There are scores of gifted veterans in the indie film industry who never become anointed Sundance darlings, and there are a select few—like, say, Greta Gerwig—who, after years of acting in and making small movies with their friends on shoestring budgets, suddenly become beloved by a multiplex-sized audience. For 31-year old actor and director Amy Seimetz, who’s been in everything from Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture to AMC’s The Killing, her breakthrough moment might be happening now. She’s currently onscreen as the star of Shane Carruth’s beguiling critical hit Upstream Color, she will have a recurring role in Christopher Guest’s HBO series Family Tree premiering next month, and she just wrote and directed her first film Sun Don’t Shine, a Southern noir opening this Friday. The gripping drama stars Seimetz’s frequent collaborators Kate Lyn Sheil and Kentucker Audley as a young couple on the run from a terrible crime they’ve committed. For a first-time director, Seimetz has made a startlingly atmospheric thriller—everything about the film, from the melting heat to the relentless close-ups of the troubled young desperadoes, puts you on edge. One reviewer aptly described the effect as “subcutaneous”—it’s a movie that’s really good at getting under your skin.
Sun Don’t Shine is set in south Florida, where you grew up. It’s an unsettling place—I think Lee Daniels shot those grisly scenes from The Paperboy there.
Yeah, I think it was shot in the same town, actually. And Harmony Korine shot Spring Breakers in my hometown, too.
Has it become recently trendy to shoot noir movies in the swamps of Florida? Three makes a trend, I suppose.
Yeah, I’m getting a little upset with all these people coming down to my—no, I’m kidding. [laughs] I think Florida got trendy somehow, yeah. It’s this huge flash of vacationland where the elderly retire to, but there’s also a lot of violence there. It’s a strange clash of cultures, and very atmospheric.
The idea for the film came out of a nightmare that you had. Do you often have dreams where you’re on the lam? My dreams are incredibly boring; I don’t ever have fun dreams like that.
They’re not fun—they’re horrific! I don’t know what other people’s nightmares are like, but mine have this sound and feeling to them of an electrical current passing through. It’s almost too unnerving when I have nightmares. I tried to incorporate that sensation of vibration into the film. Also, if humidity could make a sound, it would sound like the vibration of the drum I used in the score.
It’s a pretty sweaty movie. Was it actually as hot and humid as it looked, or did you apply a glycerin sheen to the actors?
I sprayed the actors down, but not with glycerin. We were shooting in 110-degree weather, so I didn’t have to do too much, but here and there I sprayed them down with a water bottle, which was totally welcome. I think our biggest expenses were sunscreen and mosquito repellant. We made the film on a pretty low budget. [laughs]
The movie is very suspenseful, but all the violence happens off-camera. Was that a conscious choice?
I think it’s much scarier what you don’t see. One of the scariest movies I saw as a kid was When A Stranger Calls, the original version with Carol Kane. It’s just this guy who keeps calling her from within the house, but she doesn’t know where he is. He keeps asking her, “Have you checked the children?” It’s just a man repeating one line over and over, but it’s completely terrifying. I think tension is built when there’s an agitation, as opposed to showing the act, which releases tension.
I noticed that the way you used voiceover in the film—a sort of oblique dialogue that doesn’t quite sync up to the images—was similar to the way Shane Carruth used voiceover in Upstream Color. Was that something you borrowed from him?
No, I did it first! [laughs] I was editing Sun Don’t Shine when he cast me in Upstream. Actually, I think we use voiceover in different ways. I thought of the voiceover in my film as a conversation the two main characters had in bed before the movie ever began.
You were also recently cast in Christopher Guest’s new HBO comedy Family Tree, which is very exciting. What’s your role on the show?
Well, Chris O’Dowd [of Girls and Bridesmaids] plays a Brit character who inherits a box of stuff from his great aunt. She’s decided that he’ll be the one who’s going to track down the family tree. His research brings him to California, which is where I come in. I’m a potential love interest. There’s a spark of friendship—and perhaps a romantic one as well.
I love a good will-they-or-won’t-they plotline. A Chris Guest TV show is a pretty big deal. Do you think about how people might start recognizing you soon?
Well, somebody at customs did when I flew into L.A. this time, which was a really surreal experience. They were a big Shane Carruth fan, so they knew that I was in his movie. Plus, my name is in my passport. [laughs] Honestly, I’ve been holed up in Florida for the past couple of years, so even the idea of anyone caring about who I am is so far removed from my brain. But we’ll see. It’s been an interesting year so far.
Photo: Jeff Vespa/Contour by GettyImages; Aritzia: Nicholas Maggio.