Bad Girl is an Australian film with a difference. A psychological thriller, it leaves familiar outback tropes and shotgun wielding psychopaths behind to focus on an equally captivating and unnerving subject matter: teenage girls.
Angsty and brooding Amy (Sara West) is shipped off to a small town with her adoptive parents, who hope to set her on the straight and narrow. She befriends earnest golden girl Chloe (Samara Weaving), and the film charts the course of their dark and unlikely relationship.
Ahead of Bad Girl’s upcoming Australian release, we spoke to Sara and Samara about the importance and rarity of films that explore female characters in real depth, being a young woman in an industry dominated by intimidating older men, and their teenage selves.
The film’s two central characters share an intense friendship. While most teenage friendships don’t get that dark, the intimacy of an isolating but strong connection that grownups never understand is very relatable. Tell us about your teenage selves…
Sara: I was pretty hectic. I grew up in the outer suburbs of Adelaide where there’s not much to do…I definitely wasn’t as bad as Amy and never went to juvi, but I did relate to her on a few levels. That was a familiar feeling I could attach to and push to the extreme.
Samara: Let’s just say I didn’t base Chloe on my own teenage experiences.
How did you each interpret the relationship between Chloe and Amy when you first read Bad Girl’s script?
Samara: What attracted me most was how strong they both were. It’s rare for a film to have two really strong female leads – especially an Australian film – and I loved that. They’re both so young and there’s vulnerability; they’re letting their raw emotions run away from them and experimenting with how far to take things. They’re also both a bit broken, which I found heartbreaking.
Sara: The teenage years can be really toxic for girls, and they’re not often explored in a huge amount of detail without a boy coming in and fucking things up for the friendships.
Originally Finn wrote the script as the father’s story, and it only later became about Chloe and Amy. It was great before, but now it has something really special.
Not only is the story very female focused, one of the film’s three producers – Tenille Kennedy – is a young Australian woman. How did her involvement impact your experience of making the film?
Sara: Tenille was really vital to that team of creatives. Not only because she was the only woman, but because she brought a whole different energy to the set and was the hardest worker out there. She’s a legend!
Samara: Bruno, Steve and the director Finn were all amazing, but having another young female in a producing role was really refreshing.
We could be vulnerable and talk to her about seemingly trivial things and she really listened. Tenille was very welcome to encompassing everyone’s ideas, which isn’t always the case.
I’ve worked with some wonderful women in my career, including the crew behind this shoot in LA. I never seem to have a bad experience working with women!
Was it unusual for you to be working with a female led cast?
Samara: I had just gotten off a shoot where literally every single producer, executive producer, director and lead was male. There is something bonding about being a woman in this industry. You have to be tough to speak your mind in an arena that’s dominated by older, experienced, often intimidating men. To have a thought, express it, and be taken seriously as a young woman is scary. You don’t want to sound stupid; you want to feel like you’re helping rather than hindering.
I can imagine! Many Australian horror and thriller films play up familiar tropes like outback Australiana and grotesque suburbia. It’s refreshing to see an Australian film in a rural setting that doesn’t rely heavily on stereotypical representations. How would you like to see Australia and Australian actors represented in film internationally?
Sara: The Australian landscape is so distinctive and so beautiful; you can elevate it in ways that become really exciting, and we do that well.
However, within Australia there aren’t enough roles for women, and the roles that do exist aren’t always fleshed out. We’ve got a long way to go to see ourselves represented on screen. The lack of diversity in Australian film and TV is also pretty shocking. More faces and voices on screen that are different to our own will only enrich everything.
TLN: You’ve both spent time working in the US. What is that experience like as a young Australian actor?
Samara: Everyone who talks to me – unless they’re just sucking up – seems to have reached the consensus that Aussie actors are just a really hard working bunch. There have been so many wonderful actors that have come out of Australia and you’re just walking in their footsteps.
Sara: We’ve got a good reputation with the calibre of Australian actors who are out there. I get really excited when I see people breaking into Hollywood and not in the typical, old school way of just being these waifs that come in and flounce around.
I don’t have any immediate plans to permanently relocate to the US since I’ve only just found my feet in Sydney, but I’d move there in a second for work!
What are you both up to now?
Samara: Right now I’m on set filming the mini-series remake of Picnic at Hanging Rock, another exciting female led project.
Sara: I’m in post-production for a short film that I wrote and directed. I went back to Adelaide and shot a film in the middle of nowhere called Mutt; it’s about a girl who runs a dilapidated dog shelter. I’m also developing a TV series after a play that I wrote last year.
I just think we should be all be working on creating the stories we want to hear, which I fully recognise is so much easier said than done!
What kind of characters would you like to see more of or play more?
Sara: I’ve always wanted to play a front line soldier; I don’t want to be doing paperwork, I want to be on the battlefield! I’m up for doing a whole bunch of things and love it when a script surprises me. If I’m going to be honest I would just love some more work!
Samara: I’ve been really fortunate in that the roles I have landed have all been very strong, raw, independent and complicated characters. They’re real women. I’ve worked with some amazing people this year and it’s been very humbling.
Finally, do you have any favourite female characters or relationships from other films or literature?
Sara: I’m drawn to really dark stuff. I love Boys Don’t Cry with Hilary Swank, and I must have seen Monster with Charlize Theron like 45 times! Also, Reese Witherspoon in Wild. Anything with a strong but incredibly vulnerable woman. I also love the work Tina Fey and Amy Poehler do for SNL.
It’s a really exciting time for women to craft our voice, we just need more opportunities.
Samara: The young women in Mustang are just so inspiring and amazing, and their relationships with one another really affected me. Them!