Bluebird star Amy Morton

Actress and stage director Amy Morton is well known in the theatrical world, especially in her hometown of Chicago where she is an Artistic Associate at Steppenwolf Theatre. She has appeared in over 30 productions on stage, including on Broadway in Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf and August: Osage County, receiving a Tony and Drama Desk nomination for Best Actress. She has also ventured onto the big and small screen with titles such as Up In the Air and Rookie of the Year.

But her latest part in Lance Edmands' Bluebird has her stepping into the lead role of a film for the first time. The indie feature, executive produced by Killer Films' Christine Vachon, stars Morton as Lesley, a wife and mother whose family is struggling against economic downturn in an isolated Maine logging town. Set against the harsh of winter, Lesley's austere life takes a tragic turn when one mistake causes ripples through the town and threatens her future.

In her chat with FilmLinc Daily, Morton talks about taking the lead and the emotional drain of her latest on stage and big screen roles, her hopes for a “happy” role in the near future, and wanting to do more film—though she will not be moving away from Chicago.

Bluebird will have its World Premiere at the upcoming Tribeca Film Festival, which opens next week.

FilmLinc Daily: When did you start acting and now that you've experienced both stage and screen, is there a preference?

Amy Morton: I started acting as a kid in school. I think I was all of six when I decided what it was I wanted to do. For better or worse, I set my course very early, so I got involved with all the shows in school, but I started acting professionally when I was 19 or 20.

I'd be hard-pressed to say which I prefer. I suppose I'm most comfortable on the stage because that's where I have the most experience, but stage work is also the most tiring because you have to do it so often. That's why film work can be so much fun because you don't have to constantly repeat it. And there's something great about being able to be as “small” as you want.

FD: What do you mean by as “small” as you want?

AM: On stage you have to play to the last row of the auditorium, which can be great but also taxing, but on film you have the flexibility to [go small], which is really refreshing.

FD: I assume you'll continue to do the stage, but are you segueing into doing more film?

AM: Yes, I will always do stage, but I'd love to do more film. I live in Chicago, so there isn't that much film work here. But whenever I go to New York, I'm always able to pick up some work, which is great. So I guess the answer to that question is yes, but I'm not moving.

A scene from Lance Edmand's Bluebird

FD: What attracted you to the role of Lesley and Bluebird?

AM: It's the biggest role I've ever done on film and I wanted to have the experience of doing that—being there for the whole shoot. It also felt like a good fit. There was something about the small town and how this one devastating thing that happens affects everyone around, as well as what blame can do to a person. I felt a kinship with her.

FD: Obviously she's trying to hold herself together emotionally and still be a parent and spouse, but the situation steadily deteriorates. How did you prepare for that portrayal?

AM: Well, honestly, I didn't have to prepare too much because it was the dead of winter in the middle of northern Maine, which isn't exactly a happy time. We were shooting in a small town which had been decimated by the closing of one mill and the extreme downsizing of another mill. So on the main street where all the businesses were, I'd say 90% of the stores were all closed. Somebody told me there that there had been an exodus of about 3,000 people, which is unbelievable. Right away, it's like: wow, this place is really struggling and the people who decided to stay—who are wonderful—it just wasn't easy for any of them.

So putting yourself there and opening yourself up to the story allowed it to work. There wasn't a lot of prep necessary. It wasn't like I was playing someone completely off my radar right now. I could easily imagine being in her shoes.

FD: You've worked with film projects that include Hollywood stars and were bigger in terms of budget, etc. How would you compare your experiences with those productions with Bluebird, which of course falls much more in the indie realm?

AM: Every experience has its pros and cons. On these larger films they're spending so much more money, you feel like you want to get your part done right and quickly. But on smaller [projects] like Bluebird you feel you have more creative input because you're spending more time than money. I absolutely felt like I had that creative input, and Lance [Edmands] is a great director. He's very collaborative. I felt heard and like whatever I brought to the table was taken seriously.

I feel like I got very lucky. Because Lance is an editor, he goes in knowing what he wants. And then if you add something, he's very open to it. But I felt like he was in complete control of what he wanted to do. All the cast and crew were also great. Nobody had a trailer or any of that kind of crap. Everyone hung out waiting for the next scene in the same room and we got to know each other really well. Everyone was into experimentation. It felt like summer camp, only in the cold.

FD: Going forward, are there roles that appeal to you or you're interested in tackling generally?

I guess what I have to say is that I just finished a Broadway version of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. So I suppose the last thing I want to do is to play someone who isn't happy. It was the third production of it we had done. After it closed, I got an offer here in Chicago. I remember the logistics director of this particular theater said I'd be great for this role because it needs an actor who can plummet. She sort of lost me right there [laughs], because I don't think I can do that for quite a while… I can't cry anymore [laughs]. I need a year off from that.