March 16, 2012 at 3:33 pm , by Anna Schonauer
You may know her from comedies like The Hangover and Kicking and Screaming, but in Natural Selection Rachael Harris proves she can do more than just make us laugh. In the indie drama, which hits select theatres today, she plays Linda White, a housewife whose world is turned upside down when her husband suffers a stroke. What unfolds is a road-trip tale with a bit of a twist as Linda sets out to find her husband’s out-of-wedlock son. Harris’s touching portrayal earned her the SXSW award for Breakthrough Performance at last year’s film festival, as well as a nomination for an Independent Sprit Award. We caught up with Harris, 44, to talk about her career-changing film.
LHJ: You’ve primarily done big feature comedies and TV sitcoms. Were you purposefully trying to do something different, or did this just kind of fall into your lap?
Rachael: I told my agents I don’t want to just do comedy, and I’m a big fan of actresses like Frances McDormand, Kathy Bates and Meryl Streep because they can do both comedy and drama. I knew it would be a tough sell but when they read the script for Natural Selection they thought it would be the perfect opportunity for me to step outside of my comfort zone.
LHJ: You’ve said that the director, Robbie Pickering, wasn’t really interested in seeing you for this role at first. How did you change his mind?
Rachael: Well, luckily I didn’t know that he didn’t want me for the role, and I’m really grateful to the casting people who insisted that he take a meeting with me. During our meeting I talked to him about the script—in particular the scene where she’s brushing her teeth and Abe is at the hospital. She’s so overwhelmed and just trying to be normal and she can’t. She’s consumed with fear and loneliness and she has to turn on the water just to feel normal. So I was telling Robbie about my divorce and how I understand this character and he was like, “Oh wow, she’s been through a lot.” Then I read for him and I got the part. I’m glad he took that meeting!
LHJ: How did you get into the mindset of being Linda? She’s much more vulnerable than a lot of characters you’ve played.
Rachael: I think what I connected to the most was Linda’s faith in the beginning that everyone is good. She’s described in the film as “this perfect little angel in a puffy coat” and that’s how I thought of her, as this person that’s just very unconditional and eventually has to learn that people can still be really good even though they make bad decisions from time to time.
LHJ: Was it harder for you to play a dramatic role?
Rachael: I don’t really try to do anything different with comedy or drama; I just try to be real. The movies I respond to are the ones where the performances are so heartfelt and you can really relate to the characters and feel what they’re feeling. When I’m acting I always trying to be truthful in the moment and hopefully the audience feels that.
LHJ: Natural Selection swept the SXSW Film Festival awards last year. Were you surprised?
Rachael: We didn’t expect it at all. It blew us away. We weren’t even sure how many people would see it, so we certainly didn’t expect to sweep the whole thing. And then the Independent Spirit Award nomination was even crazier! It’s crazy that I was nominated with Michelle Williams and Elizabeth Olsen. I mean, it was a big deal for me. I’m very proud of the work that I did in this film, so to get this response feels really, really good.