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Sundance: Gina Rodriguez of 'Filly Brown' is the newest 'It' girl

Each year, heat tends to build around certain young performers. This year, the focus is on Gina Rodriguez in the hip-hop tale 'Filly Brown.'

January 26, 2012|By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times
  • Actress Gina Rodriguez stars in the independent movie, "Filly Brown," which is in competition at the Sundance Film Festival.
Actress Gina Rodriguez stars in the independent movie, "Filly Brown,"… (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Park City, Utah — — Gina Rodriguez's life has changed since "Filly Brown" was accepted into the Sundance Film Festival. Now everyone thinks she's rich and famous.

After seeing a recent article about the 27-year-old's starring role in the hip-hop drama, Rodriguez's neighbor hit the actress up for money.

"She was like, 'So, I have this project — I really want to be a yoga instructor, and all I need is $10,000 to set up this studio,'" Rodriguez recalled recently, eating some spicy edamame at Sushi Roku on West 3rd Street near the Beverly Center, the restaurant where she worked before quitting to act full-time two years ago. "I was like, 'Baby love, I ain't got no money for you. I can take your class and pay $20 for my sun salutation, but I just don't have it.'"

Rodriguez may not be wealthy yet, but her lifestyle has already begun to shift. She showed up to the eatery with a publicist she'd recently engaged to help her schedule press opportunities and coordinate visits with stylists. After the interview, she hopped into her car to meet "Desperate Housewives" creator Marc Cherry to discuss a role as a series regular on his next television program. And when she finally arrived at the festival in Park City, Utah, she was offered a boatload of free swag to bring back to Los Angeles — an iPad, ThinkPad, headphones and multiple pairs of shoes.

It's all part of what comes with being a Sundance "It" girl — the ingénue the media fawns over throughout the festival. Such pretty young things often appear in multiple independent, low-budget movies screening at the event — although Rodriguez has only one — and experience a career boost after their time in Utah, signing onto roles in big studio films.

Carey Mulligan, 26, is perhaps the most memorable of the recent crop of "It" girls. The British actress was the subject of much attention at the 2009 festival, where she appeared in both "The Greatest" and "An Education." The latter film went on to earn her an Oscar nomination for lead actress, and she quickly began working with a number of A-list directors, including Oliver Stone and Baz Luhrmann.

But for all the promise a hot Sundance movie brings, an anointment here doesn't always translate outside the festival bubble.

Last year, both Elizabeth Olsen and Brit Marling starred in two Sundance films apiece. Many in the industry said at the time that Olsen, the sister of famous twins Mary-Kate and Ashley, would earn awards nods for her role in the cult drama "Martha Marcy May Marlene." The film was bought and released by Fox Searchlight but fizzled at the box office. Though Olsen did receive some critical accolades, she wasn't nominated for any major Hollywood laurels.

Fox Searchlight also bought two microbudget films co-written by and starring Marling: "Another Earth" and "Sound of My Voice." The former brought in just over $1 million at the box office while the latter hits theaters in April.

Both Marling, now 29, and Olsen, 22, are back at the festival this year with new independent films with some bigger names: Olsen appears in "Red Lights" with Robert De Niro and "Liberal Arts" with Josh Radnor, while Marling is in "Arbitrage" with Richard Gere. (Millennium Entertainment bought "Red Lights" Wednesday; Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions purchased "Arbitrage.") But neither actress has yet to make inroads on high-profile studio films.

Olsen acknowledges that the projects she was being sent after her first jaunt to Sundance weren't things she was eager about signing onto.

"Right after Sundance, it was not offers I'd want to take, but it was the first time I was getting offers," the actress said. "I mean, I wasn't even getting offers before."

Marling too found it easier to land auditions. But she worried that she had only a brief window in which to capitalize on the momentum she'd gained at the festival.

"You feel like you've been given a rare and tremendous opportunity — it's like striking a match, and you know that you want to get that match to some kindle and actually light a fire before the match goes out," said Marling, who recently finished shooting a film directed by Sundance founder Robert Redford.

Onetime "It" girl Jess Weixler admits she wasn't ready for all the attention that came at her in 2007, when she was riding high on buzz for her role in comedic thriller "Teeth."

"Somebody christens you as the 'It' girl, but for some reason, I didn't strike while the iron was hot," said Weixler, 30, who since her Sundance premiere has stuck mostly to theater and appeared in only a few tiny indie films. "I was very wide-eyed then and maybe became a bit shy from all the pressure. I was, like, 'This was great, thank you so much,' and then I retreated back into my New York theater world."

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