Less than a minute into our phone call, Samara Weaving is giving me advice on caring for my plants. After I joked about being a week away from talking to the greenery in my studio thanks to self-isolation restlessness, she excitedly tells me it’s actually a good idea — for me and the plants.
“I talk to my plants all the time, what does that say about me?” she laughs. “But it apparently makes them grow faster if you are very loving, if you say positive affirmations to them.”
The 28-year-old Australian actress is presumably with her own plants in Los Angeles, under California’s stay-at-home order, embarking on a virtual press tour in advance of the May 1 release of Hollywood, Ryan Murphy’s reimagination of Tinseltown’s golden era. She stars alongside a glittering ensemble cast including Darren Criss, David Corenswet, Maude Apatow, and Jeremy Pope. As Claire Wood, an aspiring screen siren, Weaving is stepping into a role that’s unrecognizable for anyone who knows her as a modern-day scream queen after her scarily good turns in Ash vs Evil Dead, The Babysitter, and Ready or Not (which got her a shout-out from horror maestro Stephen King). “I'm slowly getting less and less covered in blood,” she jokes, citing Hollywood, along with roles in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Picnic at Hanging Rock; and upcoming appearances in the latest Bill & Ted installment and G.I. Joe spinoff Snake Eyes.
Weaving, who grew up in a creative family (her father, Simon, is a filmmaker and film professor; her uncle is actor Hugo Weaving of The Matrix and V for Vendetta), says those chameleon-like abilities came naturally for her at an early age, even if she never had a “lightbulb” moment about her career.
On top of the praise she’s gotten for her work thus far, she’s also garnered widespread headlines for her resemblance to another blonde-haired, blue-eyed Australian actress: Margot Robbie. But anyone who’s seen her fight off Andie McDowell in Ready or Not or go toe-to-toe with Patti LuPone in Hollywood will know that she’s in a class of her own.
Ahead, Weaving discusses taking on acting as a “coping mechanism” for anxiety, the differences between her and her Hollywood character, and those comparisons to Robbie.
How are your spirits today, how are you feeling?
I'm in this constant state of guilt because I'm enjoying myself. I'm an introvert — well, an extroverted introvert — so I can have a good time just hanging out with myself indoors and reading books, doing puzzles, and watching movies. But I feel guilty because I know so many people are suffering, and [the coronavirus] is already having a huge effect on a lot of people. I'm just very aware of the privilege I have at this time.
How are you finding the virtual press tour so far?
To be honest, I actually was really looking forward to this press tour, which is rare for me. But I just miss [my costars] so much. We all became really close by the end, and then I had to rush off to Japan. The day I wrapped on Hollywood, I started [filming] Snake Eyes and I couldn't go to the wrap party, and so I thought this was going to be the reunion and I could see everybody again. So I was pretty bummed. I want to go to Patti [LuPone]'s house because she has a bar, it's amazing. Darren has a great pad, and he's got a great bar too. I wanted to go hang out with them, and I thought this was going to be the opportunity to do so.
But on the other hand, I don't have to be in hair and makeup, and even though I love my glam squad, as they call it, it is nice to just throw on some mascara and to sit in your PJs.
So you were born in Australia, but you moved around a lot as a kid (because of your mom’s PhD in Peranakan art and your dad’s job as a consultant). Can you talk a little more about that?
Yeah, I was born in Adelaide, Australia, but I don't know much about it because I think I was two weeks old, or whatever age is legal to fly with a baby [when we left]. We moved to Fiji when my sister was born, and I was fluent in Fijian, but I'm not anymore.
It's weird watching home videos of yourself speaking a different language and not being able to understand. That happened a lot, because from there, we went to Indonesia and then Singapore and then back to Indonesia. And then we went to Florence, Italy, and then from there we went back to Australia. We spent a little bit of time in Sydney and Canberra. Every two or three years we would pack up and move, which was fun.
When did you begin to consider acting as a career?
I don't think there was ever a real light-bulb moment for me. At first, it was actually a coping mechanism, because I was a really shy kid, and now it makes sense because I've been diagnosed with general anxiety disorder. But as a kid, that’s easy to go unnoticed because I just felt like, “oh, I'm just really shy and I just don't feel comfortable making friends.”
[Acting] was sort of a coping mechanism my parents thought of, which was a very creative thing to do and it rubbed out well to put me in drama programs, I think, because even as a kid I could tell, “oh, I'm not going to be judged for being Sam right now. I'm this other character. I'm this make-believe person, and if anyone judges that person, it's not judging Sam,” if that makes sense. It was this thing where I could still be myself and let people in and make friends, but in another way, protect myself as well.
You’ve mentioned in the past that you'd like to play Marilyn Monroe one day, and I was going to ask if she inspired your performance in Hollywood, but you actually auditioned with a scene from Some Like It Hot and didn't even know it was for a role in a Ryan Murphy show. What was the process like?
It was very strange and surreal because [I was] given these themes from Some Like It Hot, and I had no knowledge of who or what I was auditioning for. So I sort of went in and just did — I didn't do a Marilyn impersonation, really, because I thought maybe it might be a really contemporary show, and this was like, “let's see what someone can do and how they can make this modern.”
I really had no idea, I was kind of guessing, so I went in and I think I did three takes, one where I did this sort of homage to Marilyn, one where I played it like how you see Claire act — like a little bit more manipulative in the seduction, rather than just purely charming and bubbly — and one that was somewhere in the middle.
You're playing someone who's an aspiring actress, so I imagine that can get pretty meta, but did you relate to Claire's ambitions at all?
Not really. She had a real thirst, and a real drive that I think didn't necessarily come from a healthy place. I think because she's an only child and was sort of invalidated by her parents — her father [played by Rob Reiner] disapproves of her and wants her to just settle down and be married, and her mother [Patti LuPone] thinks she's spoiled and big-headed.
With that toxic relationship, I think her drive to be a star is really a drive to get the love and have the connection she's always wanted from her parents, because they’re the heads of studios in the industry. She wants to literally be on a big screen in front of them, begging for their approval.
Her parents initially aren't supportive of her acting career. Was that your experience with your family, or were they pretty encouraging?
Oh, they were very supportive, because my whole family's full of artists and actors and singers and very creative people. I think I must've been 12 or 13 when I asked my dad if I could get into it [as a profession]. He was like, "Sure, okay. Let's see what we can do."
I never went to any real schooling for acting, which I think I've always been slightly ashamed of, in a sense. I do have a brilliant drama coach, Leigh Kilton-Smith, who I owe a lot to. But I also learned literally on the job, just by watching other actors from a young age and, I think, being a fly-on-the-wall introvert, I was always a good mimic and would make fun of my family members and do bits of them in the safety of my own home.
This is your first project with Ryan Murphy, but a lot of your co-stars have worked with him before. What was it like getting initiated into the Ryan Murphy universe?
I was an anxious mess, but I had dinner with David, Jeremy, and Maude right before. You don't always get to meet everyone right away on set, so it was a lovely way to get to know them and they were all beautiful people. I was just nervous. I felt like I was the new kid at school, and was worried everyone would know each other and would be very clique-y — I just didn't know what was going to happen.
But honestly, everyone was so friendly and warm and welcoming. I remember Patti [LuPone] was in her trailer and I knocked on the door, and she was singing and swearing and laughing, and she pulled me into a big hug and was like, "Oh, it's my daughter!" Same with Rob Reiner. It was great how comfortable they made me feel when we had to do scenes that required us to be really cruel to one another. To be really mean and awful to Patti LuPone and Rob Reiner — I was dreading that. But we just had a great time; I was swearing like a sailor at them and they were laughing so hard.
We talked to your Bill & Ted co-star Brigette Lundy-Paine a couple of months ago, and they mentioned that you and Alex Winter came up with handshakes with each other on set, is that true?
[Laughing] Yeah, I think it was part of the process of, “okay, what would a father-daughter relationship be like? They probably have a secret handshake.” Brigette and Keanu [Reeves] had some really funny ones; I hope they make it in the film.
By now you've gotten so many comparisons to Margot Robbie. Are you sick of it yet?
No, never. She's gorgeous, keep them coming!
Who have you been the most star struck to meet?
Steve Carell. I was at the Film Critics Awards, and it was such a surreal night anyway, because you're like “oh my God, there's that person and that person and that person.” I was there with the Three Billboards crew, and I saw him and I just am such a big fan, but for a second I was like, “oh I know this guy!”
So I kind of did this half yelp thing at him and made an “oh my God, it's you” face and he mirrored my face — I think out of being so nice. And then I suddenly realized, “oh my God it's Steve Carell,” and went quite red and just mumbled and mustered to myself and then just walked in the other direction. I'm sure he does not remember that at all, but my God, I just had the weirdest reaction. It was like I got stung by a bee.
Do you have any self-care rituals going on at the moment?
For me sometimes, especially when I get kind of spirally or that feeling of an uncomfortable irritation of not knowing what I should do, I try to just pause and ask myself, “What do I need right now?” Not, “what should I do?” That's putting an awful lot of pressure on yourself.
And most of the time it's just to calm down, whether that means watching your favorite show, or doing a puzzle, or going for a walk, or just sitting with your thoughts for a minute.
What is something you're really grateful for right now?
Oh, my family's health. I know it’s kind of a lame answer, but that and 500-piece puzzles — 1000-piece puzzles can go die in a hole. I hate them. They're obnoxious and rude, and they stare at me all day every day with their dumb little pieces that don't make any sense.
Hollywood is now available on Netflix.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.