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Cannes: A star is born?

By Matthew Carey, CNN
Claire Sloma is one of the new stars at Cannes because of her standout role in "The Myth of the American Sleepover."
Claire Sloma is one of the new stars at Cannes because of her standout role in "The Myth of the American Sleepover."
  • Newcomer Claire Sloma is one of the highlights at this year's Cannes
  • Sloma plays the teenage Maggie in the coming-of-age drama "The Myth of the American Sleepover"
  • The actress is a standout, impressive because this is her first film

(CNN) -- The Cannes Film Festival is known for paying homage to cinematic legends. This year alone, Woody Allen ("You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger"), Jean-Luc Godard ("Film Socialism") and even 101-year-old Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira ("The Strange Case of Angelica") unveiled their latest works.

But Cannes is also a place to discover new talent, both behind and in front of the camera.

Case in point is actress Claire Sloma, who stars in the coming-of-age drama "The Myth of the American Sleepover," playing in one of the "sidebars" at Cannes known as International Critics Week. (This particular division is designed, appropriately, to showcase new talent.)

Sloma, 21, is the standout in the large ensemble cast (for my money, anyway). This is all the more impressive because "Sleepover" marks her cinematic debut. Sloma plays high-schooler Maggie, who, like the other kids in the film, is looking to sow a few wild oats on the final night of summer break.

In Maggie, Sloma creates a character who is alternately awkward and self-assured, free-spirited yet sheltered. It's a complex portrayal -- "layered," as they say.

It could be a star-making performance, but surprisingly, Sloma isn't sure whether she will pursue acting as a career.

We spoke about her work in the film (which doesn't have a U.S. distributor yet) at a seaside restaurant along the famed Croisette. This is an edited version of the interview.

CNN: Tell me how it all came about -- how you got into the film.

Claire Sloma: It's actually a strange story. So they had an open casting call in Michigan, and my mother's best friend ... was like, "Oh, I read about this in the newspaper. You should go." And I kind of went there thinking, "This is impossible, but it'll be a good experience." And then I got a call back and did another audition, and then I ended up being Maggie. It's very cool. That was two years ago already. It's crazy.

CNN: You grew up in Michigan?

Sloma: Yes, metro Detroit area. That's where my family's from. I went to the same high school my parents went to, so [laughs].

CNN: Had you acted before, or what made you think, "Yeah, movie audition. That's for me."

Sloma: I had been doing theater since I was probably in the fourth of fifth grade. So I guess that's why I had the initiative to just go there. But that was a huge ordeal, too. [Director] David [Mitchell] was like, "You're doing theater. You need to tone it down a little, because film is more subtle," and so that was an obstacle for me, but also a good way to learn something new to add on to acting experience, most certainly.

CNN: So you were projecting to the third balcony?

Sloma: [Laughs] I'm already a loud person, so I definitely had to draw that back and draw back the movements and everything because theater is about conveying to a live audience, so you have to be bigger. That's what it's about. And film is more subtle and pulled back. Definitely a challenge, but it was good.

CNN: Had you done a movie before?

Sloma: No. This is the only film I've done. I've also done a short film with a couple of the crew members that worked on this film. I'm a rookie, most certainly.

CNN: How did you go about deciding, "This is who Maggie is. This is how I can create her"?

Sloma: I identified with Maggie on certain levels ... going into high school and wanting to hang out with the older crew. Going into high school for me, I did sports, I did choir and theater, and I was a good student and I wanted to keep doing those things but also branch away from being seen as a kid. So I definitely identified with her on that level, and I remember what it was like to be outgoing but simultaneously insecure. That was definitely me as a freshman in high school. A lot of people didn't see that insecure side, but I think it comes off for Maggie as well. You can tell sometimes her character holds back and she's a little unsure.

CNN: There's a scene in the film where you suddenly start dancing at a party. You displayed some good moves.

Sloma: It's so funny because I did dance for like years and years, but once I entered high school, I stopped doing dance because I was so busy. So I hadn't done dance for quite a while until then. ... When I first read that in the screenplay [about a dance scene,] I was like, "Oh, no." But I thought it turned out well.

CNN: What was the most challenging thing for you [about making the movie]?

Sloma: This is going to sound completely ridiculous. But I am a horrible, horrible swimmer, and I am not a fan of water. And Maggie is in the water a lot [laughs], so that was something I definitely had to get over. That was interesting. My mother was like, "What? You're going to be in the water for most of the scenes?" So I was like, "Yes. So we'll see how it goes."

CNN: You didn't demand a rewrite: "Put me on dry land"?

Sloma: No, no, no. Never, never, never. I'm not a very high-maintenance person. ... My dad said I was always very coachable in sports as well. I pride myself on trying to work with what I'm given. I'm not a picky person.

CNN: You grew up in Michigan. You shot the film there. Are you planning to move to Hollywood?

Sloma: I'm living in Freiburg, Germany, now. I've been there since the end of August, and I'm doing a year abroad at the university there.

CNN: That was not the answer I was expecting.

Sloma: Most people are like, "What? Germany?" I lived there as an exchange student when I was 16, and I've made my way back, so it's definitely a place I feel at home at as well. ... [German] is my major in school.

CNN: Are you planning to do more acting?

Sloma: That's been the big question. I technically have one more semester at U of M [University of Michigan] before I graduate, so in December, I could graduate. And I think I would like to do that, because it's a really great school and it was a lot of work to get into it, you know.

But at the same time, with everything going on and just these experiences, I've really found that I enjoy doing this and I enjoyed acting and I enjoyed being a part of this film and seeing the final outcome and how beautifully they edited it and it came together. I think it would be something in the future I'd like to pursue. Maybe after I get a degree, though, so I've got a nice backup plan there.