Meet Australia's next great actress Odessa Young

By Helen Barlow

Rising teen actor Odessa Young plays the title characters in two acclaimed movies at this year’s film festival.
Odessa Young in  The Daughter  with co-stars Ewan Leslie (left) and Sam Neill.
Odessa Young in The Daughter with co-stars Ewan Leslie (left) and Sam Neill.

Sporting knee-high boots, super-long eyelashes and with her blond hair stacked high, Odessa Young is hardly your average 18-year-old.

"I showed the hair and makeup artist a picture I had of Brigitte Bardot so she was the inspiration," says the Australian actress.

It's not just her look that is turning heads, though a bit of modelling experience has helped with her fashion sense. Young displays an intensity in her acting that is far beyond her years.

Last year she had a baptism by fire as she announced herself to the world in a double feature debut. Looking for Grace and The Daughter both premiered at the Venice Film Festival and went on to Toronto, with Young playing the titular character in both films.

"I didn't really let myself think about it at first, but the experience was overwhelming and so exciting," she admits. Young has three more Australian movies to come, as well as an American thriller television series directed by Brett Morgen (Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck).

Already a seasoned professional, she has been acting since she was 11, when she was cast in the children's television show, My Place, through her drama teacher.

She had appeared in other Australian shows, most recently Wonderland, before landing her two features.

"I wrapped Looking for Grace in Perth and caught the overnight flight, arriving in Sydney the next morning," she recalls. "I only had an hour at home before I went to the set of The Daughter."

In Looking for Grace, directed by Sue Brooks (who made Road to Nhill and Japanese Story, a film with a similar Outback panorama) Young is a disgruntled Perth teen who takes off on a bus across the country to attend a music festival with her friend, in part to escape her bickering parents, played by Radha Mitchell and Richard Roxburgh.

Young displays an intensity in her acting that is far beyond her years.
Young displays an intensity in her acting that is far beyond her years.

"I'm not very impulsive like Grace and I feel like I'm a bit more thoughtful," Young says.
"Grace is going through a fairly standard developmental phase where she thinks she can do no wrong, and when I read the screenplay I did see similarities with how I used to act and talk and think about myself when I was younger.

"The thing with Grace is that she's trying everything new. She's running away for the first time and she does quite reckless things like stealing money from her father's safe and going into a hotel with a boy. It's all so exciting to her."

For The Daughter, a family reunion drama loosely based on director Simon's Stone's theatrical adaptation of the Ibsen play, The Wild Duck, Young says, "It's important to take your tissues."

In the film we watch as secrets threaten to unravel when members of two families gather for the wedding of Geoffrey Rush's Henry. The second family head, Walter, is played by Sam Neill. "Sam is a great actor to work with," enthuses Young, who plays his daughter Hedvig. "He's so prompt and so into it. He's elegantly natural."

Like Grace, Hedvig is trying to negotiate the adult world. The difference is that Hedvig hails from the country and is far more innocent, Young says.

"Hedvig is extremely emotional and sensitive and insightful. Both girls were exciting to play as there aren't many complex teenage characters like these written in films and television. Writers skimp on the detail or the backstory and have this blanket teenager angst and nonchalance about everything."

She says her favourite adult actor is Tilda Swinton, though there are many from her own generation she admires. "I like it when actors push their own paths and stand by their ideals. I think Amandla Stenberg from The Hunger Games is wonderful for that. She's such a huge voice for the younger generation about racism and sexism in Hollywood. It's really quite inspiring to know she's out there."

Who: Odessa Young

What: The Daughter and Looking for Grace

Where and when: New Zealand International Film Festival see nziff.co.nz for screening times

- Weekend magazine

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