PARK CITY, Utah — Sundance darlings Catherine Keener and Ellen Page are back this year, playing a mother of six and a teenage girl left in her care, respectively, in the gritty in-competition drama “An American Crime.” The film recounts the horrifying true story of a 1965 murder and child abuse trial. Given the subject matter, the actresses’ moods were a bit downbeat during interviews, but it was clear they shared a mutual respect, as well as a few laughs, during the grueling four-week shoot and the Sundance swirl.
WWD: You said initially that you didn’t want to do this movie. What changed your mind?
Catherine Keener: I think the story. Her (Gertrude Baniszewski’s) story should be told. And I thought the script was really good. And Ellen’s participation, certainly. I was really happy that we got to work together.
Ellen Page: When I read the script, I couldn’t believe it was a true story. It just broke my heart and I also felt like it was a story that needed to be told. I also wanted to work with her (pointing to Keener) because she’s Catherine Keener.
WWD: Since this was the kind of tough role that stays with you, what was the first thing you did when the movie wrapped?
C.K.: I remember rushing to the spa (laughs). It sounds so lame, but I did actually ask for one of those salt scrubs and I wanted her to scrape a layer of skin off. It was literal for me.
E.P.: It did stick with me for a bit, I think more than any movie ever has. I ran away to Nova Scotia and I rode my bike and swam in the lakes.
WWD: What about the director’s comments that you took the role so far that you stopped eating for a while?
E.P.: I don’t like when he tells that story. Sylvia (Likens, her character) was starved, and when you shoot stuff like that and they are like, “Lets break for lunch,” you are not like, “I’ll take the grilled mahi-mahi and a side of wasabi mashed potatoes.” I just do whatever feels right for any movie.
C.K.: We all did what we needed to do; like, I was on Vicodin. I’m kidding!
WWD: Did this affect your choices for your next films?
E.P.: I was like, “com-e-dy!” which is what I did. I played a young Republican who had a picture of Ronald Reagan in her room (in the upcoming “Smart People,” costarring Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Rachel Weisz and Thomas Haden Church). Not really on purpose, but thankfully that is how it happened.
C.K.: I went to “Where the Wild Things Are,” the Spike Jonze film based on the Maurice Sendak book. It’s with puppets.
WWD: How has your life changed in the two years since you made “Hard Candy” (Page’s film debut at Sundance two years ago)?
E.P.: Right after that, I decided to take the year off because it was my grade 12, so I went home to Halifax and graduated from high school. After that, “X-Men” happened and then I don’t even know where the time went. It’s been crazy, but I am grateful.
WWD: What advice did you give Ellen?
C.K.: She doesn’t need any help. I saw that in “Hard Candy.” Anybody who has that kind of perspective…need I say anything? I mean, I told her, “Don’t take swag.” (laughs)
E.P. (pointing to her blue, yellow and red snow boots) “Hello, swag.”
C.K. Can I change that to, “Don’t take bad swag?”