PARK CITY, Utah — In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never been a huge Mischa Barton fan. Then I saw the Sundance sensation “Assassination of a High School President,” an entertainingly complex flick following the seemingly simple story of a teen reporter on the trail of some missing SATs. Like Mischa herself, the film turns out to be much more complex than you might suspect.
Certainly, the flick will further Bruce Willis’ reputation as having an eye for great indie scripts, following “Pulp Fiction.” It also seems likely to make a star out of Reece Thompson, the 19-year-old star. But it’s Barton’s turn as sexy, whip-smart femme fatale Francesca that should open more eyes than just my own.
Face to face, the in-demand starlet is warm, charming and eager to answer any question you could throw at her. In anticipation of the August release of “Assassination,” we spoke to Barton at the film fest about her sexy bathtub scene, being a loner in high school, and the personalized super-swag that should be arriving at her house any day now.
MTV: This was long-rumored as one of those mythical screenplays Hollywood was dying to shoot. What did you think when you first read it?
Mischa Barton: The first time I read it, awhile ago now, it just stood out to me. Even the title of the film stands out, you know? As soon as I read “Assassination of a High School President,” I was hooked. It’s a great script.
MTV: It’s also a hard movie to wrap your head around, until you see it assembled into a final print. When you were shooting it, did you have any idea what you were getting yourself into?
Barton: We had so much fun making this film, I can’t even tell you. All we did was laugh. It has an amazing director; Brett [Simon] is such a great guy. And Reece is a very, very funny, up-and-coming actor. So yeah, I thought that Reece’s performance was hilarious and that people would respond to it. But I’m just glad that it came to Sundance. As soon as we heard it was premiering at Sundance, we were excited for that. And we’re just happy to be here and have people see it this way, before it comes out in August.
MTV: This is a film that proudly references classics like “Sixteen Candles,” “Chinatown,” “The Usual Suspects” and others. Were you guys eager to mix them all together and see what came out?
Barton: Yeah, I think what’s so cool about ["Assassination"] is that it does hearken back to those types of films, and the way it’s shot even is very stylized. That gives it a very good look and was a huge part of making the film. … It’s well-written, and you could tell that when you read the script.
MTV: The dialogue is very stylized, as if it were written by Quentin Tarantino, David Mamet or Elmore Leonard. Was it hard to precisely hit all those beats?
Barton: There were some funny ones in there that Francesca delivered that I can think of, and I was trying to play the vixen character. Especially the [love] scenes in the bathtub with Reece — I don’t want to give anything away, but they were some really funny scenes. It wasn’t hard [to talk that way], it was just lots of playing around on the day and finding what worked for the scene.
MTV: But despite all that style, do you feel that “Assassination” uncovers some high school truths that most movies miss?
Barton: Yeah, definitely. All the characters in here are an essential part of any high school experience — there are clichés, but they’re done in a good way. Like the popular kid, and the high school president, and even my character — she’s not just your average popular girl. She’s really dark, and it’s got this sinister undertone to it, which is really cool.
MTV: Were you a popular girl in high school?
Barton: No, I can definitely say that. I only had, like, three boys who were my friends and one girl. I was a bit of a loner, I guess.
MTV: So you were like the weirder, smarter kids in the movie? The ones who prefer to watch things from afar, smoke cigarettes and crack jokes?
Barton: Yeah, sure. … There were only, like, four or five of us.
MTV: One of the best parts of the film is Bruce Willis as the psychotic school principal, who runs the school like a military unit. Is it true that he was using improv in a lot of his scenes?
Barton: Yeah, he’s amazing. He ad-libbed a lot of lines in the film. He’s very funny. He’s such an essential part of the movie. I worked on “The Sixth Sense” briefly before, so I’ve met him a few times.
MTV: Since we’ve been at Sundance, we’ve seen 50 Cent, Diddy and a whole bunch of people. Have you bumped into anyone yet?
Barton: I’ve seen tons of cool people. There are just people everywhere here. It’s just so busy that everyone gets so insulated with their own film, so it’s mostly been me, Reece and Brett going everywhere. But we’re going to do some press with Josh Hartnett and his film today.
MTV: Have you hit any swag lounges yet?
Barton: I’ve had a little bit of that; we’ve encountered some of that.
MTV: What’s the coolest thing you’ve scored so far?
Barton: I got a really cool Mac computer that they’re sending me. It’s the new one that’s really skinny …
MTV: The MacBook Air thing?
Barton: Exactly. And I’m gonna get my name on it! I’m excited about that. I was like, “That’s a good gift!”
MTV: Is it weird walking into these swag lounges and just being handed free stuff?
Barton: Yeah, they have everything. And I feel bad sometimes, because it’s not really like [I need it]. If I’m not going to use it, I’m always like, “No, it’s OK, I don’t really need it.”
MTV: But if you do take something, they expect you to give shout-outs to the products during interviews and stuff?
Barton: Yeah, well, there’s a good chance [I might]. I mean, this girl yesterday gave me this peace-sign necklace, and I really liked it. So I’ve given her a shout-out a few times now. There ya go!
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