Sharon Van Etten on her original song, and performance, in Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Get your first listen of Van Etten's new song 'Staring at a Mountain.'
Sharon Van Etten doesn't have many screen acting credits to her name. But she feels proud of her latest, in Never Rarely Sometimes Always.
The new film from director Eliza Hittman (Beach Rats) tracks teenager Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) from her conservative Pennsylvania hometown, where she's just learned she's pregnant, to the bustling chaos of New York City, where she seeks an abortion. It premiered to universal acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won a U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award, and built on its momentum last month in Berlin, winning the event's prestigious Silver Bear.
Van Etten (who previously starred in Netflix's The OA) plays Autumn's mother, a supportive woman who's nonetheless at a sticky distance from her daughter; their dynamic stays rather mysterious for the film's duration, as Autumn ultimately takes the road trip to New York with her cousin, in secret from the rest of her family.
But that's not all. Van Etten also provides the end-credits song for the film, "Staring at a Mountain." It marks a poignant end to Autumn's journey in Never Rarely Sometimes Always, living in the uncertainty and emotional intensity that reflect the conclusion's tone.
EW can exclusively debut the song, which you can check out above. We also chatted with Van Etten about her performance in the film, collaborating with Hittman, and what she hopes the song leaves viewers with. Read on below. Never Rarely Sometimes Always hits select theaters Friday.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You're juggling a few responsibilities on this film. How did you get involved?
SHARON VAN ETTEN: Eliza and I have a couple of ties that don't necessarily relate to the film. When she and one of the producers were talking about actors that also are musicians and things like that, they were talking about using a song of mine for the film. One of them was like, "I think she does some acting as well, wouldn't that be a double whammy?" She's also friends with Catherine Diekman; I wrote a score for her film Strange Weather a few years back. My name has come up in her circles for different things. When we met and she told me about the story and the energy that she wanted to convey, I knew this was something I wanted to be a part of. It's a journey not too often told. And for the film, it was integral it be more about Sidney than about anybody else. Having subtlety around the surrounding actors is a big part of the story for her.
You play Autumn's mother, and it's a tricky role, because she's not a villain in this story but Autumn ultimately feels like she can't confide in her either.
Through my conversations with Eliza and the complexity of Sidney's role, I knew that, one, we wanted to make sure that I was a supportive mother and a present mother, but two, that I was also a young mother who's been through it before. It gives you the space to let your mind wonder about their relationship. I'm not a negative influence. It's allowing the gray area in while still being a supportive person in her life, but also feeling like she couldn't reach out to someone like me. That emotional side of the story: her not being able to connect with her mother for some reason.
This movie is artful, to be sure, but it's very driven in the issues it's exploring. What was the mood like on set?
I had read the script and I knew the story, but [on set] I only saw these pockets. I wasn't in every scene. I was in the bubble of the family life, of what was portrayed in the film. Ryan Eggold is an amazing actor. He did have this darkness around him, this energy that added to the tension in the room every time we did a scene together. I felt that raw honesty of Sidney not really having acted before. That discomfort was actually a natural response to the scenes that Ryan was creating. It felt like a lot of camaraderie: We had to get a lot done in a short amount of time. We had a fairly low budget. Everyone making it happen. Everyone was very driven.
Let's get into the song. How did it initially come to you? Why did it feel like the right ending to the movie Eliza made?
I remember the first time I saw the film in its entirety. Those credits started rolling. With no music there, you're like, is this expository? Not really. Is it mourning? Not necessarily. Is her life going to change? We don't know. To create a vibe that doesn't push anybody in any of those [directions] was definitely a challenge. I talked it through with Eliza. She's like, "You don't want it to be too hopeful." [Laughs] It's a mixed bag. Letting them sit with that energy themselves and deciding how they feel. I got off the phone with Eliza and was sitting at my piano. I literally have a mountain in my backyard; we call it our bluff. I'd just moved to California this past fall, and it was a little isolating at first — a big change from New York. So I'll just sit at the piano and stare, trying to feel feelings. [Laughs] I literally just thought of Sidney on that bus, driving home, and I was thinking about where she's going. Feeling misunderstood. I wanted to give a little bit of light in the song, too.
I found it really moving because of exactly that: The movie doesn't really have any flourish or musical cues, so this shifts it in a different key. Were you struggling to find that particular tone, as you say, as you worked through it?
How the movie is filmed, you're an onlooker until you're confronted with her questioning in the office. All of a sudden, it's very easy for a woman to put herself in her shoes. It's still emotional to watch it. I cry every time. But it's not an easy song. I also appreciate that. It's the real question that people have to ask themselves, even if they don't necessarily agree.
To that point, being a part of this film and leaving that final feeling with viewers, in a way, what do you hope they take away?
Without forcing my ideals upon other people, I think that the most important thing is for young women to know they're not alone, and that this is a common story that they can feel some kind of comfort in knowing that there is a way. Maybe it even helps kids talk to their parents. I'm not sure. But yeah: to raise questions and create discourse and hopefully make it something easier for women to talk about, even if it makes other people uncomfortable.