LOS ANGELES, Nov. 25 (UPI) -- Teenage actor Sophia Lillis said her roles have helped her explore milestones as she's grown up. Her latest film, Uncle Frank, is a coming-of-age tale for Beth (Lillis), Frank's (Paul Bettany) niece.
"I find those [roles] really interesting to work on because I'm going through the same thing," Lillis told UPI in a recent phone interview from her home in New York. "I get to have this arc and have this internal battle, having life lessons and becoming a stronger person by the end."
Lillis was 13 when she began filming It, in which she plays a young woman who overcomes a literal monster. Whether dealing with supernatural forces, or real-world concerns in series like Sharp Objects and films like Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, each of Lillis's characters face pivotal moments in childhood.
Now 18, Lillis realizes she has appeared on screen in each of her teenage years. She said she feels a bit like she's showing strangers her family photo albums.
"You can see me slowly growing up," Lillis said. "I love acting and it's a very public thing. It does feel a little strange."
The latest coming of age movie
Uncle Frank begins in 1969 when Frank speaks with a 14-year-old Beth. Frank's advice to be who she wants to be, rather than follow her family's expectations, guides Beth into adulthood.
"I love the message that he gives her," Lillis said. "You should do what you think is right for you. I think that's an amazing thing to tell someone, especially at a young age."
By 1973, Beth goes to college at New York University. She visits Frank in New York, where he lives with his partner Wally (Peter Macdissi).
"Going to NYU and seeing this totally different life, she kind of grows up a little bit," Lillis said.
Beth and Frank must return to their family home in the South for the funeral of Frank's father, Beth's grandfather. Lillis said Beth returns as a new woman.
"When she comes back, she sees everyone from a different perspective," Lillis said.
The return home represents a struggle for Frank, who is not openly gay around his family, and keeps his relationship with Wally hidden. Beth finds herself in a role where she can support Frank, like he supported her when she was younger.
"In the end, she's the one to help him through what he's doing," Lillis said.
The trip home also gives Beth opportunities to demonstrate her maturity. At one stop, a mechanic hits on her and she shoots him down.
"That's when you can really see her changing," Lillis said. "That's the scene where you can really see her speaking up for herself."
Practicing what she plays
Lillis said she could relate to Frank's advice to Beth because she's living it. She discovered acting as a hobby prior to It, and continues to pursue her own passion.
"It's not because my parents told me, 'You should act,'" Lillis said. "It was because I personally love doing it and I thought this is the road I want to go down."
Growing up in New York City, Lillis had an acting teacher who referred her to a student filmmaker at NYU. After Lillis appeared in Dagny Looper's The Lipstick Stain, other student filmmakers wanted to cast her, too.
"Acting was something that I thought was really freeing and really fun," Lillis said. "All these really fun, artsy people, I thought they were really intriguing."
Lillis said that after she made It, she decided she could continue acting professionally. She credited her red hair in It for leading to her next role as the younger version of Amy Adams' character in Sharp Objects. Lillis sports her natural color in Uncle Frank.
"I actually have light brown hair," Lillis said.
Lillis continued to work on films like Gretel & Hansel and series like I Am Not Okay With This, while completing on set tutoring. She graduated high school earlier this year and plans to continue focusing on work.
"Maybe after a few years, if I think, 'Oh, I'm going to take a little break and go to art school or college.' I'm still keeping an open mind," Lillis said. "It could happen."
Uncle Frank is on Amazon Prime Wednesday.