Former Canberra girl Samara Weaving is making waves in Hollywood

Star power: Acting runs in Samara Weaving's family. Picture: Getty Images
Star power: Acting runs in Samara Weaving's family. Picture: Getty Images

Six years ago, a man and his daughter travelled to Hollywood to find an agent and get a break.

It was the start of a new journey - or rather, the next step on a journey that had begun eight years before.

Or maybe it began long before that, with a different actor from the same family who'd already made it big.

Samara Weaving isn't sure where it all began, but the fact that acting runs in her family is a source of endless curiosity.

"I think it's really fascinating and I find this in a lot of families - if there are creative people or even just someone who's really into science, they can usually trace it back," she says.

We're speaking via a setup that has become the social norm the world over - a video call on Facetime, one she has instigated because I couldn't get Zoom, the other conferencing ubiquitous conferencing app, to work.

I tell her that the last time I tried to talk to her, late last year, I was blocked left right and centre by various layers of "people" of the Hollywood variety.

This was despite my insistence that I know her dad - Australian Community Media film reviewer Simon Weaving, the very same man who accompanied her to Tinseltown back in 2014, and even wrote a column about it.

Even when I talked up her Canberra connections - Weaving spent much of her teenage years in Canberra, and attended Canberra Girls Grammar - I was blanked. Blanked by Hollywood.

Samara Weaving, in her Home and Away days. Picture: Supplied

Samara Weaving, in her Home and Away days. Picture: Supplied

Weaving is mortified, but really, it's not surprising. Today, she might be hanging at home in Hollywood, dressed down and "guiltily enjoying" not working or travelling for the first time in five years.

But back in October, she was the talk of the town, with the release of the comedy slasher flick Ready Or Not, in which she played the lead to rave reviews.

She also features in the new Netflix series Hollywood, as a 1940s starlet trying to make it big in, er, Hollywood. And stars in the upcoming and much-awaited third instalment of the 90s franchise Bill & Ted. And in Snake Eyes, part of the GI Joe action film series, also due out this year.

She's come a long way since her first appearance as Indi Walker in Home and Away, where she began her four-year run in 2009. Back then, she moved from Canberra to Sydney to take up the recurring role, but spent many weekends back in the capital with her dad, mum Helena and sister Morgan, also an actor.

As has been the case for various actors over the years, the iconic Aussie soap was a good dramatic training ground, one that substituted, in a way, for a stint at NIDA. But when she did finally leave the show in 2013 and headed to Los Angeles, she found she was only halfway there.

"Home and Away definitely gave me more gravitas in LA, however I don't think that my skill set was nearly as polished as some," she says.

"After Home and Away, I was unemployed for a year and a half or two years. I really had to go and relearn how to act a little bit, and I think partly that's because of how old I was when I started Home and Away - I was 16.

"They hired me because I was essentially playing a version of myself, if that makes sense, so doing character studies and story arcs, I've [since] been learning that from an incredible drama teacher I have here called Leigh Kilton Smith, that's when I started booking roles.

"I could get an agent with Home and Away, but I couldn't get any jobs with zero training."

But after that initial hurdle - easily overcome - she has hit the ground more or less running, with roles in Monster Trucks, The Babysitter, and the recent Australian mini-series version of Picnic at Hanging Rock.

In the process, she says, she's become a practised "auditioner", learning how to separate herself from the process beyond the energy she puts in in the room.

So it was that she found herself, some time last year, auditioning for an "untitled project".

She didn't know it at the time, but it was for her current role, in Ryan Murphy's sumptuous Netflix drama Hollywood (Murphy is known for hits including Glee and Eat, Pray, Love).

Far left, Samara Weaving lets rip in screamfest Ready Or Not. Picture: Supplied

Far left, Samara Weaving lets rip in screamfest Ready Or Not. Picture: Supplied

"I had no concept or even an inkling of what I was auditioning for," she says.

"But I went in, gave it a red hot go and then completely forgot about it, because that's the audition process. You go in and then you're like, ok, cool, I've done everything in my power, call me if you want me.

"I used to do a bunch, and I think as a way to mentally stay sane, you kind of just have to accept that you can only control what you do in that room, and then after that, it has nothing to do with you. It's like, I'm a professional auditioner, and if I get promoted, great!"

It wasn't until five months later, while filming Bill & Ted Face the Music (in which she plays Thea, Bill's daughter) in New Orleans, that her agent rang her in confusion, telling her she'd "booked a Ryan Murphy show".

"We had to do some research to figure it out. And then the next thing I knew, I was in his office," she says.

In the show, she plays up-and-comer Claire Wood, all blonde waves, red lips and naked ambition.

"It was one of the best productions I've been on. [Murphy] knows how to run a set, he knows how to get things done, and there are no big egos, everything is so particular and specific, without it being a hindrance to the filmmaking and how it flows."

The show was filmed around Christmas and came out in May, to the delight of millions stuck at home and craving something new to stream.

Lockdown has, she says, been something of a relief, although it's hard to describe an average day at any given time of year.

"I'm still trying to figure it out!" she says.

"Right now, it's wake up, read scripts, talk to my agent, start doing some research on some things. In January, I was at work until three in the morning, and then got home, and then off to Japan where I was filming Snake Eyes, which was all night shoots, so I'd sleep all day and wake up at 6pm and go to work.

"It's all random, I don't have a sleep pattern. I'm always asleep and constantly an insomniac."

Having done so many different roles in the past few years, she's also using this time to think more about the kinds of projects she wants to take up.

"I think everyone is kind of reflecting on what is important to them, what their priorities are, and for me, I really wanted to start getting involved with projects I'm really passionate about from the ground floor," she says.

"It's all random, I don't have a sleep pattern. I'm always asleep and constantly an insomniac."

Samara Weaving

"I wanted to put my producer hat on, because ... I was aware that when the actors are brought on, when the script is finished and they've got the director and they've tied everything up in bows in 'pre-pre-production', you don't have as strong a voice, purely because there's nothing you can do.

Above, Samara Weaving and Laura Harrier as aspiring stars in Hollywood. Picture: Netflix

Above, Samara Weaving and Laura Harrier as aspiring stars in Hollywood. Picture: Netflix

"If you poke holes in the script, they can't rewrite a whole scene and go out and get a whole new location, which is a really fun game in itself, trying to fix problems on the go. I love doing that, but it's given me time to reach out to directors and filmmakers that I really love and start with the little baby idea and grow it together and bring on writers. So that's been really wonderful."

She has also been able to work on projects with her husband-to-be, writer and director Jimmy Warden; the pair announced their engagement last year.

Like many a Hollywood resident, she says therapy, yoga and meditation all help bring a sense of normality to it.

And while the US is home for now, she says she's desperate to get back to Australia to work, and has nothing but fond memories of Canberra.

"I love the 'Berra! Love it," she says, her hand on her heart.

"It's frustrating, because I went back a couple of years ago and it got cool. When I lived there it wasn't cool. It's cool now! I think it's way too cool for me."

It also helps that she has a solid family unit back in Australia.

"I don't think I could be over here and doing this if it wasn't for them," she says. This is especially true of Simon Weaving - brother of Hugo, yes, but also a filmmaker and film professor, who has been by her side since the day she decided she wanted to get into acting.

"He has been such a huge support since day one. I don't think I realised how grateful I truly am for him, because there's not a lot of parents who would be that supportive," she says.

"He always was my biggest champion, and I honestly don't think I would have had the confidence to do what I did without him."

That said, the fact remains that she has done all the hard yards on her own, famous uncle or not.

"I'm sure I'd be a lot more insecure about it if I hadn't got to where I am on my own. I really worked hard, and did everything I could on my own so that I could take the full credit," she says, only partly tongue-in-cheek.

Apart from her down-to-earth vibe, she seems, on the whole, to be having a whole lot of fun over there. Her performance in Ready or Not is laugh-out-loud funny, and she's adamant it was as much fun as it looked, fake blood, prolific screaming and all.

"The screaming was kind of cathartic in a weird way - you go to bed and there's no anxiety at all," she says. "Nothing's left in the tank, it's quite a nice feeling. I got a lot of good nights' sleep on that one."

It's all part of her overall rational approach to this crazy life she's chosen - to go with her instincts when choosing projects, to do her best and have fun, and not to let her sense of self be swallowed whole.

Samara Weaving with Madeleine Madden, Natalie Dormer and Lily Sullivan in Picnic at Hanging Rock. Picture: Foxtel

Samara Weaving with Madeleine Madden, Natalie Dormer and Lily Sullivan in Picnic at Hanging Rock. Picture: Foxtel

"I think I realised a couple of years ago that I had to separate my self-worth from my work, because if I rely on that too much, it's going to be really dangerous, and as much as this is a dream for me, it needs to stay a job, in a sense," she says.

"I have my life, it's quite separate. Because if it really goes up in smoke and I'm unhireable for whatever reason and I just do bombs, that's all my self-worth out the window.

"And vice versa. If I'm getting accolades and awards, who's going to hang around with someone with a big head?"

This story Weaving that magic in Hollywood first appeared on The Canberra Times.