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Tulsa actress balances Hollywood, high school

May 15, 2017

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Samantha Isler’s life is one of maintaining a balance in all things.

Learning about this young woman’s movie-making might make you think “high-profile and Hollywood” — but she’s all about low-profile and Tulsa.

Her latest movie, “Dig Two Graves,” is opening in theaters — a couple of weeks before she graduates from Bishop Kelley High School.

She’ll have another movie — appearing in the directing debut of Aaron Sorkin and playing a young version of Jessica Chastain’s character — that’s being pegged for awards-season this fall, at a time when she’ll be a freshman in college.

She’ll tell you that what she really enjoys is attending a game at her school or going out to eat with her family or walking around downtown Tulsa.

But attending the Cannes Film Festival in France or meeting Meryl Streep, well, those aren’t bad either.

“That was just so insane,” Isler said of her January evening at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, where she and her co-stars were nominated for “Outstanding Cast Performance” in the acclaimed “Captain Fantastic.”

In the film, she played one of six children being raised in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest by their father, played by Viggo Mortensen, who was nominated for a best-actor Oscar — and who served as photographer for her and Streep at the SAG event.

“That’s the best photo ever,” Isler told the Tulsa World (http://bit.ly/2psjHSw ). “I just honestly told her how much I loved her, and I started crying almost immediately.

“I was able to stop and have an actual conversation with her, and I told her that she’s my hero as an actress and in how she uses her platforms to stand up for what she believes in.”

But that’s one night in Hollywood, and Isler’s life is in Tulsa, where she treasures time with her family and friends and where she knows she made the right call to stay, rather than move to California for even more acting opportunities.

Her performances, professionalism and a keen eye for choosing thought-provoking material have made it possible for opportunities to continue coming her way no matter where she lives.

“When I first started acting, I didn’t expect anything, and I was discovered by a manager here in Oklahoma and started getting roles and auditions,” Isler said. “But I’m all about Tulsa because all my family is here and I genuinely love it here.

“I couldn’t imagine leaving for acting ... My family is my life, and education is an important part. It’s been the best decision I’ve made regarding my ideas about a career. I was born and raised here, and I have grandparents who moved here for me and my sister.”

Her roles, ranging from playing the daughter of Sean Hayes on a sitcom to a patient on “Grey’s Anatomy,” have given her a glimpse of other young actors who made the move to Hollywood.

“I meet aspiring actors, and I see how they have given up things like education, and I come home and it’s so nice being around all these really humble people who have dreams of being a doctor or a good soccer player and not worrying about how famous they are,” Isler said.

“Every day I know I made the right decision, coming back home to normal life.”

Her latest movie, “Dig Two Graves,” is being released four years after it was filmed and shortly after she had first made “Home Run,” a 2013 faith-based sports drama shot in Okmulgee when she was 14.

“It was kind of a crazy ride for (“Dig Two Graves”), and we thought it might not come out beyond some film festivals,” Isler said. “But then a distributor got involved, and it’s now in select theaters and on iTunes, and I’m really proud of that film.”

Her first starring role came in this supernatural suspense thriller in which a young girl is given a brutal choice that could result in bringing her brother back to life — if she will agree to someone else taking his place.

“I really enjoyed the character, Jake, because she’s a tomboy, and she’s strong-willed and fearless, and her priorities are very different than most 14-year-olds in movies these days,” Isler said.

“She’s dealing with loss, and with making a hard decision, and in films and TV shows too often a girl this age is complaining about school and guys and is very stereotypical.”

The role offered new challenges, like gutting a deer (“That wasn’t too bad at all”) and acting in a water tank for an underwater scene.

“That was one of the scariest things I’ve done in my life, going 12 feet under, and strapped in with scuba experts with me, and then I hear ‘action’ and drop the breathing apparatus ... It was crazy and my mother was scared to death,” Isler recalled.

“That makes it hard to stay in character, but it all worked out.”

Most things are working out for Isler these days, and she’s making plans for a fun summer: traveling that includes rafting, hiking and going to the beach, taking in some concerts and just generally being in the outdoors.

But not before graduation, as well as talking to a Circle Cinema audience with her “Dig Two Graves” director in tow to answer questions about the film and about her acting experiences.

“I think it’s nice to be able to do this, to let people know about the movie,” Isler said. “I’ve done these and found it interesting how much people really do care about a movie and how much they want to know how we feel about the movie.

“I think that’s really nice, and, of course, it’s nice that I’ll probably have many friends and family in the theater.”

Because family, and Tulsa, are what really matter to this young talent.


Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com

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