To prepare for her role as the larcenous leader of "The Bling Ring," Winnetka's Katie Chang received an unusual assignment from her director, Sofia Coppola.
Chang would lead her co-stars on an actual break-in of a Hollywood mansion to steal a specific set of items.
"A week before the shooting began, Sofia had us break into the house of someone she knew," Chang said. "They knew we were coming so they left for the night.
"We drove over, hopped the fence and jumped through the window. I corralled everyone together and we got all this stuff.
"We were in and out in like 15 minutes. It was creepy how good we were."
So, does this mean Chang might have a fallback skill-set in the event that the acting thing doesn't pan out?
"Yeah, looks like it," Chang said.
Only time will tell if the recent New Trier High School grad needs it.
"The Bling Ring," hitting theaters Friday, is Chang's first film.
She plays Rebecca, the brand-name aware leader of larcenous teens who target celebrities' homes, break in and ransack them for fashion items with pricey labels. The cast includes "Harry Potter" star Emma Watson as well as Taissa Farmiga, Israel Broussard, Claire Pfister and Georgia Rock. The script is based on a true story.
The movie drastically changed Chang's regular Winnetka life. In addition to acting in "The Bling Ring," Chang, with her mother, attended a screening at the Cannes Film Festival in France during May.
Chang was 16 when she auditioned for the role of Rebecca with two video segments. The first featured her talking about herself and her family. The second showed Chang reading from a scene in the movie script.
"There's something about creating characters and telling stories that really interests me," she said. "Now that I'm older and learning more about the world -- I don't really know anything yet, and I'm kind of going off to see the world on my own -- I realize how important storytelling is. I definitely want to be a part of that someday."
Chang admitted that a few of her fellow New Trier students reacted to her in new ways after news of her movie role spread.
"Once in a while you'll get people who will treat you differently, be overly friendly," she said. "But, for the most part, everybody has been very excited. If they've changed their tune about me, or acted differently, it's because they're excited about the movie."
Her experience on the set of "Bling Ring" also gave Chang an unexpected set of skills: smoking fake cigarettes, running in heels, breaking into celebrity houses, of course, and, most useful, the ability to organize her time, assign priorities and be efficient.
As she put it, she not only had to make a movie, she also had to keep up her grades and turn her work in on time.
"This is very helpful, now that I'm going to college," she noted.
College would be Columbia University in New York where Chang starts in August as a freshman. Her declared major will be creative writing.
"I've wanted to be a writer for much longer than I've wanted to be an actress," she said. "Writing is something I've done since I was a kid and it's always been really natural."
But why an actress?
"It's a completely selfish motivation," she said, about to invoke Aristotle's theory of catharsis. "Whatever I'm feeling in my own life, I can put them into a character and have them come out in a very healthy way. On that level it's very therapeutic and cathartic for me.
"Plus, there's something about becoming a new character, finding out about a new character, that feels really natural and, I don't know, worthy of my time."
Chang's mother stayed at home. Her father works at a private equity firm. Both, she said, fly around with her on movie locations.
Chang herself is a product of the Actors Training Center at the Wilmette Theatre.
Since working on "Bling Ring," Chang starred in another movie, "A Birder's Guide to Everything." She plays Ellen, a young woman who accompanies a young man on a trip to watch birds in tribute to his late mother, an avid bird enthusiast.
"I really wanted all this to happen, but I never did think that this could become part of my life," Chang said. "I never thought any of this could be possible. It's such a one-in-a-million kind of thing."
-- Dann Gire
* Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are seeking people from the suburbs who work in showbiz. If you know of someone, send them an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
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