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Sundance: Riding along with the excited ‘To the Stars’ cast

February 1, 2019 GMT
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Liana Liberato, from left, director Martha Stephens and Kara Hayward pose for a portrait to promote the film "To the Stars" at the Salesforce Music Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP)
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Liana Liberato, from left, director Martha Stephens and Kara Hayward pose for a portrait to promote the film "To the Stars" at the Salesforce Music Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP)

PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — It’s the first Friday night of the Sundance Film Festival and the Deer Valley condominium housing the five 20-something actresses of the black-and-white period drama “To the Stars” is bustling with activity. Kara Hayward, Liana Liberato, Madisen Beaty, Lauren Ashley Stephenson and Sophi Bairley are about to see the film they worked on this past summer for the first time at its world premiere and their excitement — and anxieties — are palpable.

Boyfriends, makeup artists, hairstylists and even a few parents move about the cozy living room — where there are pizza boxes on the counter, vodka and Sprite on the armoire and a half-played game of Sorry on the coffee table — making sure everyone is ready to go on time.

Liberato declares to no one in particular, “Help with shoes! I need opinions.”

Her mother shouts back: “It’s the boots, Liana!”

Everyone is second-guessing as the clock ticks down to when they all have to leave to make it down the hill to the theater. Beaty worries that she’s a little too dressy and Hayward is already feeling the pain of her shimmery stilettos.

But with a little wrangling, it only takes a few minutes for the five to carefully walk down the icy sidewalk and be on their way. They’re a little nervous to see the film for the first time with an audience which will have critics and potential buyers in attendance, but their director Martha Stephens wanted it that way, so, of course they were going to oblige.

Hayward, best-known for her role in “Moonrise Kingdom,” is a little worried about one other thing. It’s her first Sundance festival and she’s playing a character who has trouble controlling her bladder.

“I’m scared of everyone going, ‘Oh my God that’s the girl who just peed herself on screen,’” Hayward laughs.

“To The Stars” is set in rural 1960s Oklahoma. The quiet coming-of-age film harkens back to classics like “The Last Picture Show.” It’s centered on the friendship between two teenage girls, an outcast (Hayward) and the new girl (Liberato), and the despairing adults surrounding them.

Beaty says Stephens likes to call it, “An ode to the dust bowl and Dorothea Lange photographs.”

The five young women, some of whom knew each other beforehand, became quite close filming in Oklahoma last summer, bonding over the difficult conditions (wind, rain, snakes, fires and food poisoning), the fried pickles at Chili’s and the almost nightly sleepovers. It even got to the point where they’d come to set, just to watch.

Before “To The Stars” got into Sundance, they all went out for sushi and did a “witchy hand thing” to get it programmed in the festival.

“I think we all have to do our witchy hand thing about getting bought,” Liberato says to a resounding, “Yes!” and a few giggles.

Stephenson chimes in that it’s, “Not actually witchcraft.”

And with that the five girls all reach over the SUV seats, take each other’s hands and start dreaming of a bigger life for their little movie. The voices all blend into one excited sound as they shout out the names of all the distributors they can think of on the spot: “A24! Megan Ellison! Annapurna! Netflix! Hulu!”

“Just buy our movie so people can see it!” Liberato says.

At the theater, the crowd, which includes Oscar-winner and festival jury member Damien Chazelle, is captivated. You can hear laughs and sniffles at all the right moments in the room. And by the time the credits roll, the worries have disappeared and everyone proudly takes the stage with Stephens. The family-bond they established isn’t just a Park City or Oklahoma exception, either. They all regularly get together in Los Angeles too.

A week later, “To the Stars” hasn’t been picked up yet, but, you never know. Sometimes the “witchy hand thing” takes a little longer to work its magic.

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Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr