Sundance: ‘Teacher’ star Burdge makes fest debut

Thesp talks about her controversial lead role

Who: Lindsay Burdge, actress
What: “A Teacher”
Where: Press and Industry screening at Holiday 2 at 3 p.m.

Lindsay Burdge comes to Sundance for the first time as the star of “A Teacher,” a drama written and directed by Hannah Fidell in which she has an affair with one of her students, prompting her life to begin unraveling as the relationship comes to an end.

“I’m really excited and definitely nervous, of course, but it’s a good feeling,” says Burdge on the eve of Sundance as she packs warm clothes for the wintry fest. “I fly in Thursday morning and my housemates are already heating up the hot tub.”

Burdge had previously worked with Fidell on the 2010 drama “We’re Glad You’re Here,” which she also co-wrote.

“Hannah moved to Austin and had plans to make another movie. I thought it was really interesting. She started sending me outlines and drafts and several months later, we were in production. Less than a year later, we’re going to Sundance. It’s crazy!”

Fidell wrote “A Teacher” with Burdge in mind for the somewhat controversial lead role. “It was great because that way I could have a little bit of input and she could get a sense of what aspects of the story I was interested in. I really like that collaborative style of filmmaking,” explained Burdge, who knew exactly what she was getting into and was ready to tackle the risqué material.

“I wasn’t apprehensive about the role. I don’t know if I should’ve been, I was just excited and saw it from the start as a great opportunity. I knew we’d be getting into some touchy stuff but honestly, I was thrilled to be able to throw myself into something. Roles like this don’t come along every day, especially if you’re not a big-name celebrity, so I was very grateful to Hannah.”

While Burdge’s character falls for a 17 year-old student in “A Teacher,” her co-star Will Brittain was of legal age.

“It was great working with Will, who is really easy to work with. As far as blocking the intimate scenes, we did that somewhat, but there was a lot of finding our way. He was probably more comfortable than I was even though I have more experience with sex scenes. Some of it we just had to figure out, but it was great to have the kind of space where we could try different things. There’s one scene that’s the big emotional and also intimate scene and I realized it was maybe his first love scene ever. I had to be in this emotional state where I couldn’t be available to him, and he pulled me aside between takes to make sure I was okay, which was really sweet of him. I was so lost in the scene, I had forgotten it was sensitive territory for him as a young actor, but he didn’t seem too traumatized by it,” Burdge said with a laugh.

Burdge will have a strong support system in place for her Sundance debut, as many friends and family will be in attendance. When she’s not hanging out with them or doing press, she plans to check out the competition.

“I love being able to see other movies and I’m hoping I’ll have some free time during the second half of the festival. I’m excited to see ‘Upstream Color’ and ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,’ plus my friend David Andalman’s movie ‘Milkshake’ and my old friend G.J. Echternkamp’s movie ‘Virtually Heroes.’

Burdge said she admires thesps like Isabelle Huppert, Gena Rowlands and Tilda Swinton, the latter of whom “has worked consistently and done lots of great roles and projects, but people don’t seem to be sick of her. I just respect her from a great distance,” said Burdge, who also offered her thoughts on the growing festival trend of VOD distribution.

“It’s 2013 and I think we need to adjust to the fact that people watch movies in a different way. The cinema is still the most magical, wonderful way to watch a movie and I hope that continues to be a tradition, but in getting these smaller films out there, people need to consider a new way of seeing films. There’s this great opportunity to get people everywhere, even in the middle of nowhere, to see these movies. That’s exciting and should be taken advantage of, but there also needs to be some way for people to get paid.”

That’ll be up to ICM Partners, which is selling domestic rights and just signed Burdge as a client.

“A Teacher” screens as part of the NEXT lineup on Sunday (5:30 p.m. at Prospector Square), Monday (3:00 p.m. at Broadway Centre Cinema 6 in Salt Lake City), Tuesday (3:00 p.m. at Temple Theatre), Friday the 25th (11:30 a.m. at the Library) and Saturday the 26th (Noon at the Sundance Resort).

One in a series of profiles on filmmakers and talent from the Sundance Film Festival 2013.