Singers Joe Purdy and Amber Rubarth – both of whom had never acted before — weren’t so sure about taking leading roles in the film American Folk.

“After giving fair warning that I would probably screw it up, he convinced me to do it, and then after that, we were looking for someone to play the other lead, and David [Heinz] came across a young YouTube clip of Amber and I singing together at this benefit concert in upstate New York, and he was just like, ‘Who is that?’” Purdy told uInterview exclusively at South By Southwest.

After convincing Rubarth to also do the movie — which is about two strangers who meet on a plane bound to New York City on 9/11 and bond after having to return to L.A. and drive instead — the two musicians-turned-actors found it easier to be in the movie because they also had the chance to perform music.

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“When I met David, one of the first things he said to me was that he wanted to write this story kind of to put the question out of do we need to wait for another tragedy to find that same kindness, and that folk music and just the origins of music are a really good way of people coming together outside of politics or belief systems,” Rubarth said. “It had a really beautiful heart to it. The characters are somewhat mirror-y of us as people, I think, in enough ways that as non-actors, we were able to put ourselves in those situations.”

Heinz, the director, wanted real musical performances.

“So there are live performances that we did, and that was — David wanted — that’s why we had musicians who couldn’t act instead of actors who couldn’t play music,” Purdy said. “He wanted that part to be authentic, because it’s not most of the time.”

Rubarth said acting wasn’t necessarily the only component of being in American Folk.

“We did pull out a lot of songs that we didn’t actually know together or we kind of knew together or hadn’t rehearsed … or that we just thought of the moment before, and we decided to learn it on the spot, and I think because we land in the same places, we were able to do that and because we kind of are fans of similar music, so I think it made it so we didn’t really have to act very much,” Rubarth said. “It was lucky.”

Read uInterview’s full, exclusive interview with Purdy and Rubarth below.

How did you two get involved in the film?

Joe Purdy: David Heinz, the guy who wrote and directed and edited the film, approached me about this idea that he had to make this film, and I was really reluctant because I hadn’t been in anything before — I hadn’t acted before.

After giving fair warning that I would probably screw it up, he convinced me to do it, and then after that, we were looking for someone to play the other lead, and David came across a young YouTube clip of Amber and I singing together at this benefit concert in upstate New York, and he was just like, ‘Who is that?’ And I told him, and he said, ‘Well, do you think that she would want to do the movie? Because nobody sings like that with you. So naturally.’ And I was like, ‘Well, you can ask her, and so he did, and she said no and accepted eventually.’ Is that the story?

Amber Rubarth: That’s pretty close, yeah.

Can you describe the film?

AR: The two characters are strangers, and they’re on a plane in LA going to New York. They’re sitting next to each other on the plane, and the attacks happen. The plane is returned to LA, and they still need to get to New York. They end up riding to a friends house and being able to have a vehicle to go across, and I guess it’s a story about kind of the intimacy that’s shared by everybody, by the nation, during those few days after.

When I met David, one of the first things he said to me was that he wanted to write this story kind of to put the question out of do we need to wait for another tragedy to find that same kindness, and that folk music and just the origins of music are a really good way of people coming together outside of politics or belief systems. It had a really beautiful heart to it. The characters are somewhat mirror-y of us as people, I think, in enough ways that as non-actors, we were able to put ourselves in those situations.

How did you pick the music for the film?

JP: We decided to have a bunch of older folks on and traditionals and sort of the older music that kind of came from the mud to give this a little bit more of an American authentic feel and to kind of remind — it seemed to really fit with the theme of, you know, a lot of that early ‘60s and — even earlier — folk music that people would sing along to and the sentiment of the Woody Guthries and the Pete Siegers of the world, bringing people together in that way. It seemed like a logical thing to do, and also we just love those old songs.

So there are live performances that we did, and that was — David wanted — that’s why we had musicians who couldn’t act instead of actors who couldn’t play music. He wanted that part to be authentic, because it’s not most of the time.

AR: We did pull out a lot of songs that we didn’t actually know together or we kind of knew together or hadn’t rehearsed … or that we just thought of the moment before, and we decided to learn it on the spot, and I think because we land in the same places, we were able to do that and because we kind of are fans of similar music, so I think it made it so we didn’t really have to act very much. It was lucky.

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