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Sundance 2024: ‘I Saw the TV Glow’ actors discuss film’s script, connections to upbringing

The cast and crew of “I Saw the TV Glow” pose for a group photo at Sundance Film Festival. The horror picture premiered at the event. (Julia Zhou/Assistant Photo editor)

By Graciana Paxton

Jan. 28, 2024 8:41 p.m.

“I Saw the TV Glow” is breaking through the static of the horror genre.

After making their narrative film debut at Sundance 2021 with their lo-fi horror film “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair,” writer-director Jane Schoenbrun returned to this year’s festival with “I Saw the TV Glow.” The filmmaker’s A24-produced sophomore entry centers on lonely teenagers Owen (Justice Smith) and Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine) who find solace in their favorite television show, “The Pink Opaque.”

Smith, Lundy-Paine and cast member Ian Foreman spoke with the Daily Bruin’s Graciana Paxton at the Sundance Film Festival about the ways in which the coming-of-age horror explores media obsessions, isolation and identity.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

[Related: Film review: Sinister adaptation of ‘Eileen’ explores woman’s complex pseudosexual relationship]

Daily Bruin: What was your first reaction to reading Jane’s script?

Brigette Lundy-Paine: It was a structure that I hadn’t encountered before. It felt very surprising. I didn’t know where the story was going, and I loved that it wasn’t trying to manipulate me. I felt that it was a very confident story with such integrity. I think I felt this pain in my chest and started to be aware of this pain that maybe I hadn’t before.

DB: What drew you to the character of Maddy, and were there any elements of your own growing up that mirrored your performance?

BLP: Definitely. I was really weird when I was young, or I guess have kind of returned to admitting that I don’t really understand social codes. I think I was able to sit in that in this character – someone who has no choice but to be very strange, because that’s what’s coming out of their consciousness. That’s what allows them to break from a reality they understand is not real.

DB: Were there any experiences from your own adolescence that informed your portrayal of Owen, or was this coming-of-age story one that greatly differed from your own life?

Justice Smith: There’s a certain isolation that Owen feels that I can relate to growing up in like a homogenous white environment. But Owen didn’t have as many tools as I did, so I really tried to strip myself of any sort of comfort in my own skin, in my own body, which is luckily not my own experience, but was a challenge when I was trying to discover him.

DB: The film centers on the relationship between you and Lundy-Paine’s characters. How did you approach building the at times tumultuous dynamic between Owen and Maddy?

JS: Brigette is amazing and I love them so much. I feel like a lot of our chemistry came naturally – we’re both Leos. So I think it was really natural to be in a relationship with Brigette. But our characters’ relationship on screen is very different. It’s a lot darker and more twisted, so I think we had to have a level of trust with each other in order to go to those places.

[Related: Sundance 2023 Q&A: ‘Infinity Pool’ director, actors reflect on film’s commentary on human nature]

DB: You play young Owen in the film. Did you find yourself relating to the character in any way, particularly in how deeply connected he feels to his favorite piece of media?

Ian Forman: I definitely brought my love for TV shows into this character. Whenever I see that someone likes a TV show that I particularly love, I become a geek about it, and I feel like that’s how young Owen became when he finally found someone to talk about “The Pink Opaque” with.

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Graciana Paxton | Music | fine arts editor
Paxton is the 2022-2023 music | fine arts editor. She was previously an Arts contributor from 2021-2022. She is also a third-year psychobiology student from Morgan Hill, California.
Paxton is the 2022-2023 music | fine arts editor. She was previously an Arts contributor from 2021-2022. She is also a third-year psychobiology student from Morgan Hill, California.
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