Anna Margaret Hollyman is a powerhouse actor who has forged a full and varied career in independent film. In Movement + Location, Anna Margaret plays Amber, the skeptical roommate of the film’s mysterious subject, Kim. Unbeknownst to Amber, Kim has arrived from a bleak world 400 years in the future and is unfamiliar with the technological and social norms of the modern world. In a film where almost everyone seems to have secrets, Amber is not afraid to put everything on the table, balking at Kim’s trespasses, and calling out the unusual behavior escalating around her.
Here, Anna Margaret discusses finding community in the independent film world, working with friend crush Bodine Boling, and her pro-female filmmaker agenda.
Interview by Maura McNamara
I kind of fell into acting accidentally. We were required to do sports at our high school, and I’m one of the least athletic people in the United States of America. If you did the play in the fall and spring, it meant that you got out of at least two seasons of sports, and not unlike when an athlete starts playing a sport and they’re naturally good at it, I had an experience with acting where I felt like, “Oh! I could actually do this!”
So I went to college and I dabbled in the drama department, because I could never really accept acting as a full time pursuit. I would do a play, freak out and drop out, and take a world economics course. Then I’d join again, drop out, and take a course in existentialism… as one does. And then after graduating, I ended up studying the Meisner technique with Susan Esper and just pursuing it full time, doing student films and a lot of off-off-off Broadway theater.
Bodine was the star of this play called Evanston: A Rare Comedy in New York back in 2009, and she was one of the few people that you meet in adulthood where you’re like “Yes! Awesome. I will continue to make really cool friends throughout my life!”
I remember sitting on the subway with her, riding from 125th Street all the way downtown, and I was just trying to play it cool with her, which meant I was just so painfully awkward. I kept asking her about every aspect of her life, then I said, “Oh this is my stop! I gotta get off!” And I got up prematurely and stood at the door, but when the train finally stopped the doors opened on the other side. I was just so nervous, because I wanted her to be my friend so badly.
I totally had a friend crush. And we’ve been friends ever since. When she told me she was writing Movement + Location, I wasn’t surprised because she’s one of the most productive human beings I’ve ever met in my entire life. She wrote and produced and starred in the movie and made it look so easy, which is just, of course, Bodine. She makes everything look so easy.
Definitely. I know it sounds like such a cliché, but it was such a labor of love down to the fact that Bodine’s mother would cook for us sometimes for craft services. And Bodine was just operating on a different level than all of us. She’d be sitting there picking out my wardrobe and talking to me about the character, and then running into this super emotional scene five minutes later. It’s so nice as I continue to work in different forms of film and different budgets, scales, producers, and directors, to have worked on something that was coming from such a pure space. Artistically, creatively, and intellectually.
I had it easy, but Bodine and her husband Alexis, who directed the film, worked so, so hard. The beauty of it is that they came out with something that’s so personal, and they did it their way. The struggle is real, but the luxury of the creative struggle when you’re doing it yourself is that you get to have your vision fully realized, and that’s what was so great about this project.
Amber’s definitely a little ridiculous. She acts as a foil to Kim in a way that I definitely read as comedic, but when we were actually shooting it, I didn’t actively think of it that way. I kind of just played it straight. I also had one of those great February colds at the time, which made me sound even more morose and just over it. It’s funny because Bodine was way more sympathetic to Amber than I was. After a take, I’d say, “Oh man, I’m so mean!” And Bodine would say, “No! Amber is the audience. Amber is the way the audience can access and say, ‘Yeah, this is really strange,’ and we need you to be the Greek chorus.”
I think the thing about Amber that was fun to play is that it takes a lot for me to speak up if I’m being railroaded, but she would just speak her mind if she felt the slightest bit violated. Whether she was calling out someone writing on her really expensive recipe cards or judging about “I can’t believe your mom never let you paint your nails,” she just makes all these brazen comments that I’m too afraid to make in my personal life.
I do feel that I find the most compelling and multidimensional roles, particularly for women, exist in the independent film world. Now, I say that fully acknowledging that there could be and there need to be more. And that is happening, but I think it’s happening in the independent film world on a greater scale than it’s happening any other place. That’s something that I didn’t recognize initially. I used to think that if you continued to work on a bigger scale, the roles would continue to be as complex and meaty, and you would just work on a bigger budget movie and make a little bit more money. That’s just not the case.
I hope—I hope—that my home base is always in the independent film community, just because there’s space there to explore different kinds of characters that we may just never see in the commercial world. You can kind of buck up against the statistics game, which right now is still firmly against women in all aspects. I did see a marked amount of change at the AFI (American Film Institute) festival recently, in that there were a legitimate number of women directors being represented, so it was cool to turn the pages of the guide and go, “Ok! Another female voice. This is exciting.”
It’s funny, at a certain point everyone in the independent film world has to self generate in order to make something that they want to see made. But at least when I first started, there was a really strong community, and we all kind of met on the festival circuit. It was kind of like a traveling road show where if you were with a film, you would be at various festivals together, kind of traveling the country for a year. And so you start to get familiar with different filmmakers and styles, and eventually collaboration starts to happen pretty organically. You have the middleman removed and you just have contact with director and actor, or producer and writer, or whatever combination, and it comes relatively easily. I know middlemen can become necessary once a lot of money is involved, but I do think that this kind of collaboration is really liberating. Bodine’s a good example of that: a friend saying, “I’ve written you a part!” I mean, that’s just dreamy. It’s so amazing.
I’ve worked with a bunch of great filmmakers recently who I’ve always wanted to work with, which is really fun. I’ve also worked with a lot of female filmmakers, which is something that I aspire to do more of; kind of like my political agenda. I worked with Leslye Headland on her movie Sleeping With Other People, and shot a short with my friend Yen Tan, who made one of my favorite movies at Sundance a few years ago called Pitstop, so that was really cool. I’m also in development right now writing, producing, and acting with a bunch of other collaborators on a web series.
Bodine and Alexis are just two of my favorite people, and I feel so lucky that I got to work with them on Movement + Location. I’m really excited that their film has taken off in this really great way, and found its own path. People at film festivals would come up to me and say, “I saw this great film that you’re in!” And I’d say, “Oh yeah? Which one?” And they’d say, “That awesome sci-fi one where you play a total bitch!” And everyone would say it’s so refreshing to see this movie because it takes the parameters of a movie about people in their late-twenties in Brooklyn and spins it on its head. They really took this traditional independent film framework and blew it wide open.