Amy Smart Talks TCFF 2016’s “Sister Cities,” Film to Television and Back, and Loving Life in Northern Michigan

The Traverse City Film Festival is thrilled to be hosting the World Premiere of “Sister Cities,” a tale of four disparate siblings reunited by the surprising death of their eccentric mother, Mary. A gripping film with an all-star cast, the audience follows the sisters as they work together to discover Mary’s the meaning behind Mary’s final moments.

amy-smartWe were able to chat with the prolific “Sister Cities” star Amy Smart. You might recognize her from roles in films like “Varsity Blues,” “Outside Providence,” and “Just Friends;” and guest appearanceson the television shows “Felicity,” “Scrubs,” “Robot Chicken,” “Justified,” and “Shameless.”

Amy divides her time working in Los Angeles and living here in Traverse City, where she spends time at the gorgeous Bonobo Winery on the Old Mission Peninsula.

 You can catch “Sister Cities” on Friday July 29, at 6 pm at Lars Hockstad Auditorium. 

Playing the young version of Mary in flashback sequences, you have quite a unique part in the film in that you’re the only one who shares no screen time with any of the sisters in the present. Was this role challenging, knowing that you were responsible for weaving together the emotional pieces that resonate with the present-day Mary and her daughters?

Flashbacks can be tricky because you immediately are taken out of the reality of the situation and made to extend your belief that I was Jacki Weaver but younger. The Mary character in her younger years was very vicious, flirtatious and moved on a whim to follow each new lover in her life. I felt like there was enough time between our versions that you could believe she was this way younger, but I did talk with Jacki and watched some scenes she had already shot to get the most accurate accent and inflections.  

You and Academy Award-nominee Jacki Weaver (“Silver Linings Playbook,” “Animal Kingdom”) play Mary at very different times in her life. How closely did the two of you work together to develop the character?

Jacki was so down to earth and personable and I was incredibly excited to work on this character with her. She started filming before I did, so I let her take the lead as far as who Mary was and then I also added more to her for her younger years. She was a professional dancer and really knew how to use her body to express herself. 

What was it that initially drew you to this project, and how did you become involved?

I read the script and really loved the story of these sisters coming together over the tragedy of their mother. I also liked the controversial issue they are dealing with and getting a firsthand insight into the debilitating disease of ALS. 

SmartWhereToInvade“Sister Cities” is a film that oscillates tonally – at times warm, funny, heartbreaking, and even eerie. How much of that came across to you when you first read the script, versus what the audience sees in the finished movie? Did knowing at which points in the film your flashback scenes are placed impact your performance?

Reading the script, I felt the shift back and forth between the heavy subject matter and the humor of each sister playing off their personalities. I was so impressed with all the actors who played the sisters because it definitely felt stronger and deeper than I remember reading. The flashback scenes were meant to really uplift and bring more levity to this film when there was drama and heavy-heartedness. I really loved working with Sean [Hanish, director] because he directed me in bringing Mary to life with much viciousness and a feeling of being carefree.

The film has an excellent cast! It’s interesting that all four sisters have had notable appearances in television shows. You have Stana Katic (“Castle”), Michelle Trachtenberg (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), Jess Weixler (“The Good Wife”), and Troian Bellisario (“Pretty Little Liars”). Jacki Weaver and Tom Everett Scott have also had success in television. Do you find that crossing between television and film is something that is becoming more prominent in Hollywood?

Yes, I definitely think the times have changed and now there are really no lines between TV and film. In general now, TV had more to offer an actor as far as caliber of talent with the writers, directors and actors. There are so many amazing TV shows on the air now, especially on cable and now the web.  

You’ve had acclaimed roles in great television shows as well – “Shameless,” “Justified,” and “Felicity” to name a few. How are you able to transition between film and television? 

I love the steady work of a TV show and the chance to really develop a character beyond the length of a film. I honestly love to flip flop back and forth between the two mediums, both have their advantages. 

Early on in your film career, you were well known for fan-favorite films like “Varsity Blues,” “Starship Troopers,” and “Road Trip.” You’ve moved on to work primarily on independent films. How would you compare the experiences of the two?

Studio films are bigger budgets and have more money to spend on the luxuries like wardrobe, dressing rooms, salaries, per diem, and there is usually a built in budget for doing press and knowing the film will be coming out in theaters. Indies are usually lower budget, risky and don’t always have a game plan on how it will be released. I find that in general they are making more blockbuster films and using A-list actors and it’s not as popular to make films like “Varsity Blues” or “Just Friends.” I also find independent film making so much more original with the level of risk and creativity the film makers have.  

I have to mention that you and your spouse, Traverse City native Carter Oosterhouse, make a ridiculously charming couple. Aside from your beautiful wedding, are there any memorable Northern Michigan experiences you’d like to share?

Well thank you 🙂 I find that each year we come up here for the summer I fall more and more in love with this area. I dream about it when I’m in L.A. The nature is outstanding and now that we have Bonobo Winery, I started working out in the vineyard pruning the vines and learning to farm organically. My heaven is when I’m in nature. I also love going to my friend Angela’s farm Light of Day Organics and just drinking the amazing teas. Carter and I have such a great time with our family and friends and savor every moment up here. 

IMG_0186Katy Gwizdala is a Michigan native who currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. You can find her arguing with friends, colleagues, and her cat about all things pop culture. Follow on Twitter @katygwizdala.