Chances are you have heard of Lindsey Austen. She's the quick-witted, endearingly quirky goofball that can carry a scene at the Ensemble Studio Theatre while holding your heart in her hands. Not to mention the fact that homegirl is GORGEOUS. Where'd you get them pretty peepers, eh?
Seriously, though, Lindsey is the rare type of performer that doesn't announce herself when she first enters the stage, but proves impossible to stop watching once you see her. She opens her mouth and BAM: you're sucked in to a story that would have far fewer nuances had she not been the one to plumb its depths.
And yet, despite her incredible performance acumen, Lindsey is not as well-known as she should be. With talent to spare and a heart that is miles wide, Lindsey sat down with us to discuss acting, schmacting, and her recent festival success with short film Peer Review, written by and starring her lovely self.
Who the heck are you and what do you do?
Hi all, I’m Lindsey Austen. I’m an actor who also writes and produces. And thanks to my collaboration with FatChix, I’m now a filmmaker. We worked together on a comedy short called Peer Review.
We were honored to work with you on that project. And it's doing so well! So proud of you!!! Now, you're based in my 'hood, right? What brought you up here?
I’m here in New York, and I came here mainly for theater. And I think I feel the way a lot of theater artists do, in that once you’ve been trying to find your way here for some time, your reason for sticking around is more for a chance to tell a story in any way – theater, film, on the subway platform, at the bar.
That is very true, and also somewhat sad. But until the revolution takes place, we will continue depending on artists like yourself to carry us through the dark nights.
While you've been up here, what would you say has become your favorite NYC neighborhood?
I’m particular to so many places in the city, but I’m in love with any neighborhood that brings me near the water. I don’t take advantage of those neighborhoods nearly enough, but find myself calmest and happiest when I can see the water and the skyline at the same time.
SAME GIRL, SAME. Lol. What is your background? Did you go to college?
I went to Duke University without initially having any aspirations in the arts at all. I just wanted to go somewhere that felt expansive and I was lucky enough to get in. But…I always tell people that I would have benefited from a gap year. I really was too young emotionally to be making any kind of decisions about my future. I was just trying to fit in when what I was supposed to be doing was declaring a major and conquering the effing world.
Somehow, I did end up doing a lot of theater and music in college – both in musicals and studying voice and a little classical guitar. I double majored in English and theater and got some great exposure to some brainy theatrical minds while I was at Duke, my favorite being the producer Manny Azenberg.
Really, I didn’t commit to any of this until I found myself being a “shadow artist” in Chicago. I moved there to work at the Goodman Theater, but not as an actor. I was first an intern and then a full-time development associate, both positions that meant something to me and were actually tough to get since the Goodman is so revered, but ultimately these jobs made me a little grumpy and resentful. I so was in love with the work I was seeing onstage in Chicago, but I was honestly a little dark and twisted on the inside because I didn’t have the courage to do it myself. I had to RECONCILE with that – all caps because that shit is important! So I left Chicago (and please note I’m omitting the part about having moved there for a relationship that was doomed anyway); I came east to go NTI at the O’Neill in Connecticut and immersed myself theater. And then I came to New York.
How did your background bring you to your current position and lifestyle in NYC? How were you inspired to write your own film?
I credit so much of who I am to NTI and the O’Neill. It’s a magical place with summer camp vibes. Beyond that, the O’Neill introduced me with some pretty fantastic values: authenticity, humility, and risk-taking. I was creating every second that I was there, and I think I’ve been trying to recreate that ever since I left.
But thinking about my background and how that inspired me to make a film: I’ve always been writing. It’s mostly just been for me and my own secret amusement. A play here, an essay there. Beyond that, I’ve been dying to work on my own terms.
Rather than feeling like a bottom-dweller as an actor, I wanted to do something about it. So I wrote Peer Review. It came from the years of being an office paper pusher and pee-on just to get by. Featured actor Charity Schubert and I would always vent about it since she’s also an actor who grinds away at an office gig. So the story was written for the two of us in this kind of therapeutic way. It started to become more and more motivated by feminism (hello, almost all females behind this project), and just the need to stop asking for permission. I credit the ENTIRE team – Julia and Emilia at FatChix, director Courtney Ulrich, sound recordist Monica Rodriguez, and cast Charity Schubert and Curran Connor – for continuing that vibe.
How did it feel acting in a film that you wrote?
Well, my FatChix friends know that I have a hard time turning off my perfectionism, my producer self. Your producing tasks are never done, and there’s comfort in hiding behind the tasks that can be controlled, rather than facing uncertainty in acting.
On the day of the shoot, I was not in the flow of being an actor, even though I was so looking forward to just being an actor for once. I woke up a knotty, stressed-out mess. But here’s where Julia and Emilia saved me: the shot list for the day was essentially created in my favor.
All of my coverage was scheduled for the end of the day, when I would be a little worn out, loose, not in my head. Julia and Emilia didn’t even reveal that strategy; they just did it like the commandos they are. It’s one of the nicest things anyone has EVER done for me. I had a great time and I’m proud of my performance, thanks to them.
Omg, girl. Stop. We are so proud of you and so honored that you chose us as your team.*
*Goes to cry in corner. BRB.
Okay. That's done. Now:
What was the editing process like from your perspective and the process of post-production?
First off: the story you write, the story you shoot, the story you edit are 3 different stories.
That adage is true and it’s extremely helpful to keep in mind so that you can let things go. Reflecting on those differences in my writing and what actually made it into the final cut of Peer Review: I learned a great deal about writing for film in a way that will shape future projects.
Emilia did all the editing herself, but we had several joint sessions with Emilia and Julia, Courtney our director, and me. Those sessions were mostly about fine-tuning the comedy, but every once in a while, we’d be stuck trying to fix one particular shot.
In most cases, it wasn’t that shot in particular that was the problem, but the transitions leading up to it. It’s like looking at a piece of artwork that looks shitty on your wall, but when you change the frame, it all the sudden pops. Just a little nugget on editing that wasn’t so obvious to me.
That's an adorable analogy. I love nuggets in just about every form. Where can folks see the film? What festivals has it been accepted into thus far?
And we’ve screened at the Grove and also YoFiFest just a few weeks ago, which I recommend to filmmakers in the New York area. We’ll also have a screening next week – November 28th - at the New York Short Film Tuesdays. We’re still submitting, so hopefully more.
What are your hopes for the film?
Peer Review – I hope it makes people laugh. I hope it’s memorable. More importantly, I hope that it says something about women and compassion. My character is the anti-thesis of the “lean-in” philosophy, which to me is a funny premise for an office comedy. But beyond that, she doesn’t see how her shitty habits affect her other female colleagues, Charity in particular.
On a personal level, making Peer Review was really about if I could do it. And thankfully, now I know that I can. I want to keep working as a filmmaker so that my next project is more about what I want to say, what I want to feel rather than if I can.
We salute you, dude. Freaking do it.
Do you think producing your own film has given you a new perspective as an actor?
In the most fantastic ways, yes. It’s taught me a lot about ownership. It hammered into me something that I’ve always known, but been reticent to accept: getting it “right” in acting really limits you. A great performance is much more dependent on the permission you give yourself to play, to connect, to be wrong, rather than how many things you get “right.”
And obviously, I gained a much greater respect for what happens behind the scenes.
What is your favorite film ever made and why?
I have a lot of favorites, but something that wrecks me is Rachel Getting Married. It’s a mess in a pretty spectacular way. And if I could rewrite history, I would want to be able to claim The Big Lebowski as my own. Also When Harry Met Sally; Carrie Fisher is my favorite part of that movie and always will be.
Speaking of the legendary Carrie, who is your favorite artist of this generation?
I’m obsessed with the musician Laura Marling and have been for three years now. Kathryn Hahn moves me and makes me laugh out loud; she’s supreme in my mind. My favorite book right now is Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter and would kill to be a part of the series that’s being shot as we speeeeeeak. And I’m really moved by my friend, the painter Carrie Able, not only for her paintings but because she works to give other artists a platform as a curator and generally appreciates every single kind of art. Visit her gallery in Williamsburg – the Carrie Able Gallery.
Finally, do you like cheese and what is your favorite kind?
Girl, my mouth watered when I read this question. If it’s stinky, I’m gonna eat it. And you need to come over for some fondue!
Copy that girl. I'll be over there in five.