A brief encounter with actor Alice Englert

By Helen Barlow

A few words with actor, writer, director Alice Englert
Alice Englert. Photo / AP
Alice Englert. Photo / AP

Your latest project is Top of the Lake: China Girl, directed by your mum, Jane Campion.

Yes it's the first time I've been directed by her since The Water Diary (2006), but I've always worked with her when auditioning. She thinks I'm good and I think she's the best, so we'd have a lot of fun trying to work on the scenes for all the big hilarious damsel-in-distress moments, but also on trying to make it real.

I would never imagine to make the stories my mum makes. In fact, when she mentions a new idea, I can't see where her mind is going at all, but I love what she does. I have a soft spot for fantasy, which I think Mum doesn't quite understand.
Alice Englert

How do you feel about acting now that you've started making your own films?

I've loved acting but I've never really imagined myself having success because I've never been sure that I could ruthlessly pursue it like you have to.

I can take a lot more as a writer-director. That too can be really hard and scary and lonely sometimes, but telling stories is so cool and I want to try to do that for as long as I can.

Is it more difficult for women film-makers?

I think women film-makers have to have courage because it's really difficult. You go into the industry imagining that you have to be good enough and that's not a very freeing space to be creative.

This idea that you have to be a representative of all women instead of just yourself is so much pressure.

Your first short film The Boyfriend Game premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last year.

The idea came from playing a lot of games in that special time period when you're too young to interact in an adult world but are completely aware of it. I loved working with the two girls. Morgana Davies is smart and instinctive and Thomasin McKenzie, who is from New Zealand, added something very important to the story. She had to be bullied and to allow herself to poked in the heart.

Your longer second short film screened in Cannes.

Family Happiness is about a brother and sister who were orphaned when they were nearly adults. It's sort of a family love story and Ben Whishaw (Bright Star) and I play the brother and sister. Ben's Australian musician partner Mark Bradshaw has a small part and did the music. It was actually the first thing I wrote and I wrote it with Ben in mind. He has this magical quality as an actor.

How have your Australian/New Zealand roots affected your work?

I think there's something raw about the way people approach stories here, while in America or England there's more of an idea of how it has to be done. I find New Zealand a really inspiring place. I really enjoy my friends, the people I've been able to meet and the crews on films. I get homesick for New Zealand, but I very much like being an Australian.

Alice Englert stars in The Rehearsal, out on Thursday.

- Canvas

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