The average person might assume that landing a role in a Sofia Coppola film at age 16 would make you a shoo-in for the lead in your school play. But Emma Howard, one of the five teenage actors in the tiny cast of The Beguiled, is gently explaining to me that at her prestigious performing arts high school in Los Angeles, that is simply not how it works.
“I didn’t have a big part being a junior, you know? I’ll work up to one,” she says, after sharing that she missed out on walking the red carpet in Cannes to take the school stage with a small role in Guys and Dolls. “We perform two musicals every year,” she says. “The kids are amazing. They’re going to go so far.”
Even without a starring role in the musical, Howard’s career seems to be on an upward trajectory: prior to landing The Beguiled, she had stints on Broadway in Matilda and Violet and made an appearance on Amazon Prime’s Transparent. “I was so happy that all the hard work had paid off because sometimes it doesn’t seem like it does,” she tells me of the moment she found out she was cast in her first film.
In Coppola’s buzzed-about remake of the 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood, Howard plays Emily, one of five students left stranded at the Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies in Virginia as the Civil War rages outside. When one of the young girls discovers a wounded Union soldier (Colin Farrell) in the woods, the headmistress Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) and the school’s last remaining teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) must decide how to handle his presence and the series of events it sparks.
Billed as a female-centric version of the original, the Southern Gothic period piece is an understated, yet eerie drama. “So many people have been asking me if this is a scary movie,” says Howard. “I just want everyone to know that it’s not a horror movie, but it is dark.” Slow and creepy, the film will appeal to cinephiles interested in dissecting Coppola’s handling of this nuanced story of sexual tension and human nature. “She was so laid back the entire time,” Howard says of Coppola’s directing style. “She also knew what she wanted and I feel like she delivered that in such an effortless manner.”
As we chat about filming on location in Louisiana (the youngest cast members hit up Café du Monde, the WWII museum and a swamp tour) and working with big names like Kidman, Dunst, Farrell and Elle Fanning, Howard strikes me as quite wise beyond her years. “I feel like I wasn’t born for this era that I’m living in,” she says with a laugh. “I’m not into fidget spinners or whatever.” And who has time for the latest Instagram-fueled trend when you’re garnering advice from the likes of Nicole Kidman on set? “Nicole was like, ‘I see a lot of myself in you,’” Howard reveals. “She told this to my mom. She said, ‘You just have to remember to keep going and don’t let anybody get in your way or tell you you can’t do it.’”
Photographer: Michael Becker
Stylist: Veronica Graye and Natalie Toren
Makeup: Natalia Malova
Hair: Patrick Chai