Talking with Q'orianka Kilcher, who plays Pocahontas in Terrence Malick's The New World, you realize two things: First, she's a normal teen – full of energy, smiling easy and often and a little overwhelmed by the buzz of press around her work in the film. At the same time, she's not a normal teen – on-screen, she seems preternaturally mature, and show-biz speak drops pretty casually into her conversations. Talking one-to-one in San Francisco in January, she spoke with Cinematical about working with Terrence Malick, the cultural burdens of playing an American legend … and how it's hard to track down some Malick's classics at your local Blockbuster.

Cinematical: How do you feel watching The New World now?

Q'orinka Kilcher: You know, I feel kind of like it's a dream. ... When I see my posters in a movie theater or something, it's kind of really funny. I look at it and I'm like … "Huh …this is funny, this is weird." I just remember the entire experience when I watch the film, and I play the entire filming and those events back in my head when I'm watching the movie and it's a memory of a wonderful, amazing learning experience.

C: You had the on-set experiences, and many of the scenes of the film felt pretty improvisational in terms of the physical quality of them ... and then you had to record a lot of voice over.

QK: Yeah.

C: Was that a protracted process of putting your role together? Did it feel like it took a longer time than a normal film shoot?

QK: Well, we did the voice-overs at the end, and I had no clue where they were going to put them …   (So) I'm not really sure, because I've had smaller roles – I've never had the main role, so I'm not really sure what is long and what seems not long – but to me it seemed short. I mean, yeah, it was challenging, and it was kind of hard sometimes, but it seemed to go by too quickly.

(More with Q'orinka Kilcher after the jump. ...)  
What would be the most unexpected thing you found out learning during the making of the film?

QK: To really not worry about being perfect; to really, really be true to yourself and to the spirit of your character, and to just really work on your impulses. Because I was actually kind of scared, because I took acting classes since I was five, and I still do now, and I do things here and there – except I never had such an emotionally challenging role as in this film. Sometimes I would be crying for four or five hours straight, and I didn't know if I was going to be able to do it honestly or what was going to happen, so I would go on set and right before – and it sounds maybe a little silly – but I would ask the spirit of Pocahontas to try and kind of guide me and help me in telling her story as best as I could to the world. I would just let feelings that came in me overwhelm me and flow out of me; I was kind of like an instrument in a way, being used …

C:  I can only imagine you reading the script and going "Okay, I'm a daughter, I'm a sister, I'm a member of a community; I'm an ambassador, I'm a lover, I'm a mother …" As you read through that script, do you think 'Oh, what a banquet of things to portray," or do you think "Oh, God – how am I going to do all of this?"

QK: You know, it was sheer amazement and I felt so lucky to be able to do this, because I knew it was going to be extremely challenging; the first time that I read the script, I was a little bit scared, except that I was so excited to do it, because this was a role where I was able to bare my whole heart and soul into it, and just throw myself blindly inot the scene and whatever was going on and just do it.

C: Your dad is an Indigenous person from South America – when you read the film, it's sort of about a topic where it's a mix of the personal and the political for you; could you feel it resonating, did you feel that it was respectful, that it was neither too simple or too easy a film about the colonization of North America?  Did you talk with your dad about it, did you worry about this being a complex issue?

QK: I didn't talk with my dad, 'cause my dad comes around every four or five years for one or two days and then disappears again; I did do lots of research on (Pocahontas), and the script was so beautifully written; however, due to the time (constraints), there were so many things that got cut out of the movie. That was a little bit of a shock to me in the beginning – except, I love the movie; I'm still glad that I was a part of it, so all us actors really do is go on-set, give ourselves to it and it's really up to the cutting room after that.

C: You're doing this incredibly intense shoot; you're working with a legendary director; you always hear about actors who play the lead role in King Lear and then find it hard to go out for a pint of beer after the play's done. Was it hard to get back into being you after a day on the set?

QK: I had immersed myself so much into the character of Pocahontas, that when I would go home I would feel – in a way – that she was a little bit of a part of me, and I will always carry a part of her with me – after doing this film especially. So when I would go home I would wake up at 3 o'clock in the morning and just go down and listen to the rain. So, no, I don't feel it was hard to get out of (character); I mean, sometimes, when I was doing the scenes where I cried for four or five hours, I would go home extremely emotionally raw – I suppose I stayed in her character all the time, but I suppose it was always a little bit of part of me due to my own heritage and culture.

C: Did you sit down and watch Malick's films?

QK: Afterwards, I watched The Thin Red Line; I tried to track down (Malick's) other movies (Days of Heaven and Badlands), but they didn't have them at Blockbuster. … I'm really looking forward to watching Badlands.