AMANDA Seyfried may have started out playing teen bombshells, but the rest of her career has defied typecasting. When she plays wide-eyed ingénues they come with a twist. In Mamma Mia! and Les Misérables, her heroines had a disconcerting habit of bursting into song.
She may begin a movie as a doe-eyed virgin, but by the end she has transformed into porn queen Linda Lovelace, and in Mean Girls she used her doll-like beauty to great effect as daffy high-school queen Karen, who claimed to be able to forecast the weather with her breasts.
“I get that quoted at me in the street, even now,” she says, demurely. It was the first time Seyfried knew her career was on course. “I definitely knew it would be a success. There was no way that movie could go wrong.” Ten years on, she is a little blonder and thinner than when she first came to attention in Tina Fey’s smart feminist comedy, but the really surprising thing is that she hasn’t done a comedy since – not even the default choice of a rising star, the romcom.
“A lot of scripts came my way to play dumb blondes that really didn’t have much character,” she says. “I didn’t do them because it would have really been only for money and work.”
Instead she was snapped up by TV to play the eldest daughter of a bigamist in HBO’s series Big Love, stood up to a possessed Megan Fox in the horror flick Jennifer’s Body, raced around with Justin Timberlake in the sci-fi picture In Time, and did a sexually amped-up Red Riding Hood who tamed wolves.
This month, however, she’s finally back in the comedy saddle with A Million Ways To Die In The West, joining an all-star cast that includes Liam Neeson, Charlize Theron, Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman. “It’s the funniest thing I’ve read since Mean Girls,” she says. “Maybe it’s a bit like Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, but really dirty.”
The dirt is down to writer-director Seth MacFarlane, the creator of adult animated TV comedies Family Guy and American Dad, who had a hit two years ago with Ted, starring Mark Wahlberg and his foul-mouthed teddy. MacFarlane voiced the bear, but in A Million Ways To Die In The West he is in front of the camera in a major role for the first time as Albert, a farmer who is too cowardly to go through with a gunfight, and is dumped by his girlfriend Louise (Seyfried) in favour of the annoying but dapper Foy (Neil Patrick Harris) who runs the town’s “moustachery”. For the rest of the movie, MacFarlane tries to win Seyfried back with the help of a sharpshooter, played by Theron.
Filmed in Arizona and Santa Fe, New Mexico, as the title suggests, there’s a certain amount of attention given to the lethal nature of frontier life. “Everything that’s not you, wants you dead,” says Albert, who balances his cowardice with social commentary and acute observational humour far beyond his era. “Outlaws, Indians, angry gamblers, disgruntled prostitutes, wild animals, the weather, disease – even a trip to the dentist means taking your life in your hands.” The body count is a relatively modest 15, but it’s the randomness that is startling: during one monologue a cattle stampede takes out a bystander, and the speaker doesn’t even pause.
“We do stunts and ride horses,” says Seyfried, who shot the film last year in Monument Valley near the Arizona-Utah border, an area made famous by John Ford westerns including The Searchers. “It’s a comedy, but on a grand scale, with beautiful scenery and costumes.”
Rather less attractive is a show-stopping sequence featuring Seyfried and Harris. “No-one has done it before in a movie,” she says half-proudly. “I don’t want to talk about it too much when people haven’t seen the movie but it’s pretty gross, and involves… human hair.”
Human hair, Silverman as a town whore who offers her clients educational tours, and Neeson as an Irish gunslinger are three of the million reasons Seyfried hopes the movie will catch some summer heat. The cast regularly worked long days in desert temperatures, but “everyone was laughing all the time, it was as if we didn’t care about shooting a 14-hour day”.
This is the first time Seyfried has worked with a writer-director-actor: “Seth is very focused about watching the takes, but of course he is also next to you in the scene, so you wonder ‘Is he watching what I’m doing?’ But this is the film where he becomes a movie star. He’s just charming.”
MacFarlane made the move to feature directing with 2012’s Ted, a hit which went on to make more than £300 million at the box office, and there’s a certain nervousness as to how a western will perform, given that the genre has fallen from favour since its heyday in the 1940s and 1950s. However, Seyfried has such confidence in MacFarlane that she has signed on to star opposite Wahlberg in MacFarlane’s Ted 2, although she says she has no desire to write or direct.
At home she has set up a studio for painting, and collects stuffed animals, including foxes, rabbits, birds and a miniature horse. She also plays guitar and has dabbled in songwriting – which is less surprising, given her work with Abba and Les Mis. Seyfried has a sweet, clear voice that cuts through to the heart of lavish musical numbers. “I had to audition six times for Cosette,” she says. “Singing live every day was terrifying because although you can hear the accompaniment in your earpiece, no-one else can, so if you’re singing a capella and it sounds bad, that’s embarrassing.” Filming in London was a monastic existence, sitting in rooms with humidifiers and a diet that banned coffee, dairy or alcohol “because they dry you out”.
Seyfried knows Britain well, through work and also from her two years dating English actor Dominic Cooper. The relationship didn’t last – she’s now seeing comedy actor Justin Long – but she still takes her tea with milk, and claims that the reason she doesn’t spend more time here is because of the temptation to “chub out” on British food between films.
Not that she has many gaps for downtime. Since Mean Girls, Seyfried has worked almost non-stop, and has just finished Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young, before working with Russell Crowe and Aaron Paul on Fathers And Daughters. At 28, she says she has learned to deal with the anxiety that used to mar her earlier career, requiring therapy and some medication, but she seems so self-possessed yet unguarded that it’s hard to believe she isn’t as confident as she appears. “Ah, but that’s acting,” she says brightly. Darn tootin’.
A Million Ways To Die In The West is on general release from 30 May