"It's funny to be playing a mom," Elizabeth Reaser says with a laugh. "I mean, I'm not a mom in real life. I don't even have a dog."
But Reaser is playing a mom - again - in The Art of Getting By, which opened June 17. The bittersweet coming-of-age comedy casts her as mother to Emma Roberts, whose relationship with a classmate played by Freddie Highmore is the focus of the film. Reaser plays a woman who, having becoming a parent at a young age, has drifted through several brief marriages and, in her mid-30s, is back on the dating scene in Manhattan.
"Really, I feel much more connected to that age - the daughter - than to this one," says Reaser, 35, in a telephone interview. Still, it's not the first time: As she notes, she plays matriarch to the vampire clan that includes Robert Pattinson in the Twilight film series. But her own relationship with her mother as a teen was a stormy one.
"I was really bad until I was 18," she says. "I remember never going to school, getting drunk, having fights with my mother. Eventually I realized that I would not have a life until I buckled down. Once I did, I auditioned for Juilliard - and that changed everything."
Though the role in Art of Getting By is a small one, Reaser took it because "I thought the character was so strong and wonderfully complicated and inappropriate. It made me think about what it would be like to have a kid when you were so young, and how would that bleed into your parenting."
Roberts, her movie daughter, is "this smart, sophisticated, sweet girl - we hit it off right away," Reaser says. "We went out the first night we filmed and talking to her was like talking to someone much older."
Reaser has larger roles in two other films due before the end of the year: Jason Reitman's Young Adult, and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1. Her involvement with the Twilight phenomenon has been eye-opening.
"When I took the role, I didn't even know it was a book," she says with a laugh. "And it was all so hush-hush - there was no script to get my hands on. It's amazing the reach those films have had."
Reaser, a native of rural Michigan, graduated from the Juilliard School with the intention of working in theater: "I wanted to do plays," she says. "But then I got out of school and started getting jobs in movies and TV. And I seemed more suited to that. I like the intimacy of working for the camera, the size of performance it requires. I love getting into tiny moments."
She's been at the center of a couple of TV series (including The Ex List: "I could tell that one was falling apart quickly") and had lengthy character arcs on a couple of others (Grey's Anatomy, The Good Wife). She didn't watch her TV shows - or her films.
"I don't like to watch myself," she says. "For the most part, I find it weird. It depresses me; I'm very critical. Then I'll watch it, like, three years later and think, 'That wasn't hideous.'
"I would love to do a play but I don't want to do it in a big Broadway house - more like something small off-Broadway. The last time I did one was the Williamstown Festival. And I was sick to my stomach every night before I went on. I tortured myself; I was so nervous. But it would be good for me to do a play now."