Five-Minute Bio: Amy Seimetz, the Upstream Color Star Who’s Having a Moment

The indie actress and filmmaker is about to be everywhere you look

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Amy Seimetz on Jan. 21, 2011, in Park City, Utah.

Amy Seimetz is about to be everywhere. You might have seen her widely praised performance in the sci-fi thriller Upstream Color, but that’s just the beginning. She’ll appear on three episodes of Christopher Guest’s HBO comedy series Family Tree, which starts in May. She’ll be a series regular on the upcoming third season of AMC’s crime-drama The Killing, which debuts in June. And her feature-film debut as writer/director, the moody Florida mystery Sun Don’t Shine—which won a special jury award at the 2012 SXSW film festival—opens in theaters (and video-on-demand) on Apr. 26. She spoke to TIME from Vancouver, where The Killing is in production.

Here are a few things you should know about Amy Seimetz:

She’s not new to the business.

Seimetz has been acting for a decade and has dozens of credits under her belt. She began her career acting in short films and followed those with independent features, including several in the micro-budget “mumblecore” genre, like 2009′s Alexander the Last and the 2010 Lena Dunham breakthrough Tiny Furniture. She wrote and directed her first short in 2005, and has also worked as a costume designer, cinematographer, and art assistant.

It wasn’t her acting that got her the co-starring role in Upstream Color.
Upstream Color writer-director Shane Carruth cast Seimetz based on her work on Sun Don’t Shine—even though she doesn’t act in that movie at all. “I didn’t audition,” Seimetz says. “He just asked to watch my movie. He watched it and said, ‘yeah, okay, you should be in this.’” Her getting the part in Family Tree came about in a similar fashion: Christopher Guest watched her improvisational work in other films—her “audition” was a brief conversation.

Although it may seem remarkable, Seimetz says the approach makes sense for that kind of cinema, in which the most important thing is whether the team can work together. “It’s not an industry way of working; you don’t say, ‘Here’s the part that I want to find the perfect fit for and I need people to tap dance,’” she explains. “In the auteur version of it, you look at somebody and you go, okay, we can shape this thing together.”

(MOREShane Carruth takes moviemaking back to the basics)

She doesn’t think we need to know what Upstream Color is about.

Although Upstream Color is still drawing major buzz a few weeks after its theatrical debut and in advance of its VOD premiere on May 7, it’s also causing major head-scratching. As anyone who has seen it can attest, the film is heavy on atmosphere and light on answers. Can Seimetz clarify what audiences should take away? Maybe. After all, she’s known about the movie for longer than almost anyone. “I think I’m the only person that was cast that got to read the entire script,” she says. “I didn’t even think about it until I got on set and I realized when I was acting with somebody that they had no idea, outside their character, what was going on in the movie.”

But “what does it mean” isn’t the point, she says. “Upstream Color is a movie that’s fun to sort of talk around, but it’s not something to be solved,” says Seimetz. “It’s there to be wrestled with and it’s there to haunt your dreams and it’s there to make you look at the world differently.”

Filmmaking comes first.

Though Seimetz is most visible right now for her acting, don’t expect her to give up her spot behind the camera. “I try not to hang my heart too much on acting,” she says. “It can crush you to be in a situation where you have to be chosen to make art.”

She also thinks that level of control is important in terms of releasing movies. The simultaneous VOD and theatrical release for Sun Don’t Shine is still unusual now, but Seimetz says that audiences should expect to see more of it in the future: “The more people start to realize that they don’t have to relinquish power over the release of their films, you’ll start to see new forms. It’s going to evolve the way the music industry evolves. The lid’s going to blow off.”

(MOREUpstream Color at Sundance)

But you might have to wait a while before you see her in a big studio movie…

In addition to Sun Don’t Shine, Upstream ColorThe Killing and Family Tree, Seimetz has a full slate of movies scheduled for release within the next two years—but none are the major studio movies to which some indie favorites transition. Seimetz doesn’t rule out a future in blockbusters, but don’t hold your breath: she’s still picky.

“I haven’t yet been swayed in a monetary sense but that’s because I didn’t grow up with a lot of money and I’ve been doing this for ten years. Suddenly the allure of money is there, but it’s like, come on, I’ve been struggling for 10 years, it’s not like I don’t know how to survive at this point,” she says. “I also, as a woman, respond to stuff where they allow women to actually do something in the film or television show, as opposed to just servicing some sort of plot line for the male lead.”

…and to find out what happens on The Killing.

Seimetz is mum about what’s up on the next season of the show. Her character is named Danette Lutz and Seimetz says she’s a mom whose daughter goes missing—and that, for now, is all she can say.

(MOREThe Killing‘s Season 2 Finale)

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