Mare of Easttown’s Angourie Rice: ‘When you’re a kid actor, you sometimes feel like an annoyance’

The Spider-Man actor, who currently plays Kate Winslet’s grief-stricken daughter in the hit Sky Atlantic thriller Mare of Easttown, tells Adam White about blossoming fame, singing in a fictional rock band and the perils of growing up on film sets

Monday 03 May 2021 07:34
Angourie Rice: ‘If I ever expect people to know who I am, I’d be very worried for me'
Angourie Rice: ‘If I ever expect people to know who I am, I’d be very worried for me'

ngourie Rice was doing fine until she sliced her finger open. The young star of The Nice Guys and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man franchise had arrived in Philadelphia to play Kate Winslet’s daughter in the grisly HBO/Sky Atlantic series Mare of Easttown, and was working without a parent or guardian present for the very first time. She was 18, had survived a transatlantic flight from her native Australia, and was temporarily living in her own apartment. Everything was dandy until she made dinner for herself. There was a blade, some vigorous chopping, and then blood spurting across her kitchen counter.

“I realised I didn’t have any Band-aids, and it was 8.30 [in the evening] and the corner shop had closed,” she remembers, reenacting the moment’s panic from her family’s living room sofa in Melbourne. “I was like, what am I gonna do? It was that first ever moment of realising, ‘Oh god, I’m the one in charge now, I’m gonna have to solve this problem.’ So I wrapped a paper towel around my finger and secured it with a rubber band, and then the next day I managed to buy some Band-aids.” She beams with pride. “I had suddenly become an adult.”

The 20-year-old actor’s on-screen journey to adulthood has been more seamless. Named after the New South Wales beach where her grandmother lives – Angourie is pronounced “ann-gow-ree” – Rice seems drawn to the closed-off or the haunted: a timid schoolgirl in Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, Peter Parker’s straitlaced classmate Betty Brant in the Spider-Man movies, the lonely pop-music fangirl in the Miley Cyrus episode of Black Mirror. The plucky Nancy Drewing she demonstrated in The Nice Guys, where she stole the show as Ryan Gosling’s precocious daughter, remains a bit of an outlier.

In Mare of Easttown, she’s a grief-stricken teenager with the weight of the world on her shoulders. She plays Siobhan Sheehan, a budding musician and filmmaker with girlfriend woes and a dead brother she’s never been able to properly eulogise. Siobhan is also one of the last people to see a murdered girl alive, just to drive home that things aren’t going enormously well.

If Mare of Easttown is a compelling exercise in sustained small-town anguish, off-camera was a different story. Yes, Winslet did crawl into the boot of a car while Rice filmed a kissing scene with another actor in the front seat, but only to make sure she was safe and as comfortable as possible. “Kate has a daughter my age, so she was really looking out for me,” Rice recalls. “I felt so well taken care of.” She also got to live out her rock-star fantasies, at least to an extent.

“We had proper rehearsals before filming!” she says of her fictional band. “We were coached by Michelle Zauner [aka the indie rock artist Japanese Breakfast], which was so cool, and I’m singing covers of a band called Mannequin Pussy.” In the original script, she was meant to sing in two concert scenes, but then Covid hit. “It was gonna be a bunch of people in a small room and they were obviously like: no, we can’t do that anymore. But we filmed a song for episode seven, which I’m hoping they kept in.”

The show’s US broadcaster, HBO, hasn’t let her watch the finale yet. In fact, she’s only been allowed to watch up until episode five, which ends on a violent cliffhanger. She doesn’t think she can use her cast-member privilege to get the last two hours sent to her, either. “They’re really mean about it,” she jokes.

Grief-stricken: Rice as Siobhan in Mare of Easttown

Rice has a natural sunniness to her – or perhaps that’s just the time difference talking. Living on the opposite side of the world, she’s largely been promoting Mare of Easttown in the early evenings while those interviewing her have only just woken up. As a result, she’s a sort-of human defibrillator, at once ebullient and unguarded, if still navigating how to exist as a public figure. When I read back an old quote from her own podcast – a lively, diaristic book club series called The Community Library – she holds her hands up to her ears, as if I’m about to press play on an embarrassing recording from years ago. “Oh god, what did I say?!” She’s far less panicked later on when I reference something her mother once said about her. “She’s way smarter than me!” Rice laughs. “She’s amazing, quote her!

Rice’s mother is an actor and playwright, while her dad is the director of a theatre company. It meant Rice spent her earliest years quite literally on the fringes of Melbourne’s creative scene. When she began absent-mindedly quoting from a play her mother was appearing in, her parents realised they had produced an actor. The play in question was about a distressed woman who cuts off her own legs. It wasn’t exactly the most appropriate material to be around.

“That stuff happened frequently,” Rice admits. “I was two or three, and they would just bring me along to rehearsals. They would say, oh, she doesn’t understand anything, just sit her in the corner, she’ll be fine. Later they’d take me home and I would just start reciting the lines back to them. They were like, maybe we shouldn’t bring her to these really dark plays…”

Soon after, she began acting herself in adverts, short films and local theatre. She still lives in Melbourne and continues to seek out parts in the Australian film industry, but admits that The Beguiled, which she shot in New Orleans, remains her favourite on-camera experience. Starring alongside a tight cast of just seven other actors, including Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Colin Farrell, she said the film helped change how she saw herself on sets.

“When you’re acting as a young kid, you sometimes feel like a burden or an annoyance,” she says. “Kids have special working hours, and when I was younger, I would take on some of that guilt. Like, ‘Oh, I want to work longer hours, I want to stay, but I’m sorry, I can’t’.” Coppola inadvertently convinced her to stop apologising. “We had four girls under the age of 18 on that set, and she was so chill about it. She would just say: ‘It’s OK, we’re losing the girls in an hour. That’s all right, we’ll do our best and we’ll make it happen.’ It was one of the calmest sets I’ve ever been on.”

Rice (centre) alongside Emma Howard, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Oona Laurence, Addison Riecke and Nicole Kidman in The Beguiled

Today, Rice is neither a total unknown nor internationally famous, rather somewhere in between. She says she’s still treading lightly. “When I was going to school, the whole industry side of my life wasn’t real,” she recalls. “Everything that’s happening on the internet, these articles or photoshoots, it’s actually not real and doesn’t really influence who I am, or at least I don’t want it to influence who I am. There is a weird element of being recognised, though, and a sense of like: ‘Oh, I didn’t realise someone might have been watching me this whole time.’”

Sometimes, she adds, she’s found herself briefly feeling the need to “snap into a different version of myself”. She remembers being “silly and ridiculous” at a friend’s party a few years ago, when someone approached her and asked for a photo. “Suddenly I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’ve just been doing dumb s*** with my friends for the past half hour’,” she says. “What if they saw that? What do they think of me?”

She cringes at the memory, but explains that even if her career continues to soar, she never wants to take that kind of attention for granted. “If I get to a point where I expect it, I’m in big trouble,” she says. “If I ever expect people to know who I am, I’d be very worried for me.”

For now, she’s sticking to Melbourne, auditioning on tape from her agent’s office, and chasing roles that inspire her. Presumably while being more careful with the kitchenware.

Mare of Easttown airs Mondays at 9pm on Sky Atlantic

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