Imogen Poots Keeps Everyone Guessing in ‘Outer Range’ – The New York Times

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The British actor plays an enigmatic interloper in this new science fiction Western on Amazon. “The trickery of it is what made it so fun,” she said.
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When Imogen Poots arrives in the premiere of “Outer Range,” a trippy new science fiction Western series, the first impression is of an ingénue.
“A pretty blonde with long hair and big blue eyes,” Poots said in a recent video interview from Los Angeles, “and strange, sturdy teeth.”
Poots, who first made a splash, at 17, in the 2007 zombie sequel “28 Weeks Later,” is uncomfortable with playing the designated girlfriend, she said. While she has taken advantage of such roles, matching the searing intensity of powerhouse actors like Michael Shannon (“Frank and Lola”) and Mark Ruffalo (“I Know This Much Is True”), she has been actively seeking more layered parts.
“Outer Range,” premiering Friday on Amazon, excited her because a series offers a potentially more complex character arc than a two-hour movie. But she was determined to avoid sliding into love interest territory.
“I did ask, ‘Who does she end up with?’” Poots, 32, said of her character, a camper named Autumn Rivers. “That happens so many times — you’re presented with a role that seems pretty independent and not in any way a plot device, and then, whoops, your character ends up making out with whoever’s around.”
In “Outer Range,” Autumn is an interloper whose arrival at the ranch of Royal and Cecilia Abbott (Josh Brolin and Lili Taylor) portends strange happenings, most of them involving a vast hole that opens in a pasture and might be a rip in the fabric of time. She is more catalyst and provocateur than mere plot device — when she does make out with someone, she is clearly calling the shots.
“And she may have an ulterior motive,” Poots added slyly, giving the kind of textured line reading in our conversation that makes her performance stand out in the show.
Poots, who wore a Statue of Liberty T-shirt for the interview, lives in London with her fiancé, the British actor James Norton (“Happy Valley”). A former New York resident, she remains a fan of the city — “the best place”— and hopes to buy an apartment there, probably in Brooklyn.
In conversation, Poots is charming and sincere, slipping into goofy voices and laughing easily, whether discussing the “strange social obstacles and acrobatics” she expected to encounter at the show’s Hollywood premiere later that day, or her reasons for drinking kombucha in the afternoon. “I was going to drink coffee, but I’m a pathological insomniac,” she explained before looking at the bottle, realizing its contents were also caffeinated, then cursing aloud as she laughed at her own mistake.
But in “Outer Range,” Poots is harder to read. Her every sentence contains multitudes — lines as simple as “What is this?” or “Tell your dad I say, ‘Hi’” can scan as either guileless or insidious. Her eyes can convey one emotion while her body language conveys another.
Even as the show’s mysteries gradually unravel, Autumn remains enigmatic. Her expressions and manner suggest that she has secret knowledge and isn’t sure what she will do with it, keeping the other characters — and viewers — off balance.
In the interview, Poots discussed Autumn’s strange ways and what she learned about taking up space while making “Outer Range.” These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
You have had no acting training, but you’ve worked with great performers like Christopher Walken, Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, and now Josh Brolin and Lili Taylor. Did you try to learn from watching these people?
I constantly wanted to be around people who were undeniably better, to work with other actors who represented what I really cared about. They offered a sort of guidance — that was an intentional forging of a path.
But on this show, Josh said to me, “You should take up a little more space; you’re still unsure about that.” I have had a tendency to flicker around the edges, rather than feeling I have a right to be here. That’s maybe a symptom of having been a student for too long.
Did the strangeness of the series, and especially Autumn, appeal to you?
Thinking about what Josh said, I saw this role as a real chance to get loose, however alarming that may feel. For an English person to get loose is — whoa! Historical!
Speaking of cutting loose, during a showdown late in the season, you let out a somewhat deranged version of the classic Western “Yeehaw!” Were you nervous about that?
I’m thrilled you brought up the “Yeehaw” because that was an Imogen addition.
We were trying to figure out how she’d react, and I nervously said [adopts an uncertain voice], “W-w-what about ‘Yeehaw’?” and Josh said, “That’s great, let’s try it.” I’m just happy it stayed in; that doesn’t always happen.
Another all-in moment is your make-out scene with Billy Tillerson (Noah Reid), whose relatives are the Abbotts’ mortal rivals. That’s a fairly unhinged moment.
It was like an art installation — we were having conversations about whether the saliva would be viscous enough, whether it would travel the distance between Noah’s mouth and mine. Larry [Trilling], our wonderful director, would be screaming off-camera [adopts an American accent]: “OK, now come apart! Oh no, it’s not sticking, go back!” We had to keep realigning our tongues. And I’d just be saying, “So how’s your wife, Noah?”
You make Autumn unusual and unpredictable and she responds strongly, almost viscerally, to every comment or bit of stimulus. Were you wary of overdoing it?
It felt perfect for this. There was a sense of wondering, without going too far out, what it would be like to live your life as someone who is metaphysical, and as someone who really feels everything.
I would play moments where you might think her intention is actually quite sweet, yet you could also interpret it as something sexual. The muddling of those emotions, the trickery of it, is what made it so fun. However, I was also nervous — what if an audience watches and says it’s confounding in the wrong way?
Are you like Autumn at all in the way you act or react?
Autumn is like an actor, someone who can handle people, walk into a room and navigate their way through a situation, knowing how to change gears and which tools to apply. But I’m not as reckless — I feel way more confusion about what to do. She’s bolder than me and certainly pushes boundaries.
There’s an impulsiveness to Autumn, where she apparently doesn’t have anything to lose. That must be very freeing, but it could also be the makings of a sociopath.
If you had the chance to jump into that time-hole, would you take the plunge?
I view it in the same way as going to the moon: You’d have to make good with death. There’s a strong chance you’re not coming back and are losing the people you love. There is a recklessness to throwing away everything you know and your identity. I like to think I’d say, “Yeah, let’s jump in the hole; let’s take a look.”
Are you at the point in your career where you would say no to another girlfriend role?
I certainly feel more selective. It’s a nice feeling to know maybe you’ve earned a moment to wait, without that pathological need to keep producing things and prove your right to be there. But you can feel restless.
In my 20s I was always working and never did things that were fun outside of it. I’m no longer writing those times off; it’s like a revisiting of childhood play time. I took a sewing course last year and really enjoyed that. I’m also a big reader, and I have a studio in London where I can write short stories and paint and just be. It is difficult to just sit and be. I’m still figuring out how to do that.


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