NEW YORK — Alison Pill is that rare breed of young actress who, at 19, can shuffle between stage and screen with ease. With a breakthrough performance in the 2003 film “Pieces of April” behind her, she currently stars as Jaime, a depressed teenager whose mother once dated a Kurt Cobain-like figure, in Christopher Shinn’s play, “On the Mountain,” which opens tonight at Playwrights Horizons.
“Jaime is one of the best characters I’ve ever played,” says Pill, who was a young Lorna Luft in the Judy Garland biopic starring Judy Davis in 2001 and will soon appear in Thomas Vinterberg’s teen gun drama, “Dear Wendy,” which premiered at Sundance in January and was written by Lars von Trier. “We have a great deal in common. I can relate to her longing to connect and to be understood.”
Shinn’s play is about just that — a longing to connect with others, most literally through music and its legacy. A Sam Goody clerk becomes obsessed with Jaime’s mother, Sarah, because of her rock ’n’ roll relationship with Jason Carlyle, who died of a drug overdose. Based on an Internet rumor, he hopes to uncover Carlyle’s lost, unpublished songs.
“On the Mountain” is sad, but not bleak, which is at least a step in the right direction for Pill, who performed bleak every night off-Broadway last spring in “The Distance From Here,” Neil LaBute’s play about violent children and their neglectful, white-trash parents.
“It was so utterly upsetting,” says Pill of LaBute’s play, which ends with a baby being thrown into a monkey cage at the local zoo. “There’s no possibility of OK-ness.” Getting down from it every night wasn’t easy. “[Co-star] Anna [Paquin] and I would smoke too many cigarettes after the show. We’d be smoking these cigarettes and look like we were hating life,” Pill recalls. “At least with ‘On the Mountain,’ there’s a real hope that everyone will be OK.”
That said, “growing up in today’s culture is really tough,” she continues. “We’re overprescribed and often told we have a problem when we might just be sad.”
This story first appeared in the February 24, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Pill moved from Toronto to the East Village last year. “Everybody knows my name,” she says of the gritty neighborhood. Which is just the way she likes it. Even at her young age, she recognizes that Los Angeles isn’t for her. “It’s irritatingly sunny and you don’t get a break from having a smile on your face.”
Not to mention the fact that everyone drives and she doesn’t. “Everybody stares at you when you try to just walk out of the Chateau Marmont.”
STAR PICKS: ALISON PILL
LAST MOVIE: “Hide and Seek.” “It’s sad that it was made.”
LAST DVD: “Being Julia.” “I’ve got friends with screeners now.”
LAST RESTAURANT: Caravan of Dreams on 6th between 1st and 2nd. She orders the “live sampler.”
LAST PLAY: “Reckless,” starring Mary Louise Parker. “She is a goddess.”