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Talia Ryder in FOCUS Features Film Never Rarely Sometimes Always

April 24, 2021   |   Written by Colter Ruland

Talia Ryder is an actor who first starred on stage in Matilda the Musical on Broadway. She most recently starred in the indie film Never Rarely Sometimes Always, which premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and was immediately lauded by critics as a “powerfully acted” film. She also has an upcoming role in the West Side Story adaptation directed by Steven Spielberg. I asked Ryder about her aspirations, her evocative role as Skylar in Never Rarely Sometimes Always, and what it’s like to return to musicals in West Side Story.

Now that we are in the spring, I wanted to ask how you’ve felt you’ve grown as a person over the past year.

It feels really weird that Never Rarely Sometimes Always was released a year ago and that it’s been a year since the initial lockdown. Having a lot of free time that I never really had before definitely forced me to grow up in a lot of ways. The things that mattered most stayed a part of my life, and a lot of day-to-day worries proved to be really insignificant. I also found that I had a lot of conversations with family and friends that might have taken much longer to be discussed if life continued moving at its regular pace.

Are there any self-care routines that have kept you grounded?

In the past year, I’ve found that going on bike rides is a really nice way to clear my head. Over the summer, my best friend and I would pick an album and listen to it start to finish on a bike ride.

Do you have a favorite skincare or beauty product you cannot live without?

Witch hazel. I bought it to clean my new piercings, but I’ve found that it is a great makeup remover as well.

What are your aspirations for this year?

I want to continue pushing myself to be creative and make things outside of work. It’s hard sometimes to do things for the enjoyment of it. I feel like I’m often thinking about how the things I’m doing will better myself or apply to my career, which can be a hard mindset to avoid.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival right before the pandemic hit the US. What was this like having a film come to life right on the cusp of a global shutdown?

We were really lucky to go to Sundance and Berlinale before everything shut down. It was really special to see our film be received by an audience and get to talk to people afterward and hear how the film affected them. Although it was initially disappointing that people weren’t going to get to see the film in theaters, I’m glad that people had access to the film on VOD during lockdown. I received a lot of messages on Instagram from women who watched the film and related to Autumn and Skylar and certain moments in the film.

What was it like working with your co-star Sidney Flanigan and director Eliza Hittman?

It was my first film, as well as Sidney’s, so Eliza focused on building our relationship prior to shooting the film, rather than building elaborate backstories for us to work off of. Sidney and I spent time alone getting to know each other and telling stories from our lives, which allowed us to become friends really quickly. In giving us that time alone, we also developed a certain trust with Eliza. On set, Eliza always found time to talk to us and make us feel calm, despite all of the craziness that comes with filming. I was always given the space to express my feelings or concerns, and, in more intimate scenes, Eliza gave me the power to call cut at any moment.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always uses its central dilemma (an unwanted pregnancy and subsequent search for medical care) to highlight the friendship between these two women. Where did you draw inspiration from to convey their friendship?

Well, as I mentioned before, Sidney and I spent time before the film getting to know each other rather intimately, so I feel like all of the sacrifices that Skylar made for Autumn, I would do the same for Sidney. We were coincidentally from the same hometown and understood a lot of each other’s worries and struggles. I also have a younger sister who I saw in Autumn. It wasn’t until filming NRSA that I really considered how far I’d go for the women in my life.

There is a lot of uncertainty throughout the film. What is it like navigating ambiguity as an actor?

I feel like a lot of that uncertainty was genuine because of the unfamiliarity of the experience. Being on set and learning the terms and meanings of words that are used feels like learning a new language. I just took it one day at a time and let my real feelings find a way into the performance.

Is there anything you learned in your role as Skylar that you’ll carry with you into your career?

There is so much that I learned filming NRSA that has already been put to use on other projects that I’ve worked on. Feeling comfortable and forming a real friendship with the people that you’re working with makes everything (on screen and off) so much easier. I’ve been really lucky to have such kind castmates on the projects that I’ve worked on so far.

You have an upcoming role in the West Side Story adaptation by Steven Spielberg. What can you tell us about that?

It is going to be an incredible film to experience, and I really hope that theaters will be open in time for its release. The entire team approached everything with such care and incredible attention to detail. Getting to see Steven Spielberg and Justin Peck collaborate on the grand dance numbers in the film was fascinating.

What’s it like returning to the musical format?

It was very exciting to get to be a part of a musical again. There is something so special about getting to learn choreography with a large group of people and watch it go from a series of steps to a huge number with formations, costumes, music, and camera angles, especially when you get to create that with such a brilliant group of people.

Aside from one being performed live and the other filmed, is there a difference for you between acting in a musical on Broadway versus the silver screen?

When you work on a film, the scenes aren’t shot in chronological order, which took me a minute to get used to. When I was in Matilda, we spent weeks rehearsing to be able to perform a show from start to finish, whereas when doing a film, you approach the rehearsal process a little differently. As much time as you spend rehearsing beforehand, it’s always going to feel different once you’re actually filming on set, so you have to be prepared for things to change.

I’m interested in your thoughts on adaptations in general, but in particular West Side Story. Do you think stories, particularly stories that make a wide cultural impact, need to be revisited for new generations?

West Side Story is a story about love, acceptance, and the danger of being afraid of change. It is a timeless story, but is especially important for people to see right now, following such a hateful former presidency.

Is there anything aside from acting that you’re interested in exploring?

There are a lot of things that I hope I get the chance to explore in the future. As far as the film world, I really want to direct and choreograph things of my own one day. I am really lucky to be growing up around such brave storytellers like Eliza Hittman, Steven Spielberg, and Mariama Diallo, who I recently worked with on the upcoming film Master. I hope I can follow in their footsteps.

Is there a dream role you’d like to have in the future?

I’d really like to be able to dance in a film again. I’d also like to do something creatively with my siblings one day.