Discovery: Emmi Shockley

Published January 21, 2014

ABOVE: (LEFT TO RIGHT) EMMI SHOCKLEY, JOSEPH MCCAUGHTRY, AND ANDY RIDDLE IN PING PONG SUMMER

“I’m still running on adrenaline because that was so awesome,” grins 16-year-old actress Emmi Shockley, three hours after the Sundance premiere of her film Ping Pong Summer. The screening was a success, with constant, consistent roars of laughter coming from the audience. It is Shockley’s first time at the festival. 

Written and directed by Michael Tully, Ping Pong Summer is a love letter to the semi-surrealist, cheese-fest teen-movies of the 1980s. Set in the summer of 1985, the film takes place over the Miracle family’s annual holiday to Ocean City, Maryland. The characters are intentionally familiar, as is the resort town setting. There is the young, insecure teenage boy protagonist who likes to moon-dance in his red space pants and is never without his ping-pong paddle (Marcello Conte); the scrawny, clueless sidekick whose heart is the right place (Myles Massey); the local rich kid bullies with ridiculous facial expressions; the over-eager parents (John Hannah and Leah Thompson); the wacky aunt who makes penis sculptures (Amy Sedaris); the condescending slightly cooler older sister; and the mysterious older sensei. Shockley plays Stacey Summers, the blonde, tanned popular girl  with a white Jeep and color-coordinated eyeshadow. Stacey maintains a constant high by slurpring “funk punch,” a slushy concoction that contains pixie sticks and pop rocks, or maybe cocaine. “The ’80s have become my favorite decade,” affirms Shockley.An Ocean City native, Stacey Summers is Shockley’s first significant role. We spoke with her while at the festival.

AGE: 16HOMETOWN: Ocean City, Maryland. My family’s actually been in Ocean City since it was a fishing village. We go back. It’s awesome—the fact that I can watch the film and see all of the places where I hang out with my friends.  EARLY AMBITIONS: I’ve wanted to be an actress since I could talk. My parents are really supportive, but the reason that Ping Pong Summer was so perfect for me was that my parents both have jobs where they can’t travel with me. I travel a bit to New York, but it’s very limited. HOMEGROWN HEROINE: The weird thing is, throughout the entire town of Ocean City no one had said word one about these auditions. I didn’t hear about it until I was up in Baltimore doing some acting work and someone asked me about it. I just emailed [director] Michael Tully, sent him my headshot, and I told him that I lived in Ocean City. He met with me in New York City and I had a couple of auditions and a screen test with Marcello [Conte]. I ended up getting it. The fact that it was in Ocean City made it all work so much better. I would film and then go back to school, so my parents were really chill with it. My high school is very small, so all my friends are really supportive. Other than occasionally walking down the hallway and getting “Stacey yelled at me.” But that’s all of out of jokes. I don’t get any negative stuff.RÉSUMÉ: I was doing a lot of acting in Baltimore—really little Maryland stuff, I don’t know if you could call that professional. I’ve never done commercials or anything. I did some web series. My first ever audition was actually for this vampire movie that filmed in Baltimore. I got a part in it, but it was probably the strangest movie that’s ever been made. I sat in a hallway filled with a lot of people with fangs on.  [When I got to the audition] I was like, Should I leave? What is going on…? I just remember my mom and I were sitting in the hallway and my mother started making fun of one of them—whispering to me. I was like, “Mom, you need to stop! You’re going to get us bit.” I had a really tiny part; I played a mean girl—”Mean Girl 3″ or something like that. RESEARCHING THE REFERENCES: I’d seen a ton of the John Hughes movies, obviously—Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink. But I’ve actually never watched The Karate Kid. I thought I was supposed to, so I wrote it down: “Watch Karate Kid,” but then I never got around to it. It turned out it was a good thing, because Michael didn’t want us to. LICENSE TO DRIVE: I liked the car that I drove in the film too! I think they got it out of California. This guy let us borrow it and I actually signed his dashboard. He was really pumped about it being there, but he and his mom were both on set, and I don’t even have a license, and I was driving the car. He was really chill about me driving it, but his mom was there on set kind of yelling at me and telling me to be careful with the car. That was a very nerve-wracking scene. It was also a stick shift, which made it even more complicated—I didn’t know how to drive a regular car, period. I just borrowed a Jeep from one of my friends and my dad and I would go behind our bus stop and just practice in the parking lot there until I sort of kind of got it down. I get my license next month. IN COSTUME: Our makeup artist was the best. I loved my makeup every single day. The scene in [the underage club] H2O, where my eyes kind of looked like a sunset—that took a while. That was my favorite look. The H20 was my favorite scene in the world to shoot. Especially because they let me recruit extras, so I brought in all of my friends. It was just me, the cast, and all my friends hanging out all day in this dingy, under-21 club. It was so awesome. Does it really exist? Oh, yeah. It’s kind of like a local faux pas to go to H20. Some people have parties in there, but if you go on a regular night, it’s a little scary. It’s not really where you want to be. PING-PONG SKILLS: I did play ping-pong, just because we had a cast party with a big ping-pong tournament, but I’m awful. I got killed. I’m terrible. IDOLS : This is more of a peer, but Chloë Grace Moretz I think is really admirable. She does a ton of really great work. And Elle Fanning, also. I think someone older than me, I look up to Susan Sarandon a lot. I saw Elle Fanning in the lobby a couple of hours ago. I smiled at her and she smiled at me, but I didn’t say anything. [laughs] STARSTRUCK: This morning I was doing Park City TV. I was about to leave, but I couldn’t find my jacket anywhere and it turns out Miles Teller was sitting on it. That was my closest celebrity encounter, getting my jacket from under him.

For more from Sundance 2014, click here.