Kay Panabaker and Juno Temple: Friends Forever
By: Lynn Barker
How cool if you can become besties while playing besties in a movie. That’s what happened to 22-year-old actress Kay Panabaker and 23-year-old Juno Temple who play bored 15-year-olds in an ugly, dying town who run away to the big city in Little Birds. Of course there is only danger ahead of the girls. (NOTE: This movie is rated R because of the perils the girls face in the city but we felt that the subject matter and smart young actresses were worth our coverage).
Juno plays Lily, a feisty teen who is sure she is ready for more than life in a dying town. Kay plays Alison who is less anxious to run away and more accepting of the life she’s been dealt.
We’re sitting with the girls in L.A. as well as their very cool young director Elgin James; once a gang member who credits famous actor Robert Redford for turning his life around by helping him with his film. Picture Juno wearing a huge gold skull ring with spikes that her dad gave her for her birthday; a big contrast with her prim, girlie crème, frilly blouse and black slacks. Kay is in a super cute red tunic with, appropriately, little birds on it.
Juno is now shooting Maleficent, the story of Sleeping Beauty from the wicked witch’s side. That film also stars Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning. You might have seen Kay in the relevant TV movie “Cyberbully” and she finished a voice role for the new Beverly Hills Chihuahua film.
If you are bored with nowhere to go, Juno has some great advice. Use your imagination!
Kidzworld: Lily and Alison are trapped in a tiny settlement far from nowhere with just nothing to do. What would you two do in that kind of situation to keep busy or entertained?
- Juno: I’d definitely paint or write some pathetic poetry that I’d never read to anybody. Use your imagination anywhere you are. Even growing up in the beautiful rolling hills of Somerset (U.K.) where Byron wrote his poetry, I had to use my imagination. I didn’t have a lot of people around me other than chickens and ponies. My father would build these hedges that were higher as you ran down them so you would feel like you are shrinking. I was always Alice in the rabbit hole. Your imagination goes wild in places like that and you can turn a dirt mound into the most beautiful palace that anyone has ever been invited to, ever.
Kay: Yeah. I also think that when you grow up in one way, that’s all you think of. I grew up in suburbs and that’s how you think the world is. I think would have loved where the girls grew up (the Salton Sea in California). Had you been born and raised there, it’s all I’d know. I probably would have read a lot.
Little Birds poster
Kidzworld: Kay, you joined the project only a week before shooting. Juno and director Elgin had been working to get the film made for a couple of years. When you joined the group was it just an instant fit? And how did you develop your character Alison?
- Kay: My character was relatively simple. She loves Lily, her best friend and she will do whatever she needs to do to support her. It was a little intimidating. We were driving out to the Salton Sea, a three hour drive. Elgin, his wife Liz and me and Juno and they were talking about how long they’d been working on the project and I was like “Well, this isn’t going to go too well. I’m gonna feel like the third wheel” and it wasn’t that at all.
They were more than welcoming. Juno and I, after we finished filming, we’d go and hang out. We had two separate hotel rooms but we stayed in one, staying up late watching bad movies and talking about our life experiences. That’s how it worked for me and I’m fortunate that it did because if we’d shot the L.A. stuff first, I don’t think our friendship would have been as strong and it wouldn’t have been as strong in the film.
Kidzworld: Juno you pick a lot of strong female characters who are very gritty and have a dark side. What is it that speaks to you about girls like that and especially about your character Lily?
- Juno: That time period (early teens) in a young woman’s life is fascinating to me because it’s so different with every single woman you meet. No one has had the exact same experience. Also, with each character, they are kind of light in a very dark world so the darkness rubs off a bit on them. That’s something I’m also fascinated by; being a young woman growing up in a dark surrounding, dark clouds hanging over. It’s a challenge for me and I want to be challenged.
I was a teenage girl and I went through some stuff. I think it’s important to show the world different aspects of being a young woman. I’d never had almost two years to create a character before. Elgin and I would talk and then not see each other. I’d come back with “Okay, I’ve got this genius idea. This girl I met told me this.”
Kidzworld: Lily is the one who wants to run away for something more exciting.
- Juno: Yeah. Lily’s family is frustrating her and she so strongly believes (at 15) that she’s ready for the big bad world and she’s not. A lot of the other female characters I’ve played are ready and can take it on and tackle it. Lily’s not figured out yet who she is, what she wants and what she’s searching for so she’s doing everything all at once. Each decision leads to a worse one. You want to grab her and shake her by the shoulders and say “Just say no just to that one!”. If she’d just listen to her friend Alison just once! (Kay shakes a finger at Juno.. yes!).
Kay and Juno as Ali and Lily
Kidzworld: The Los Angeles the girls go to is quite different from what they imagine. What was your personal first impression of L.A.?
- Juno: There are some parts that are uglier than the Salton Sea. But I’m tainted. My parents lived out here for about twelve years so I spent my first five years living on Orange Grove just off Sunset (nice area) but when I came out here on my own, I lived in some crack den-looking apartments for sure. Anywhere you go, you make your home.
- Kay: I came here when I was ten and it was nothing like the suburbs I had grown up in. You just kind of find your area of the city you love. Some people love the beach or Silverlake. I love the Valley. It’s like a suburb to me. It’s not a very homey feeling.
Kidzworld: Does having a great set like the rundown Salton Sea area make it easier for you to play your part? I mean the town and the sea is dying.
- Kay: Yes and it was the wardrobe too for me. When you are actually put in a situation it’s so much easier than trying to generate it in an audition room where it’s just you. But, on that set, the first day shooting was at an empty pool. That house we walked through had so much bird poop in it! I was kind of grossed out but it was the smell that got me more than anything. It just puts you there. Me, Kay is going “This place sucks. You need to leave” and my character Alison, this is where she lives. I had to be more comfortable with it. That was what I enjoyed about it. I got to pretend that I was excited to be there hanging out with boys and some bird crap (we laugh).
- Juno: You are so affected by your surroundings even down to the sunshine in the morning. If you wake up in L.A. and it’s raining, how different is your day? I’m from the Southwest of England so going to the Salton Sea was mind-blowing! But in a way it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen. I’d roll around on the beach there and get a fish carcass.. the bones in my hair. I’m sure when Lily and Ali were little kids they’d play with them like (she mimics making a puppet talk) “Hi you wanna go play games?” . It’s working with what you’re given. We saw like eight people come out of a small trailer. They were all living in there and making it work and they were happy! My character wants something bigger and brighter than where she lives. But, working at the Salton Sea, it looks like World War 3 has happened there.
- Kay: The sky was so blue there.
- Juno: And the water was a coppery-red color. You have to get used to the sulfur smell though.