John Early and Lux Pascal Unpack the 'Emotionally Shady' Place That Is Acting School

Portrait of John Early from the IMDb Portrait Studio At Acura House Of Energy 2024. Image courtesy of Getty Images.

Sundance red carpets are notoriously hard to dress for. Most celebrities don’t have the glamour, or the gall, to go full House of Gucci après-ski. Last Thursday, two of the festival's newly minted starlets—actors John Early and Lux Pascal—were sketching out their sartorial game plans and unpacking the roles that brought them to Park City. 

Early, whose sensational strut of an HBO special seduced comics and critics alike last summer, plays the lead in his friend Theda Hammel’s feature debut Stress Positions, a pandemic-infused and humor-laced meditation on millennials and the Middle East. Pascal, who has made waves accompanying her brother Pedro on his own red carpet excursions, was cast in 2023 CULTURED Young Photographer Angalis Field’s Bust while still at Juilliard. The short is an abolition story couched in a New York-bust narrative, as well as an incisive portrait of the collateral of betrayal. Below, Early and Pascal let CULTURED listen in on a conversation that touched on everything from lancing to listening.

John Early: Can you see my face?

Lux Pascal: Yeah, I can.

Early: I'm bringing in some natural light.

Pascal: There you go. What a beauty.

Early: Oh, don't you dare. And it’s pronounced “lucks” or “lewks”?

Pascal: When I moved to the States, I was like, “It's lewks,” but it can be “lucks.” I like “lucks” as well—have you seen The Virgin Suicides?

Early: Yes, but 62 years ago.

Pascal: Right, when it came out. Well, I remember that character's name just struck me.

Lux Pascal in Bust, 2024 (Film Still). Image courtesy of Lux Pascal.

Early: I'll probably pronounce it interchangeably. I do want to say that you have a striking resemblance to Brooke Adams. She was in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Pascal: The original one?

Early: The one with Donald Sutherland, which is like a remake from the late '70s. She's also in this movie called Vengeance is Mine, which you have to see. And then also Jessica Harper, who's in the original Suspiria. Are you proud?

Pascal: That's niche and tasteful. I’m like, wow.

Early: So you're fresh out of Juilliard?

Pascal: Literally. I graduated in May.

Early: I went to NYU for acting school, so I have a deep jealousy of people who went to Juilliard. I can't let go of it. I'm full of rage right now.

Pascal: I understand that. I was raised in Chile, and, because I had an established life there, I was like, "If I leave Chile, it's gonna be for damn good reason." So I literally searched “best drama school in the world.” I'm that stupid. And then I was auditioning at Juilliard. I couldn't believe I made it that far.

Early: I was always so jealous of that because there's such a romance to it. Like the Upper West Side—it felt like that would be a more cinematic kind of experience. NYU is literally like you’re next to a Quiznos and Chipotle, you know what I mean? I wanted to live the acting school dream of clinking radiators and abusive teachers, but it was actually just pure Chipotle.

John Early in Stress Positions, 2024 (Film Still). Image courtesy of Early.

Pascal: I don't want to shit on it too hard, because it's not fair. But for me, it was pretty fucking terrifying being there. I don't regret it, but I would not do that again. Ever.

Early: Well, acting schools, even the best ones, are like cults. All acting schools are emotionally shady places. You're doing very vulnerable, weird stuff with unlicensed therapists, basically.

Pascal: I think it's related to our industry. It's like, “Oh, this person got this thing, so it means they are better at it.” But it's like, no, if you really think about it, someone being cast in something is basically mathematics. It has nothing to do with your self-worth. I mean, you were doing a Toni Collette impression as a child; that's fucking iconic. I hope nobody fucking came for you for that.

Early: They certainly didn't; no one cared.

Pascal: But that's because I don't think we really care about what's actually valuable.

Early: Totally. All these schools, like academic institutions or art schools, are becoming more and more precarious. At least my experience was that it didn't seem like this ideal of an art school where you just have this precious time to explore. It already felt totally poisoned by the industry. The school has to churn out people who succeed so that they look better and can get more donations. It's all very ruthless and manic; you have to be deprogrammed.

Pascal: I'm currently on that boat. I don't think I'm Julliard material. I've always felt like an underdog doing my own thing. But I'm like, “Oh fuck I want to be leading lady material.”

Early: That's the story of my life. Everyone's always like, "You're [a] character actor." I want to be the romantic lead!

Pascal: They don't get that you're Sissy Spacek, you know?

Early: She's a southern girl like me. I feel connected to her… Okay, I do have to ask about Sundance. I have such trouble with the Sundance look. There's the practical concerns of staying warm, but then there's also turning out a look for the red carpet. To me, the worst thing is the in between, where you're wearing a beanie and your curls are cascading out of the beanie, or you have a flannel shirt that’s tailored.

Pascal: You have it figured out.

Early: I subscribed to Entertainment Weekly as a 10 year old. I was a psycho. But I remember the Sundance issues and seeing all these actresses with their kitschy version of ski lodge, and I’m a little paralyzed by that. So what's your plan? What are you bringing?

Pascal: I have a two piece Acne Studios [set] that I only wore for my brother's first SNL appearance. I didn't get to be photographed that much in it. So I was like, “Okay, she deserves it.” So maybe that. But also I might be bloated from the plane, so I don’t know.

Early: Do you have a quick debloating trick?

Pascal: Go to a steam room!

Early: Well, too fucking late. My premiere is in two hours.

Pascal: Are you a member of Equinox? Just go to the closest Equinox up there.

Early: I need to get lanced. I'm doing kind of a preppy look with black cords, a black sweater, a little collar popping out of the sweater, black boots. Very dignified. Then on top of that, I'm doing a faux fur green coat. But let’s talk about your movie Bust.

John Early at Sundance. Image courtesy of Getty Images.

Pascal: Bust is a pretty iconic short film. The director Angalis [Field] invited me to an acting class at NYU, and we kind of fell in love. He was like, "I want to do a short film with you. It's my thesis film." I remember when we were doing the costume fittings, I was like, "This is gonna be at Sundance." And he was like, "Don't say that—you're jinxing it!" Then we kind of forgot about it.

Early: Did you find yourself using your Juilliard training?

Pascal: That's why I didn't want to shit on Julliard too much because I do have a huge respect for it. But I would say that I don't think of myself as a technical actor. It's more that I go with what feels right for me in the moment. And I feel that Juilliard really trained me to let go. I know we always hear it, but it is really all about listening to everything around you?

Early: That’s also the hardest thing in the acting sense. It's also hard with independent film because you have no time. In this movie Stress Positions, there were so many scenes where we were moving so fast. Sometimes I feel like a real journeyman, real old school, like “I'm going to hit my mark, say the line loud,” you know? I was doing that a lot so that we could be efficient. Then it was like, “Oops, I'm screaming again.” So I had to make myself slow down and be a little more indulgent.

Pascal: Would you call Stress Positions a comedy?

Early: It is in some ways a very broad screwball comedy. But it's also about America's relationship to the Middle East. It works in an allegorical way. It has incredibly serious themes, and also has these incredibly hypnotic, very art house moments. My friend Theda [Hammel] who directed this movie is a total powerhouse intellectually, and it was so nice to be able to do my thing on a comedy level but also to be in an environment where I felt like I was allowed to go deeper. I don't get permission to do that in a lot of my other work. And my favorite actors were always the people who could toe that line.

Pascal: Toni Collette!

Early: Muriel’s Wedding. She’s a god.

Lux Pascal in Bust, 2024 (Film Still). Image courtesy of Pascal.

Pascal: For my showcase at Juilliard, I did her scene from The Hours with Julianne Moore.

Early: No! Were you her?

Pascal: I was Julianne Moore. I was a huge fan of that movie growing up. It was so intensely femme. My brother just loved Julianne Moore’s acting in it—we both did. But he also introduced me to Toni Collette in that movie and was like, “No, she’s actually it.” Then I chose it as a scene, and I really leaned into not the love that the two characters might have for each other, but the seeking for help in each other.

Early: They’re both doing this artificial, smiley thing in that scene, and then the kiss is the moment where they’re finally honest with themselves. They can’t verbalize it, but they finally are asking for help through the kiss. I love that we both gravitate toward the housewife archetype. Terry, the character I play in Stress Positions, is truly a housewife. He’s like a Douglas Sirk panicked housewife.

Pascal: I was so excited to talk to you about it because I was like, “Oh my God, he gets it.”

Early: Theda gets it. Okay, I have to go get my look together. I’ll see you on the red carpet, and I just want you to remember it’s not a competition. 

Pascal: Or is it? 

Early: We’ll see!