In retrospect, the fact that Analeigh Tipton's first acting gig was on The Big Bang Theory wasn't a coincidence—Sheldon Cooper (played by Jim Parsons on the hit CBS sitcom) was staring at his perfect girl without even realizing it.
The 24-year-old Tipton is a former model who's amusing in a genuinely intelligent sense, not in the she's-pretty-so-we-should-laugh-to-make-her-like-us kind of way. Case in point: The Hollywood newbie idolizes Stephen Hawking and studies up on quantum mechanics for shits and giggles; most importantly, she's a fantasy fan (Dungeons & Dragons included). Pretty much the only qualm the aforementioned Sheldon Cooper would have about Tipton is the natural warmth to her personality, which we're sure he could get over after talking to her in Klingon.
These days, Tipton is starring in director Whit Stillman's (The Last Days Of Disco) first film in 13 years, Damsels in Distress (opening in limited theaters today), an off-beat comedy about a trio of girls who set out to save their bro'd out campus from depression. Complex sat down with the vibrant beauty, who's also a former America's Next Top Model contestant, to discuss her new film, and, while we prepped the requisite questions about her experiences on set, what we got from her was much more than we ever imagined—chicken impression included.
Interview by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)
Complex: You worked with Whit Stillman for his first film in over a decade. What was that like for you?
Analeigh Tipton: Whit is such a character to work with in general. He’s eccentric and colorful and warm and loving and curious, insightful, intelligent and intimidating as all hell because of those things. He really doesn’t drag the actors directly—he’s much more involved with a lot of the choreography of our movement. He kind of just lets us do our thing.
As an actor approaching his work, I was very excited to put the time and effort into learning his language, learning it properly and watching his style in previous films. Then, throwing that out the window and kind of bringing my own feeling to it. He trusted us, he casted us, and then kind of let that do the work.
Did you have to audition? If so, was that intimidating?
I did, and yes, it was! At this point, I was filming Crazy, Stupid, Love, and I was still pretty new to everything. The script made me really smile because it ended in a musical number. I grew up in a very witty, understated humor-driven family, so we like our sarcasm. It was exciting to be able to read something that was so dry. Before auditioning, I wasn’t familiar with Whit Stillman, so I definitely familiarized myself with Barcelona, Metropolitan, and The Last Days Of Disco. I understood the script a hundred times more, and I really appreciated what I was going in on.
I was in the trailer getting my hair and makeup done and it was [her Crazy, Stupid, Love co-star] Julianne Moore who asked me, “What are you looking at for your next project?” The rest of the cast was working on these huge films, like Emma [Stone] was about to go film Spider-Man and The Help. I’m sitting there with no idea, like "Uhh, commercial audition tomorrow!” [Laughs.] Then I was like, “Well, I’m looking at this Whit Stillman film.” She got so excited that she came over and she pushed the hair and makeup people out of the way and was like, “Whit Stillman is making another film?” And I was like, “He hadn’t? Yes he is!” Then, I realized that there is such a big cult around Whit Stillman, and it is awesome to be a part of that.
Did you relate to your Damsels in Distress character, Lily, at all?
I think that I brought something that I could relate to her with. Whit and I had very different views of my character going in. My take on Lilly was that she was just this sweet little new girl, big-eyed, and da-da-da, which is actually kind of boring next to what she became. Whit’s idea was also a little bit dryer than what it became. He thought Lily to be a very flat, plastic character, who is kind of a villain next to Greta [Gerwig, her Damsels In Distress co-star]. She's very cynical and judgmental of anything odd.
Because of my take being almost the complete opposite of that, the two merged on the set. What Lily became was a very skeptical individual of everything around her, but her skepticism was drawn from innocent curiosity. She was skeptical, but she was open to things that were odd. She just personally chose to not agree with them, but she was not judging them either. She was just questioning, and that’s much more rounded and interesting, I think. A creation that neither Whit and I initially intended. I hope he’s OK with how it ended. [Laughs.].
Wasn't this your second major role?
Yeah I mean, I played "hot chick" in a movie [The Green Hornet]. [Laughs.] But after I played Jessica in Crazy, Stupid, Love, I went to Damsels In Distress. From there I’ve been working pretty steadily. It was completely opposite of Crazy, Stupid, Love because that was all, “You forget the words, do what you want, improv here and just laugh. Humor is really big." Damsels was, “You don’t really smile, you say exactly what’s on the page, the humor is ignored, the jokes you say straight." But that’s what was fun about it, too.
I’ve realized that if someone in a room judges the fact that I was on a modeling show, I don’t know if I’d want to work with them anyway. It’s like judging someone’s intelligence or someone’s present life on some past or lack of past. I think it’s silly.
You went from modeling into acting. Was acting something you stumbled into or was it planned out?
Modeling was something I stumbled into; acting was planned out. I actually moved out to L.A. for writing and directing, and I acted all through growing up. But, for my family, it wasn’t exactly the career path that was going to be supported. Modeling is like... If somebody offers you a free trip to Hawaii, you kind of take it. Modeling was my free trip to Hawaii. It was an experience that sounded like fun for a 19-year-old, and it was. It was a blast.
I think the only weird thing about it is when people are like, “So you’re a model turned into..." No, I’m tall. Man, I’m bad at modeling, though. So it’s like, what defines a model? Someone who likes it, right? [Whispers.] I don’t like modeling. But America's Next Top Model was fun.
So did you feel any pressure at all to prove yourself as an actress because people had known you from Americas Next Top Model?
No, you know, Whit didn’t even realize that. All the roles that I’ve gotten—people don’t know that I’m from the show until later. Mostly I’ve realized that if someone in a room judges the fact that I was on a modeling show, I don’t know if I’d want to work with them anyway. It’s like judging someone’s intelligence or someone’s present life on some past, or lack of past. I think it’s silly.
What I was saying was that I’ve always had a discomfort with sexualized roles. Maybe I fought them because I was always kind of pegged—I think a lot of girls end up getting pegged in just playing “pretty girl that’s just like this” and that’s just so not me. That’s not how I was raised. I think as an actor we’re supposed to play whatever we can be, to a limit, because I also believe that it's not always necessary. Women are not just sexualizedthings.
Now, I’m at the point where, well, I’ll be 24—I want to play woman parts, and part of being a woman is embracing my sexuality. I think that you can be sexy and smart. I’m OK with tapping into that. I want to play smart roles or if there is comedy in playing idiotic or silly roles, but there’s a way to do it with intelligence, with edge, or something a little bit different. That’s what I’m attracted to: I’m attracted to roles that might seem like one thing, but really have a different side to it.
Speaking of seeming like one thing, I heard you were into Dungeons & Dragons—
Oh, I'm sorry! You are into D&D. [Laughs.] And you’re also applying to an astronaut program?
Oh, yeah. Well, NASA had this free application out that the public could put in to be an astronaut, which used to be so exclusive. It still is, of course—trust me, it takes so long. But I certainly looked into that. I went to space camp, I went to aviation camp, I’m obsessed with Stephen Hawking and Carl Segan and quantum mechanics. Down The Rabbit Hole is one of my favorite films. It makes me reall,y really happy.
I’m also reading the book on string theory, The Elegant Universe. I love the blur between reality and fiction, reality and impossible things or things that we think might be impossible. That goes into my love for Dungeons & Dragons and stuff like that. You know, to me, fantasy and science—neither one is more improvable. Improvable? I don’t think that’s a word. [Laughs.] At least, not in the way that I want to use it. Neither one can be disproved more than the other in a way.
I'm going to have to sit with that thought for hours, actually. But I have to ask—who do you play Dungeons & Dragons with?
A team in Pasadena [Laughs.] I go also because I’m a writer; I love meeting people, they fascinate me. It’s a whole ‘nother universe right in front of you. That’s amazing to me. And Dungeons & Dragons has the most incredible people with their most incredible universes. These characters are like seven 60-year-old men that have beards down to the floor and they bicker like old clucking women over the silliest thing, like “Your character can’t... I’m a powerful god!” And I sit there and I just love it! I just eat it up. It's fascinating! That’s a big reason why I play Dungeons & Dragons, for the people.
In Damsels In Distress, a lot of the female characters are just OK with being who they are and they don’t really care, like Greta’s character. She doesn’t really care that she’s strange or weird or whatnot. She has no inhibitions about it and I think that’s rare and I think that’s great. You can’t take anything too seriously. Life is not to be taken seriously.
You just finished filming the zombie romance Warm Bodies. Are you also into zombies?
[Laughs.] I am into zombies. I was writing a zombie-animated feature before I even read the script. It's still in the makings. I’m excited about it, it’s a pretty sweet little story. Yeah, zombies became kind of big, I’m trying to think of like the next big trend to jump on board quickly. Pirates kind of did their thing right? I’m not in love with ninjas—I can’t. Maybe dinosaurs might have a comeback?
Maybe. They may do another Jurassic Park movie.
Oh, taken then. I’ll think of something else. [Laughs.] I feel like all of that weird stuff made it come back. Jedis for a while. Maybe Jedis fighting zombies? Vampires had their time.
You have experience in all of them so you can just create your own.
I do. I keep one outfit for every day of the week, I change into a dinosaur slash Jedi. My license plate is “So Jedi” with a bumper sticker of “I love Harry Potter” on the back. I’ve had people on the highway take pictures of my license, which is odd.
You dabble in Star Trek, too, right? Can you say something in Klingon?
Oh, I used to be able to, and I used to be able to do a Chewbacca sound. I think if I tried I might just accidentally spit. I can do a chicken impression really well, would you like to hear it?
[Clucks like a chicken.] My publicist is going to barge in. [Laughs.]