One of the most celebrated female directors of recent years—recognized as part of Time Warner’s OneFifty and Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film—who brought her first two narrative features to the Berlinale Forum, Josephine Decker’s latest, Madeline’s Madeline, premiered at Sundance on Monday.

Starring House of CardsMolly Parker, newcomer Helena Howard and celebrated indie filmmaker Miranda July (whose distinctive features The Future and Me and You and Everyone We Know premiered at Sundance), Madeline’s Madeline of course follows Madeline (Howard), a young actress who is overly dedicated to her theatre workshop. When the workshop’s ambitious director (Parker) pushes the teenager to fuse experiences from her troubled personal history with her art, the lines between performance and reality begin to blur in ways that are less than healthy.

Madeline’s Madeline really started when I met Helena Howard at a teen arts festival in New Jersey. She did a monologue that blew my mind, and I ended up chasing her down, being like, ‘Here’s my email, can we work together?’” Decker explained, sitting down at Deadline’s Sundance Studio with Howard, Parker and July. “The project was built with a group of actors in New York. We improvised a lot, and then I wrote a lot, and it was a real collaborative effort.”

As a writer/director who acts primarily in her own films, it took some convincing to get July on board Madeline’s Madeline in an acting capacity. “People have approached me about acting before, but you were the only persistent person. I often have this feeling like, ‘Oh, I’m being asked to play a version of myself,’ and that would be like a weird, arty girl,” July said, looking over at her director. “You were already that girl, and you didn’t need another person like that—you wanted me to play a mom, which had never occurred to anyone.”

“So that was intriguing,” July continued, “and then we had a whole process wherein you made me feel brave.”

To hear more from the Madeline’s Madeline group—including Howard’s impassioned plea on behalf of the craft of acting—click above.

The Deadline Studio is presented by Hyundai. Special thanks to Calii Love.