Published February 22, 2011
While the older generations might have their Audreys and their Marilyns, these days, the true litmus test of an actress’s broader youth-culture currency is not whether she’s commonly referred to by her first name only—it’s whether she has been deemed worthy of a moniker that’s an amalgam of her first and last names, like ScarJo and K-Stew and LiLo (not to mention K-Stew’s boyfriend, R-Patz). But collapsing one’s name isn’t a badge of approval so much as a mark of obsession. It doesn’t mean that you’re better at what you do than anyone else. It doesn’t mean that you’re unconditionally beloved. Rather, it signifies that you’ve become an object of fixation, which is usually preceded by some sort of professional watershed, or an association with an overwhelming cultural phenomenon, or because you’re frequently photographed looking shiny and heavy-lidded while straddling a banquet at Trousdale in a short skirt and stilettos, an unlit cigarette wedged backwards into the corner of your mouth.
So if you’ve seen the trailer for the new film Red Riding Hood—original Twilight (2008) director Catherine Hardwicke’s new gothic pastiche reimagining of the children’s fairy tale and other “My, what big teeth you have!” source material—then you understand why 25-year-old Amanda Seyfried is now perfectly positioned to become “AmSey” or “AmaSe” or, our personal favorite around the Interview offices, “MandaFried.” Appropriately, Red Riding Hood features a conspicuously Twilight-esque setup, set in a medieval village that has been engaged for decades in a mysterious arrangement with a homicidal entity known only as The Wolf (they bring the wolf periodic offerings of goats and other livestock; in exchange, he doesn’t kill anyone). The story is centered around Valerie (Seyfried), a young woman with a soft spot for red-hooded outerwear, who finds herself at the center of a love triangle, torn between her fiancée, Henry (Max Irons), and Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), her childhood best friend who has just returned to the village after a decade away. As Valerie and Peter discover their new, more adult feelings for one another, they plot to run away together. Simultaneously, The Wolf, whose identity remains elusive to the villagers, decides to break the détente, as Team Henry and Team Peter begin to form. Hyper-real, supernatural, grey-skied teen terror-love—the key elements of that rare clean-energy source that seems to fuel youth-culture mania in its most extreme forms—ensues.
I DIDN’T LIKE FAIRY TALES when I WAS YOUNGER. I FOUND a LOT of FAIRY TALES SCARY. They REALLY DIDN’T SIT WELL with ME.Amanda Seyfried
Seyfried’s spiked wholesome charm has never been difficult to grasp. Blonde and blue-eyed, with a kind of at once earthy and otherworldly beauty, she has embarked on a career that has been a model of cross-gender appeal, earning her plenty of female fans, but just as many male ones, as she has moved with relative ease between softer, more mainstream projects in which she plays lovelorn young women and innocents adrift, and less traditional, occasionally risky fare in which she works to both reinforce aspects of that image and unceremoniously debunk it. She hails from the post-industrial city of Allentown, Pennsylvania (of Billy Joel fame) and trained as a classical vocalist. She first entered the cultural consciousness at 18 in Mean Girls (2004) as Karen, the most hilariously neoprene of the so-called Plastics, who claims to be able to forecast the weather with her breasts. She’s gotten to flex her musical muscles as an ABBA-infatuated dreamer in 2008’s Mamma Mia! (in which she got to sing), show off her darker side as a teenage assassin of a possessed cheerleader in 2009’s Diablo Cody–scripted Jennifer’s Body (in which she got to make out with Megan Fox), and as a hooker with a heart of coal in Atom Egoyan’s angular erotic thriller Chloe the same year (in which she was required to do nude scenes). Since then, she’s demonstrated her ability to drive the masses to puddles as an all-American heartbreaker in films like the Nicholas Sparks–based tearjerker Dear John (2010) and the high-romance drama Letters to Juliet (2010), and develop a character across five seasons as a polygamist’s daughter on the just-concluding HBO series Big Love. This fall, Seyfried will venture even further afield, starring alongside Justin Timberlake (and playing a redhead) in Andrew Niccol’s new futuristic, dystopian thriller Now, on which she recently wrapped principal photography. Timberlake and Seyfried connected by telephone between shoot days as they were winding down production on the film.
I THINK it’s HARD not to COMPARE RED RIDING HOOD to TWILIGHT BECAUSE CATHERINE [HARDWICKE] DIRECTED the FIRST TWILIGHT . . . I MEAN YEAH, there’s a LOVE TRIANGLE. But WE HAVE SO MANY ELEMENTS that MAKE it COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.Amanda Seyfried
JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: Let’s talk about this new movie you’ve done, Red Riding Hood, which is a retelling or reimagining of Little Red Riding Hood. Obviously, everyone knows the story, but how did you guys approach it? As you were making that movie, did you feel like you were in a fairy tale? Or did you guys juxtapose the more playful aspects of the story with something a little more grounded?
AMANDA SEYFRIED: Well, aside from the major supernatural element to it, like the wolf speaking, it felt pretty grounded. [Timberlake laughs] We applied modern-day relationship dynamics to the story. It’s a thriller, it’s a whodunit, and it could have taken place during any period in history. But our version is set in medieval times, which were really romantic and gothic, so it’s a bit darker.
TIMBERLAKE: The film looks beautiful. It looks sort of whimsical. Did you have a favorite fairy tale as a child?
SEYFRIED: I really liked The Stinky Cheese Man [and Other Fairly Stupid Tales] book.
TIMBERLAKE: The Stinky Cheese Man?
SEYFRIED: Do you remember that?
TIMBERLAKE: I don’t. I don’t think I was lucky enough to have heard of it. What is that?
SEYFRIED: They’re parodies of every fairy tale that we hear as kids. Like, it’s the Stinky Cheese Man instead of the Gingerbread Man.
TIMBERLAKE: Ah-ha. Okay, I get it.
SEYFRIED: I got into those books because I didn’t like fairy tales when I was younger. I found a lot of fairy tales scary. They really didn’t sit well with me. But I’ve always loved movies that have that kind of fantastical element to them. I was obsessed with Romeo + Juliet . I was, like, 11 when it came out.
TIMBERLAKE: You mean the Baz Luhrmann version?
SEYFRIED: Yeah. I watched it all the time. I couldn’t stop watching it. Leonardo DiCaprio was my absolute favorite. I was just so inspired by that movie, for whatever reason. It’s beautiful. It’s bright. It’s vivid and intense. And then the love story and the soundtrack . . . I probably shouldn’t have seen it as young I did, but I did and I loved it.
TIMBERLAKE: What was the first R-rated movie that you saw?
SEYFRIED: I think it was Hideaway , that movie with Alicia Silverstone and Jeremy Sisto where he plays the second coming of Satan. Things weren’t good for a few months after that. I couldn’t sleep. I had insomnia for, like, three months. I love Jeff Goldblum, who is also in that movie. But that’s another story. [laughs]
TIMBERLAKE: It seems like a lot of people are comparing Red Riding Hood to the Twilight series. How does that make you feel?
SEYFRIED: I think it’s hard not to compare Red Riding Hood because Catherine [Hardwicke] directed the first Twilight. But Red Riding Hood is a very different film. I mean, yeah, there’s a love triangle, and people can easily compare the relationship between Kristen Stewart and those two guys in Twilight to the Valerie, Henry, and Peter characters in this movie, but we have so many elements that make it completely different. Nobody knows who the wolf is in our movie. And we’ve modernized the story and added so many levels to it and created our own story around the iconic center, which is the girl in the woods who talks to the wolf, and has a great relationship with her grandmother, and all those symbols. But we obviously had to take the story to a whole other level in order to make it a full-length film, so that’s what we did.
TIMBERLAKE: But I would imagine that it’s hard to do something like a Little Red Riding Hood adaptation because that story could be interpreted in so many different ways.
SEYFRIED: I know, and what we’ve done is just one way. We’re just telling a story—our version of the story. It’s not everybody’s version of the story, but it’s the way we wanted to make it, and therefore, there it is. If you don’t like it, then tough. [laughs] Plus, Twilight doesn’t have Gary Oldman, now does it?
TIMBERLAKE: No, it doesn’t. I sort of wish Gary Oldman could live in my house and we could cook breakfast together and he could just tell me how to be better at everything, because I feel like he would know.
SEYFRIED: He might be up for that. He knows how to act and how to be funny.
TIMBERLAKE: Maybe he could just teach me how to cook. Even that would be enough.
SEYFRIED: [laughs] I think I should mention that I’m not wearing any clothes.
TIMBERLAKE: Well, if that’s how you’d like to be interviewed, then that’s totally fine.
SEYFRIED: I’m most comfortable in my birthday suit.
MAKING PEOPLE LAUGH is MAGIC. I FEEL LIKE if YOU HAVE HUMILITY, then YOU CAN do ANYTHING in COMEDYAmanda Seyfried
TIMBERLAKE: It’s a free country—from what I’m told. But maybe this is a good opportunity then for us to go back to the beginning. You grew up in Pennsylvania?
SEYFRIED: In Allentown, yes.
TIMBERLAKE: How big is Allentown?
SEYFRIED: It’s close to Philly. It’s the third largest city in Pennsylvania.
TIMBERLAKE: Were you always into the arts? Or was that something that you got into as a teenager?
SEYFRIED: I went to art school when I was little. I took ballet lessons. I played a little kick ball. I was sort of into everything because I had too much energy and I didn’t know where to put it. When I was a preteen, I got into singing, and became really obsessed with it. But then, of course, that didn’t work out.
TIMBERLAKE: It sort of did. I mean, you’re getting opportunities to sing on film now in movies like Mamma Mia!
SEYFRIED: That’s true.
TIMBERLAKE: It’s funny to me that the industry is so split up now when it comes to acting and singing. I mean, if you look back to the entertainers of another era—the era of showmanship—all of those people, male and female, were skilled at both acting and singing. It was more about performing. It has probably had an effect on the way popular music has gone because a lot of the music that was from that era came from movies.
SEYFRIED: I think my singing background has actually helped me tremendously. It certainly has something to do with why I am doing what I am doing today. So, obviously, it means something. But people just don’t seem to feel like it’s as important to have a variety of skills as a performer like that anymore.
TIMBERLAKE: Obviously, I was always into performing when I was a kid because I started really young. You started young, too. But were your parents always supportive of your interest in being creative or performing?
SEYFRIED: Oh, yeah. They loved it. I honestly think they were as cool as parents get. They loved me being happy. They both worked, but they both had enough time to spend with me. So I didn’t really go into the arts for any specific reason. It was just to find a vessel for all of my energy. And also because I’m not good at anything else. I’m just really not equipped for, say, academics or sports.
TIMBERLAKE: Well, you’re a hell of a knitter.
SEYFRIED: I am. That’s kind of a fact.
TIMBERLAKE: Do you think your parents liked that you were interested in performing because you were a hyper kid and they felt like that focused you more? Because I wasn’t a hyper kid. I was actually really shy. My mom makes a joke that she is shocked that I know what she looks like now because for the first eight or nine years of my life, all I did was walk around with my head down, looking at my feet. I was really shy until I found the stage.
SEYFRIED: I’m glad you don’t have a neck problem.
TIMBERLAKE: I do, actually. But that’s mostly because my head’s too big for my neck. [Seyfried laughs] I read somewhere that your sister plays in a band.
SEYFRIED: She was in one before she moved to L.A. to become my slave.
SEYFRIED: Yeah. She’s in a punk band in Philly called Love City. I saw them perform once. They’re not bad, if you like punk.
TIMBERLAKE: Spoken like a true sister. But the musical talent runs in your family.
SEYFRIED: Music was just something that we did. Like a lot of kids, we were forced to take piano lessons when we were younger. Mind you, it was the only thing that my parents forced us to do, because we wanted to quit and they said, “No, you keep going.”
TIMBERLAKE: I actually ask a lot of musically inclined actors about this, but could you see yourself ever recording an album or trying on music for size in a bigger way?
SEYFRIED: I have, in a way. I actually wrote a song with Damien Rice for Dear John. Damien never finished it—I mean, he might have, but he hasn’t sent it to me. It was about a year ago. It was a cool song. I was proud of it. I’m hoping to hear it someday.
TIMBERLAKE: He’s brilliant. So it’s not just singing that you’re into, but actually writing music as well?
SEYFRIED: I do enjoy the writing. I have written some songs, but I would really call what I’ve done poetry at the end of the day, because I’ll sit with my guitar for hours and hours on end for, like, a week and then I won’t touch it for a month. I also just have no confidence. And you know what? I don’t have time, because I’d rather be doing other things, like knitting.
TIMBERLAKE: Do you play any other instruments? Or just guitar?
SEYFRIED: Guitar. I have a piano and I have a viola. I’m not going to tell you whether or not I can play it, but I do have one.
TIMBERLAKE: Fair enough. Just owning one is a commitment. I am, though, curious about how actors who are into music relate to that kind of performing. I find it such a different experience to be on stage playing music and having that type of connection with an audience.
SEYFRIED: Well, when you’re on stage as a musician, it’s just you, isn’t it? You’re in your own world. You control it. You decide how far you go. You decide everything. It must be hard for you, especially when you’re so used to performing in that kind of situation, to come into the situation of working on a film and lose all of that control that you’re used to having.
I HAVE TO SAY, A LOT OF THE STUDIOS, THEY BUY A BLONDE. THEY KEEP SAYING, “WE BOUGHT A BLONDE.” AND THAT CAN BE REALLY FRUSTRATING BECAUSE THAT’S NOT WHAT I AM.Amanda Seyfried
TIMBERLAKE: I actually find it liberating to give up control. It’s nice for me. What’s been more of a battle for me throughout the process of moving into acting is that I feel like I have to keep reassuring people that I’m not an asshole. [both laugh] There is a stigma that comes from being on stage and being a musician.
SEYFRIED: It’s true. I understand your struggle. But I think you’re past that at this point. [laughs] Besides, what’s wrong with being an asshole?
TIMBERLAKE: Oh, right. Yeah, well, it’s a shitty job. [both laugh] But while we’re still in the general zone of music, what kind of music do you like to listen to?
SEYFRIED: Probably singer-songwriter music. I like a Damien Rice or a Ray LaMontagne or a Willy Mason. I just love slow music. I mean, people can say that it’s boring and makes you want to kill yourself, but at the end of the day . . .
TIMBERLAKE: I think all the people you’ve mentioned are genius. I am a huge Ray LaMontagne fan. I’ve been to probably every single show he has ever played in Los Angeles.
SEYFRIED: I can’t say that myself, but he did autograph something for me once. The thing with Ray is that he’s gotten a little more pop-y over the years, but he always had a little bit of that in him and he doesn’t care. I find that so many people are afraid to go mainstream. I have a bunch of friends who are musicians, and I’m constantly challenging them to sell out a little. Because what are you making music for if you don’t want people to hear it?
TIMBERLAKE: Whatever you do as a musician, no matter how good it is, somebody somewhere is going to shit on it. You put your heart on your sleeve, and what will happen will happen. But it’s like that for any artist. You do a painting, you take a photograph, it’s the same. That’s how artistry works.
SEYFRIED: But isn’t that the thrill of it? You put it out there and you really don’t give a shit. I thought that doing Chloe was going to be a risk and I was wondering what people were going to think, but then I was like, “You know what? The experience I’ll have making this film is way too important to me.” That can be fulfilling to the point where you just don’t really care about how the work is going to be received. It’s thrilling to just not care—unless, of course, you’d hurt somebody.
Justin Timberlake is a Grammy-winning singer-song writer-producer, actor, and entrepreneur.
This is an excerpt of the cover story. To read the full Amanda Seyfried interview pick up a copy of the March issue of Interview.