Photo by Gareth Cattermole
Nate von Zumwalt
We’re launching our coverage of the Sundance Film Festival’s journey across the pond at the Sundance Film Festival: London with a series of on-the-ground interviews with filmmakers and musicians participating in the celebration of film and music. Filly Brown premiered at Day 2 of Sundance: London.
Gina Rodriguez, who dazzles as the strong-willed hip-hop artist in Filly Brown, couldn’t help but manage her expectations for the film’s Sundance: London premiere on Friday. “The Park City reception we had was so wonderful, and you can’t just expect that all the time,” she said. “You really have to come down to the ground.” And exporting a story so deeply rooted in Latin culture to a London audience seemed ambitious. But true to her unwavering tendencies as the lead in Filly Brown, the Chicago-born actress approached Friday’s premiere with a stanch optimism, trusting that the film was as much a tale of human struggle as it was a story of second-generation strife. And wouldn’t you know, the Sundance: London crowd agreed.
What was the atmosphere like for the premiere, and how did the London audience respond to the film?
Rodriguez: I got in yesterday, and right from the get go it’s been an amazing reception. We had the Robert Redford panel yesterday with T-Bone Burnett, and it was brilliant, and it’s been like London has opened its arms and given me a big old hug. And I’m here with my parents—my dad had never seen the movie until tonight.
While this is a story of a young Latina girl’s struggle, and it features a hip-hop–heavy score, it is nonetheless a very American story. Did you have any concerns about how a London audience would respond, and did it seem like the film resonated with them?
Rodriguez: Yeah, I was terrified. I was terrified because it is a second generation immigrant story, and I am a Latina. But then that goes against everything that I say at the same time. Filly Brown is just a story. It does not matter that I’m a brown baby, it does not matter that I’m a Latina, because it’s not like “viva la raza,” “go Latinos.” It’s just a girl who loves music, who has family drama, like we all do. We all have dreams, we all aspire to do something great, we all aspire for our parents to be a lot less crazy and dysfunctional. And we all can relate to that message, to the art of what Filly Brown is.
I’d imagine a very different Q&A session took place in London than in Park City.
Rodriguez: When I got to the Q&A, we were late because they messed up with the time, but people were still sitting there, and they loved it. They connected, and they loved the music. I prayed for a response like that, but I just never wanted to expect that to happen. Because the Park City reception we had was so wonderful, and you can’t just expect that all the time, you really have to come down to the ground. And the response was ten times more the praise than I could have ever prayed for.
Sundance London was designed to cultivate this very organic relationship between music and film, one that is extremely prevalent in Filly Brown. Off hand, do you have any favorite film scores or films with musicians in lead roles?
The first thing that came to mind was Drive. I love the score to Drive. It was feminine, but with a very masculine lead character. You know what I also really liked? Idlewild, with Andre 3000 and Big Boi. The score was outrageous. It was so good. Oh, and Hustle and Flow and 8 Mile.
Filly Brown has served as a major stepping stone in your acting career, but you also have a background in spoken word, which made this role as a hip-hop artist a natural fit. Do you have any musical aspirations beyond film?
Rodriguez: I write all the time. I’m in the studio all the time. I just finished my first song, that I personally wrote, and it’s not hip-hop at all, it’s actually more folk music. I’m a huge Mumford & Sons fan, huge Avett Brothers fan—Florence & the Machine, Kate Nash. I love hip-hop, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a part of me I discovered in this whole journey of music and being in the studio.
You know what’s so funny? We’re all artists, we all have creativity in us. But I love these people who are like, “I’m not creative at all.” And then you go to the club with them and they dance amazing. And you’re just like, “What are you talking about, you’re not creative? You have art surging through your body, and when that music comes on it just explodes.” It’s interesting how we all have something artistic in us. Some of it we seek, some of it somebody tells us, and some of it just unveils itself to you over time.
Music was something I was always afraid of, because I thought I was going to fail, so I never touched it. I sang in the shower like everybody else. I had dreams of being on stage and performing. But I was always afraid that it wasn’t where my strength was. My strength was in acting, and you’ve gotta stick to what you’re strong at. This movie gave me an opportunity to be like, “You want to do this, now here’s a platform for you not to be terrified, not to get down on yourself, not to decide that you’re a failure before you even try.”