By Crystal Harrell

On Jan. 11, the world premiere of Miller’s Girl brought Coachella Valley native Jenna Ortega back to her desert roots, as she joined actor Martin Freeman, director Jade Halley Bartlett, and producer Mary-Margaret Kunze at the film’s first screening at Cathedral City’s Mary Pickford is D’Place, as part of the Palm Springs International Film Festival. A post-screening Talking Pictures Q & A followed, with the stars, director and producer.

The film is told through the perspective of a talented young writer (Jenna Ortega) as she embarks on a creative odyssey when her teacher (Martin Freeman) assigns a project that entangles them both in an increasingly complex web. As lines blur and their lives intertwine, professor and protégé must confront their darkest selves while straining to preserve their individual sense of purpose and the things they hold most dear.

Bartlett revealed that the original concept for Miller’s Girl started as a play built around Bartlett’s friend, who was also in attendance at the premiere. The concept of the story was also written during the pre-Me Too era, after which Bartlett wanted to incorporate more elements of the villain/victim dynamic.

Jade Halley Bartlett

“Your conceptions of these characters are upended at the very, very end. It was originally that way for the play and then for the film. We wanted to tighten it into something that feels like a terrifying dark fairytale short story. The kind that punches you in the gut at the end,” shared Bartlett.

While Ortega’s character, Cairo Sweet, is far different from the roles that she is most known for, it is this same uniqueness that caught Ortega’s attention and challenged her to embody Cairo as a standout personality distinct from the other teenage personas she has portrayed in the past.

Jenna Ortega

“I remember receiving the script while being on set in Montreal. I opened it up to find this horrific yet beautiful story. I was so taken aback by Cairo Sweet because, at least what I’ve experienced in my career, I feel like teenage girls are often written in the same bratty, no nonsense manner. Cairo is so incredibly intelligent and wise beyond her years that I think I was excited to not only be able to explore that, but the topic of the film was also a little bit risky to approach. As an artist, you want to be able to take risks and explore what that could be,” explained Ortega.

Martin Freeman also played the role of executive producer in addition to one of the lead actors, and while shooting Miller’s Girl, he embraced the duality of his job on set.

Martin Freeman

“I play them separately in as much as when you know when you’re doing one of those things, that’s sort of all you’re doing,” said Freeman.

Kunze added that having Freeman join the project helped set production on the right track to ensure that it was successful from the get-go.

“He brought such intelligence and thoughtfulness to it that it made us confident moving forward in the casting process. And it made it not only appealing for us, but for the other members of the cast who wanted to come and do it,” stated Kunze.

Mary-Margaret Kunze

As the director, Bartlett framed the narrative of Miller’s Girl in a way that does not clearly delineate who is the hero and who is the villain, deciding to keep those gray areas as a way to make the plot more interesting.

“We want a good guy, we want a bad guy, so that we can feel safe in our judgments of those characters. I think the perfect victim and the perfect villain is boring to write. It’s boring to play and it’s not real life. I wanted to explore characters who are are all of the things I think makes them genuinely terrifying. I hope the film challenges your own judgments on these characters. I would love for the audience to ask themselves why they make these judgments of these characters who don’t fit in the binary,” revealed Bartlett.

Miller’s Girl will be released in the United States on January 26.