The fact that the film "Swimming'' opens today at the Kendall Square Cinema is testament to the growing star power of "Six Feet Under'' cast member Lauren Ambrose.
The petite redhead, who stars as Claire Fisher on the smash HBO series set in a family funeral home, rated as merely a talent to watch when she took on "Swimming.''
"We made this four years ago,'' said Ambrose, who hails from New Haven, Conn. "It was such an amazing experience and now that it's coming out, I'm so glad people are going to be able to see it. That's why we made it.
"More important than the film is the story; it's truly independent filmmaking: one person's vision and very collaborative filmmaking.''
Produced, co-written and directed by Robert J. Siegel, a film professor at the State University of New York at Purchase, "Swimming'' started as a student script in Siegel's film course.
When Ambrose made the film on location in Myrtle Beach, S.C., she already had made her big-screen debut in the Kevin Kline hit "In & Out'' and stolen scenes in the teen comedy "Can't Hardly Wait.'' Right after "Swimming'' was finished, she starred in a campy spoof of '60s beach movies, "Psycho Beach Party,'' which has given her unofficial status as a gay icon.
"They gave me an award at L.A. Outfest for acting for `Swimming' and `Psycho Beach Party,' '' she said proudly, referring to the gay film festival in Los Angeles.
Yet Ambrose says her seemingly sexually confused, tomboyish character in "Swimming'' is not a lesbian. "She's a girl who is just not quite comfortable in her own skin - and that's the choice of the big overalls and no makeup as she tries to blend into the background and not be noticed,'' she said. "For me it was an interesting acting opportunity. It's a movie with a young woman as the protagonist with real emotions.
"I'm in every frame of that film, with the least amount of dialogue. It was an exercise in silent film acting, using walking and spaces - and not words.''
Although the success of "Six Feet Under'' has made the release of "Swimming'' possible, Ambrose can't help but laugh when she looks back to the show's birth last season.
"No one knew what it was and we unleashed it - and it was strange and risky and who knew?'' she said. "We liked what we were doing and we had the support of family and colleagues and (Oscar-winning creator and writer) Alan Ball and HBO, but it was nice to get this amazing response.''
Of her "Six Feet Under'' character, Ambrose said, "Claire's an observer. She's been forced to observe and be objective (because) she's half the age of her adult siblings and born after the fact. Because of that, she's had to raise herself and been neglected and that's where her sarcasm and tough way of looking at the world comes from.''
For Ambrose, the world looks anything but tough. Not only is her career in high gear but she is also a newlywed. "He's a Boston boy,'' she said of her ad executive husband, Sam Handel.
"We met on the East Coast and here in L.A. and it was fated. He keeps me sane and grounded. Because we have such a wonderful life at home, it helps me be a good actress.''
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