Interview: Winnetka's Katie Chang settling into school, acting life

When it came time to arrange her housing situation at Columbia University in New York, Katie Chang — who co-starred with Emma Watson in 2013’s “The Bling Ring” and co-starred with Sir Ben Kingsley in the upcoming “A Birder’s Guide To Everything” — opted to search for a roommate online rather than get paired off at random.

“I used a website that’s like eHarmony for roommates,” said Chang, a freshman at Columbia, over the phone from her home in Winnetka, where she is spending her spring break. “I wanted someone who I could explain the acting thing to beforehand.”

The acting thing took off when Chang was cast in “The Bling Ring,” directed by Sofia Coppola and based on the real-life group of teens and 20-somethings who robbed celebrity homes. Chang filmed the movie during the spring of her junior year at New Trier High School and then shot “Birder’s Guide” the summer before her senior year. On Friday, Chang will screen “Birder’s Guide” at the Wilmette Theatre and take part in a Q&A before heading to the screening’s cocktail reception nearby at The Avenue restaurant.

“I’m certainly by no means a huge presence on (Columbia’s) campus,” said Chang, an alum of the Wilmette Theatre’s Actors Training Center. “I think there’s knowledge of an actor on campus but, for the most part, I’m anonymous. It’s been fun, actually, the couple times (I get recognized). It’s cool to hear what people think of (‘Bling Ring’).

“In high school, I was more nervous to talk about it. People probably thought I was scary, but I was just uncomfortable with attention and tended to be a little closed off, except with friends. I learned to embrace the attention.”

“Birder’s Guide” revolves around four high school students in pursuit of what they believe to be a Labrador duck, said to be extinct for 130 years. Chang plays the lone female in the bunch, joining her bird-loving peers to photograph the potential discovery. The independent film hits theaters Friday.

Chang will appear in “Anesthesia” with Glenn Close and Kristen Stewart after that. She filmed her role in one day last November.

“It was less nerve-wrecking,” Chang said of “Anesthesia.” “The first day of ‘Bling Ring,’ I was so nervous and freaking out. I’m a know-it-all and was going into a situation where I couldn’t predict what would happen. But now I’ve gotten to know more about the industry. And now that I’m over 18, I can work without my parents on set. That was nice and helped me get comfortable.”

Although she has three films under her belt before the age of 20, Chang said she has experienced plenty of rejection. She said there was one role in particular she felt a strong connection with that eventually went to another actress, but didn’t specify. The rejection stung and, as she put it, fired her up — but Chang likes that it reminds her how passionate she is about acting.

Still, she does have other interests, which explains, in part, why she is attending college. She is considering majoring in film and English — possibly art history.

“Looking back now as I near the end of my freshman year, I’m glad I gave myself the time to do the quintessential college years,” said Chang. “Otherwise I’d be sitting on my parent’s couch waiting for my phone to ring.”

lgomez@tribune.com | Twitter @TribLuis

For more celebrity news and sightings in Chicago, go to chicagotribune.com/luis

‘A Birder’s Guide to Everything’ screening
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: The Wilmette Theatre; 1122 Central Avenue, Wilmette
Tickets: $40, wilmettetheatre.com

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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