Meg Stalter has stolen enough scenes to legally qualify as felony grand theft. The comedian-turned-breakout internet star-turned-actress is known for her over-the-top characters, desperate women with delusions of grandeur and a signature quirk. As unhinged as they may be, Stalter plays them all straight. That's why it's so funny. It's a persona that she has perfected, which is why shooting her new movie caught her off-guard. "I was like, 'Wait, why do I feel so low now?' And it's like, 'Oh, it's because I was crying all day.'"

Cora Bora is what you'd expect from a Meg Stalter vehicle, and also not. Directed by Hannah Pearl Utt from a script by Rhianon Jones, the movie cast Stalter as the titular cora, a 30-something singer-songwriter struggling to make it in L.A. while navigating a long-distance, open relationship with her girlfriend Justine (Jojo T. Gibbs). When she realizes that Justine might be moving on with a new girlfriend, Cora impulsively travels home to Portland to try to win her back.

"I think a musician that's not that good but thinks that she's good is really funny," Stalter says. "The most fun character to play is someone who's acting like they are really talented, or trying to play it off like they're really confident, but they're actually really nervous and insecure. And I loved it that it was gay and funny and heartbreaking."

That heartbreak part is new for Stalter. Cora Bora is a dramedy, with the actress delivering some genuine pathos alongside her signature brand of cringe humor. Depsite the fact that Stalter had never led a movie before, let alone one that would require her most dramatic acting yet, she was the first and only choice for Utt. The director told Stalter as much in the letter she wrote asking Stalter to star in the movie.

"To quote that letter: 'Your performances have everything I love: disturbingly well-observed character-work, exciting and satisfying timing, and an ability to seamlessly flip between warm self-assuredness and insecure dismissiveness. I want to see you at the center of a story that showcases all of your talents, while exploring new sides to them,'" Utt recounts. "As a fan, I wanted to see Meg as the lead of a movie, and this script felt like it was written for her. As a director, I was excited to craft a performance with her unlike anything I’d seen her do before."

"It was just so beautiful to have a stranger write me a letter that made me feel so seen," Stalter tells A.frame. The actress, in turn, poured herself into Cora, bringing to life a character that is ridiculous and grounded, conceited and insecure, messy and relatable. It's a new type of Meg Stalter character. As Utt says, "I think Meg is a movie star and watching her carry a movie with such ease made me really excited for the rest of her career."

A.frame: What did it mean to you to get your first leading role in a movie? You're number one on the call sheet, baby!

Meg Stalter: As someone who always wanted to perform and never got any of the good parts, it felt really amazing to be offered such a good part. In high school, I auditioned for everything, and I always got put in the chorus.

You have such a distinct Meg Stalter flavor. How do you infuse that into your characters while also making sure that a Kayla is different than a Cora is different from any of the other ladies you've played?

It's interesting, because when I was posting a lot of character videos online, I started getting messages like, "Oh, this person's such a Meg Stalter character," and it would be, like, a person getting hit by a car or, like, a woman losing her mind in public. So, I know what you mean. I'm usually playing someone who's losing their mind, but they're trying to pretend like they're not. But I think it's just connecting to the story and focusing on that and actually not getting too caught up in, "Oh, I need to make sure this character doesn't have anything that Kayla has."

I think what I do is try to see myself in the characters and connect to the story, because that's what makes them different. Does that make sense? I just stay focused on what the character I'm playing has in common with me as a person in real life and where we're different and that helps me distinguish the different Meg Stalter crazy women that I play.

What were some of the similarities and differences you found between yourself and Cora?

I think that me and Cora both have really big hearts, and we really want to show the people around us that we love them. But I think Cora isn't as positive as me. Deep down, we both want the same things. All she wants to do is love and be loved, like me, but I think she has a darker outlook. She's been through things that I haven't. She's been through a lot of heartbreak that she carries around with her, and I've had heartbreak in my life, but I'm a God girl, so I feel like I am pretty positive, whereas I wish Cora had some of the things that I have that have helped me through things. I feel a lot of hope in the world, and I like to imagine that Cora finds that.

How does your history with improv and your being a stand-up influence how you approach a character, or how you play the character when you get on set?

It feels like you get so many ideas just while reading the script. I'll read a really amazing script and, in my head, be like, "Okay, what would I say if I get the chance to improv?" And if the director is down for me to improv, it feels like it just adds a loose reality to the whole thing. It feels a little looser, and even if they don't use the improvised lines, it makes the actual lines feel more real when you're able to improv a bit. Even if it's like, "Let's do a crazy one, get it out of our system, and then do what's on paper," it feels like being able to improv gets you to a real place in the scene. Hannah was really, really amazing about that. It's such an amazing script, and then she always let us improv and add little things.

Do you have an improv'ed line that you're particularly pleased made it into the final cut?

Everyone always mentions how weird and funny it is that when I open door in that one scene, I'm like, "Honey, I'm back from war!" It's kind of out of nowhere, but I think that's one that everyone likes that got in. I don't remember what I was thinking when I did it, but it is funny to say that when they're in such a weird place in their relationship, and her girlfriend doesn't know that Cora is coming back to see her, and the new girlfriend is right there and hears me say it. I just thought that was funny.

Meg Stalter and director Hannah Pearl Utt on the set of 'Cora Bora.'

Between this movie and the Hacks finale, it's exciting to see a more dramatic side of your acting. Is that something you had been wanting to explore of late?

I really have always wanted to be an actor. I've always loved laughing and loved comedy so much, and it's helped me get to where I am and I'll never stop loving comedy. It's, like, my heart. But I have always wanted to do more serious stuff. My favorite thing ever is getting to do some of this stuff that's both funny and serious, and I always think the stuff that has so much heart in it is what makes me laugh the hardest anyways. So, I love getting opportunities like this to do both.

On set, what is it like for you to get to those more emotional places?

With Cora, it wasn't hard getting to an emotional place, because we filmed the more serious stuff towards the end, so I already felt so connected to the character and the story. I think if I had to cry day one, while I was still trying to discover the character, I would need to listen to a lot of sad music or something. But with this, Cora has so much heartbreak, and that's why she's kind of sarcastic and bratty to people. But what makes her so lovable is being able to be like, "Oh, this is why she's like that. She's not fully healed". Everyone has a Cora or is the Cora. And to know all of that, it was pretty easy to drop into those emotional moments with her, because I just love that character so much.

Is it harder to get to a point of tears or to tolerate being at the center of some of those more cringe-worthy scenes? I mean, there are some moments Cora finds herself in that made me want to jump out a window.

One of the things I love most about performing is the cringe moments! The awkward cringe moments are things I'm always trying to create on stage, so it's stuff that I've been doing for years. But crying and being really emotional in a scene was new to me. To explore that much emotional depth with a character, that was new to me.

Because it was new, how easy was it for you to shake it off at the end of the day?

I am so emotional that it's interesting when you feel like, "Oh wait... I feel kind of weird today, because I've been crying all day as this character." It does take a minute to ground yourself and be like, "Oh my God, it's not real. Everyone's okay." Then you have to tease yourself and make fun of yourself and be like, "You need to get over it." [Laughs] But yeah, it is like, "Why does it feel real?" Because your body thinks it feels real. I know that's kind of cringe and really actor-y to say.

You're an actor now, you get to say these actor-y things.

You know that clip where Lady Gaga says that when she drinks fake alcohol, she actually feels drunk? And then everyone's looking at her like she's crazy?

It's one of my all-time favorite Kirsten Dunst reactions.

I know what she means, though! One time on Hacks, I was drinking alcohol and I don't drink, but I felt drunk! And then they told me it was fake and I'm like, "Okay, well, the placebo effect worked on me, and I'm Lady Gaga, I guess!"

Speaking of Lady Gaga, you mentioned that the gayness of the movie was something that attracted you. Because it's Pride Month, and because we still don't have enough bisexual characters in movies, what do you hope this movie and the character of Cora means to the community?

I hope the character stops people that feel pressure to be in a poly relationship, because I feel bad for people that make themselves do something just so they could be with someone, when it's not what they really want! That could never be me. I know that that works for some people, but I cannot imagine having my partner be out to dinner with someone in a sexy way without me showing up as a waiter. [Laughs]

I feel so lucky that there are more bisexual and gay characters on screen now than when I was growing up. I mean, we had some, and every single one that we had meant so much. And it's so sad that we still have a long way to go. We're still so starved of that media, and I just want more gay stories for everyone, because it means so much to see that representation.

By John Boone


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