Eyes wide shut
A grim retelling of a Grimm Brothers’ fairytale is an intriguing career choice for elfin actress Emily Browning, writes Vicky Roach
SLEEPING Beauty, the disturbing, erotic thriller that polarised audiences at the Cannes Film Festival last month, is a long way from Lemony Snicket, the family adventure that launched Emily Browning’s US career. And that’s kind of the point. ‘‘ Everybody keeps talking about how risky it was,’’ says the 22-year-old Melburnian, who spends a good deal of her time in Sleeping Beauty simulating a drug-induced stupor while her naked body is being pawed over by rich old men.
‘‘ But I didn’t see what the potential risk was – except maybe people not really wanting to cast me in a children’s film any time soon. And that’s not the path I am wanting to take at the moment.’’
Browning began acting at eight in the Hallmark Channel movie Echo Of Thunder, which was shot in Victoria. She had recurring roles in TV series Blue Heelers and Something In The Air from the age of 10.
‘‘ I have done so much children’s television and played someone very young in so many films, I was ready to take on an adult role, I suppose,’’ she says.
So Browning chose to follow Zack Snyder’s controversial all-girl action fantasy Sucker Punch, in which her character kicked butt in a schoolgirl’s outfit, with Sleeping Beauty, a role that required her to wear very little.
The film is a radical reworking of the Grimm Brothers fairytale. It tells of a university student who enters into an arrangement with a madam ( Rachael Blake), who has cornered a niche market in the prostitution industry.
Browning was never under any illusion the movie was going to be a crowd-pleaser.
‘‘ Even reading the screenplay, it made me feel uncomfortable. But that was something that attracted me to it. I would prefer to polarise an audience as opposed to making an entertaining film everybody feels ambivalent about,’’ she says.
She doesn’t want to give the impression she is committing career suicide by ruling out familyfriendly entertainment.
‘‘ And I have to do something every now and again that my nana is going to be happy about,’’ she says, with a laugh.
For the record, her nana was determined to sit through Sleeping Beauty and her loved ones are likely to be squirming in their cinema seats for a bit longer yet.
Browning’s next project is the low-budget indie Magic Magic, about a girl travelling with friends in a remote area of Chile who slowly starts losing her mental faculties. It co-stars Juno Temple and Michael Cera.
Clearly, safe options aren’t what appeals to her right now.
‘‘ Comparatively speaking, most things are safer than Sleeping Beauty,’’ she says archly.
Watching the film, one can’t help but wonder whether director Julia Leigh’s original choice – Mia Wasikowska, who pulled out for ‘‘ scheduling reasons’’ – might actually have been cautioned against such a career move.
Last Tango In Paris star Maria Schneider has said making that film was her life’s only regret.
Susie Porter, who bared all in Better Than Sex, reckons she would do things differently if she had her time over. But Browning appears to be made of the right stuff to survive this foray into ‘‘ adult cinema’’.
‘‘ The nudity wasn’t a huge deal to be honest. I’m comfortable with my body,’’ she says.
‘‘ I would have been more nervous if they were actually sex scenes. They would have been more intimate. For most of the difficult scenes, I didn’t really have to be present at all. Julia suggested early on that I learn to meditate through them, so I was able to block everything out.
‘‘ If the right role came along, I would happily do nudity again. It’s something I wish more people were comfortable with.’’
A lack of self-consciousness about her body is perhaps the only thing Browning has in common with her character.
‘‘ I tend to over-analyse things. I’m not the type of person to flip a coin and let things happen,’’ she says. ‘‘ In the work that I do, I try so hard to ensure that I am not objectified or exploited.’’
Her character, she says, is willing to be exploited ‘‘ just to see what that will be like’’.
‘‘ I found that interesting, because it’s not through weakness or naivete. It’s a perverse fascination with seeing how far she can get.’’
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