Cannes Film Festival: Talia Ryder Talks Directorial Debut and Working With Saint Laurent’s Anthony Vaccarello

“The Sweet East” star Talia Ryder is hitting her sweet spot.

The dancer-turned-stage actress has now moved into film, and is about to step behind the camera for the first time.

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Working on “The Sweet East” was an empowering process for the young actress, who made her debut in the Broadway musical “Matilda” at the age of 12.

“It really let me fall in love, maybe for the first time, with filmmaking,” she says. “It felt like one of the first times I was given a ton of agency on set, and it felt like I was a part of making something in a way beyond just acting.”

The story follows a teenage girl as she tries to find her footing through some bizarro situations in different facets of American life, and with director Sean Price Williams and screenwriter Nick Pinkerton being 30-something men, they relied on Ryder’s instincts to bring reality to the character. The duo trusted her to take the character in new directions, and Ryder felt empowered to take chances.

Ryder plays a teen who is separated from her class during a high school trip to Washington, D.C., who then goes on a wild ride through the capital and the Northeast as she encounters some spirited characters. It’s told in four chapters, with Earl Cave, Jeremy O’Harris, Simon Rex and Jacob Elordi among the cast.

The road trip aspect of the film led the cast and crew to several filming locations. As a result, the cast spent a lot of time together – including after hours.

“We shot so much in so many different places in such a short time that we got really close and ended up feeling like a family. We’d wrap for the day and then all just keep hanging out and go to someone’s hotel room, we couldn’t get enough of each other,” she said.

“I definitely found community on this set in a way that I don’t think I’ve felt before. The entire cast and crew hold up as a real family vibe, and sets aren’t always like that. So I felt in touch with more of my identity here than normal,” she says.

Much of the plot plays on her beauty, and the effect it has on others as she falls down the rabbit hole of the modern American psyche.

Figuring out one’s identity in the age of social media has its own challenges, she acknowledges. Ryder dances with the trickiness of modern social media, examining the nuances of growing up with apps as a way to connect to varied communities, but acknowledging that overuse can cause harm.

“It’s really hard to try and figure out who you are with the massive media consumption in a way that we’ve never seen before. It’s really confusing,” she says. “I’m not gonna lie, I love Instagram and Snapchat. But I might delete my Instagram soon. I love funny things, but it’s also kind of stressful. Sometimes I love it and sometimes I’m like, this is actually the worst thing ever and we’re all ruining our brains.”

The “Sweet East” shoot was much more tactile, and a group effort on the indie film. Ryder even borrowed her mother’s car to drive other cast members to and from set.

Ryder started working with French fashion house Saint Laurent during the press tour for the film “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” and has since formed a friendship with creative director Anthony Vaccarello.

“I’ve always loved fashion, but working so closely with [Saint Laurent] and getting to know Anthony and his vision, I just really fell in love with the brand,” she says.

Talia Ryder
Talia Ryder

Vaccarello, she says, is always available to answer questions, fashion and otherwise. She also praises his vision for starting to produce films, such as “Strange Way of Life,” which she watched in Cannes. “It feels like he is really taking the brand bigger than just the clothes. He’s creating an energy beyond just clothing.”

Vaccarello’s all-encompassing vision has led to her next project. Ryder met singer Samuel Holden Jaffe, aka Del Water Gap, at the Saint Laurent spring 2023 men’s show in Marrakech last summer. The two struck up a friendship and he brought her on to direct his next music video. It’s the first time the 20-year-old has stepped behind the camera.

The collaborative and supportive experience on “The Sweet East” gave her the courage to take that next step, and she incorporates her dance background as well by working on the choreography. Vaccarello did the wardrobe for the video.

“That’s what I mean about Anthony, he really creates a community for artists,” she says. The video will premiere June 7, though the team was still in the editing process when she spoke in Cannes.

After that, Ryder will appear in “Dumb Money,” featuring a sprawling cast including Seth Rogen, Pete Davidson, Sebastian Stan, Paul Dano and America Ferrera. It follows the very recent history of video game retailer GameStop’s Reddit-driven stock phenomenon.

The film will be a time capsule of the pandemic, with COVID-19-era rules and testing playing a big part. Her character is a college student who is passionate about sticking it to Wall Street.

With two big projects about to debut and others in the works, Ryder says she stays down to earth by hanging with her family. She brought her mother to Cannes, but despite being able to walk the red carpet twice, Ryder found herself facing the same Byzantine seat booking system as the rest of this year’s attendees.

Pointing to the storm clouds that have pelted Cannes all week, Ryder adds: “Especially on a rainy day, I love to just hang and watch movies. Hopefully I can actually see some films.”

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