There are good years, and then there are Lucy Alibar's 2012-13.
In the past 13 months, Alibar has seen her life catapulted from the anonymity of little-known New Orleans playwright to the warm embrace of First Lady Michelle Obama. The trip began at last year's Sundance Film Festival, where the pic that she co-wrote, Beasts of the Southern Wild, was the festival's breakout hit, and will end at next Sunday's Oscars, where it will compete as the year's Little Indie That Could.
Alibar, along with director Benh Zeitlin and the film's stars, Quvenzhane Wallis and Dwight Henry, visited the White House last week, where Obama raved about the film as part of a presentation on education and self-empowerment. Days later, at the WGA Awards in New York, Alibar was still glowing from the experience when she spoke with The Hollywood Reporter.
The Hollywood Reporter: So you’re a week away from the Oscars, are you getting nervous?
Alibar: No. I mean, at this point, I know everybody and everybody’s so cool and sweet. It’s a really hardworking group of people, so for them it’s all about the art and for me it’s just about enjoying this and all of us making our next project.
THR: Benh Zeitlin and the cast went down to the White House and appeared with Michelle Obama — did you get to go?
Alibar: Oh, yeah! She gave me a hug in this very blazer. I actually borrowed this from my friend Emily, because I don’t have any nice clothes, and I was, like, "Emily, I can’t tell what I’m doing but I need to look really nice! Can I borrow something nice?" And she was, like, "This is the most expensive thing I own." So I put it on and then Michelle Obama hugged me in it. I offered to dry clean it originally and then I said, ‘Michelle Obama hugged me in this. I can give you a picture. Do you want this dry cleaned or do you want me to not wash it?’
THR: No one will ever wash it again.
Alibar: Yeah, I think she doesn’t want it washed.
THR: What was she like, Michelle Obama?
Alibar: She’s beautiful. She’s very warm and extremely disarming. And it was so inspiring … it just made me think about the artist as citizens so much more, and about the greater world that we live in, and starting from your community and doing everything you do in your community and then taking it from there.
THR: I read her remarks and she loved the hell out of that movie.
Alibar: Oh, yeah! She talked about watching it with her friend and her family and people of so many different ages becoming engaged in it and that was so special to me ... because she feels like the mom of our country.
THR: Chris Rock said recently that Barack and Michelle are like the mom and dad of the country.
Alibar: Yeah, they feel like our parents a little bit, and also she’s just such an intellectually on-point person. She’s so sharp. She just has this focus and this clarity when she’s speaking that’s just so inspiring to me, because I tend to be all over the place and daydream and she’s just so present.
THR: To think about the movie playing in the White House must be kind of cool.
Alibar: I think that was the high point of this experience so far. Not just that, but being at the White House with all of our crew and our producers. That was just so special.
THR: Is there anything that she said that you remember especially?
Alibar: Yeah, she said congratulations on being able to write full-time and it’s such a blessing to be able to follow your passion and do what you love all the time. She nailed it. That’s exactly how I feel. So all of this is wonderful, but I’m able to write full-time and I’m just so grateful for that.
THR: What was the first thing you wrote and finished, whether it got produced or not?
Alibar: The first thing I finished I think was … I think I wrote a play about getting my tongue pierced. I was a really bad teenager and I got my tongue pierced. I don’t even remember where I did it but it was under very surreptitious circumstances.
THR: How long was the play?
Alibar: 45 minutes.
THR: That’s pretty good for something about getting your tongue pierced.
Alibar: Yeah, it’s long for a fifteen-year-old. We can't focus on anything.
THR: You wrote it when you were 15?
THR: Did you get the tongue piercing so you could write it?
Alibar: No, although at this point I’m, like, "Well…" You know. You start thinking ahead.
THR: A lot of things I did at 15, I certainly did not turn them into plays.
Alibar: Nor should they be. Probably better that nobody knows about it.
THR: What was it called?
Alibar: I honestly don’t remember. I remember so little about it. I’m embarrassed to even tell you, I think it was Why I Got My Tongue Pierced. I think artists need the freedom to fail and I gave myself that freedom.