Interview: HOMELAND star Morgan Saylor on JAMIE MARKS IS DEAD

You may know her as Dana Brody on the hit Showtime series Homeland, but Morgan Saylor is now going to show you a new side to her in Carter Smith‘s supernatural indie Jamie Marks Is Dead.

Set against the backdrop of the discovery of a dead boy’s body, the film (which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year) follows the triangle that forms between three small town teenagers: Adam McCormic (Monaghan), a track star with a troubled private life; Jamie Marks (Noah Silver), the ghost of an outcast boy at school, and Gracie Highsmith (Morgan Saylor); the girl who discovered his naked corpse.

I spoke with Saylor earlier this week to talk about the film, the complexity of the adolescent characters in the story and more. Check out the interview below.

The book, which I got a chance to also got to read after seeing the film, is a good resource to understanding the characters. Did you read it in preparation for the film or did you want to create a character from scratch?

I did. Exactly. I kind of just want to trust the script that Carter had — what he had chosen from the book. Actually, now I really need to. I think I should now that it’s finally all done and tucked away. I feel like I can lift up the book and just enjoy it as a story.

It’s weird, though. Since I read it after, I noticed that the third act is completely different. But do you think that since it’s not a mainstream novel like Harry Potter, the director/writer had more creative liberties to be able to get away with making changes?

Yeah, probably. The book is, of course, it’s certainly no Harry Potter. It had a huge fanbase that it had to stay with. I know that Carter got the blessing from Christopher and was able to make the story feel like the story, but focus more on different things.

Speaking of Carter, I read that he started a photography series titled “All The Dead Boys,” which was photographs of models posing as dead characters to help decide how Jamie would look. I also saw from another interview that you did that he also gave you a CD to prepare for your character. Did you want to explain that one?

Yeah, the CD was really great. He sent it to me before I had even met him, you know. It was about a month before we started to shoot. It has some music that plays in her room. It has kind of music that feels like a story. It was just a blank CD that said, “For Gracie.” I would listen to it non-stop. I found it really helpful.

In this film, you got to work with two fellow up-and-coming actors: Cameron Monaghan and Noah Silver. How was it like to work with them?

It was great. It was really, really great. We spent a lot of time together. When you’re shooting something, especially in a small area, you’re each other’s companion. We just spent a lot of time hanging out and bonding. I think they’re both so talented and brought something really special to each character. They made them come alive, and I think the justice to each of their own characters.

The film has so many elements to it. It’s partly coming-of-age drama, a romance, a thriller, and a horror film. It also explored various themes like loneliness, making a connection and regrets in life. What aspect of the story or theme resonated the most with you and made you want to be a part of it?

As an actress, I feel like I read a lot of scripts where teenagers are — it’s kind of a commercialized version of teenagers where there’s on a football team or a teenager. But this felt like a real story about three kids, who were growing up and what that meant and, exactly, making connections and finding people they could talk to and being so lonely in this small high school. It really intrigued me. It felt like a very honest story of finding out what kind of person you want to be and who you want hang out with. So that really drew me in.

I actually wanted to comment on that cause I really like how Grace wasn’t the stereotypical teenage girl role. She actually takes charge, especially in the sex scene with Adam — she’s the one who initiates it. Was that part of what interested you?

Yeah, I think so. Gracie’s interesting cause she’s really insecure cause she’s kind of an outsider at school, but then to cover that she acts super confident and kind of holds her head high as she walks through school and treats people boldly, strongly — and sometimes rudely because she’s just trying to come off as she doesn’t give a shit when she really does. Yeah, I felt like I understood her and knew a girl like that and related to her as well.

What I like is that even though they’re all completely different, they’re all really outcasts and in that way they can relate to each other. Even Adam — even though he’s the popular athlete, he’s not actually the stereotypical popular athlete.

I liked that, too. It felt like they were all isolated for different reasons, but were lonely and being excluded in school.

Adam’s closest friendships in the story could arguably be stated as being more physically intimate with Gracie, while being more emotionally intimate with Jamie. How did you interpret the relationship contrasts?

She initiates physical stuff because she’s scared to talk about what’s really on her mind and how she feels. With Jamie, he [Adam] finally has someone he can release the things that he’s been thinking. It’s a funny little triangle.

In the book, Christopher Barzak quotes Thomas Lynch, who says, “The facts of death, like the facts of life, are required learning.” As much as the story is about finding hope to live again, I also find that it deals with Adam’s attraction to the world of the dead, something which Gracie is trying to get him out of. Why do you think that world drew in Adam so much and why death is such a fascination for people?

I think he was not feeling like he belonged in the world, at home or with his brother, with the team or many aspects of school. Finding any kind of friend, whether he was alive or dead was intriguing, being able to escape that life that he had was tantalizing.

Even though the endings of the book and film were different, I found when I finished it that I got a sense of hope after and it was really inspiring endings. What experience do you want people to take away when they see this film?

It’s hard to answer because I feel like everyone takes away something different. I hope that it encourages people to connect and find the right people you get along with, to get outside of your shell a little, I guess.

Jamie Marks Is Dead is now available on VOD/digital platforms and in limited theatrical release. Watch the trailer below.

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The Author

Alfonso Espina

Alfonso Espina

Alfonso Espina is a Toronto-based freelance writer and graduate of the Journalism program at Ryerson University. He has written for The Huffington Post, Tribute Magazine, Next Projection, Pop Wrapped, MuchMusic, Screen Invasion, Flicks And The City, and UpandComers.