Exclusive Interview: Sheila Vand on Representation in Film and Working With Dave Franco on THE RENTAL

The Airbnb nightmare The Rental is Dave Franco’s feature film directorial debut, and stars Alison Brie, Dan Stevens, Jeremy Allen White, and Sheila Vand. When two couples head off to a seaside rental house, they have plans for a group celebration. What awaits them is worse than anything they could have possibly imagined.

Actress Sheila Vand is well-known for her starring role in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014), as well as her roles in films like We Are the Animals (2018) and The Wave (2019). In The Rental, Vand plays Mina, an Iranian-American woman who suspects the owner of the Airbnb the group rented for their getaway has racially discriminated against her and has ulterior motives. In addition to the possibly sinister intent of the homeowner, Mina is involved in a love triangle, so to say the group’s vacation gets messy is an understatement.

Dread Central had the pleasure of speaking with Sheila Vand about The Rental, representation in film, her creative process, and a lot more. Read on to find out what we talked about!

IFC Films released The Rental in select drive-ins, theaters, and on demand on July 24th.

Dread Central: What was it about the character of Mina that appealed to you in The Rental?

Sheila Vand: I love that Mina is a strong, smart, successful businesswoman. We don’t see enough Middle Eastern women on screen represented with that kind of power. But at the same time, Mina is troubled and torn about certain things she faces in the movie. She’s not just good or just bad, she’s something in between. It makes the character more human and complex.  And it was an exciting opportunity to play a lead because unfortunately, it’s still very rare to find leading roles as a Persian-American actor, so I wanted to seize the opportunity and show the industry that ethnic actors can easily hold their own. We deserve a seat at the table and our inclusion is long overdue.

DC: The Rentalis Dave Franco’s feature film directorial debut. What was it like working with him on this film?

SV: I can’t say enough good things about Dave. He treats his cast and crew with so much respect, and he really made sure everyone he hired was a good person with good energy. It made for such a wonderful on-set experience. He’s really open to input, but also knows how to protect his vision. And he’s extremely meticulous and prepared. I love perfectionists because I’m one too. I’m really looking forward to seeing more directing from Dave. I think he’s a total natural at it.

DC: The Rental has such a spectacular cast! What was it like working together on this film?

SV: This cast is half the reason I wanted to do the movie! Every one of them is such a pro. They’re all so talented and it was just a treat to be playing ball with people whose work I love. And since the cast is so small and contained, it almost felt like we were doing theater. There was enough dialogue to actually play with. A lot of movies are afraid to sit with their characters and they make up for it with flashy visuals and editing. But Dave really let these characters breathe. And again, like I said before, it’s rare to see a Middle Eastern character given as much screen time as their white counterparts, so it was quite meaningful to me to have a role as big as everyone else’s in the movie. For once, to not just be a supporting part that is only there to assist the white roles or the male roles. What a relief.

DC: I also loved your performances in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and The Wave. How do you choose the characters you want to play?

SV: Thank you so much. I try to keep my roles diverse. I don’t like to play the same character twice because if you do that, Hollywood will try to lock you into that box forever. I seek out roles that challenge me and push me to grow as a performer. If a part intimidates me, it’s usually a sign that I should play it. I also prioritize projects that are directed by women and BIPOC filmmakers whenever I can. And of course, I love genre movies so much, so I’m way more inclined to do a film if it’s pushing some boundaries. I love the strange and the surreal, so the weirder your project is, the more likely I’ll want to be part of it.

DC: I thought your performance in The Rental was very intense. What is your creative process for getting into character?

SV: My process varies depending on the filmmaker and the role. There’s always the basic acting work like creating a backstory so your character feels fleshed out and real, creating a journey for your character based on what the script gives you, things like that. But the emotional work is a little harder to explain. Sometimes I need things from my real life to connect me to the character, but other times, the text and the circumstances are enough to transport me into their skin. With Mina, it was a little easier than usual because she and I have a lot of similarities already. And since this cast is so damn talented, I could just play off the chemistry of my fellow actors. I didn’t have to rely on preparation as much as I just had to stay in the moment of each scene.

DC: Can you tell me what you’re working on next?

SV: Yes, I’d love to! I’m starring in a feature film by Shirin Neshat that will be shooting as soon as we safely can. Shirin is a legendary icon in the art world and she’s become like a mentor to me. The film we’re making is a surreal and satirical meditation on the American Dream. I think the script is really special and I hope she announces the rest of the cast soon because there are some incredible actors attached. I can’t wait to start filming. And in addition to that, I’m writing my own TV pilot and feature length script that will hopefully be done by the end of this year. My feature is super psychedelic and performance driven. It’s my dream to direct my own screenplay someday soon.

Written by Michelle Swope

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