Katherine Waterston’s Belated Breakout Role

The young actress discusses playing Joaquin Phoenix’s love interest.


At the beginning of Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s noir novel set in 1970, the private eye Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is awakened from his stoner reverie by a hippie dream girl named Shasta. With her sensuality and world-weariness, the bohemian beauty makes a memorable first impression—as does the actress who plays her. Katherine Waterston, 34, has been acting for years, but this is her breakout star turn. “What the hell took me so long?!” exclaims Waterston, who is the daughter of the actor Sam Waterston. “It could have easily gone down that I only worked in the theater, but I got lucky.”

After spotting Waterston in the 2007 indie film The Babysitters, Anderson cast her as a love interest opposite Phoenix, with whom she shares all her scenes. “I expected to be nervous,” she says of working so intimately with the notoriously intense Oscar nominee. “But that never came.” It might have something to do with the sexual power her character holds over his. “That’s always an advantage,” Waterston admits. In one indelible moment, she delivers a monologue that leads into a powerfully emotional sex scene, while wearing not a stitch. “I don’t have shame with my body,” she says. “I don’t find a breast more vulnerable than an elbow. Having said that, I feel like I’ve done my time with nudity. It’s burkas from here on out.”