I had one mission for Sundance this year: Keep it fun. So I packed a mélange of statement sweaters and coats plus a Polaroid camera (the better for capturing candid moments!) and headed to snowy Park City, Utah, in search of the festival’s standout female talent.
Posted up on Main Street at the Root’d Lounge by Meredith Marks Jewelry and Vida Tequila, I chatted film, fashion, and more with Sundance regulars (Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen) and fresh faces (Odessa Young and Halston Sage) alike. In addition to learning about their must-see projects, I gathered some expert style tips along the way.
Below, enjoy a look at the festival stars everyone is talking about.
Dree Hemingway (Project: L.A. Times)
Can one really find love in a hopeless place like the Los Angeles dating scene? Dree Hemingway is on that mission as serial dater Baker in L.A. Times.
“I think the film portrays L.A. in a sense that in Los Angeles we put what we have onto other people, and I think that’s just in general in the world, but a lot more in L.A.,” she says of her movie’s accuracy. “Everything is very sugarcoated, and you don’t necessarily know what really is going on and what’s a façade and what’s not. So I mean it’s very sweet of Annette’s relationship with Elliott where she projects that she doesn’t have something great when she actually has something really good, but she’s nitpicking it. I think we all do that.”
Hemingway on her foolproof date-night outfit: “I am one of those people who likes to underdress because I always want the person to know whom they’re getting. I went through a period in my life where I’m like, ‘I’m going to put on this façade, and I’m going to be really cute, quiet, and agreeable,’ and then I always feel like it doesn’t work out, because it gets tired. For me, it is jeans and a sweater and just a really fresh face. I think face and skin are very important.”
Elizabeth Olsen and Aubrey Plaza (Project: Ingrid Goes West)
Instagram is harmless, right? Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen show us the scary effects of the app in Ingrid Goes West, wherein a woman obsesses over a social media influencer and decides to move to California in an attempt to become her best friend.
“There are the obvious pros and cons [of Instagram], which are it connects people, but it also isolates a lot of people because you’re doing it alone, by yourself, and not connecting with others,” Plaza says of the popular social app. “I think it’s really complicated and feeds on some weird primal stuff in people’s brains, you know, putting something out there and getting a like, receiving that kind of reward for something.”
When asked about research for the film, Olsen told us, “I didn’t know anything about this world at all. I mean, I knew it existed, but I didn’t really understand how. But now I do, and it’s really fascinating. I don’t know how long it will continue, because it’s a baby; we don’t know if there’s going to be a backlash or if it’s going to turn into something more substantial.”
Olsen on dipping into her stylish sisters’ wardrobes: “I used to so much. And I do when I have the opportunity. They’re just the coolest, and I can’t wear things the way they wear things. If you were to dress me up exactly like them, it just wouldn’t look as cool. And I don’t know what that is, but I don’t have it.”
Nicola Peltz (Project: When the Street Lights Go On)
“People are saying it’s really similar to Stranger Things, which is a huge compliment,” Nicola Peltz says of her upcoming Hulu series, When the Street Lights Go On. The 1983-set thriller opens up on the mysterious murders of a teacher and student throwing a small Illinois town into turmoil as they seek answers.
Peltz is quick to warn us her character is not as she seems: “If you saw a picture of what Chrissy looks like, she’s the perfect daughter, she gets straight A’s, she’s a cheerleader, she has the perfect boyfriend. She just looks so well behaved, but when you get to know her, she’s so the opposite. And that is what’s fun for me is that she’s so dark.”
Peltz on sharing clothes with BFF Sofia Richie: “The funniest thing was she walked in the Chanel show recently, and the paparazzi photos came up in my newsfeed on Instagram, and I was like, Omg, she took half of my wardrobe to Paris! I called her up and was like, What are you doing?! We always share clothes.”
Abbi Jacobson and Tavi Gevinson (Project: Person to Person)
In the Dustin Guy Defa–directed film Person to Person, Abbi Jacobson plays a journalist struggling to get through her first day on the job. “My main thing right now career-wise is telling New York stories, so I really related to this different point of view of New York, and I really thought the character was different from what I’m used to playing,” Abbi told us about taking on the role.
Tavi Gevinson also stars in the film, which follows a variety of characters over the course of one day. “Wendy seemed like the type of character I would have seen in a movie when I was 14 and thought was really cool, like Veronica from Heathers, or Ghostworld or something,” she says. “It was cool to think that I could play her.”
Jacobson, outfitted in J.Crew’s Olivia Topcoat ($360), on her new style uniform: “Lately, I am trying to be a little more simplified in my look. I didn’t used to tuck shirts in, because I think I was afraid of my curves, but now I’m all about showing them. I think my look is a pair of high-waisted jeans with a tucked in long-sleeve t-shirt. Less is more.”
Halston Sage (Project: Before I Fall)
“When I first read Before I Fall, what I fell in love with was the message, which was to be yourself and find a way to surround yourself with people that are important to you and that you love. That’s something I try to do in my day-to-day life and something I’ve learned especially as I’ve gotten older,” says Halston Sage of her Sundance project.
Building chemistry with her onscreen BFFs was easy for the rising star, who told us her favorite activity was grabbing dinner and wine with her co-stars after a long day of filming.
Sage on her last exciting fashion purchase: “It was a splurge and it was something I had my eye on for a very long time. It is this very large Acne [Studios] bomber jacket, and I’ve seen people wearing it and had always wanted it, and this year I was finally like, It’s going to make me happy.”
Cynthy Wu, Zoey Deutch, Medalion Rahimi, and Elena Kampouris (Project: Before I Fall)
What if before you died, you were forced to relive your last day until you got it right? That’s precisely the premise of Before I Fall, the YA book-to-screen adaption directed by Ry Russo-Young. The film’s message suggests that every decision we make matters, and at the heart of that is a gorgeous friend group that brings new meaning to #squadgoals.
“Ry had this great idea for us to hang out and sort of take all these iPhone photos of us, because we needed some for props anyway,” Zoey Deutch says of building the onscreen chemistry with the mostly female cast. “But as filming went on, we kind of just became obsessed with each other. It became very well known that Medalion has the best style—at some point, we all just wanted to wear the clothes on her back. I can’t reiterate enough how grateful I am, because it was such a great group, and there wasn’t a bad egg. We all really loved each other and I think we’re all really supportive. I feel so grateful that we’re all solid.”
Deutch on her character’s outfit in Before I Fall: “I have a funny story about the blue dress. We didn’t have a big budget for this movie, so I reached out to my friend Tory Burch, and I was like, ‘Can you please get me a couple of these blue dresses?’ And she sent me seven of them. And my friends would come over and look in the closet and say, ‘Why do you have seven of the same dress?’ Actually, I think I have nine of them!”
Annabelle Dexter-Jones (Project: Cecile on the Phone)
Art is imitating life for Annabelle Dexter-Jones, who wrote, directed, and stars in the short film Cecile on the Phone. “It was definitely drawn from my personal experiences and my experiences with friends,” she tells us of the comedic project, an intimate portrayal of a young woman who calls upon a series of characters in an attempt to understand her heartbreak. “Hopefully people will be able to either see themselves in this or see someone they know in this and recognize the absurdity and be able to laugh at ourselves. What really inspired me to write it was those moments in our lives where we really don’t have perspective, and we really can’t see beyond ourselves. I think we all are guilty of that. I hope people will be able to recognize that and not judge themselves or others for indulging in that, to be able to see the humor in it.”
Dexter-Jones on the perfect winter outfit combo: “I found that layering outerwear is really cool, so you can wear a cute jacket underneath your coat.”
Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy (Project: Thoroughbred)
Featuring two of Hollywood’s most promising young talents, Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy, dark comedy Thoroughbred tells the story of estranged teenage friends who reconnect while plotting a murder in their suburban Connecticut town.
“What drew me to the role was the character that I play Amanda,” Cooke told us. “She describes herself as having no emotion, she gets tired and hungry and bored in terms of joy and guilt, she doesn’t really feel that. So I immediately was drawn to figuring out a way to play that.”
In response to the same question, Taylor-Joy added, “It’s always so interesting how characters really call you. I never considered playing Amanda. When I read the script, I was attracted to Lily, and I think it’s because Lily is this girl we kind of all know that has so much going on beneath the surface, who’s having this tough time and level of tension, but to the outside world, hair perfectly slicked back, always smiling, everything is always fine. And that level of tension, I just wanted to kind of lean toward myself and see what it would be like to have that tension all the time.”
Taylor-Joy on her relationship with fashion: “I started doing this job, and at the beginning, [fashion] terrified me. Genuine panic attacks in fitting rooms not being able to wrap my head around it because I instantly felt I wasn’t being myself. I was like, ‘I would never wear this!’ And they would be like, ‘Well, you’ve never had an occasion to wear this.’ Then I started seeing it as a work of art, and somebody who helped me see that was Alessandro and what he was doing for Gucci. Because I suddenly saw it as, That looks like a Frida Kahlo painting on a dress! I started utilizing that to make myself feel powerful. So now I really love it.”
Odessa Young (Project: When the Street Lights Go On)
For 18-year-old Australian actress Odessa Young, landing the part of Becky Monroe in Hulu’s When the Street Lights Go On was a dream come true. “It’s a shocking show; it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen on television,” she gushed. “There are no boundaries. It’s completely redefining a genre. It is a murder mystery, it is nostalgic, it’s a period piece, but it is so grounded in human reality and what has been going on for centuries. It really is the project that kind of correlates with me and what I love, and my influencers and my personality, and how I want to tell stories. This is the one that correlates the most to that.”
Young on her split personality style: “I describe my style as a mixture of three things. And they can either be three things in one outfit or choosing a certain theme every day, but it is 1950s Twin Peaks vibes mixed with cowgirl mixed with punk. For example, for Sundance, I’ve brought a leather jacket, which is more punkish, and then I’ve got this big, beautiful green corduroy dress, which is super Western and cowgirl, and what I’m wearing right now is very Twin Peaks–y.”
Morgan Saylor, Rebecca Dayan, Margaret Qualley, and Maggie Betts (Project: Novitiate)
Exploring convent life in the ’60s, Novitiate is about a young women’s (Margaret Qualley) relationship with God and the radical changes that cause her to question her faith. The result is powerful and surprisingly sexy.
“It’s about women trying to figure out what they want and what they crave,” actress Rebecca Dayan says of the film. “A lot of the women who were trying to get into convents were trying to change the world. They had this passion and they thought that was one of the only ways for women at that time to do something. If you came from a poor background, which was most of the time where these women came from, you had no choice other than getting married. They weren’t going to school, and if you wanted to get an education, a religious education was one of the only educations you would get.”
The Novitiate cast on the best fashion lessons they learned: Qualley: “Less is more.” Dayan: “Prints and plaids are okay together.” Morgan Saylor: “Don’t be afraid to mix and match.” Maggie Betts: “Go against the dress code.”
Kelsey Asbille Chow (Project: Wind River)
Kelsey Asbille Chow wants you to know Wind River isn’t your average whodunnit story. “It kind of reads like a thriller,” Chow tells us of the film, which also stars Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner. “But those moments in it, where Taylor [Sheridan] really has an intimacy with his writing, you really feel like you are in the room with the characters. For my character Natalie, two things were really important to me: I put a big responsibility, more so than with any other roles, on representing her heritage as well as that she’s a young woman in that situation. It was a lot of research, but I actually learned a lot from the role. Shooting a rape scene was an experience, and everyone was incredibly respectful on set, and I was lucky to have that cast and crew around me.”
Chow on attending Milan Fashion Week for the first time: “It’s so glamorous; it’s so fun! The energy and especially being in Milan, it’s very Italian. [Salvatore] Ferragamo has been really incredible because they’ve kind of stood by me my whole career. I’ll always wear them as long as they’ll have me.”
Michelle Morgan (Project: L.A. Times)
Michelle Morgan wore three important hats during the making of L.A. Times: Writer, director, and lead actress, but when asked which job was the most challenging, she was quick to say the latter. “I think the thing that’s hard about it is that you don’t know how it’s going,” Morgan says. “I can look at someone else and know if it’s working or not. The way that you feel is a very accurate gauge of whether the performance is working.”
Morgan on the revival of Gucci: “I’m really obsessed with the ’70s and late ’60s. I love Gucci. Their moment is lasting like an hour. I think it was what, like two years when I first started seeing it in the fashion magazines, and this is going to sound weird because since the ’90s nobody really talked about [the brand], but I thought to myself, Gucci’s kind of having a moment.”
Jurnee Smollett-Bell (Project: Underground)
Journee Smollett-Bell was all smiles as she arrived for our interview—not surprising considering the actress is in town celebration the exciting second season of the hit WGN show Underground. “I’m so in love with Rosalee because as an actor she really pushes me and I really have to stretch and grow in my craft,” she says of playing the show’s heroine. “She started off as such a delicate, shy house girl who was an introvert and didn’t have a voice, and over the course of the first season she really became this warrior and discovered this strength she didn’t know she had. And in season two, that warrior becomes a soldier.”
Smollett-Bell on her tricks for making heels more comfortable: “You can use baby powder on your feet with heels. Or sometimes if a heel is really pointy, I’ll put a cushion or a Band-Aid on the side—you know, the pinky sort of takes the brunt of the heel. Insoles too are really great for heels.”
Which films from the 2017 Sundance Film Festival are you most excited to see at a theater near you? Tell us in the comments below.