Kiersey Clemons Discusses the Social Media Fixation of Susie Searches


Note: This interview was conducted prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike.An intrepid college student with a true-crime podcast decides to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a popular classmate. Susie Searches stars Kiersey Clemons as a complex young woman whose quest for social media stardom and recognition leads to an avalanche of bad choices. The directorial debut from actress and writer Sophie Kargman takes an unexpected turn for a seemingly sympathetic protagonist. A venerated supporting cast of Alex Wolff, Ken Marino, and Jim Gaffigan helps to thread the needle between dark comedy and sinister thriller.

Clemons was suffering from a cold but was kind enough to proceed with our interview prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike. She was thoughtful and lucid on the thorny issue of her character’s true motivation. Clemons recognized that while Susie has significant faults, she had “to empathize with her in some capacity.” She believes Susie’s “desire to be seen” leads to “objectively awful” outcomes. The issue of social media fixation and the need for positive affirmation “steers people away from making genuine friendships.” Clemons, still radiant despite her illness, said that she “checked out” of her hotel to stay with an “irreplaceable friend “that can bring medicine” no matter “how many likes” she gets.

Clemons praised Kargman for her preparedness and professionalism from the start. Kargman “had a binder with every little thing.” It went “beyond a shot list”, with detailed instructions on what “each frame should look like.” She also heaped respect and affection on key grip Rob Styles for helping Kargman achieve the film’s look. Her unique “vision” built “excitement” and allowed “everyone to do our jobs more efficiently.”

Clemons has had quite a varied and successful career since her breakout performance in 2015’s Dope, but confessed to “loving the intimacy” of making independent films. It “fulfills her as a person and actor”, and where she’s made her “closest” friends. Clemons would be happy to make indie films for the rest of her life. She’s a proven talent that can also seamlessly move between genres and big-budget studio films. Clemons shared more about Susie Searches.

Kiersey Clemons as Susie Wallace

Susie Searches with a smiling Kiersey Clemons

MovieWeb: Discuss why you were interested in playing Susie Wallace. Is she a sympathetic character, given what transpires?

Kiersey Clemons: As an actor, I can’t really think about if the audience should be sympathetic towards her, because I have to empathize with her in some capacity. I have to make sense of why she’s doing what she’s doing. Even though I can recognize that folks do things out of desperation all the time, that doesn’t mean that what they did was admirable. People kill for love. That’s an awful action.

Kiersey Clemons: The things that Susie does are objectively awful. But I definitely made sense of her desperation and desire to be seen. I think her world is so small, and she’s so isolated. There’s also a bit of a disconnect with socialization, what pain is, inflicting pain upon other people, and maybe understanding her own pain. That’s what I had to understand, empathize with her disconnect. She’s very intelligent. She might lack a bit of emotional intelligence. I had to use that.

MW: Let’s talk about working with director Sophie Kargman. She took her short film to a feature. Did you have to audition? Did you help her flesh out the character?

Kiersey Clemons: I got the script in 2020. We did a Zoom. We spoke for nearly two hours. I can’t remember what it was that she saw me in. But she was so passionate about me being Susie. She watched something and said, “Oh my, that’s Susie.” Now I need to revisit why she said and thought that (laughs). I was attracted to figuring out why Sophie found me to be likable. She wanted me to be Susie. What is so likable about Susie?

Kiersey Clemons: We knew what we didn’t want Susie to be. Then we had the rest of the world to play [with], because we are all so vast as humans. We didn’t want to confuse Susie’s kindness with her being manipulative and creepy at a certain point. She does step into survival and with that comes lies and secrets. But otherwise, her smiles and kindness are all genuine, which is very conflicting and confusing for everybody else I would imagine.

Related: Exclusive Susie Searches Clip Introduces Audiences to Kiersey Clemons’ True Crime Podcaster

MW: Sophie has these different cutscenes where Susie is having an “oh sh*t, this is not going the way that I thought it was” moment. Did you know that’s how the film was going to look? Was that represented in the script?

Kiersey Clemons: I knew exactly how everything was going to go. Sophie is a very prepared person. She has a binder with every single thing. It’s not just a shot list. This is beyond a shot list. This is what she wants every frame to look like. The color palettes, where she wants the camera to be for this line, her references from other films, it was all laid out. We had about a year and a half from when we met to when we filmed. So I also knew exactly what she wanted to accomplish in every frame, in every scene.

Kiersey Clemons: It made it a lot easier for me. I could do my work as an actor, show up, and already know how I could work with the camera. I made such a great relationship with our grip, Rob Styles. He’s amazing. She shared that shot list with everybody. We all were on the same page and knew what was expected of us. It allowed us to do our jobs so much more efficiently. It made us all very excited knowing that our director had a vision and knew what she wanted. That’s exciting for everyone on set.

A Seemingly Sympathetic Protagonist

Susie Searches with Kiersey Clemons

MW: I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Ken Marino, Alex Wolff, and Jim Gaffigan. They’re hilarious. The film takes a pretty serious turn, though. Were you chuckling it up with those guys between takes?

Kiersey Clemons: Everyone is just so funny. Ken is hilarious in such a deadpan way. I was so curious, because I met him when he got to set. “I wonder what Ken’s going to be like?” He has deadpan humor which shocked me. Jim is so cuddly, sweet, and hilarious. The day that we had the more observational, vulnerable scene sitting on the bench, he tells the story about the bird. It’s one of my favorite scenes that I shot. We really had to work at finding the way that I was responding, but also what he was insinuating. I really enjoyed filming that scene. Alex is one of my best buddies. I love Alex. He is one of the craziest people that I’ve ever met. He would probably say the same thing about me. We connect (laughs).

Related: Best Kiersey Clemons Movies, Ranked

MW: What’s the best day and worst day on the set of this film?

Kiersey Clemons: There was a day when I was biking through the woods. It was raining. It was so cold. I was sick, like I am now. I’m always sick. I was just so tired. I think I cried in between takes. Being sick on set is terrible, especially when it’s cold and it’s raining. My best day would probably be the podcast stuff in Susie’s room. I felt the most [like] Susie. We had to do this really cool trick. Rob Styles had this setup, it’s like rotating in the cameras. We just felt like it was a success, everyone was so ecstatic that we got this shot that Sophie had dreamed of. There are a few shots in the movie that are exactly what Sophie wanted. Those days were my best days.

MW: You’ve done indies, blockbusters, music videos, animation, and television in a young career. What do you like the best? What’s the ideal project to work?

Kiersey Clemons: I love making indie movies. I love the intimacy of filming on a personal level. I feel like it fulfills my life as a person and actor. It’s where I’ve made my closest friendships. You stay in the oddest towns that you’ve never heard of, in these hotels that allow you to bond, and it makes the connections in the movie. The performance is better, more authentic, you get closer with your director, everyone’s working so efficiently and passionately. I love making indie films. If I could do that for the rest of my life, I would be the happiest.

MW: There’s a great scene where Susie is sitting in front of her computer and seeing that her social media has no likes and no retweets. She desperately needs that affirmation. Do you see that as problem in society?

Kiersey Clemons: I don’t know. It depends on the person. Some people take it to heart and others don’t. It just depends on the person, their security, and themselves, but also their real world and how isolated they are. If they do need that validation, it can steer people away from making genuine relationships, which are the ones that you can actually lean on. The people you can call and bring you medicine when you’re sick. I’m at a friend’s right now. I’m sick. I checked out of my hotel. I’m using her laptop. I’m in her office. No matter how many likes I get, this is irreplaceable.

Susie Searches is currently available on demand and digital from Vertical.

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