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Happily caught in the 'Undertow,' she finds the freedom to mature

September 12, 2004|Mark Olsen

"Undertow," the latest film from "All the Real Girls" director David Gordon Green, is an offbeat hybrid of a '70s-style revenge thriller and the spacey, character-driven atmospherics of the filmmaker's previous work. Nothing speaks to this dual design quite so much as the character of Violet, a stylishly grungy, wandering ragamuffin played by 25-year-old Shiri Appleby. At one point Violet callously robs one of the two brothers-on-the-run at the film's center, only to return her spoils a few moments later.

Addressing this rather inscrutable change of heart, Appleby says, "I saw her as this girl who was really proud of the fact that she was dark and her life was heavy. She took pride in the fact she'd been through a lot. It's survival of the fittest out there, but she still cares for the guy."

Probably best known for her three-year run on the WB sci-fi series "Roswell," Appleby has been acting since a very young age, appearing in such features as "I Love You to Death" and as the flashback younger version of one of the main characters on TV's "thirtysomething." She previously read for two of Green's other projects, and considers her turn in "Undertow" to be her first truly mature role. The director, himself only 29, is known for his ability to draw nuanced performances from younger actors, and Appleby is specific about what Green does differently.

"He wouldn't say, 'Do this,' " she explains. "He'd say, 'I want her to be what you think she is.' He wants you to work with wardrobe, he has you rewrite your dialogue, all so you can feel everything is organic to what you're putting out there. And while you're shooting, he's yelling things from off-camera to keep you on your toes and so there's no routine to what's going on.

"For me that was the first time anybody trusted me that much, gave me that freedom. He's like your friend, talking to you on this real, normal level. It's a complete departure for me and it's a little nerve-racking. It's the first time I've done something not similar to myself."


-- Mark Olsen

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