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#PASSION: “PASSION CREATES ITS OWN DEFINITION OF BEAUTY” – IN CONVERSATION WITH BRIGETTE LUNDY-PAINE

Brigette Lundy-Paine is not short on passions. They started acting in their early adolescence and have been at it ever since. They are the former star of Netflix’s Atypical, but recently turned to stranger titles like Amelia’s Children and A24’s I Saw The Glow, and the list goes on: They perform with musical group Subtle Pride, and also co-run Waif Magazine. Of all these shifting interests, there is one constant: Paine is deeply passionate about other people. “I really don’t go a day without acting out everyone that I walk by and encounter,” says Paine. They also don’t seem to distinguish the project from the director. Each movie is an opportunity to swim around someone else’s consciousness. They have an unrepentant excitement to be a part of someone else’s world. We sat down on a stormy Paris day to talk about what the driving force behind their passion is.

Marissa Patrice Leitman: You’ve done acting since you were a kid. Do you still feel passionate about it?

Brigette Lundy-Paine: So, so passionate.

How so?

I have a replenishing supply of passion. I think there’s a drive to be seen and understood that I think is natural to human beings, but that takes a very crystallized form as an actor because you know what it feels like to be witnessed in the way that you want. There are limitless possibilities of characters and ways to be witnessed. Each character that I encounter has its own store of passion.

What is that feeling, though?

I think passion is an internal movement that is not necessarily controlled manually – a spirit moving towards some place of curiosity.

When I read the description about I Saw the TV Glow, it brought up a question for me about what the line is between passion and obsession.

I think it’s hard to tell. For me, with passion, you are still rooted in a self and you’re understanding the experience you’re having as a part of that, but with obsession, it’s easier to get lost. You start turning your whole world into whatever you’re obsessed by. In TV Glow, our characters are obsessed with a TV show called the Pink Opaque – so much so that it becomes their reality. Maybe obsession is an understanding that you’re living in the reality of the object of your obsession, and you have to transcend yourself so that you can be living in that reality.

“I think there’s suffering in yearning and in wanting. You have to want to be seen. And I think there’s suffering in that because it’s very vulnerable to be seen. Even the act of being seen is a type of suffering. And in not being seen there’s suffering as well, because it feels so lonely”
That’s a very thin line, it’s so easy to become enmeshed with that other thing.

Totally. Having a sense of passion expands your understanding of self. You appreciate the experience of being alive and of having a physical form. Obsession can be schizophrenic. It’s a scattering of the awareness of your own body and it can be dangerous. That’s probably why a lot of people kill out of obsession.

The phrase that comes to mind is crime of passion. There are all these phrases: Passion of Christ, crime of passion. Think of religious fanatics, passionate but destructive affairs: Passion may be a driving force, but it can also easily drive someone completely insane. Why is it also falling in with these things that are overtly negative?

Are they overtly negative? Would you rather have a crime of passion or crime of apathy? I would rather someone be driven to commit a crime because they desperately want to.

But it’s not always functional to live a life solely driven by passion. Being passionate about something doesn’t necessarily make you more a part the structures of the world we live in.

I don’t really know about the structures that we live in because I don’t work inside of them that much anymore. I encounter them rarely and with such frustration that I don’t allow myself to even think about how I could work with them. I have had the jobs I’ve had in the last couple years just because I did work inside the system for a moment of doing a TV show, but everything else I do makes absolutely no money and is only about passion.

Do you like doing that more than the alternative?

Yeah, definitely.

Have you ever had a crisis of faith in your acting career?

A crisis came about when all I had before me were parts describing “girl in ponytail goes back home, flirts with ex-boyfriend and they fuck,” and I felt really scared for a second that I wouldn’t be able to move past that.

Does that still scare you?

I don’t fear that anymore because I’m more confident in the shape of my body. I’ve gotten older and, to my pleasure, I’ve been able to change shape a bit more. I feel more like a creature and more flexible in that way –I’ve uglied myself a little, sullied my purity. After doing Atypical, I felt like I was fused in this awkward position with a character: I was like, do I have to be quirky gay girl for the rest of my life? But that was just growing pains.

“I think our passions often give us permission to be ugly because passion creates its own definition of beauty”
So there’s something in this notion of passion that is transformative. To really go after something is to let it like change you for better or for worse.

Absolutely. Like transitioning in the way that I have chosen to, which is taking hormones until I feel like I want to rest a bit, then taking a bit more. There is so much suffering in that.

You’re taking hormones?

Yeah, I’ve been taking hormones for the last year. It’s been different all the time. Sometimes, I feel great because it’s literally like Viagra – I feel so confident and so excited about life. And then, sometimes, it’s devastating because you’re going through little boy puberty and taking weird risks.

Knowing you personally, I think you’ve gone through a lot of transformation in the last few years.

Doing TV Glow was a huge transformation for me. Part of the reason that Jane said that they had cast me was because they wanted someone who was in a period of transition. And so it felt really real for me.

Would you ever stop acting?

It’s been the one thing I’ve always done so I don’t think I’ve ever questioned whether I’ll continue acting, but the fearing what I’ll have access to has changed because there’s a worry that I’m not young and cute. Suddenly, I’m too old and bitter. But, I recently realized that I’m often trying to perform this bitter intellectual because I think I’m going to change the world or something. But truly, I think I’m just a clown.

It’s kind of what I’m getting at with the question of passion in a modern society. It’s fantastic, but is it functional? Probably not.

Like, functional to what means? So that you have enough money to pay rent?

Isn’t that the unfortunate end question?

That will be my end question in three months, when I run out of money.

But how do you pay the rent and be passionate at the same time?

I’m going to figure it out. My mom is my hero in terms of having passion being the priority and making it work. My mom will be in debt, she’ll be putting up a show of her dreams, and then she’ll write down the amount of money that she needs on a piece of paper and she will get that money because that’s the type of artist that she’s decided she’s going to be. She is completely devoted to risk and pleasure.

What would you say to someone who doesn’t come from a background that advocated so much for their passions?

I would say find a new family that has a structure that is rooted in passion. Because I don’t see an alternative. To me, there’s a life of passion, and then there’s a life of succumbing to propaganda.

You mentioned suffering earlier. Do you think suffering is a necessary component of having a passion?

Suffering is ultimately a necessary part of being passionate about something. I don’t think it has to be the type of suffering that I often lean on, which is, like, tearing myself to shreds – this sort of abusive, witch mother that comes out when I’m alone is like: ‘You’re nothing, you’re worse than nothing, you’re a fraud, you are a humiliation, you have no ability to change yourself or move others.’ ‘You’re Sir Alfred Douglas!’ I mean someone who manipulates others out of insecurity. The ways that I suffer are often based in ego and I don’t think that that’s a productive way to suffer.

“I think that there’s something in the makeup of the human soul that is naturally passionate because it’s curious. Passion evolves from finding the new and experiencing what is already there as new”
Then what is productive suffering?

I think there’s suffering in yearning and in wanting. You have to want to be seen. And I think there’s suffering in that because it’s very vulnerable to be seen. Even the act of being seen is a type of suffering. And in not being seen there’s suffering as well, because it feels so lonely. When it comes to WAIF: I really believe in the concepts. WAIF is an anti-capitalist, absurdist movement that is constantly undermining the type of suffering that our society causes: that you’re not enough. WAIF believes that you are enough. I suffer from the thought of people not knowing this, and we don’t have enough money to tell them, or we don’t have enough resources, or we don’t have the time!

What role does passion play in a collective identity?

I find when I work with the WAIF crew, everyone’s kind of desperate to be given permission to abstract further what they’re passionate about. Or to be told it doesn’t matter if what they’re making is pretty or can sell. I think our passions often give us permission to be ugly because passion creates its own definition of beauty.

Do you think our sense of passion has collectively diminished?

I think all throughout the history of art, we’ve been asking the question “Are we still going to be passionate?” and the answer is always yes. I think that there’s something in the makeup of the human soul that is naturally passionate because it’s curious. Passion evolves from finding the new and experiencing what is already there as new.

Last question: What role do you think technology plays in our current relationship to passion?

I think the loom is gonna fuck us.

The loom?

Yeah. I think the loom and the tractor are gonna fuck us.

Wait, the loom?

And blenders are gonna fuck us. And the dishwasher is gonna fuck us.

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