Her Future is So Bright

It is raining as I step out of the car in Chelsea and walk into the lobby of the Gem Hotel where I meet Alice Lee. If she has been waiting she does not show it, and really she has been waiting for a long time.

Plucked by director Mark Webb to star in the upcoming adaptation of Gary Shteyngart's novel Super Sad True Love Story, Lee has finally gotten the break she knew was coming from childhood.

"I was just always sure it would happen at some point," she says about the opportunity to play the romantic lead in a film that came out of the Toronto Film Festival with major oscar buzz.

She is starving, so we share an umbrella as we walk over to a table in the back of Dallas BBQ. While walking I ask if she has prepared herself for the onslaught of paparazzi that will undoubtedly dog her after the movie's New York premiere next week.

She just shrugs and says "I know it is one of those things people have warned me about, but I am just trying not to think about it."

Lee seems completely free of the concerns that seem to occupy the time of other young actresses her age. Clad in a red flannel shirt, Levi 501s and dusty work boots you would hardly believe that she is going to be wearing an Alexander McQueen dress in a week to the premiere. When our waitress comes she orders a burger extra rare saying "I want it in a pool of blood".

I comment that I doubt Kristin Stewart is eating red meat at all, and she thinks for a moment before responding, "I always ate this sort of thing growing up so it is still a way for me to feel close to home."

Home, for Lee, is in rural Kentucky where she was raised on a farm with her three brothers. When she was seven she begged her mother to let her try acting, and they would drive two hours into Louisville to participate in community theater and audition for commercials. Lee says she was never a gifted actress.

"Even from an early age I knew I had to work really hard, and I loved it so it barely felt like work at all."

Her performance as Eunice Park, the young woman at the center of Super Sad True Love Story, has an effortless quality to it. Paired with Viggo Mortensen, Lee more than holds her own while exposing the raw vulnerability of the character from Shteyngart's book.

The movie posits a dark future where technology has advanced to the point of being inseparable from human existence and America is on the brink of collapse. Eunice Park represents both the sign of the time, and for Mortensen's Lenny Abramov, a reminder of how things were and could have been.

When I ask Mortensen what it was like working on the set with Lee, he paints a similar picture.

"She is so focused, she never says anything obvious or needless. In between takes she would ask me about my poetry and we would discuss getting the most out of the fewest words."

Director Mark Webb agrees. Saying "She is almost nothing like the character when you meet her, but we had no idea until after the third or fourth audition as she was just able to transform herself so completely that it fooled us. When she dropped the act we were floored."

Under pressure from the studio to pick a big name, and with rumors that Jennifer Lawrence, Lea Michele and Dakota Fanning were interested in the role, Webb had to fight to cast a relatively unknown.

"During the first chemistry read we had her do with Viggo, she turned off that modern carefree attitude of Eunice and got real deep. We knew she was our girl."

Unlike her character, Lee seems to reject the materialism of the world. She does not even carry a smartphone.

"I just think those things," she says pointing to my iPhone, "are just tools to try to remember things that are better left forgotten. So many people are betting on the past, while I am betting on the future. If you believe the future will be better, then there is no reason to try to remember what you did yesterday."

For Lee the future is very bright. She is rumored to be working with Scorsese on a follow up to Hugo and hopes to work with Wes Anderson on his next project. When I ask Lee about her plans she only says "I have to keep doing different things. I feel like if I play the same role twice I will just die inside."

Luckily with directors seemingly lining up to cast her after word got out about her work in Super Sad True Love Story, the future is very bright indeed.