By Anna Breslaw
Brooke Bundy and I became friends at NYU, five years before she was cast as stylist Octavia in The Hunger Games, the insanely popular dystopian mega-franchise based on Suzanne Collins’ YA trilogy. The day after this interview, during which Brooke and I get hammered and I forget to ask her half of the questions I had prepared.
A mutual friend of ours from college once asked us what skills would keep us alive in a dystopian world–a question, incidentally, unrelated to California native Brooke’s big break in the movie–and her first answer was “brute strength.” (Mine was “running fast.”) She does tend to stomp into places like a very pretty, large-faced in the best way, bull in a china shop. She rushed breathlessly up to me in the sports bar we were meeting as if she was late, which she was not, and gave me a huge hug. She had taken the subway from Red Hook, where she had just interviewed for a restaurant job.
“Those interviews are hard. It’s hard to be like–” She puts on crazy-solemn eyes. “Yes. I take this very seriously.’”
It seems incongruous that an actress in the top-grossing movie in the country for four weeks straight, someone who can make an informed personal judgment of Lenny Kravitz as a human being (verdict: “The coolest person of all the big famous people”) would be running around Brooklyn trying to get a waitressing gig. Less than a month ago, she was walking the red carpet at The Hunger Games’ Los Angeles premiere alongside a star-studded cast that included Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Kravitz, Josh Hutcherson and Elizabeth Banks. Last week The New York Daily News ran an article about Brooke that commented on this duality, with quotes from a Ditmas Park family whose kids she watches. The kids, understandably, are psyched: “Our babysitter is in The Hunger Games!”
It was one of those fortunate intersections of luck and talent; Brooke, a graduate of NYU’s Tisch acting program, was friends with the assistant to Jackie Burch, a well-known casting agent who had been assigned to scout locals for the movie’s smaller parts, who put her on tape for the role along with about 60 other actresses to send director Gary Ross in Los Angeles. Then she waited for a month, actually hiding from Ross at one point when he was conferring with Burch because she didn’t want him to think she was being an ass-kiss.
I ran into Brooke during that month at a bar, where I was having a drink with another (marginally less successful) actress. As soon as Brooke mentioned she was up for the part, the other girl visibly bristled and aggressively began to name-drop things and people that she was working with, in such a transparent way that I could feel myself blushing. The phrase “Taking a lunch with…” was uttered. It was ugly.
When I asked Brooke about that sort of response, she thought for a second. “It’s weird. I mean, you aren’t immune from awareness about status, but you can’t let that get to you. Especially me, I mean, I have such minimal exposure. I’m not famous.”
Last August during filming, Brooke spent three weeks on location in Charlotte, North Carolina for two days’ worth of work. She stayed in a local Marriott with other actors who had mid-level parts, bonding with the two other stylists and tributes in the process. The hotel was was right by a NASCAR speedway, Brooke enthused: “We got to see the monster truck rally where they run over school buses and shit.” When her shoot date got pushed back, she slept on actor Nelson Ascenio’s (Flavius’s) couch.
She also found the vibe of working on a big-budget movie surprisingly familiar. “I expected it to feel more controlled. People think it’s a shiny adventure [to make movies], but it’s so messy. No matter how much money’s involved, it’s just people fighting to get things done in time, just like it is in little indie stuff.”
The “little indie stuff” to which Brooke refers to is what comes out of Tisch, where we met, and also a prime example of why it sometimes feels like 75% of New York citizens have IMDB credits by 25 and expect Wikipedia entries by 30. Tisch, in particular, has to foster the expectation of this prodigious insta-success in order to continue as a moneymaking construct. It was odd watching people get wrung through the ambition machine, going from living in people-years to living in dog years. And that was before Lena Dunham. Since graduation, our classmates have split into three main types: hustlers, hu$tlers, and choose-your-own-adventure miscellany (gone to graduate school, lived on an ashram in Portland, waited tables, dated famous restauranteurs in lieu of waiting tables, moved back in with their parents, etc.).
But it seems like Brooke has risen above this impulse for insta-success. “On the one hand, you have to want it so badly, but I also want a long career. I don’t want to burn out. I’m taking some meetings now.” She laughs. “Basically, I’m hustling on shit that makes no money and nobody cares about.” (This shit includes, but is not limited to, a short film called The Greggs that she wrote and plans to direct; hosting a multimedia variety show in the East Village called The Witching Hour and popping up on her comedian friend Chris Gethard’s public access show occasionally.)
Will we see her as Katherine Heigl’s feisty personal assistant in a romantic comedy in 2013? “I’m pretty green in the commercial world, but type does have meaning. It has a negative connotation–typecasting–but it’s also crazy to think you don’t bring a certain energy into the room. As far as I’m concerned, if there’s work…” She shrugs. “I mean, I’d love to be someone’s best friend in a movie.”
Anna Breslaw is a writer in New York and this is her Tumblr.