NFSA Presents: Inspired is a collection of conversations that dive into the creativity, the inspiration and the success of Australian cinematic talent. Hosted by film journalist Jenny Cooney, the video series complements the exhibition Australians & Hollywood, which was on display at the NFSA from January 2022 to January 2024.
In this episode, Jenny Cooney interviews actress Angourie Rice, known for her roles in Jasper Jones (2017), The Beguiled (2017), Mare of Easttown (2021) and Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021). Watch here:
Jenny: Let’s jump right in and start with your favourite, or most influential, Australian cinema memory.
Angourie: I can remember very vividly the first time I watched Muriel’s Wedding. I think I might have been about 8 or 9 and my mum showed me and my sister. She was like, ‘this is a great, classic Australian movie’ and I watched the first half and I thought ‘Oh my gosh this is so great, this is so funny. I love it, it’s such a great comedy’, and then I remember bawling my eyes out in the second half and that really sticks out in my mind as a movie that had a big impact on me for sure.
Jenny: Wow yeah, I guess it’s not just a comedy, huh.
Angourie: Yes, it offered a lot more. But I think that shows good filmmaking. It sucks you in with the jokes and then really kind of hits you hard with the emotions.
Jenny: Right, so what films or music or stories do you find yourself going back to and why?
Angourie: The Australian movies that I keep going back to are Baz Luhrmann’s early films. I really love Strictly Ballroom and Moulin Rouge!, I think those are my two favourites. I love how it’s all glittery and stylised and I love the design and, whenever I watch Strictly Ballroom or Moulin Rouge!, it feels like an experience rather than just a movie. It feels like I’m kind of sucked into this whole bright, colourful world. So they’re the ones I keep coming back to if I feel sick or sad. I like to watch those because they cheer me up.
Jenny: So what do you think is the secret sauce behind Australian cinematic success?
Angourie: That’s a good question. The thing that I love about Australian movies is that they have a great knack for balancing comedy and drama - like in Muriel’s Wedding. I recently watched Two Hands for the first time. I had never seen it before and I loved how it has that balance. It was kind of absurdly comic but then also very gritty and dramatic and I think that balance made it real and made it feel grounded. I think there are quite a few Australian films that do that really successfully.
Jenny: Do you think Australia punches above its weight internationally?
Angourie: I guess everyone has ambition and everyone wants to … you know, Hollywood, I think, is the dream for a lot of people and for me personally growing up here, I always saw America and Hollywood as this dream, fantasy land and that is kind of what I aspired to be a part of, so I guess it is part of this thing of living far away that you see Hollywood as this golden land that you really want to be a part of.
Jenny: You mentioned ambition which is a good segue to the next question. When you reflect on your career, what does ambition mean to you?
Angourie: Well, I’ve always been an ambitious person in everything. In school I was very ambitious, I wanted to do very well and get good grades. And in acting it’s no different, I’ve always wanted to do really well and push myself. I think maybe that’s what ambition means to me: holding myself to a certain standard or pushing myself or driving myself to work hard and do the best that I possibly can do, because that’s the only thing that you can control. You can’t really control other people giving you roles, you just have to do your best and yeah, that’s all you can do I guess.
Jenny: So what element of filmmaking fascinates you, besides what you obviously already do?
Angourie: I’ve always been fascinated with the design aspect of film. I’ve always loved fashion – so costume design, production design, hair, make-up, cinematography. I think film is such a special medium because you can tell a story with visual cues, you can take dialogue and words out of a film and you can still tell a story. And I think some of my favourite films do that really well. It kind of adds another layer, especially with costuming and cinematography, you can add a whole extra layer of meaning, with the visual cues. So design has always been something that really interests me.
Jenny: And what does the National Film and Sound Archive mean to you?
Angourie: I think it’s really important to preserve Australian film. I had the opportunity to visit the National Film and Sound Archive a few years ago and it was such a special experience to see everyone working on preserving film. There were people working on film and colour and sound and then also people working in artefacts and scripts and photos. I think it’s important to preserve the past because it helps us in the future. I think we look to the past whether we want to build on other people’s ideas, or learn from our mistakes, or subvert history in a new way; I think that the future of Australian cinema really depends on being able to look into our past.
Jenny: Which Aussie inspired you when you were coming up in your career?
Angourie: I definitely think Margot Robbie, she became kind of a huge, huge Hollywood hit around 2014, 2015 and I was just starting to work in film at that time so l really admired her career path, and I’m still inspired by her. I think she’s chosen some amazing projects to work on and now that she’s founded her own production company as well and is producing her own films, I really admire that and I think she’s always been someone I just look up to.
Jenny: And now who else do you think should we be celebrating? Who should be on the radar of the NFSA in Australia? Besides you of course! But you’re way past that.
Angourie: Oh goodness, oh goodness, no no. [Laughs]. I recently saw High Ground at the cinema and I thought it was so fantastic. I thought it was really brilliant, I think that whole creative team told such an effective story in such a unique way as well. Just the way it was shot, and they used an interesting aspect ratio when shooting the film, so I just thought that was such a brilliant film and that’s definitely a recent Australian film that’s really stuck in my mind.
Jenny: So films inspire you as well as performances, right?
Angourie: Yeah, I think so. I think because it’s a whole team effort and you see that final product in the end, it’s so wonderful to see everyone’s hand in the final piece I think.
Jenny: Right. Well the NFSA is opening Australians & Hollywood: an exhibition that celebrates the craft, talent and ambition of Aussies at home and overseas. So what in your mind is there to celebrate?
Angourie: I think there’s lots to celebrate about Australian cinema. It’s so special to see Australian stories on screen, and to hear a familiar accent, or to see Melbourne in a movie or to see Sydney in a movie, that’s really special I think. We have so much talent here, so many local stories to be told so I think that’s something to celebrate.
Jenny: Are there any Aussies who helped you in the early days of your global career?
Angourie: When I was 15, I was able to work with Nicole Kidman - which was insane and just a very unique experience. I think it was just really incredible to watch her work, not only on set but, also the film we did went to Cannes and we were doing press and it was just great to see how she handled that because she’s one of the biggest stars in the world [laughs]. And I really admire the way that she was so dedicated to her work on set and then so poised and graceful in press and interviews. I think she’s such a legend of the industry, both globally and in Australia. So I think that was a really big learning experience for me, I learnt a lot from just watching her work.
Jenny: That was a Sofia Coppola movie, right?
Angourie: Yeah, The Beguiled.
Jenny: That was sort of your introduction to Hollywood, right?
Angourie: Yeah, I had so much fun on that film and I was so overjoyed to be able to work with so many cool people like Sofia and Nicole Kidman, I mean – how crazy, right?!
Jenny: So what’s your advice to Aussies who are dreaming of Hollywood, who are watching this right now?
Angourie: Oh goodness, I guess my advice is do it because you love it. There are a lot of tricky things to deal with in the industry. I’ve dealt with a lot of rejection, with spending months away from home and friends and family and, you know, that feels like a lot of pressure as well – to work in a professional environment especially when I was still in high school. So, throughout all the tricky things, the thing that sustains me is that I really love it. I love the feeling of being on set, of learning my lines, of getting to work with other actors and in the end I mean that has to make it all worth it.
So I would just say to do it because you love it and find any way to be creative and to act – write your own stuff, make your own stuff. That’s what I did when I was a kid. I would just write my own things, play pretend in my own little iMovie, short films that I made, and I think that was such a great learning experience for me as well.
Interview transcript edited for length and clarity.
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