“Acting is frustrating but worth it”
Actor Sarah Snook talks about the job that proved the secret to her success – and her special connection with Meryl Streep
Actress Sarah Snook tells Stellar about her spooky new movie, childhood comparisons to Meryl Streep and why she’s technically homeless.
The ubiquitous Sarah Snook has worked with some of the biggest names in the world of film: Naomi Watts, Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes and Michael Fassbender. But when she came face to face with her latest co-star on set in Melbourne last March, she was unashamedly starstruck. It was Helen Mirren, after all. “Of course I was intimidated,” Snook tells Stellar. “You could come up with a million different versions of what she could be in your head, but she turned out to just be a really chilled, nice woman who’s super-young at heart. She has a lot of wit and spark. There’s no winding down with her, which is really inspiring.” The pair appear in Winchester, a thriller that
takes loose liberty with the real-life story of an American arms heiress whose sprawling California mansion – now a popular tourist attraction – is fabled for its architectural oddities (floor windows; staircases that lead to nowhere) and disquieting air.
“I still haven’t been there,” Snook, 30, admits. “Although when we finished shooting, they sent me a piece of the house – a small bit of cornice and a nail – in a frame. It was a strange gift! But I love it.” Winchester is all about the presence of ghosts. Are you a believer? If we discovered, emphatically, that ghosts were real, I probably wouldn’t be surprised. But do I believe that ghosts are real right now? Yeah, I’m a good 60 per cent – in the same way that I don’t believe my grandmother is watching over me all of the time. Because that would be creepy, and there are things in [my] life I don’t want anyone knowing that I’m doing. It sounds like you have always impressed with your acting – is it true your Year 6 teacher gave you the Meryl Streep Drama Award? Oh, yeah! That was primary school – like, you graduate a year and how do you make each child feel special? Choose something they’re interested in or good at, and it’s “You got the award for…” I got the Streep award, which, of course, I took very seriously at the time. Then I grew up and realised it was just a made-up award. [Laughs.] But it’s still probably in Mum’s garage somewhere. Speaking of family, you’re the youngest of three daughters. Do you act like the baby? I would say no – but isn’t that what the baby of the family always says? You’d have to ask my sisters. Strangely enough, both of them had kids recently, and they forgetfully, accidentally, call their own children by my nickname. That’s when I realised how much of the baby I really am. You started out as one of those people who works children’s parties playing a fairy. Was it as comically sad as it sounds? I started doing that at 15 and did it throughout high school. Then I moved to Sydney to study at NIDA [National Institute of Dramatic Art] and I was like, I don’t know what job I can do. I haven’t worked as a barista… I’ve only been a checkout chick and a fairy. So I figured I would be a fairy – it’s actually the best theatre training you can find. How so? You’ve got to bring it. It’s the most important day of a kid’s year. You have to keep 15 or more of their friends engaged. You have to control them in a way that impresses their mum. If you’re not believing it, they won’t. If you don’t make up another amazing story they’ll ignore you, get bored or go play somewhere else. If you don’t learn all their names, you have no hope. Because if you do know all their names, they’re in the palm of your hand. Otherwise they’re just 15 five-year-olds who couldn’t give a sh*t. If you can make it as a children’s party fairy, you can make it anywhere. Acting takes you all over the world – you have to be ready to pick up and go at the drop of a hat. But to do your job right, you have to be exacting and precise. Is that a stressful balance? You’ve hit the nail on the head. That’s the continual conflict – moving countries, moving cities, shooting 18 hours one day and three the next, doing nothing for a week and being full-on. And then being anchored, somehow, so you don’t lose your mind. It’s what I really like and what can be frustrating about this job. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Where are you right now? I’m in New York shooting for a new TV show called Succession. I play the youngest daughter of a media mogul, part of a billionaire family. She’s a great character – very kind of confident and witty, and dynamic. Is there a lot of walking around looking crisp and polished? She sounds very polished. Yeah, there’s a lot of that. And a lot of, like… what do rich people wear to a ranch in New Mexico? I don’t know. It’s lucky we have the costume designers we do. So… you’re in New York now. Then it’s home to Melbourne? Well, I’m more adrift than that – I don’t actually have a place of residence anymore. My partner [musician Angus Mcdonald] is here in New York with me. But yep, my life is in storage. A nice little garage – that’s all I’ve got.