Interview: Sara West

Interview by Matthew Eeles

A lot of noise is being made both at home and overseas about Australia’s current crop of young up-and-comers like Odessa Young, Angourie Rice, Katherine Langford and Levi Miller.

But don’t for one second forget about Sara West. Trust us, she’s gonna be huge.

Sara is waiting for the water in her Sydney apartment to be turned on when I call her from Perth.

I joked that the acting business in Australia must be tough considering one of this country’s best new actors has had her water cut.

“Well I thought it might have been when I woke up, but then I remembered there are scheduled works in the area,” Sara laughed.

I’ve called West to speak with her about her latest film, Bad Girl.

It’s the second feature film directed by Fin Edquist who launched his career writing screenplays for kids films like Maya the Bee Movie and Blinky Bill the Movie as well as well-received TV like Home and Away and House Husbands amongst others.

Edquist has taken a dark turn with his Perth-shot psychological thriller which pits West’s rough-as-guts Amy against good girl-turned-batshit-crazy Chloe played by Samara Weaving.

After a successful festival run both at home and overseas, Bad Girl is set to open in Australian cinemas this month.

Sara West in Bad Girl.

The Australian film industry is booming at the moment in terms of production. Does it feel that way to you as a young actor?
It feels like as soon as you leave Sydney or Melbourne you could potentially miss out on something. I definitely feel it from that point of view for sure. All of the Gender Matters stuff is really exciting and I can’t wait to see that stuff start to come through. I think that women who have been given development and production money are going to be really exciting when those start to happen and for Australian cinemas as well.

Tell us about your character, Amy, who you play in Bad Girl.
She is seventeen years old and straight out of juvenile detention. She’s struggling with a range of things but most of all finding her people and her crowd and finding her place and where she fits in the world. It’s not so much that she questions where she belongs but that she questions everyone else around her. She comes into it from that point of view and she’s trying to make her way out of the oppression she feels she’s under from her parents which comes from her rebellious side from feeling like she was abandoned because she was adopted. When Chloe comes into the picture she weaves this amazing web of manipulation around Amy and the whole story starts to unravel and it builds from there.

She’s spent most of her time in orphanages and is a bit of a pain in the arse for her adoptive parents. What are some of the better qualities in Amy, because there’s quite a bit of depth to her.
One of the things that really drew me to her was how determined she is and how strong she is in her conviction. I think it’s amazing to see a female character of her age be so confident in her sexuality as well. I think films with similar characters to Amy can be all about questioning whether or not she’s gay, or it can be about deciding whether she’s gay, but in Bad Girl Amy is simply gay. This film just happens to be about a gay character and that’s when you start getting more acceptance in the mainstream and that’s when LGBTQ issues come to light is when they’re just playing any other person in any other film. I think that’s really exciting and very important.

You were first introduced to Amy when you shot a teaser trailer to be pitched to distributors and investors. How long was it between shooting the teaser and the final film?
I’d say it was around four years because in the teaser I had shaved my head for a job I had done earlier. When Fin met me it was pre shaving my head and when we did the Skype chat for the callback for the teaser I had shaved my head and I was wearing a wig because I didn’t want him to know yet and I didn’t want that to be the reason that I didn’t get the part. When we were chatting he told me he wasn’t sure what character I was better suited for. I was up for either Chloe or Amy. [Laughs]. I just wanted to be involved. I revealed to Fin that I had shaved my head and as soon as he saw me with a shaved head he went, “You’re Amy.”
It was a long time between shoots and I had to re-audition again to convince them that I could still play a seventeen year old. It was actually a really long process and I told Fin, “Just give it to me. You’re not making this without me.” [Laughs]. They were still tossing up whether I’d be better suited to play Chloe or Amy until they found Samara Weaving.

Were you confident from the teaser trailer you shot and the people you were working with that the film would eventuate?
Absolutely. I think the look of the trailer was really exciting for an Australian film especially. It did something that I hadn’t seen yet and It had a real sense of style about it. I think that’s where Fin’s expertise came into it because his vision for the film was so unlike anything I had seen.

You recently said that you were pushed to your limits while making this film, but in the best way possible. Can you elaborate on that a little more?
Everyone has asked me if I had done my own stunts because it’s a physical piece and I look really wrecked through the whole thing and I definitely was. They didn’t put any makeup on me for the entire film except for that colourful lipstick I wear in the second half. Meanwhile they’re airbrushing Samara over in the corner and I was like, “Hang on. No way. This isn’t fair. She’s already the hot one. Let’s pull it back a bit.” [Laughs].
When I look wrecked in the film I am truly wrecked but I think that adds another layer to the film in that a lot of it is so real. I find all of that physical stuff to be really fun. Samara certainly pushed me. She was terrifying and when I’m running from her it’s for real. [Laughs].

Sara West in Tori Garrett’s Don’t Tell.

The film touches on some serious issues including mental illness, suicide and drug use. I imagine it would be quite exciting to challenge yourself with a role like this, but do you also sympathise for the character and people who are going through this in real life?
Absolutely. Amy’s struggle was a real draw card for me in terms of wanting to portray her truthfully and really do a struggle like that justice. I’m drawn to these kind of roles and my family are always begging me to do some comedy. [Laughs]. Any of these kinds of issues that we can put a spotlight on, especially through the arts, is definitely necessary. Especially in terms of letting people know that they’re not going through things alone and that other people have gone through struggles and have come out at the other end. I think that’s really important for young people to see.

I’ll admit I haven’t seen much of Fin’s other directing work but he’s probably best known for his writing on films like Blinky Bill, Home and Away and McLeod’s Daughters. He must have been a monster in the director’s chair getting to sink his teeth into this darker material.
Fin was amazing. The best thing about Fin was watching him watch the monitor during playback and he had this huge big smile on his face. Fin really enjoyed watching us do our thing. I think that was Samara and I raising the bar for every take we did and we really pushed each other for Fin and we both really committed to it being as gritty and as awful and as brutal as the script entailed. I did a couple of versions of one line where I call Samara’s character a cunt at one point and the crew were all hysterical. It was a really hard scene to get through because we were all just laughing so much. It looks awful and really brutal but we had a lot of fun shooting and most of that was because of Fin.

I spoke to the film’s cinematographer Gavin Head recently who said he had a blast making this. What was it like working with him and some of the other crew?
I think Gavin Head is incredible. I think he heightened the film to somewhere I never imagined it could go. I think he’s done an amazing job with very little crew and very little money and I think he’s a real star of the movie and he was amazing to work with. The rest of the crew were so much fun and we all got along really well. It was a passion project for everyone involved because we were out in the middle of nowhere shooting in these freezing cold conditions. It was hectic conditions all round which proved everyone wanted to be out there because they were passionate about what Fin was trying to make.   

Did you enjoy working in Western Australia?
I’ve been asked that a couple of times now and I would really love to go back there because we really didn’t get to see much of it. We shot the film in twenty one days and that was kind of us onset from start to finish, going back to our hotel and then getting back out there again so we didn’t get much of a chance to see the surrounding areas. Pretty much what you see in the film is what we got to see. I grew up in Adelaide so it felt very familiar to me but I’d love to get back out there.

What’s the film industry like in South Australia at the moment.
They’re starting to shoot a lot more over there because they’ve redone the studios. South Australia is an amazing state because you can drive for twenty minutes and be somewhere drastically different location wise. One minute you can be on the beach and then twenty minutes later you can be in the vineyard and then twenty minutes later you can be up in the hills or in the desert. South Australia is really going to be quite pivotal in terms of the Australian film industry. A lot more things are starting to shoot over there which I think is really exciting.

You’ve won awards as a filmmaker for your short film River Water and as a published playwright for The Trolleys. This tells me you’re interests don’t just lie in being an actress. Would this be correct?
Yeah absolutely. I’m definitely an actor first but I love writing and the more I do it the more I discover just how much I love it. I think a part of that comes from me being incredibly impatient and maybe not necessarily seeing a huge amount of roles that inspire me. I think there are some great things being made in Australia but those things become very competitive and there’s a lot of incredible actors in Australian, and abroad, who are dying to sink their teeth into some of the things being made here. I’m certainly writing with myself in mind and actors who I know who aren’t doing much work but should be. I’m definitely interested in getting my own things off the ground for sure.

What kind of stories? What is it that inspires you?
At the moment Erin Good and I are writing a film about some women who are part of a crumbling cult. There is certainly a female focus for me in terms of the kind of content that I want to see and create and I kind of er on the darker side of things and I love doing drama so I don’t think my families dreams of me doing comedy will come true any time soon. [Laughs].

What can you tell us about Don’t Tell?
It’s an incredible story. The woman I play, Lyndal, took the Church of England to court for sexual abuse which she suffered at the hands of her boarding house Master when she was twelve. Her courage to come forward and tell her story was not only for herself but for other survivors to come forward. Her, along with the lawyers who are depicted in the film, really changed the face of the Australian law regarding these children so it was a real honour to be a part of that film. It’s a hard film to watch but one that everyone should try to get along to. I’m really proud of it.

Bad Girl is in cinemas from April 27. Don’t Tell will have its world premiere at the Newport Beach Film Festival on April 24 before opening nationally on May 18.

One thought on “Interview: Sara West

  1. Dear Sara, have just seen “DON’T TELL”. Am 86 years old, and totally IN AWE of your brilliant, in depth, poignant performance. Have not written a Fan letter before, but guess this is one.
    Roma Newton
    Kingscliff, NSW

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