At eighteen-years-old, Captain Fantastic's Samantha Isler divides her time between "stereotypical teenage stuff" and representing intelligent young women on screen. In both Captain Fantastic and her new film, Dig Two Graves, Isler plays characters unconcerned with conventional beauty standards and social pressures. Instead, Isler represents girls facing the dark adult world with wit, determination, and bravery. I talked to her last week about what life has been like for her as a young woman in the industry, what her characters have taught her about feminism, and the privilege of privacy.
What as it been like to grow up as a young woman in the industry, to be in the spotlight like that?
It's been kind of unreal, and I never even expected any of this to happen. You know, I was fourteen years old when we filmed Dig Two Graves and it was my first big movie, my first lead. At the time that was all I was really doing, that's what I thought the industry was. But after that, it was like a domino effect. I got network television shows [Sean Saves the World and Supernatural] and another feature film and every year I've been doing something. It's been really surreal, but I've learned a lot about myself. I think I matured a lot faster than I ever thought I would. I've had to deal with people — a lot of adults — in a professional setting and a lot of my best friends who are eighteen haven't had the opportunity to do that yet. So I feel like the good thing that's come out of it is that I've really matured a lot, helped myself a lot, and learned a lot about myself.
The spotlight is kind of everywhere these days, especially with social media. Are you on Instagram and Facebook? Do you find yourself engaging with the social media culture surrounding young people?
I have a Facebook page, but I don't put too much personal information on there. Privacy is honestly such a privilege and I value that a lot. I value privacy about my family and friends and kind of keep all that to myself.
So you like to keep the social and professional aspects of your life separate?
Yeah, I have a Twitter that's public and verified so sometimes I'll throw things on there, and I recently made a similar Instagram, but I think privacy is such a privilege.
In your movie Dig Two Graves, Jacqueline (Jake) is so determined and rebellious. She's dealing with a lot of huge moral issues, but she doesn't seem afraid of anything. Is that what made you want to play her?
I love the character Jake because she's so young — she has this aspect of innocence to her — but she's so mature and is dealing with such a dark situation. She is really dealing with the question, how far would you go for someone you love? And Jake such a caring person. She loves her brother so much that she's forgetting all else. So I think her dealing with such a dark and adult world, while being so innocent at the same time, is so important to the character. She's rebellious in the sense that she's going against what her parents wish, but she's doing it out of love.
What's so cool about Jake is that she subverts the idea of a young female lead in any entertainment piece. She's kind of a tomboy, she goes by "Jake," and I feel like she doesn't really consider beauty standards.
That's just not her world. She's from such a small town. She loves her family and her grandpa and her brother is her best friend. She's always swimming, hiking, riding bikes — she's not even thinking about beauty or the social world. She's just being who she is, which is a really strong person. And the movie is about love, but a different kind of love from what other lead female roles might play with, if that makes sense.
Exactly, it's this familial love she's focused on, instead of what does this guy think of me?
Dig Two Graves was filmed in 2014. Was it strange to watch your younger self on screen?
I had just recently turned 14 when I started Dig Two Graves. It's unreal knowing that this fall I'll be 19. That was one of the first things I've done, so I mostly look at all of the other work that I've done more recently. It's so funny because whether it's been a full TV series or just something episodic, it's come out so quickly. But it's been about two years since I filmed Captain Fantastic and so much has been happening with that too, like going to the SAG Awards and everything.
Was it amazing to win best ensemble cast for Captain Fantastic at the SAG Awards?
Yes. It's so great. And I got so kind of sidetracked with that — I mean, I went to festivals for Dig Two Graves but I didn't really know how or when it would approach the public, if it was gonna go public — and so the fact that it's all coming out now is so amazing. I can't wait for people to experience the film.
The family in Captain Fantastic is really progressive. The kids have such strong identities as intellectuals, but also as feminists. Did making that movie and reading into those characters shape your political or feminist attitudes at all?
For sure. It's definitely been a factor. Matt Ross, who wrote and directed the film, and Viggo [Mortensen], their advice and views on things just influenced me so much. I've been really lucky to play some of the characters I've played because I've really yet to play a girl focused on beauty and popularity and boys. I haven't played anyone like that yet.
And those are fine concerns to focus on, if those issues are the biggest in your life. And for a lot of young people they are.
Those things can be so much fun and great. But it's funny because I've really just played such strong, independent young women, and I've really enjoyed doing that. Especially Kielyr in Captain Fantastic and Jake in Dig Two Graves. I've honestly gotten lucky because that wasn't necessarily a goal of mine, but these are the roles I'm getting to play.
Yes! You're getting to play these intelligent young women whose concerns surpass, ya know, dudes.
What do you like to do besides acting? Do you sing? You did in Captain Fantastic.
I love to sing. And I'm still in high school, I'm finishing my senior year. I kind of have this double life because I have the industry, but my family and friends are so important to me, and I live in this small town in Oklahoma. I still live here and I enjoy seeing movies and going to basketball games and my high school soccer games and just doing stereotypical teenage stuff.
Do you have any plans for next year?
I'm planning on going to colleg,e but I still want to act. So I'm doing my best to make both work, because I care about them equally. Education is really important to me and it's always been a goal of mine to go to college. But I also have this opportunity to act, to represent different types of people, and I want to carry that opportunity with me as long as I can.
Do you know where you're going? I know you probably hate that question.
I'm looking at a school in Kansas. I live in Oklahoma, so I don't wanna go too far.
What's that like to be juggling the industry and your own social interests? Are your acting world and home world separate, or are they more blended?
They're pretty separate. It's nice to go to California for events or to travel to film, but I come home and go to school and a lot of kids at my school don't really know the extent to which I do what I do. Some of my teachers are really supportive and understand what I'm doing, and some of them are kind of in the dark. And it's honestly nice because it's very normal. It's nice to go back and talk about the ACTs and football games and not, do you know what movie you're filming?, which I'm around in California a lot. So it's two different worlds and I'm really lucky to have both.
Dig Two Graves releases in theaters and On-Demand on March 24th, 2017. Watch the trailer below:
Top photo: Dig Two Graves
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Olivia Loperfido is an English and psychology major at New York University's College of Arts and Sciences, and the junior editor of NYU's Mercer Street (2017-'18). She enjoys spending time with her dogs and tortoise, watching RuPaul's Drag Race, and contacting her state representatives. Follow her on Instagram here and contact her via email here.