talking to the stars of ‘bad girl’ about the love, rage and terror inside teenage girls
In their new movie Sara West and Samara Weaving explore the tender and terrifying world of adolescent relationships.
The delicate complexities of female relationships aren't always cinema's most popular themes. While films like Picnic and Hanging Rock and Me Without You pick at the laces between us, more often than not stories about young women see them cast against handsome leading men. Meditations on love melt into a pool of swooning, breaking and aching to be seen and validated; while the less said about obsession, violence and destruction the better.
In Bad Girl, the new film by director Fin Edquist, 17-year-old Amy is hardly a traditional adolescent lead. Played by actress, writer and director Sara West, she's a troubled teen, on her last chance with her adopted parents. When she meets local girl Chloe, played by Samara Weaving, it at first seems like the burgeoning friendship could be a positive influence. But together they form the nucleus of a dark story that's less Now and Then and more Heavenly Creatures.
It's easy to see how in other hands this could be a pulpy warning about the instability of teenage girls, viewed through a prism of latent, opaque lesbian themes. But Fin, Sara and Samara spin it together as a strange and unsettling reflection on what lies beneath teenage girls. Here they're not emotionally unformed masses of dewey flesh but angry, powerful, tender and terrifying forces of nature.
You guys both came to this project at different times, but why don't we start by talking about what initially stood out for you?
Samara: I loved that it was just these two women and their story; and even though it was dark and had a black coat to it, the root of it was in love and it really had a heart. It wasn't all murder and screaming and girls running around in their bras.
Sara: My side of it is a bit weird because we actually made the trailer a three years prior to the feature being made.I think they were using it as a way to generate funding and interest, but none of the footage we shot is in the actual film. Three or four years later we came back and I had to re-audition to see if I could still be 17.
It's interesting to meet character and then be left alone with them for three years.
Sara: She definitely felt familiar, partly because I was really similar to her when I was a teenager. Maybe not as full on, but I definitely had some anger issues and problems with my parents — as every other teenager does. I kind of sat with that for a while and I also played a few 17-year-old roles during that space. I'm always kind of sitting in that zone so it feels really familiar. It wasn't easy by any means, but if felt comfortable in that character.
You both often play teenagers, and I'm sure witness to a lot of different presentations of young women. Did this project feel different in how it showed these individuals?
Sara: What I really liked about the script was that Amy was so confident about her sexuality and it was never questioned. I find that confidence very rarely portrayed; it's always about questioning sexuality. From a really young character that was really awesome.
Similarly the intensity between the girls is really interesting. This has a dark turn but a lot of women would recognise how powerful early friendships can feel.
Samara: Friendships are so strong at that age, they almost are like the romantic relationships you have later on in life. I went to a girl's school and didn't really know boys, for me my girlfriends were my world. You would confide everything in them and lean on them for support; I mean I still do rely on my girlfriends. But at that age it's your whole life. Sure these girls have a sexual undertone between them, but it's not really about that, more it's these two women who find each other in a sad world.
When you were preparing for this role how did you reconnect to that part of your teenage self.
Samara: I think it's still there, you just learn to not be a psycho about things. Obviously when you're going through puberty, there are all these hormonal changes and you just feel crazy all the time, but Istill feel like that. The biggest difference between teenage and adult years is that you haven't learnt any life lessons yet, you don't have a strong view of what's right and what's wrong. It's not until you become an adult that you learn things might not be as they seem.
But the other thing I really love about these characters is they were really strong. They weren't damsels in distress leaning on parents and authority figures to figure out what they wanted. They knew exactly what they wanted and in fact the adults got in the way.
Which is a considerable departure from the familiar tropes of woman trying to find or fix themselves.
Samara: There's a big discussion around how women in general are portrayed in this industry. Obviously there needs to be a lot more content for young women beyond the love interest.
Sara: I think everyone is kind of sick of the love triangle, girl choosing between the two guys, thing. I'd like to be seeing more female roles in any capacity, but there's still not enough (roles) to be picky. The reality is there are a lot more female actresses than there are male actors in this age group but there's just not enough content being made. It's that hard thing of being like, do we push for something drastically different or do we just try to get more things in general.
Is that why you've also also made writing and directing a focus?
Sara: Absolutely, I'm always trying to push what is the normal way to see a character someone like me would portray. It's so frustrating to be given the same material over and over again. But as soon as you get some material that's already a little bit different you can kind of run with it and it's really exciting.
As an actress and a writer, what was the most appealing part of this project?
Sara: I was really stoked about coming on board because I knew the action would realistic, gritty and brutal. As a girl you don't get to be the perpetrator, you're always the victim violence. It sounds awful but I was excited to go up against this other actress who was going to be equally bad-ass and just see what came out at the end.
Also Amy wasn't a pushover, she didn't do anything stupid, she didn't run up the stairs when the killer was going for her, she didn't do any stereotypical things. It was enticing to see these female characters being very brutal to one another, as brutal as you could possibly be. But also not have violence for the sake of violence. It feels very rooted in reality and the awful emotional impact that they have on each other.
There is a rage in teenage girls that people don't really want to acknowledge.
Sara: It's totally untouched in film, but it's so prevalent. If you asked ninety percent of girls what they were like as a teenager, they had so much within them and no way to express it.