Once Upon a Time in Marfa
Kaylan Drake Burnette may have drifted into town as a heady free spirit with some bold and beautiful ideas, but this down-to-earth native Austinite has already proven her adeptness for navigating the vast terrain of West Texas as well as the cool fissures of her new life in Brooklyn. As the surprise starlet of Larry Clark’s latest film, Marfa Girl, the first-time actor and now model has some rather refreshing ideas about what makes for good craft and storytelling. We spent some time chatting with Drake about her time working on the film, her views on life in a complex community like Marfa, and what the future holds for a deep thinker who refuses to abandon her roots or give up on the steadfastness that comes from knowing who you are or recognizing the genius of place.
Appearing as a lead character in writer-director Larry Clark’s recent film, Marfa Girl, was your acting debut, no? Tell us more about how you got the role and how you prepped for filming in West Texas?
It was my acting debut. A mutual friend suggested me to Larry and we met and had a conversation via Skype. We immediately got along so I drove to Marfa and started shooting a week later. There was very little preparation besides several more long conversations between Larry and in which we created a back story for my character and tweaked her into someone I felt confident to portray.
Has life after Marfa Girl altered your course for the future? Is film something that you want to continue to pursue?
Every action constantly alters our futures because we live in a universe defined by chaos, so sure, it did. I am interested in other opportunities in film as long as they arise in an organic manner. I prefer to work with friends and friends of friends I guess is what I’m trying to say.
Larry Clark describes the backdrop of Marfa Girl as a place where cultures collide as Marfa, Texas, is basically a small desert town where American life intersects with the international art world and the “swarms” of border patrol agents who prowl the periphery. Do you feel that the Marfa community deals with this sort of underlying tension all of the time – in terms of the clash of cultures, sub genres of existence, and economic extremes? Do you think that Clark really captured the complex layering of life there in ways that the rest of the art world has continued to overlook?
Yes, it is very true that the residents of Marfa have to deal with these issues but I wouldn’t go so far to say that these are the issues that define them as a community, you would have to ask them for that. As far as Larry’s film goes, it is a mirror of a mirror, or, in other words, it is one man’s creative expression of his perception of a certain place at a certain time.
With an art history degree from the University of Texas at Austin, you are probably have some opinions about the art on view in Marfa. Do you feel that the environment in West Texas allows for showcasing work in site-sensitive ways? Did you have time during filming to simply spend time with the art, i.e. installations at The Chinati Foundation bathed in the changing light of day.
Long before there was even the idea for the Marfa Girl, movie I began to make frequent trips to Marfa. Like many others, I connected to the landscape and appreciated the built legacy of Donald Judd. In my personal opinion, I believe that it is actually the art that showcases the very special environment, instead of the other way around.
Are you a native Texan? What sorts of childhood memories seem uniquely Texan and true to your core?
I am a native Texan. A deep respect for manners and nature were paramount in my upbringing. I think my connection to nature and a knowledge of what it means to be polite but strong at the same time are traits that most Texans share. Nature, expressed in rough landscapes and big skies, has, and will always be, where I feel most like myself. It instills a peace and confidence in me that allows for a patience and openness in my interactions with others.
What do the wide open spaces of the desert conjure for you? Do you miss the big sky and stars now that you live in New York City? Do you have plans to create homes in both places?
I have no plans, only hopes. I do miss the west Texas landscape very much, and I would be very blessed to one day be able to have a home of my own there and in New York. For the time being I am lucky to feel at home in both places, within the homes of my lovely friends whom I stay with.
What constitutes bold behavior for you? Did you have to tap into a personal reservoir of experience while filming some of the scenes for Marfa Girl? Did being a “non-actress” give you an advantage for this exploration?
Bold behavior is not caring how your actions affect those you love. Which is what I did in my choice to participate in the filming of Marfa Girl. I surrendered myself to articulating the vision of Larry Clark, so there was absolutely no previous experience to draw from. If there was any advantage within this method it would be that the scenes filmed have a rawness and authenticity to them, as opposed to a studied recreation or reenactment of a past moment or feeling.
What are a few things that you always bring with you on your travels or wanderings?
Toothbrush, too many books, sunglasses.
OK, we must ask, is there an Austin-based band or Texas indie music tip that you have for us?
Jess Williamson, Silent Diane, Gal Pals, Hector’s Pets.
As you do more, see more, and experience more, how does this influence your ideas about nature and beauty? Did being involved with Marfa Girl help you to connect to more unorthodox attitudes towards beauty and boundaries?
The way we perceive beauty is fascinating to me, and shooting Marfa Girl definitely allowed me to explore my own perceptions of what I consider beautiful and why that is. That’s the whole point of art, right? In that it allows us to experience or consider ideas that in real life may be detrimental to our well being.
What does artistic freedom mean to you? Do you think that we need more or less freedoms these days?
It means nothing because I don’t consider myself an artist so it’s not something I worry about. I like to leave the definitions of things that don’t concern me up to those that are concerned with them to define. How can I define something I don’t have any personal experience with?
What is your WILD Wish?
Free clothes forever.