Don’t mistake Juno Temple’s youth, cherubic smile or even her “properly British” bent as signs of weakness. Tease her with the promise of a juicy part and she’ll fight for it with tigerlike ferocity, which might explain why the 22-year-old is tearing through the most prolific year of her young career, highlighted by a star-making turn in Abe Sylvia’s coming-of-age comedy Dirty Girl.
Juno, daughter of The Filth and the Fury director Julien Temple, will be featured this month in Paul W. S. Anderson’s big-budgeted take on The Three Musketeers, and next summer in Christopher Nolan’s eagerly anticipated blockbuster-to-be The Dark Knight Rises. Yet Girl offered her something neither of those brand-name adventures could: a lead role that would put her talents front and center.
“I was ready to shank somebody for it,” she says with an impish grin. “I did fight for it, in my own way, and I got it. It was such an incredible adventure, and when I see it now, it's like watching home videos from your childhood – I can look at every scene and remember everything that happened that day. It was the time of my life.”
For Girl, Sylvia’s loosely autobiographical story about Danielle, the “high-school whore” determined to find her biological father, and Clark, her portly gay “husband” coming to terms with his sexuality, the first-time feature director needed two young actors whose on-screen love story would be believable despite their obvious differences.
Her trashy affectations aside, Danielle is a striking beauty; Clark is an ostracized loner who seems to exude an innate lack of self-esteem, his oversized belly spilling over his shabby jeans. Danielle can be cruel; Clark is shy and vulnerable, yet he deflects her initial barbs and encourages her gentler instincts. A romance between the two, however platonic, seems unlikely at the onset.
But Sylvia immediately recognized a spark between Temple and newcomer Jeremy Dozier, who plays Danielle's newest (and only) BFF. “I knew the movie was going to live or die on the chemistry between them, because this is a love story, and if you don’t believe they’re capable of being in love, then you’re not going to buy into any of it,” says Sylvia.
“When we got those two kids in the room together, it was undeniable. My rehearsal process for them was to make them sing and dance and strip off all their clothes in preparation for some of the scenes they’d be doing later on, and they hadn’t done that for a movie before. I think they bonded over the humiliation I put them through.”
Although Temple shows off her newly acquired dance moves only briefly in the movie, she says the abbreviated striptease proved key to her understanding of Danielle. “She gets on stage and tries to control the room with her sexuality, and it’s just not working,” says the actress, whose own youthful bids for attention were largely confined to her eccentric taste in outerwear.
“In that moment, you realize that Danielle is vulnerable, too. She plays up her foul-mouthed, firecracker behavior to seem intimidating. She’s saying, ‘Don’t fuck with me.’ And when she’s got something to say, it doesn’t always make sense, but she’s really, really confident when she says it.”
“The trick of the movie is that Dirty Girl is very tender,” adds Sylvia, a self-described “fat gay kid” who was fascinated in junior high by a sassy, iconoclastic classmate he refers to as “Dirty Debbie.”
“The movie isn’t what you expect it to be – it sneaks up on you. And either it works for you or it doesn’t. Every child feels alienated in high school, and everyone sees adults as ridiculous until they have their hearts broken for the first time and they start to grow up. And even if you’re nothing like Danielle and Clark, people can see themselves in these characters, because what they experience is what life feels like.”
Dirty Girl is now playing at the AMC Loews Metreon and the Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley. For tickets and showtimes, click here.