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5 Questions with Mickey Sumner of This is Happening

Before speaking with actress Mickey Sumner of the funny and poignant new film This is Happening, it is easy to forget that the actress is not American. Sumner happens to play American so much in her roles that it surprises when an English accent is first encountered. But the actress, who recently moved from New York to Los Angeles, and spoke to us from Venice California, is transformative and tends to disappear into her roles. Her latest, This is Happening was having its Los Angeles premiere that night. The film, featuring James Wolk as her brother and Cloris Leachman as her grandmother, finds the actress playing a fun stoner named Betsy who embarks on a hilarious road trip.

Scene Creek: You were in Toronto a couple years ago for TIFF.

Mickey Sumner: Yeah, for Frances Ha, exactly and also Girl Most Likely, Yeah, exactly. I think that (the IMDB photo of me taken at TIFF) is my favourite photo ever taken.

Scene Creek: Did you come up with the glasses from Frances Ha?

Mickey Sumner: Yeah! Noah (Baumbach), when I got the role of Sophie, said “how do you feel about glasses and dying your hair brown, and I said ” I feel great about both of those, so…” I think that it’s kind of awesome to play characters that look nothing like you. And so, he showed me photos of sort of what he was thinking of, and he was like “go out and find glasses that you want to wear”, so I did it, and those were the glasses. And they just became such an integral part of the Sophie character. I love playing roles that I can hide behind, or like transform into as well.

Scene Creek: For This is Happening, you are also transformative.

Mickey Sumner: Very observant! I did a couple of things, actually. It’s funny, because I sort of had this idea of that I had some sort of colour in my hair, and then like a week later, writer-director Ryan Jaffe sent me a photo of a girl with purple tips in her hair and was like “I was thinking about this for you”, and I was like “no way, I was thinking of the same thing”, so we were totally in sync. The funny thing about that is it kept washing out every day. We had to redo it. I’m pretty sure if you look really closely (laughing) my hair changes colour every day. I’m definitely attracted to the roles where I can be a whole new creature.

Scene Creek: Like your role in The Mend?

Mickey Sumner: Everybody go see The Mend, in Toronto! Yeah, you know, it’s a really unusual movie and it’s very uncommercial and an amazing company called Cinelicious fell in love with it and was like “do you want to do a theatrical release and push it?” So that happened, and the response has been so awesome for John Magary. I think he’s got such a unique voice and it’s so exciting to see this filmmaker celebrated. He’s so brave. I’m really really proud of it.

In Anesthesia, Tim Blake Nelson’s movie, it had such an amazing cast. I can’t believe I got to be involved in that cast. It was such a great experience working with Tim Blake Nelson and playing Corey Stoll’s mistress. And he is such an amazing, professional, yeah, what an actor. I learned a lot from him.

Scene Creek: What was your favourite experience about working with Cloris Leachman and James Wolk?

Mickey Sumner: Cloris Leachman is one of my favourite comediennes ever. And she just keeps you on your toes, man. She likes playing tricks on Jimmy and I and on the crew. She’s such a professional, but she’s so funny and so naughty, she talks about sex twenty-four hours a day. I mean, in between takes, at lunch, at breakfast, it’s all about sex. I mean, it was hard to keep a straight face. We were doing a serious scene, where I was supposed to be thinking about my dead Mom, and I felt this thing on my arm, and I looked down and Cloris was licking me. She licked from my elbow to my shoulder (laughing). She’s a trip.

Jimmy Wolk is possibly the sweetest, kindest, most humble, grounded human being I’ve ever met. I loved working with him and playing his sister. He’s so positive. If you’re having a bad day, spend ten minutes with Jimmy Wolk and everything feels better. This is Happening is funny but at its heart, there’s this really sweet family reconnection. There’s a message that it’s never too late to connect with your family no matter what happened in the past or any rift, or any drama or trauma and your grandparents are very important, and I was very close to my grandparents. If your grandparents are still alive, go see them and hang out with them. Even just working with Cloris, she has so much wisdom and things to learn from, and she’s an actress I aspire to be. People aren’t around forever and life is short.

This is Happening is in now open in select theatres, and available on VOD on December 1st.