Vanessa Burghardt interview: ‘Cha Cha Real Smooth’
Way before Vanessa Burghardt was cast in “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” movies played an extremely important role in her life. “I didn’t really have any friends in school and so movies became the way that I came to understand social situations and other people and it was kind of the way I fulfilled the socialization I wasn’t getting. They were really important to me,” she tells Gold Derby during our recent webchat (watch the exclusive video interview above).
She even remembers one of the earliest performances she saw that made her want to explore becoming an actress. “I remember seeing, weirdly, Kristen Stewart in ‘Zathura.’ That was the first time where I kind of realized what the idea of acting was. Then I saw the gag reel for ‘The Avengers’ and I looked at the behind the scenes pictures and I knew that I wanted to be a part of it forever.”
“Cha Cha Real Smooth,” which can currently be streamed on Apple TV+ stars Burghardt as Lola, the teenage autistic daughter of Domino (Dakota Johnson). The two meet Andrew (Cooper Raiff, who also wrote and directed the film), a recent college graduate who takes a job as a Bar Mitzvah party host when he can’t figure out anything else to do and the three of them develop a strong connection with each other. The film also stars Leslie Mann, Raúl Castillo, Evan Assante and Brad Garrett. The film made a big splash at this year’s Sundance Film Festival where it took home the Audience Award (U.S. Dramatic).
Burghardt, who is autistic in real-life, was very drawn to the character of Lola because of the way Raiff wrote the character. “The fact that she was an autistic character who was there to be a character, not to be there to serve someone else’s narrative or for some other character. She was there with a fully formed personality and perspective.” She adds that she identified with Lola as someone who cares about people but can have a difficult time connecting with them. “I’m sort of the same way. I’m a really social person. I love talking to people. I just don’t always know how to initiate it, but I do care.”
Making sure she had a connection with Johnson was an integral part of making the role work, but Burghardt didn’t have much of a chance to do that before shooting started. “We did a Zoom right before we went to Pittsburgh to film and that was really brief. Then we met for coffee but there was no rehearsal or anything.” She found herself really hoping that they would form this connection despite their lack of interacting prior to shooting. “When we met each other, we got really close really fast and she made me feel very safe and we talked all the time on set, so it was a very natural relationship.”