Kiernan Shipka on Balancing Her ‘Wildflower’ Character’s ‘Dark Moments’ With ‘Light, Funny’ Ones

·4-min read

For co-writer and director Matt Smukler, “Wildflower” started life as a far cry from the narrative feature film that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this year.

“Really, this was inspired by my niece,” Smukler told TheWrap’s Executive Editor, Awards, Steve Pond, during a visit to TheWrap and Shutterstock’s Interview and Portrait Studio at TIFF. “I went out to Las Vegas to shoot a little, tiny, short companion piece for her to get into college. She had no idea how exceptional she was. She actually thought she was very ordinary and didn’t know what to write on a college essay. … And I very quickly realized how exceptional she really is, and how incredible the whole family is.”

Smukler resurfaced the idea while working with co-writer Jana Savage on a different project. The two came to the realization that the best way to serve this coming-of-age story about a young woman living with and caring for her two neurodivergent parents was to move away from a documentary short and into a traditional narrative feature. Since the film premiered at the festival, it has been drawing comparisons to this year’s Oscar winner for Best Picture, “CODA.”

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Joining Smukler in the studio were cast members Kiernan Shipka, Kannon Omachi, Samantha Hyde, and Dash Mihok, who all shared their reasons for being drawn to “Wildflower.”

“I like to be challenged in everything that I that I take on. Otherwise, I’m not having fun,” Shipka said. “I really think that for [my character,] Bea, the central challenge is navigating whether or not she wants to go to college and live a life that she maybe hasn’t really dreamt out for herself because she hasn’t had time, or stay where she is.

“Grappling with with that and growing into the woman that she is becoming was the central point for me. That was what was anchoring the performance in a lot of ways,” Shipka added. “And I was challenged because she’s emotionally complex. And she’s going through a lot. And there’s a lot of heavy scenes in there, as well as really light, funny scenes. There’s some really dark moments and some moments where she has to really kind of explode.”

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Hyde, who costars as Bea’s mother and who made her own short film, “Superheroes,” highlighting the breadth of talent within the disabled community, found that “Wildflower” was wholly aligned with her personal passions.

“I think it’s really important to tell disabled stories on screen because disability isn’t a disabled word. It’s ordinary,” Hyde said. “And this story really celebrates the ordinary moments and the extraordinary moments and shows that disabled people can live full, independent lives. And I was really happy to be part of that.”

Mihok, who plays Bea’s father, had his own concerns when originally reading the “Wildflower” script, but found that engaging with the material opened his mind to what his role might require, as well as what makes each person’s mind so very unique.

“I wasn’t sure when I heard the synopsis of [“Wildflower”] whether I was into playing this character. But I realized I how layered you would have to be to play this character, who isn’t necessarily neurodivergent but is ‘neurodiverse,’ which is an interesting word and moniker now because I feel like we’re all neurodiverse and that’s what makes us individuals — our brains firing in different ways,” Mihok said.

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Meanwhile, Omachi (who plays Bea’s best friend) knew she was in deep with the screenplay as soon as she read it.

“They had an exceptional script that was witty and funny and so thoughtfully written,” she said. “I also cried while I read it the first time and it’s just like, once you cry, it’s like, okay, it’s gonna be good.”

For the full conversation about “Wildflower,” click on the video above.

Studio sponsors include GreenSlate, Moët & Chandon, PEX and Vancouver Film School.