Photo by Ryan Orange
In Tara Lynne Barr’s young career, she’s proven herself as a fully equipped actress, both comedic and dramatic. In one of her earliest and most shock-provoking roles, in God Bless America, she played a young woman who runs away with a stranger to go on a killing spree of the country’s worst inhabitants. Since then, she’s taken on roles in the Charles Manson inspired series Aquarius and in Rose McGowan’s directorial debut Dawn.
Currently, she stars as Laura in Hulu’s Casual, a show that dissects human relationships through the lives of three often cynical family members. Playing the teenage daughter of a divorced therapist and the niece of a romantically hapless tech entrepreneur, her character comes with plenty of baggage of her own. With a track record of unhealthy relationships, she continues to grow through trial and error in season three.
We recently spoke with the actress ahead of the season finale. Well-spoken with a refreshing sense of humor, she’s a far cry from her character’s sarcastic cynicism.
Your character makes a lot of questionable decisions. Is that something you could relate to when you were a teenager?
No. Personally, I’ve been sort of perpetually an old woman at heart. I mean, there are parts about me that are very childlike, I guess. I’m a cynic in certain respects, but in others, I see the good in a lot of people. But I think as far as similarities between me and Laura, I think I would be the more responsible, doesn’t-go-out-on-weekends teenager, whereas she’s like taking spontaneous road trips and picking up guys at Malibu Pier. So, we’re very different in that respect.
Would you hang out with Laura?
I would definitely want to hang out with Laura. I think she’d make me feel like my shit was more together, by comparison.
In her first scene, she’s having sex with a guy in a hot tub. What’s it like stepping into her shoes?
It’s very indicative of her character. But I didn’t judge her when I read the script and I saw that she was having premarital sex at 16 in her uncle’s hot tub. I try to give all characters the benefit of the doubt, obviously. And even if they’re doing things that personally I would find distasteful, I try to approach their situation from either a neutral standpoint or, obviously, where they’re coming from. It’s not good to judge your character, but there are moments where I definitely have. She’s so well written and our writers put a lot of work into making her feel like a fully fleshed-out human being, not just like a teenager. She’s given as much respect and weight as the other characters on the show. I’m proud to play her, and I feel very lucky to play her.
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I had just asked tommy and michaela if they were excited about season 3 when I took this pic. a really beautiful moment. p.s. @thelynnshelton directed episode 1 and @carrie_rachel directed 2 & 3 and they are some of best we've ever done. p.p.s. @tommydeweysays & @michaelawat do incredible work
What’s the dynamic between you, Michaela Watkins and Tommy Dewey behind the scenes?
We love each other. I think they’re phenomenal people, they’re also very talented writers, and they’re generous actors. It’s sort of a flip-flopped situation because they’re the ones who are usually goofing around on set and making jokes and doing bits, and I’m the one who’s like, “Guys, come on. Let’s get this together. Everyone wants to go home.” But most of the time, I’m just watching them doing bits and laughing my ass off. I’m sort of hashtag blessed, because they really are great people and they truly are kind and talented, and I’ve learned so much from them.
Are there more ups and downs in her love life you can tell us about?
This season focuses a lot on the mother/daughter dynamic between Laura, Valeria and even Dawn, Laura’s grandmother and Valerie’s mother. This season is sort of rich with goodies for Laura to deal with. There are definitely some relationship woes that she deals with, woes that aren’t necessarily intimate but definitely family woes. Again, the show wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for our woes.
Laura and Valerie have a very unique mother/daughter relationship. Is that anywhere near your relationship with your own mother?
My mom and I are close but we’re not that close. We’re close in a very typical mother/daughter way. I think Valerie and Laura are close in a very atypical way. It doesn’t make it any less valid of a relationship, it’s just different. Maybe there are certain aspects of Laura and Valerie’s relationship that would have been cool to have with my mom. I’m sure there are certain aspects that they’d look at me and my mom’s relationship and be envious of, maybe less of two friends and more of an actual mother/daughter relationship.
You’re also a singer, right?
I mean, I sing. I’m not bad at it. I think I’m okay. My mom really likes my singing voice. This season, Laura got an opportunity to show off her singing voice a little bit. I was wondering why our writers wrote it in. Like, who told them that I sing sometimes? Maybe they heard some stupid little recordings I made when I was a teenager, floating around the internet. I don’t know.
Yea, I heard one of you singing “Crazy” somewhere.
That was when I had done like a year of college and I had to drop out. And I was bored a lot until I ended up doing a lot of covers. Because why write my own music when other people make music much better than my own?
You also starred in the short film, Dawn, which was Rose McGowan’s directorial debut. What was it like working with her as a director?
She’s really awesome. She had such a clear vision, going into it, that at no point was I like, “I don’t know if this is going to work.” She has all the confidence in the world, and was so capable and had such an eye for what we were making, that it kind of made my job easy, because I could just focus on the work and not have to think about the costumes or the sets. You know, it’s a period piece, so you have to think about all these different aspects. But she fully has her shit together and made something special that I was really proud to be a part of.
The first thing I saw you in was God Bless America, which was such a radical movie.
I was 17 when I made that movie. I read the script, and I was like, “I have to be in this simply because of the catharsis of it all.” I imagined it would have been the most amazing release, and it was. Just shooting guns at horrible racist, sexist, xenophobic people.
I’d love to see an updated version of that today.
You know, I would too, but the political climate is so rocky right now. I feel like the wrong people would get behind the movie, you know what I mean? I think the movie would be viewed differently now than it was five years ago.
Yeah, I know what you mean. Was there any hesitation about doing that heavy of a role at such a young age?
What was weird was that when I got the audition, they sent along the script with it. I read it, and my mom and I spoke about it. We kind of shared a moment where we were like, “This is the coolest fucking job.” My mom had been a huge fan of Bobcat Goldthwait, and I wasn’t fully aware of his comedy. It was a little before my time. But the script was so strong. A lot of people who are fans of the movie come up to me and say, “This movie felt like it was speaking directly to me.”
What would be your ideal role?
It’s ever-changing. I’ll go through a phase where I really just want to play roles where I’m a woman who just kicks ass for 90 minutes. And there are sometimes when I’ll watch a film and see a performance, and feel like that’s exactly what I want to do. Like Brie Larson’s performance in Room was incredible. When I watched it, I said to myself, “That’s the goal.” It’s a role that allows you to really sift through the depths. It sounds dramatic and pretentious, but it’s mining for all this emotional truth. And then sometimes I’ll watch Goodfellas, and Lorraine Bracco’s character is so incredible. And I’m like, “You know what? I just really want to play a funny Italian-American wife in a mobster movie. That’s the goal now.” So, it’s ever-changing. I love horror, I love genre films, I love the work of Quentin Tarantino. So, this answer could easily fill an hour of your time.
Season three of Casual is now available on Hulu.