UNSPECIFIED LOCATION “u2013 OCTOBER 18: In this screengrab, Sophia Lillis speaks at the screening of UNCLE FRANK at AFI FEST presented by Audi on October 18, 2020 in Various Cities. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images for AFI)
  • Interviews

Sophia Lillis on “Uncle Frank”

She may be only 18 years old, yet Sophia Lillis has already amassed an impressive litany of performances, with memorable roles in the blockbuster, It and the sequel It:  Chapter Two, followed by the Netflix dramedy series, I Am Not Okay with This. She also landed a small but pivotal role in the Golden-Globe winning drama, Sharp Objects and played the title role in Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase. Now, she changes gears in Uncle Frank, a film by Alan Ball in which she stars opposite Paul Bettany in this heartfelt drama about tolerance and acceptance.


line-height:115%’ lang=’EN’> is a beautiful movie. Like your character, was there a relative in your life who mentored you?

Well, the person who has really mentored me has been my mom, and she still does. She’s been a part of my job forever, she goes with me to all of my projects, she’s always on set and helps me organize things. She is technically my assistant, but she is also my mom.

What did you think when you first read this script?

I thought it was an amazing feelgood story which was something that I actually hadn’t done because I’d been doing a lot of horror films, so it was a big 180. I definitely wanted to get off the horror track and move onto something different and this was a good way to do that. 

I imagine after the success of the IT movies; your life must have changed dramatically.

Yes. It opened up a whole new world for me because that was my first big studio film. But as far as personally and socially, and in my school and whatnot, it didn’t change much. No one really cared in my school, which surprises people sometimes when I tell them that, but I went to a theater school in New York to the Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute, so everyone was in the same boat as me, so they didn’t really care if I did a film. 

Going back to Uncle Frank, you had such great chemistry with Paul Bettany. How did you establish that rapport?

The first time I ever met him, I had dinner with him and Alan Ball. So, it was just the three of us and so I got to talk with him a lot. I really loved him, and as a kid, I watched Inkheart, which is a children’s film he was in which I loved, and I watched that a lot with my brother. I never told him that until recently during an interview and he was really shocked, he was like, ‘Oh my God, no one else watched it!’ I think we are somewhat close now. I think he’s a nice guy, and I consider him a friend. 

How much fun was it immersing yourself in the ‘60s and the ‘70s? Did you like the clothes, the cars?

I loved it. I really loved the outfits, they were great. And we spent most of the time in those cars.  They looked great, but they have horrible air conditioning! I am so glad cars have changed from then.

The movie sends a beautiful message about acceptance and also about being an outsider. How did that resonate with you? Have you ever felt like that yourself?
I guess so. I’ve always been kind of a strange person (laughs) and I have always felt like an outsider, especially when you are in this job and you are also in school at the same time. The thing about working is that you leave your home, and everything moves on without you. You get back and it’s hard to make friends and talk to people and catch up. I’d go back to my school and so much had changed, and everyone had moved on. So yeah, I have felt like an outsider but also, I am lucky, at the same time. Because of this job I’ve got to meet people and see places, so I may feel like an outsider when I get home but when I am on set, I am with people who are in the same boat as me.

Do you remember when you decided that you wanted to be an actress? Was it after watching a particular performance?

Well, I used to watch a lot of old movies as a kid. My mom loved old foreign films and so did my stepfather. And it kind of just happened. It was less, ‘I want to be an actress and that’s all I want to be.’ It was something I felt would be a fun pastime. So, I would take classes to see if I could open myself up a little bit. I was a fairly shy kid, so I wanted to do something to get out of my shell and do something out of my comfort zone. And slowly it got to the point where I did It, and I was like, ‘Wow, this could be a job that I could do forever!’ I don’t know how I will feel in the next ten years and I don’t know if I am going to do this forever, but right now I am liking it.

What other professions could you imagine?

Well, I like the arts, I am a big fan of drawing. I like learning about the history of art, so maybe I could take some art history classes in college. I’ve always liked drawing, so I would like to paint or do something along those lines. Acting is fun but I’ve always been fascinated by special effects and props and set design, that seems like a lot of fun. So yeah, I would like to be doing other stuff on the set other than acting.

When you told your mom you wanted to be an actor, was it a big surprise, or are there other people in the family also in the business?

I don’t know if it was a surprise, nobody is an actress or an actor in my family. Most of my family members are lawyers, actually. 

That might come in handy one dayYeah, that’s true, isn’t it? It’s good to bring my mom along because they always give you contracts to sign and whatnot, and she knows everything about that, so it’s good to have a whole family of lawyers on my side as an actress! But it’s funny. It feels strange to be going in a completely different direction from everyone else. But they seem to be fine with it, I think. 

What’s next for you?

I am doing The Thicket, which is a Western. I am really excited about that.

Can you ride a horse?

Yeah, and I think I do ride a horse. I used to go on a dude ranch as a kid with my family and I did ride a horse then, and I also took horse riding classes in New York. There is actually a class where you can ride horses in Central Park and that is a lot of fun. It feels strange to actually have some experience with horses. I thought at the time, ‘I am never going to use this in my entire life.’ But here I am!