EXCLUSIVE: A ‘Moment’ with Imogen Poots
Imogen Poots stars in Focus Features’ THAT AWKWARD MOMENT. ©Focus Features.

Imogen Poots stars in Focus Features’ THAT AWKWARD MOMENT. ©Focus Features.

Front Row Features

HOLLYWOOD—Imogen Poots reveals by phone that she is snowbound in a New York City hotel, but the British actress loves every minute of it.

“It’s all extremely scenic,” she marvels. “Everyone’s afraid we’re going to be trapped here but I’m like, ‘What’s the problem with that?’”

That easygoing, come-what-may attitude has served the 25-year-old well over the past eight or so years that she has been in show business. Though she didn’t have a single line in her first movie, “V for Vendetta,” the 2006 Wachowski brothers sci-fi thriller, she stuck with her career choice, and a couple of years later she was tapped for one of the lead roles in the zombie sequel “28 Weeks Later.”

She now stars opposite Zac Efron in the romantic comedy “That Awkward Moment.” Thanks largely Poots’ and Efron’s talents, this isn’t your typical Hollywood rom-com. It’s a commentary on today’s complicated dating scene among Millennials, who are probably, more than any previous generation, reluctant to establish long-term commitments.

Three best friends (Efron, joined by “Fruitvale Station” star Michael B. Jordan and “The Spectacular Now” star Miles Teller) vow to stay single forever after one of them is burned in a relationship. Their plans go awry when each falls in love and has to work around the pledge with their buddies. Poots plays Ellie, a likable oddball Efron’s Jason meets at a bar. They obviously have immediate chemistry, but Jason tries to stifle his romantic feelings for her and keep their relationship purely sexual. The “awkward moment,” it turns out, is the point in a relationship where the girl says, “So…”

Poots, who is single, agrees that dating in 2014 is complicated. She’s a little busy right now with work to worry about that much. She had fun prior to shooting, when Efron invited her, writer/director Tom Gormican, Teller and Jordan up to the Adirondacks for a long weekend for some get-acquainted time.

Q: Dating seems so complicated these days. What was the attraction to the role? What did you like about Ellie and what did you like about the material?

Poots: The concepts of dating now—there’s like a technological element to it. There’s the expectation that you’re meant to be somebody else in person from what you are online. The identity can deconstruct a person. Being a part of this, I had trepidation. I was like, “It’s a rom-com, a classic genre.” But Tom was so passionate about making something very now and relevant. Even the films he’d talk about as romantic-comedies that influenced him were (offbeat films like) “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” I was like, “Wow, that’s such a wild choice to reference.” That kind of attitude got me very excited to be part of it. But it also was about something that felt very current, because you can get nostalgic in movies about romance. It was nice to be part of something that you can see around you.

Q: Did Tom indicate to you if this was based on his own experiences or people he knew?

Poots: 100 percent! Which is always so cool. It’s a bold thing to own up to because it makes the whole story feel authentic. I know this for a fact because he said to me when I met him, there’s a scene when Zac’s character comes to the birthday party in (an inappropriate) costume. This past Halloween, I bumped into Tom at a party and he was wearing just that. I was like, “Oh my God, what has happened?”

Q: What was it like working with Zac Efron? Did you know him prior to this?

Poots: I’d met him a couple of years ago because we did a film called “Me and Orson Welles.” I had a small scene in that. I just remember him at the time just being so sweet and kind and funny. So I knew all those things about him. Then, prior to the actual movie, he organized a trip the Adirondacks—him, myself, Mike and our director, Tom. The four of us just hung out and drank whiskey and played pool and toasted marshmallows and the whole deal. That was a really special weekend and I was really surprised by how easy they were to hang out with. They’re not like the guy friends I have in real life, to be completely honest. So it was fun being around them and their conversations. So when it came to the actual filming, we were all pretty close by that point. All the boys were so terrific and I think what you can see, from all the work they’ve been doing, how diverse they all are, and yet we’re all doing this. People can dismiss it as just a rom-com but I think because of the choices they made, and what they bring to their characters, it’s more colorful than that.

Q: Were there any “awkward moments” during the shoot?

Poots: Even though it wasn’t testosterone-ridden environment, there was definitely a lot of boy chat. (She laughs.) A lot of the time I think oblivious to these things anyway but there is only so much talk about what you can take. So I’d put on my headphones and disappear away. There was nothing too awkward. Just hearing them talk about girls cracked me up. It was like, (her voice deepens) “Yeah, man, I was gonna see this chick, but it didn’t work out, and then I went out with this other chick,” and I was like, “Who are you guys?” Unbelievable!

Q: I suspect you can hold your own against these guys.

Poots: Yeah, a lot of my good friends do that. But it is what it is. But (my co-stars) also were very respectful of me. They all have sisters and moms. I have no doubt that plays a big role in how they treat girls.

Q: You’ve got a bunch of stuff coming up including “Squirrel to Nuts,” “Need for Speed” with Aaron Paul, and another movie with him…

Poots: “A Long Way Down.”

Q: Does it get a bit dizzying going from project to project?

Poots: I’m just so thrilled to be able to work on projects that I adore and talk about them. It’s a joy. Something like “Squirrel to Nuts” was such an extraordinary experience for me working with somebody like (director) Peter Bogdanovich, inside and outside of the work. To me, he’s a legend. Working in an environment where he’s very much employed a sense of directing that he used to do. That’s the only way he knows how to do it. It’s the only way he’s ever done it since the ‘70s. It was so cool from a filmmaking perspective to see how he would shoot, knowing how he would edit it in mind. Things like that. Not getting too much coverage. All these elements—it was a real thrill to be privy to that. That cast was unbelievable—Owen Wilson and Kathryn Hahn, who’s a fantastic actress. “A Long Way Down,” it was a terrific screenplay to start with, based on a great book. A credit to our director (Pascal Chaumeil) is that he walked a fine line between sentimental and humor. It’s about suicide, which is pretty morbid but it’s kind of funny too. It was really special to be part of that too.

Q: In “Need for Speed,” you play a car dealer, right?

Poots: Yeah, she knows a lot about cars, which takes Aaron’s character by surprise because he dismisses her at first as being pretty ignorant about cars. (She chuckles.) And she’s not so that’s the foundation of their dynamic in that film.

Q: Are you a gearhead in real life?

Poots: No. To be honest, I’m not a car person. I’d rather talk about movies. (She laughs.)

Q: You’re shooting “Beautiful Ruins” in Italy this year, right?

Poots: Yes, although I’m not sure of the exact locations yet. That, in itself, is exciting because you look at movies like “L’Avventura,” (the 1960 Michelangelo Antonioni murder mystery), old films that really had a European sensibility to them, but it was the idea of an American in Europe, I find that very fascinating, because America, to me, is a very exotic place. I feel that that’s reciprocated in terms of Europe, so that’s quite cool.

Q: You’re 25, but you’ve been a professional actress for quite a while. Does it surprise you that you’re practically a veteran now?

Poots: Oh my gosh, I wouldn’t say that at all! I think I’m still learning in a big big way. But I’m happy to be doing that. One of the most sacred experiences for me was probably rehearsing for “A Late Quartet” with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener, and watching actors like that at play. They’re at the top of their game and I’m just enjoying being a sponge and absorbing the air that’s around them.

Q: You’ve taken on interesting and eclectic roles. Do you feel lucky that you haven’t been typecast?

Poots: Yeah, I’m very happy about that. It takes a filmmaker to take a risk with you and give you an opportunity to show them what you got. That definitely has to come from someone who’s willing to give you a chance. Tom Gormican casting me in (“That Awkward Moment”)—that’s funny to me. He could have cast a more conventional love interest maybe. But he very much was encouraging and wonderful to work with. That’s a credit to him.