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In the last four years, Sophia Lillis has starred in six feature films, and while there has been variety in genre and tone, there is one common element that interestingly links the majority of them: being set in the past. The young actor has told stories that take place the present, such as the excellent Netflix series I Am Not Okay With This, and 2019’s Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, but the vast majority of her projects transport audiences to a bygone era. It’s a funny thing to notice – but also a complete coincidence, as I learned speaking with Lillis earlier this month.
Her latest period piece is writer/director Alan Ball’s upcoming Uncle Frank, which will be arriving on Amazon Prime just in time for Thanksgiving, and while speaking with her and co-star Peter Macdissi during the film’s virtual press day last month I took the opportunity to ask her about the pattern. It turned out that I was only the second person to point out the commonality in her work, but also explained why it is that she thinks she is drawn to the material. Said Lillis,
You know what, you're the second person to tell me that, and I just realized that now. I do love period pieces. I've always wanted to do something and kind of like the Victorian era, I think that'd be real, real fun. But this was great, getting to pretend I'm in the seventies, even though I have no idea what the seventies are like, except for like the photos that I've seen and people saying, 'Oh yeah, this is accurate. This isn't accurate.' Other than that I don't really know what it's like, but I get to have a chance to see things and wear the clothes, and get driven in those cars.
Sophia Lillis made her feature film debut with a role in writer/director Puk Grasten’s 37 – which is about the notorious 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese – and she has been repeatedly revisiting the past ever since. She is, of course, best known for playing young Beverly Marsh in Andy Muschietti’s IT and IT: Chapter Two, all of her scenes set in 1989, and it was just earlier this year that she was transported back to the early 19th century in Gretel &Hansel. Even her role in the HBO series Sharp Objects qualifies, as while the majority of the miniseries is set in the present, all of her scenes were flashbacks where she played Amy Adams’ character as a teenager.
As noted, we will once again get to see Sophia Lillis through a vision of the past in Uncle Frank, which is set in 1973. In the story she plays 18-year-old Beth Bledsoe, who has spent her entire life looking up to her Uncle Frank (Paul Bettany). After leaving her South Carolina home to go to college in New York, where Frank works as a professor, she winds up learning a secret that he has kept from his family his entire life: that he is gay, and has been in a relationship with another man (Peter Macdissi) for a number of years. The story plays out with an excellent balance of comedy and drama, and features an outstanding cast that also includes Stephen Root, Margot Martindale, Judy Greer, Steve Zahn, and Lois Smith.
As for Sophia Lillis’ future with period pieces, don’t expect her to swear them off any time soon. Even with the pattern recognized it seems to be something that she is embracing, as it provides her with an opportunity that is unavailable in any another field of work. Said Lillis,
Something about, it just seems real fun. You don't get to do that anywhere else except in the acting business. Can you think of any other, anything outside of the acting industry that you get to do that? I don't think so.
Uncle Frank premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, and will be available to stream on Amazon Prime for subscribers starting on November 25. Between now and then, be sure to stay tuned here on CinemaBlend for more from my interviews with the cast and writer/director Alan Ball!