Lily Gladstone Did More Than Just Lend Her Name to ‘Jazzy’: She Wants to Help the Movie ‘Find Its Family’

Lily Gladstone isn’t literally related to 13-year-old Jasmine Bearkiller Shangreux (who everyone calls “Jazzy”), but across two interconnected films, Gladstone has portrayed a fictional aunt to the real-life rising star — and watched her grow up in the process.

The duo’s latest film, also called “Jazzy,” premiered at Tribeca on Sunday, and boasts the “Killers of the Flower Moon” Oscar-nominated star as an executive producer and has Gladstone in an extended cameo. “Jazzy” is director Morrisa Maltz’s follow-up to last year’s “The Unknown Country,” which starred Gladstone but also saw her visiting with then-six-year-old Jazzy, playing herself. Another movie with this group? For Gladstone, it was “such an easy yes.”

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“I just wanted my name associated with this project in a meaningful way,” Gladstone said during a recent interview with IndieWire. “Finding ‘Jazzy’ as a film really came out of making ‘The Unknown Country,’ so there’s a continuity of story there that I wanted to not just lend my name to, I wanted to be a part of. As it turned out, lending my name to a project helps push it up the marquee in a way that if ‘Jazzy’ had preceded ‘The Unknown Country,’ it would have been a different story.”

Now, Jazzy gets her own movie, following her across six childhood years, exploring everything from friendship to boys to Native American culture. The dreamy series of vignettes Maltz captures of Jazzy and her friend Syriah, part documentary realism and part Malick-esque visions, are all based on Jazzy and Syriah’s own stories (they even get “story by” credits) and are glimpses into Jazzy’s real childhood. That it dovetails and even echoes “The Unknown Country” just makes the film and Jazzy’s journey more emotionally rewarding.

Rather than peek into Jazzy’s life for just a few moments, as in “The Unknown Country,” the new film flips the script to give Gladstone the chance to weigh in on early cuts — while also giving Jazzy the chance to grow up as an actress and creator. It meant Gladstone had to do less heavy lifting when she finally joined Jazzy on set, reprising her role of Aunt Tana, and was able to more clearly understand her world.

“Specifically choosing an EP, I knew with that credit, I would be involved in any way to just help nurture and foster and support the story of Jazzy, kind of like the relationship that Tana and Jazzy have. It’s an extension of that into reality,” Gladstone said.

‘Jazzy’Film Arcade

It’s a unique little independent cinematic universe Maltz has built over the last several years. Filming of Jazzy and her family started back in 2018 before Maltz had an idea of what “The Unknown Country” even was or would become. The new film blends fiction and biography and has some elements drawing from Jazzy’s life, some plot threads extending from what was established in “The Unknown Country,” and other moments are completely made up for this project.

But a movie on Jazzy herself didn’t become a reality until 2021, with filming continuing into the actors strike last year. “Jazzy” was one of the early films to qualify for an interim agreement from SAG-AFTRA, which Maltz applied for alongside securing an interim agreement for “The Unknown Country,” the first to secure one for promotional purposes during the strike.

Gladstone said both films helped set the stage for how SAG-AFTRA would navigate the strike as it pertained to keeping indie production going. Maltz’s film was so indie and detached from the studio system, her production company was named merely “Morrisa Maltz, LLC.”

“These film are from the heart. They’re so outside the system,” Maltz said. “I’m so in love with what we’re doing with them that the fight to get those interim agreement so that I could bring everyone I love together to finish ‘Jazzy’ and to promote ‘The Unknown Country,’ I mean, these films have been my life.”

Gladstone has no relation to Jazzy, but Maltz is literally Jazzy’s godmother. She’s watched closely as Jazzy has realized just how famous Gladstone has become and has even taken up drama classes as she’s become inspired with being Gladstone’s scene partner.

“Jazzy looks up to Lily so so so much, it’s been really wild to watch her realize who Lily is and how she can look up to her,” Maltz said. “Understanding who Lily is and that she’s now been in two movies with Lily and has had this relationship with her that’s very close, it’s really deeply inspired Jazzy, not just in starting drama class, but also in how she speaks and talks about the projects she’s working on now.”

On “The Unknown Country,” Gladstone said other than co-star Richard Rae Whitman, Jazzy was the easiest to improv with, charmed by how her “very vibrant mind” was always spinning a narrative.

‘Jazzy’Film Arcade

“Every time I see her, she has gone through a growth spurt,” she said. “It was cool to step back into that [world] and see that Jazzy really is turning into just an older and more sophisticated version of who she’s always been.”

“Jazzy” is not the first project Gladstone has executive produced, and it also won’t be her last, teasing that she’s even getting something else together with Maltz, if not within this same cinematic universe. But with whatever it is next, she wants to feel as connected to it as she does this film.

“Anything that I EP now, whatever level of involvement there is, it’s always going to be because it’s a story that I definitely want to have input on,” she said. “I love giving notes. I love helping connect people. I love doing what I can while the professional acting career is continuing to do its thing.”

First though, “Jazzy” needs to secure distribution, a slightly more uphill battle without Gladstone’s star power in the lead. Helping its cause though this time are the Duplass brothers, who also serve as executive producers and also immediately gravitated toward the story. Gladstone isn’t worried. “It’ll find its family,” she said.

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