By Ruth Kinane
May 03, 2019 at 02:57 PM EDT
Cailin Yatsko/Bicephaly Pictures

Sabrina Carpenter is hitting the road — kind of.

The Girl Meets World and Adventures in Babysitting actress is showing a new side in the upcoming off-the-road movie The Short History of the Long Road which had its world premiere at Tribeca Film Festival on April 27. Indeed, with dyed-brown hair and make-up free, Carpenter is a long way from her Disney roots and barely even recognized herself with her altered appearance.

But those physical changes only helped Carpenter embody Nola, a 19-year-old van dweller who has lived most of her life on the road, traveling with her father (played by Westworld‘s Steven Ogg) and learning to be self-reliant — a skill that comes in handy when a sudden disruption leaves her alone in the world and faced with forging her own independence. But as Nola makes her way to Albuquerque, NM in search of her estranged mother (played by Billions’ Maggie Siff), she is forced to stop and decide whether stationary life could be a better fit for her.

Ahead of the film’s premiere, EW caught up with Carpenter about becoming attached to a vehicle, female friendship and embracing discomfort.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was your initial reaction when you got this script and what about it made you want to be part of it?
SABRINA CARPENTER: I got this script that had a very nuanced young lady leading the movie and I was so refreshed and happy to read it because I just hadn’t read anything like that for a girl my age in a while and then once I got to talk to Ani [Simon-Kennedy, the director] and hear her vision and her passion behind this story and what it’s all about, I just wanted to be part of it. 

How does Ani’s way of working differ from other directors and what was it about her vision that spoke to you?
She is so down to earth. There’s no ego which is just very much the heart and the raw beauty in this story. I feel like Ani just brings the authenticity to the vision and the project, and to the aesthetic of the film and the way it was shot; she embodies that in her own life. 

You had to get a make-down of sorts for this movie, dying your hair brown and wearing next-to-no makeup. Was that enjoyable and did it help you get into character?
Nola has mental self-awareness but it isn’t physical. We consciously made an effort; she doesn’t wear makeup, she does have un-brushed hair at all time, she does take showers in local, public showers, she doesn’t shave, she doesn’t know to — that’s not a thing for her. So there were all these little details that let me really bring her to life. 

Would you categorize this as a road movie? Because Nola really has these transformative moments when she comes to a stop, off the road.
Right, I feel like it’s an off-the-road trip movie. It’s really interesting because most road trip movies are all about the journey and for her it’s all about the things she encounters when she’s not on the road. Her whole life she’s been on the road but now it’s not about the road trip necessarily as much as it’s about the stops. When she’s forced to stop, it gives her a whole new perspective on what life is.

There’s also a good message on female friendship in the film. Can you talk about the importance of putting that out there?
It just says a lot about what Nola’s craving and yearning for in her life and she finds it in such an organic way in a young girl who’s just as interested in the world as she is. They both have issues and things that they’re going through and that’s something that a lot of young women are dealing with, but they don’t always necessarily look to each other for that love, friendship and support.

It was a short shoot and your character goes through a sh-t ton in so little time, were you just drained by the time you wrapped?
Yes, I was emotionally exhausted. It was so interesting to get on a plane, go home and dye my hair back to blonde and film a music video. I was like, what?

Speaking of music videos, what’s coming up next for you?
I have a Netflix movie coming out and I have another project coming out soon that I can’t talk about yet (Carpenter was announced as the lead in Alicia Keys’ dance comedy Work It from STXfilms and Alloy Entertainment on Thursday). I have the second half of album coming out; it’s a continuation of Singular: Act I. I think of it as one big album, but split into two parts; one’s a little bit lighter and glossier and the other one’s more emotional, not dark but there’s darker elements to it. So I’m excited for everyone to hear it and obviously there’s more touring and some exciting shows coming up.

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