When we drove up I saw this huge line outside the Paley Center in Los Angeles and was like, “What is THAT for?! I’ll see what that’s like and do that for the moment.
It’s a complex, quietly aching performance (opposite Michael Shannon) in which Cardellini often doesn’t say a word. Oh, all kinds of things — we went to her hometown in Ohio, where she originally imagined the story taking place. We had a beer with some of the guys there and listened to stories; it was an education as an actress and as an American, and I felt pretty lucky to have a partner to do that with.
She spoke to Vulture about playing a vet, nostalgia, and who she still keeps in touch with from the cast. We went to a football game; just normal things Kelli would have done in her everyday life in that town. The movie really makes a point of never specifying where Kelli served or what exactly happened to her there.
There are so many moments when the camera just sits on me being introspective that I wanted to make sure all those silences were filled with as many details as I could find. Like when I say in the movie there were dead animals by the side of the road, that was something someone told me they remembered seeing all the time that bothered them.
There were really personal and awful traumatic events that once you hear, you can’t really forget.
This is the kind of story often told from a male point of view, but here with a female director and a female protagonist. Liza really has a very artistic soul and is a very genuine person, and working with her never felt like a dictatorship. When she cast me, the movie didn’t get made until about a year and a half later, so during that time, even though we’d get frustrated that the movie wasn’t being put into production, we got to know each other and trust each other and like each other, first and foremost. Did you feel the need to come up with a backstory for her? It was funny, Liza and I would disagree: “Well, I think this happened to her.” “No, I’m not sure that happened to her!
” It was really up to me to fill my mind with whatever I wanted to. But there were many things people said who I spoke to that I couldn’t forget.
She’s had a steady career that’s included everything from Scooby Doo movies to a long-running role on E.
Is it odd to still talk about it so much years later? I’m so proud of that show, and it’s amazing to me that we could be on this show that was canceled, we were all crushed, nobody knew when we would work again, and for it to have such a long life afterward ... That’s a really hard time for people, and if you can relate I think it’s a beautiful way of looking at a really awkward time. Busy Phillips and I were talking — I’m about to have a baby, and she has a little girl — and she was like, “You know, someday we’re gonna have to show them ! It’s like a family; it was a really unique time in all of our lives and careers ,and seeing everyone, it was a lot like what I imagine a high school reunion would be like, although I have not been to a high school reunion.
And it was amazing to see people’s families; a lot of the kids on the show were real kids, so you got to know people’s parents and some of them were at the reunion too.
So in those moments when she’s just looking off, I could just conjure some images. I spent some time recently with Sarah Hagan who played Millie — we were in France for a film festival and went to the Eiffel Tower together.
You play these rather inward-looking characters well. I think I’m both; I love when people give me energy, but left to my own devices, I can be very introspective and sometimes self-destructive [ coming up. I ran into Martin Starr at a restaurant the other day.
Her latest role, as Kelli, a just-home veteran of an unspecified war in Liza Johnson’s Return, likely won’t banish the memory of Lindsay (because, really, what could?), but it may do something to place Cardellini in a new echelon of actresses. A., we spoke with a psychologist who counsels returning veterans, and we went to the 29 Palms military base.