You have to be a bit daring to name your first feature film Wet Bum, but that’s the title of Lindsay MacKay’s directorial debut. The film, a coming-of-age drama about a teenage girl who works in a retirement home going through a complicated romance, premieres at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival and is an assured and enjoyable debut (you can check out our review here).
While MacKay’s film is sensitive and moving, much of Wet Bum’s attention is going to its star, teen actor Julia Sarah Stone. A Vancouver native best known to North American audiences for her role in The Killing, Stone was also named one of the festival’s four Rising Stars this year. It is clear that the young actor has a long career ahead of her. as she is already working on films with esteemed directors like Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders.
Recently, I sat down with MacKay and Stone for an exclusive interview just days before the world premiere of Wet Bum in Toronto. We spoke about the horror of change rooms, complicated teen romances and the film’s cheeky title.
Check it out below and enjoy!
Lindsay, I notice that you have made some short films before Wet Bum that also dealt with youths and coming-of-age. What attracts you to these stories?
Lindsay MacKay: I think it’s the kind of thing that I have perspective on now. You’re a little bit older now. It’s the kind of thing that, I can now look back at those experiences and draw from them and find what I went through and make a comment about that. A lot of people write movies for [characters who are in their] mid-twenties, early thirties that are action-packed and I feel like I’m not going to write those movies until I’m, like 70. [Laughs] I like to express things that I am discovering about myself, that I have questions about, that are coming from a place of honesty. This is material that I’ve dealt with, and as my first feature, was a really important thing to put on the page and see how it comes out.
Did any moments from this particular film that recall moments from your youth and early teenage years?
Lindsay MacKay: Yeah. I worked in a retirement home as a cleaning woman, so that’s an experience that I went through. My experience is different from Sam’s, but similar in terms of there was one elderly resident who had lost his wife recently. I came to discover that slowly as I was cleaning his apartment. That was a really heartbreaking experience for me.
Then, being a young girl and change rooms. Change rooms are just not a great place for anyone. So I think that was… I’ve made a short film that also takes place in water and I almost feel like I made that film for the purpose of getting over my fear in being in a bathing suit and being in change rooms. I had to do that with my actors.
It’s a weird thing that happens. I remember the first time I was in a change room and I saw a woman openly taking her clothes off and being ok with it, and I was so envious. I’m still envious. I’m older now and should be ok with it. I think that’s a thing that is commonly experienced by a lot of people, male and female, so I wanted to touch on that.
Julia, how did you get the role of Sam?
Julia Sarah Stone: I live in Vancouver, so it was a taped audition. I was just super relaxed when I taped it at home, and my mom was behind the camera. I really was excited about my audition for this because I loved the script and I loved Sam’s journey. I was so excited to put my audition out there. After that one, we had a Skype conversation and [Lindsay and I] talked a lot about the character, the journey she goes through, the ways we wanted to tap into that. Then, the last step in the process was the chemistry read. So I flew out to Toronto and I read with some other contenders for other roles. I had a pool test.
Lindsay MacKay: Yeah, we put her in the water.
Julia Sarah Stone: That was something I had never done in an audition before. I have never worked with an underwater camera before so it was cool to learn how that worked and how that element in the story would be brought to life.
Reading the script, were there any moments within it that you felt you could recognize and that felt authentic to who you are?
Julia Sarah Stone: Everything Sam’s going through, maybe not externally but internally, is something that a lot of people can relate to. I know that I definitely felt a real connection with her in this kind of transitional stage and not really knowing where she fits in. I think this story’s going to hit home for a lot of people and I’m really excited for the reactions it’s going to get. Hopefully, people come away from it having learned something about themselves.
One of the things I really loved in the film is the relationship between Sam and Lukas. This is not a sweet, innocent romance, but both teens are different ages and have very different expectations of what they are looking form sexually. It’s very honest and feels authentic to what relationships are really like. Was this always the direction you were going with that storyline?
Lindsay MacKay: I find that when you’re young, there’s always the feeling of needing to have completed something sexually, like the checking off. I need to have my first kiss, you know? Everyone’s growing at different stages, people talking about things you’ve done and not done. There’s a lot of pressure about growing up and sexuality. I don’t necessarily think Lukas is a bad guy. I think he’s dealing with his own greyness and I didn’t want to depict him as a creep totally, because it’s a really complicated relationship. You want them to get together and then you don’t want them to get together. It ultimately comes down to an experience that someone’s ready for and someone else isn’t.
That unfortunately happens a lot in our society. There’s this pressure to grow up and this pressure of performance and ideas of what you should be doing. I feel like young kids are, younger and younger, becoming more sexually active. It’s really terrifying. There’s empowerment in saying no and recognizing that, and I feel like there’s a lot of people that have gotten to that situation and might have pushed themselves too far in curiosity and then felt bad about it. I wanted to address it in that kind of way. I didn’t want to make it a straightforward love story, because they aren’t always straightforward. Relationships are really complicated.