“I’ve learnt that you can try different things with lines. So, I was writing all these different possibilities of ways to say one line, and I did that for each line in every single scene.” – Shannon Tarbet
Shannon Tarbet stars as a Bess, a young woman who has ‘selective perception,’ a condition that makes her unable to see things that are right in front of her, namely her mother (Chloe Sevigny). The film, Love is Blind, follows Bess as she and her ailing father (Matthew Broderick) struggle with her condition with the help of a psychiatrist (Benjamin Walker). It’s funny and sweet and Tarbet is wonderful in the film.
Tarbet (Killing Eve), has an impressive theater-resume: At the Royal Court Theater in London, she made her stage debut as Delilah Evans in Spur of the Moment by Anya Reiss and was widely praised in the role. From there, it was no looking back!
In this interview, she chats about how she got the role in Love is Blind (which is her first lead in a film!), what she did to prepare, theatre and that time she did a one-woman show.
Your performance was great. How did you go about getting prepared for it?
Shannon Tarbet: Process-wise, I feel like… Well, I’ll concentrate on this particular project because process-wise changes, I feel like. And this is my first lead in a feature film and prior to that, I’d done a lot of theater, and so preparation you have your rehearsals, so it’s a different thing.
But when it came to filming this, I felt like I had to be on my A-game and know all my lines before even getting to the States. And I remember being on the plane, en route, and I was just highlighting all of my lines. And also every line, I wrote various ways that I could approach that one line.
I learnt a trick in a play that I did a couple of years ago, where no matter the inflection that you put on a line or the intention behind it, you’re still saying the same word, and you will still come out with the same response, if that makes sense. And so, I’ve learnt that you can try different things with lines. So, I was writing all these different possibilities of ways to say one line, and I did that for each line in every single scene. And then, of course, you get on set, and your mind turns to rubber, and you just end up doing whatever your instincts tell you.
But we were very lucky as well because we had a week of rehearsals before getting on set, and all of the actors were there. So, that was very useful to us too. Then when we were getting on set, we knew what we were doing for the most part and didn’t mess around this time too much, which was great.
This is your first big film lead. I know you kind of touched on this, but I’m sure you were excited but were you also thinking, “Oh my God, what have I gotten myself into?”
Shannon Tarbet: Yeah, all the regret and all of the anxieties of an actor: Am I good enough? Why did they cast me? They should’ve cast somebody else. But actually, yeah, I had all of those, but the excitement of A, first lead in a feature, and B, getting to be in the States for the first time and away filming something for the first time. The excitement of that counteracted the anxiety in a really good way.
But yeah, it was a lot to take on board. Especially when you’re on set and you’re looking at the actors around you, and you’re just like, “I’m going to focus in for a minute.” And yeah, you can probably see that in the film at times. I’m just kind of looking and confused by everyone.
How did you come about getting the role? You were over in London I assume, and this was an American project. How did that come about?
Shannon Tarbet: So, our directors are English. I had a Skype with Monty [Whitebloom], one of our directors, and then when him and Andy [Delaney]were in London, we met for coffee, and we discussed the role and the script a lot more. And then they basically asked me to put a few scenes down of my choice to tape for them. Which I think is because I hadn’t led a film at that point, and it was a lot to just take and put on me. And so, I put some stuff on tape, and then they liked it, and it was really great. And then I got the role.
But I was very grateful that we got to discuss the role and the script and their approach to the film and their background before actually putting anything on tape. I just felt a lot more comfortable knowing I was auditioning for something that I was invested in as much as everyone else, and we were on the same wavelength with it. I didn’t feel like I had to second-guess anyone, which was really good.
You’ve done a lot of theatre and a couple of your co-stars, Matthew Broderick and Benjamin Walker, both have done a million things on Broadway. Did you guys get a chance to chat about any of that?
Shannon Tarbet: I did get to see Matthew Broderick in show. I got to New York a week before we started shooting, and Matthew did have a show on. I can’t remember what it’s called now. So, that was the first time I got to see him in theater, which was very surreal. Not only to see how American theater is, especially Broadway, where every great actor that walks on stage gets a massive round of applause, and me as an anxious English actor in the audience. I’m like, “Oh my God, you’re going to ruin their focus! Let them concentrate!” So, it was quite an experience.
But yeah, to then also see Broderick just commanding an audience, and everyone’s so enthralled by him, was really exciting. And then to see his difference in approaching the stage to then being on camera with him. It was great to see, as an actor, he also does theater and camera stuff and, yes, to see how he approaches both mediums.
You did a one-woman show a while back. I’ve never done anything that comes close to that. Like, I hate doing monologues.
Shannon Tarbet: Same.
I can’t even imagine doing a solo show. Can you tell me about that and why?
Shannon Tarbet: I still ask myself ‘why’ now. Okay, Lance, I’ll tell you. Basically, so the director from that, Chris Hayden, I’d worked with him previously, and I’ve known him for many years. And he believed in me to do this one-woman show from Adam Rapp. And I loved the script, but as soon as it was offered to me, all I could think in my head was: no. I can’t do it. My body is melting at the thought of being on stage, on my own, every night for an hour, talking towards an audience and looking in their eyes under the spotlight. No. It was my idea of a nightmare as an actor.
But what happened is I sat on this decision for a couple of months, maybe three months, and then they gave me a deadline day to make my decision. And on the day that my agent rang me, I’d made up my mind, and I was like, “I’m not going to do this. I can’t put myself through this right now. I don’t feel like I have the active ability to approach it right now.” And then as soon as I got on the phone with my agent, the words: “Yes, I’m going to do it” just came out of my mouth. And I was committed, and I did the show.
And it was the most rewarding experience, so far, as an actor. It still tops everything else because of the challenge of it, not about the scale of it or anything like that. It was a small venue, but the challenge of just being in charge of an audience for an hour and being out there on your own for that long. And also the rehearsal process of everything just being concentrated on you. It was very overwhelming at times, especially because I normally like to hide in the shadows, which is weird. As an actor, you’re meant to be in the spotlight or whatever. But I shy away from a lot of situations.
So then to be the only actor in the rehearsal room and the director talking to you all of the time, I was like, “Bro, you got to give me break. We’re talking too much.” He’s like, “Who do you want me to talk to?”
And the whole process was the most rewarding challenge I’ve had as an actor and definitely taught me that if something’s good, you have to do it, I’m afraid. You have to commit to it.
What has been your worst audition?
Shannon Tarbet: Oh, gosh. I once had a casting director hate my outfit so much that he said, “Never come back in with those tennis shoes.” And they were these new trainers that I’d bought and loved. Yeah, so it was my worst audition in that it just didn’t make me feel very good, I suppose.
And it makes no sense.
Shannon Tarbet: Yeah. Not the best way to end it, but that is the worst audition I’ve had. I was gutted. I was really gutted. But the audition went well, and I got a recall.
Oh, wow! Nice.
Shannon Tarbet: At the time, I was like, “Yes.” But I was thinking like, “Actually, I really don’t want this recall because now I’ll have to go back in again, and all I have are these tennis shoes.” I wasn’t at home at the time as well. I was like, “Oh God! I have to go back in my tennis shoes!” But it was fine. He didn’t mention it again.
Did you wear the shoes again?
Shannon Tarbet: I wore the shoes again, but I wore a much better outfit. So, I think I distracted him with the other clothes that I had on the rest of my body. And so, it took away the attention from the shoes.
Love is Blind is in theaters and on VOD now.