The Young Actress Deals in Defiant and Nuanced Identities
A Silverlake, L.A. crowd is gnawing on their leafy greens and lovingly slaughtered steaks on a breezy St. Patrick’s Day afternoon. Our lady in question sneaks up, tiny but recognizable, and before words are exchanged, she reaches up on tippy-toes for a hug. And so it goes with Juno Violet Temple, the dehiscent and happy young actress, happy even to be doing an interview on a Friday afternoon—an incalculable rarity amongst actors. She’s wearing a Cranberries T-shirt in solidarity to the holiday, and a nod to her love of music. “I get teased by my friends,” she says, blushing through lily-white skin, “because I like to dress very ‘90s, and I like style from The Craft, and I’ve got a lot of rosaries and a lot of blood red and wine red lipstick.” Today, she is au natural, her oval face framed by a cluster of natty blonde hair.
Sometimes you catch an actress at a crossroads, ready to hoist themselves up to the next level. Temple is there, her films lately have been indie hits, and she’s just starting to stretch back into studio blockbusters. She keeps referring to this period as having reached acting “puberty.” She’s been cast as a teen for the most part, her 21-year-old face looking nearly as girlish as another Temple from cinema past. But the roles often remind us that teens are basically adults who make more mistakes.
With Temple, the mistakes have a higher-octane sense of cinematic flair, but that’s what you’d hope for. You find her escaping the desolation of the Salton Sea by stealing a car in Sundance-darling Little Birds, and then becoming ensconced in a scheme with three Los Angeles skate kids where she posts come-on baits on an internet sex site, advertising herself as a young prostitute, only to have her friends jump out at the last minute and rob the unsuspecting john. She’s a quirky college kid fucking Thomas Dekker’s bisexual Smith in Gregg Araki’s sci-fi twister Kaboom. In Dirty Girl, she convinces her closeted gay best friend to steal a car from his homophobic Oklahoman pops and drive to California (notice a trend?) to confront her own absentee dad. Recently, she played a sexually repressed girl at a British boarding school in Cracks, confused and titillated by her pathological teacher, Eva Green, who in turn becomes obsessed with the new Spanish girl at school. The roles are all real in their own way, fraught with the deep emotion and frustration of youth. “You only grow up once,” says Temple, “but I get to do it a couple times.”
Aside from the manifest destiny car-napping, something else stands out about Temple’s filmic involvement: there’s queer undertones (or overtones) in each of the movies. Temple shakes her head in rancor at American institutional bigotry when the passing of Prop 8 and the subsequent collective backwards step of the gay rights movement is brought up. “We are in 2000 and fucking 11. Are you kidding me? Who gives a shit whether you want to be with a man or a woman?” she vents. It’s clear she wants to say something more, now and in general. She stews for a moment, thinking about her vocation, the frivolity of being a young actress, how her world revolves around her. Her publicists, the interview, the photo shoots, all about her. It doesn’t quite make sense, which is why she has never been starstruck (aside from a chance encounter with one of her heroes, Dita Von Teese, in the bathroom at a Leonard Cohen concert). “I mean, if you were to meet someone that cured cancer, you would be fucking stunned to silence, because that’s something the entire world would be benefit from,” she says.
That Dita Von Teese is her style icon makes sense. Temple went to fashion school to become a brassiere and underwear designer. And she just so happens to take her kit off in Little Birds and Kaboom. She turns to Araki’s direction of her sexpot character in Kaboom. “Sex scenes are the most unsexy things to shoot in the entire world,” she lets on. “It’s like, ‘Now grab the left cheek, now squeeze a little, and now move to the left a little.’ But it actually becomes quite liberating when you’ve got a director so excited about you playing that role.” But, as a person, she is very careful about what is real and what is an affect of doing a movie. That is to say she won’t be working on anything like John Cameron Mitchell’s Short Bus in which the director worked with real sex. “I think the whole point about [performing sex in] a movie is that you are simulating it. I could be a crazy girl who sex to her is like masturbation and no one knows if that’s what I’m like in real life, and I want it that way.”
For now, Temple is relishing the varied roles she’s been given. She insists she’s been lucky, lucky, lucky to have a career that allows for the artistry of playing complex characters. She has fun with it. She has movies coming up with people like Riley Keough (who plays Temple’s lesbian lover in the upcoming Jack and Diane), Orlando Bloom (The Three Musketeers, in which Temple plays 15-year-old Queen Anne: “But with my cleavage it was not believable for a day. Not to boast,” Temple laughs), and a reinvigorated Matthew McConoughy in the recently wrapped Killer Joe (“Matthew is the most purely, gentlemanly Southern man,” she says, fawningly). And, of course, she was just cast in the soon-to-be-filming Batman: The Dark Knight Rises. Not bad for someone whose 21st birthday was just recent. Oh, you know you want to hear about it: “It was pretty epic,” she regales. “Here, [in L.A.], you have to be snuck into a club in someone’s huge trenchcoat. L.A. isn’t exactly some town where I want to go out and get super fucked up, because I’m here to work. I celebrated my birthday [in New York City] at The Box. That was pretty nutty. I saw some wicked shit go on there. It ended with some dude throwing shit in the crowd, and I was like, ‘Happy birthday me.’”