, what a banquet of things to portray," or do you think "Oh, God – how am I going to do all of this?"
QK: You know, it was sheer amazement and I felt so lucky to be able to do this, because I knew it was going to be extremely challenging; the first time that I read the script, I was a little bit scared, except that I was so excited to do it, because this was a role where I was able to bare my whole heart and soul into it, and just throw myself blindly inot the scene and whatever was going on and just do it.
C: Your dad is an Indigenous person from South America – when you read the film, it's sort of about a topic where it's a mix of the personal and the political for you; could you feel it resonating, did you feel that it was respectful, that it was neither too simple or too easy a film about the colonization of North America? Did you talk with your dad about it, did you worry about this being a complex issue?
QK: I didn't talk with my dad, 'cause my dad comes around every four or five years for one or two days and then disappears again; I did do lots of research on (Pocahontas), and the script was so beautifully written; however, due to the time (constraints), there were so many things that got cut out of the movie. That was a little bit of a shock to me in the beginning – except, I love the movie; I'm still glad that I was a part of it, so all us actors really do is go on-set, give ourselves to it and it's really up to the cutting room after that.
C: You're doing this incredibly intense shoot; you're working with a legendary director; you always hear about actors who play the lead role in King Lear and then find it hard to go out for a pint of beer after the play's done. Was it hard to get back into being you after a day on the set?
QK: I had immersed myself so much into the character of Pocahontas, that when I would go home I would feel – in a way – that she was a little bit of a part of me, and I will always carry a part of her with me – after doing this film especially. So when I would go home I would wake up at 3 o'clock in the morning and just go down and listen to the rain. So, no, I don't feel it was hard to get out of (character); I mean, sometimes, when I was doing the scenes where I cried for four or five hours, I would go home extremely emotionally raw – I suppose I stayed in her character all the time, but I suppose it was always a little bit of part of me due to my own heritage and culture.
C: Did you sit down and watch Malick's films?
QK: Afterwards, I watched The Thin Red Line; I tried to track down (Malick's) other movies (Days of Heaven and Badlands), but they didn't have them at Blockbuster. … I'm really looking forward to watching Badlands.