Aspen High senior Lydia Stysligner discusses her movie career, role in Robert DeNiro comedy ‘The War with Grandpa’
IF YOU GO …
‘The War with Grandpa’ is expected to open at the Isis Theatre in Aspen and Movieland in Basalt on Friday, Oct. 9. Check updated listings at metrotheatres.com and bowtiecinemas.com.
For aspiring actors, working with game-changing legends like Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken and Uma Thurman is an over-the-rainbow dream. But Lydia Styslinger found herself at a read-through with them as an eighth-grader, gathering with the full cast of “The War with Grandpa” – also boasting Cheech Marin, Rob Riggle and Jane Seymour – at a table read in Manhattan.
“It was surreal,” said Styslinger, now a senior at Aspen High School. “It is so cool to be in a room with all these acting icons. It was a really special experience to have as an eighth grader in middle school.”
In the film, which opens in theaters on Friday Oct. 9, Styslinger plays a bullying older sister who shows up periodically to embarrass her kid brother in the school cafeteria or while he’s on a video chat with friends.
“See that girl over there,” her on-screen brother says in an early scene, “she is going to torture me every chance she gets!”
And Styslinger’s charactert does, with a sense of adolescent villainy she says she modeled off her own sister Stella.
“I do have a big sister in real life who I sort of used as inspiration for this character,” she said. “Really I was trying to mimic my older sister.”
Filmed in Atlanta four years ago, “The War with Grandpa” was directed by “SpongeBob SquarePants” writer Tim Hill. It’s led by DeNiro performing in the gruff comic register of his “Analyze This” and “Meet the Parents” characters, playing a grumpy grandfather who finds himself out of touch with contemporary life. In an early scene, frustrated by a self-checkout at the grocery store, he steals his groceries and does battle with a clerk.
He moves back in with the family of his daughter (Uma Thurman) and gets into the titular war of pranks with Peter (Oakes Fegley), the grandson whose room he’s taken over.
Styslinger plays the older sister of one of Peter’s friends, teasing him for his foot fungus, for the candy bar stuck in his retainer and for his kiddie underwear.
“The War with Grandpa” was a fun set, as evidenced by the gag reel that runs alongside the closing credits and by Styslinger’s account.
“Everyone was like family, I still keep in touch with some of them,” she said.
DeNiro left Styslinger a gift in her trailer on her first day – a Polaroid camera with a note reading “Break a leg, Lydia.” The note, of course, is now framed in her room.
“That meant a lot to me,” she said.
Her family moved to Aspen from Alabama in the summer before she began high school and as her film acting career began. Styslinger travels frequently for auditions and for filming, keeping up with schoolwork with on-set tutors.
“It is doable living in a place like Aspen,” she said. “Aspen High has been very supportive of me and all of my roles and worked with me to continue my acting career. Living here has been an amazing experience.”
She’s also frequently appeared on local stages, including high school productions like “Humbug High” and “Cinderella” as well as in Theatre Aspen School shows.
She got her start in musical theater, performing as a kid with Red Mountain Theatre Company in Birmingham. Styslinger caught the acting bug there, which led to her booking her first commercial and her first film, “Life on the Line,” which put her on screen with John Travolta at age 12.
“I’ve been acting ever since I can remember, “ she said. “I’ve always known this is what I wanted to do with my life.”
Styslinger also landed in a pair of Bruce Willis vehicles – “10 Minutes Gone” and “Trauma Center” – and in the 2018 Edward Burns indie drama “Summertime.”
The release of “The War with Grandpa” has been muted by the coronavirus pandemic. There will be no premiere party and no red carpet to walk. Instead, Styslinger is planning to go to the Isis Theatre in Aspen with her family to watch.
The other major film she has in the can is “Son of the South,” a civil rights drama still awaiting a release date. It is directed by Barry Alexander Brown, best known for editing the films of Spike Lee, who executive-produced.
For now, Styslinger is eager to get back to in-person classes at Aspen High, as well as auditions and new film projects
She has continued submitting audition tapes during the pandemic, but most film production has remained shut down for more than six months.
“With actual production on hold, I’m focusing on school and finishing my senior year and getting ready to study acting in college,” she said.
She is hopeful that Broadway and the wider ecosystem of live theater will bounce back from the pandemic and that she will find her place on stage and on film. Or better yet, bringing the two together.
“Really what I’ve love to do in the future is to be in a third ‘Mama Mia!’ film,” she said with a laugh. “Musical theater and film are my two passions. So that would be a dream role.”
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