Name: Callina Liang
Sundance project: “Presence,” Steven Soderberg’s latest, is a psychological thriller shot from the perspective of a ghost haunting a dysfunctional family. Liang is the film’s lead, starring alongside Lucy Liu, Chris Sullivan and Julia Fox.
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Notable past credits: The film is Liang’s second movie, but her first to be released. She, along with the rest of the cast, saw the film for the first time at its premiere on Friday night.
“I don’t think I breathed at all. It’s one thing to see yourself in a film for the first time. It’s another thing for the film to be what it was, right?” she says.
“Presence” is centered around Chloe, whose best friend has recently died, shortly before her mother (Liu) moves the family into a new home. Soon after arriving, Chloe can sense a presence in the house, which she comes to believe is her deceased friend. The late-night premiere on Friday was so stressful that multiple outlets have reported a few walkouts due to the intensity.
Liang, who grew up between Singapore, Australia, China and Toronto and is now London-based, initially auditioned for casting director Carmen Cuba for another project and was told she didn’t get the part.
“And then she sent me another audition and my manager was like, ‘they are looking for someone Korean, but just do it anyway. I think it might lead to something,’” Liang says. Sure enough, she soon heard back from Cuba, asking to meet in person for a mystery project, which turned out to be the Soderberg film.
“Presence” shot in just 11 days, most of which were half days of shooting, in September 2023 with a SAG-AFTRA waiver.
“It genuinely felt like a fever dream. Even watching it felt like a fever dream,” Liang says. “Steven turned it around so quickly. Every day after we filmed, he would edit.”
The script initially blew her away, coupled with the chance to work with such a legendary director so early in her career.
“When I read [the script], within the first five pages, you can really tell no film has ever been made like this before,” she says. “And I was very intrigued.”
Despite the intense nature of the film, Liang says it was actually an incredibly easy and light experience working on it.
“Steven is so chill and fast and easy to work with. He doesn’t really say much at all. So us actors, we’d get together all the time in our free time, and we had a lot of free time since he worked so fast,” she says. “I was expecting it to be a little bit more stressful.”
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