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HBO’s Mare of Easttown is the latest murder mystery smash, but actress Angourie Rice was drawn to the project for more than just the thrill ride. “I was so intrigued by this central household of three generations of women,” she tells BAZAAR.com from her home in Melbourne, Australia. She’s referring to Kate Winslet’s leading role, Detective Mare Sheehan; her mother, Helen, played by Jean Smart; and her daughter, Siobhan, played by Rice herself. When a young woman is murdered in their small Pennsylvania town, the investigation bleeds into the tight-knit fabric of Mare’s community and her own family. Amid the chaos, Rice wondered “what the dynamics are like with those three women living in a house together.”
Rice’s Siobhan is an edgy high schooler (the sides of her head are shaved, and she’s in a band) who can’t escape the shadow of her mother’s new case. She went to school with the murder victim, Erin McMenamin, and was even seen in video evidence with her the night of her death; her father, Mare’s ex-husband, is a suspect at one point. At the same time, she’s butting heads with her mom, grieving the loss of her older brother, and trying to placate his ex-girlfriend who wants custody of their kid. “I really connected with the fact that she wants to keep everyone in the family together,” Rice says. “She’s kind of the communicator when nobody else wants to communicate.” Oh, and she falls in and out of love, too, throughout this whole mess. “It’s a love story in the midst of this dark and sad world,” says Rice.
In addition to this role, you may recognize 20-year-old Rice as type A student Betty Brant in Tom Holland’s Spider-Man movies. She’s appeared alongside Ryan Gosling in The Nice Guys and in Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled too. On top of her growing screen career, the actress runs an online book club, as well as a literary podcast, The Community Library, which she started after graduating high school to democratize critical reading skills. “These critical analysis techniques and tools aren’t as scary and inaccessible as you might think,” she explains. “And secondly, you can apply these tools to anything, whether that’s your favorite reality TV show or pop song or Shakespeare.”
Here, Rice talks about being Kate Winslet’s on-screen daughter, what else to expect from Mare of Easttown, and what she loves about her Spider-Man cast.
What was it like working with Kate Winslet and Jean Smart?
I really loved it. We got to know each other really well, which I think is super important, and we got along, which was really great. It was really wonderful to work so closely with Kate and Jean, and to have interesting conversations with them about what their experiences were growing up with the women in their families. It was really great to share that and understand where we were all coming from and how our different experiences were similar or different to the show.
Was there any type of preparation that had to go into your and Kate's scenes together, to create that mother-daughter background or to build that relationship?
We had a week of rehearsals, where we would get all the members of the family in a room together—so it would be me, Kate, David [Denman], who played my dad, and Jean—and we would talk with our writer and director about the timeline of the show, because it's quite confusing. You have the linear timeline, but then you also have the backstory timeline. So talking about, "Okay, how do we get to this point? When did they divorce? How did they cope with the loss of their son? How did everyone feel about that?" Those conversations were so important to me in building the world of the family and understanding how they all connect.
Was there any specific advice from your costars that stuck with you?
In one of the rehearsal rooms, the writer wanted us to read one of the scenes out loud, and I was so nervous, because I had to do this accent. And I remember Kate telling me, like, "I still get super nervous to do an accent." It's been however many years she's been working in this industry, and she's like, "I still get super nervous to do an accent in front of everyone." She has an amazing quality of making everyone feel like we're all in this together.
I was going to ask you about the accent, because after the show premiered, there was so much talk about it. Both you and Kate are not from the United States, so what kind of training and practice went into that?
It's hard. I feel like of all the characters in the show, my character's accent is the lightest. Because she's younger, she goes to a prep school, she wants to go to university out of town. So she has the most standard American accent, but there are certain words and phrases that are very specific to that area that we wanted to make sure that we hit. So for that, our dialect coach went around the area and interviewed girls my age and asked them to talk about what they do on the weekend, what their school is like, their hobbies. She recorded those interviews on her phone and sent them to me, and I would just listen over and over to those girls talking. That was really helpful.
I've never done this with an accent before, but every single night before I went to set, I would call the dialect coach. We would go through the lines for the next day. Even the morning of, we would sit in my trailer and go over the lines. And I know that Kate as well dedicated so much time to mastering that accent. And I think when you see it, it just feels so natural for her. It's amazing.
I'm obsessed with Siobhan’s taste in music; she went to a boygenius concert and she listens to Clairo. Do you listen to those artists too?
In preparation for Siobhan, and yes. Her band in the show plays songs by a local Philly band called Mannequin Pussy. So I listened to a lot of Mannequin Pussy. And also as a band, we were coached by Japanese Breakfast, who is such a legend. I listened to a lot of her music as well.
How did she get attached to the project?
She was in Philly, and I think originally they wanted Mannequin Pussy to coach us to look like a band, but they were on tour or something, and she was in Philadelphia and she knows them. So Michelle [Zauner, who performs as Japanese Breakfast] took us to a studio and got us to perform for her. I was so nervous. She's, like, the coolest person I've ever met in my life. She made us look like rock stars, which is great. Hopefully, it comes through.
We don’t know how this murder mystery unfolds, but what can we expect emotionally?
Emotionally? Wow. I'm really looking forward to seeing Episode 6, because Siobhan's story arc really comes to a head in Episode 6 and you discover something about what happened in the past with her and her mom, and how that's really affected their relationship. That was the thing about the character that made me go, "Oh, my gosh. I really want to play her."
The writer [Brad Ingelsby] and the director [Craig Zobel] were saying how they don't think of the story as dark, but rather as about grief. And I think that's a really good way of putting it. It's not dark as in it's about cults and torture and all of that. It's just about real people dealing with real grief, and they find the lightness in those moments. I think all of Jean's scenes are so funny. She's hilarious. But there are really heartbreaking scenes as well. It's a very nuanced exploration of grief and what that means. And I think that's why it hits people so hard, because you can't really separate yourself from it in the same way that you would separate yourself from a show about, you know, serial killers.
That's so funny that you mentioned Jean’s scenes. In Episode 4, where she's making herself a snack and she pulls out a bag of frozen veggies and chocolate syrup, I was like, “Is she gonna eat chocolate peas?” And then she pulls out ice cream from the veggie bag, and I lost it.
She's so funny. That particular scene was written in the script, but a lot of this stuff, she just came to set and she was like, "I need to be eating something in every scene." She was like, "This is what the character would do. No matter how inappropriate, we've got to fit in, like, a juice box, chips, something like that." And I think that's what makes the character.
This project is a limited series, but would you want to pursue another season? Would you be interested in seeing where else it could go?
I don't know. I mean, my first instinct is like, yes, more work! I love these characters in this world! But honestly, like, when I think about it, it would be like asking for Season 3 of Fleabag, which, obviously, I want to Season 3 of Fleabag, but I really don't want it. It’s perfect the way it ended. And I think the same can be said for Mare of Easttown, in that, of course, I will always feel love and attachment to these characters in this world.
It's not even that the end is an ending necessarily. It's more of a departure from the characters. It's letting them go. They will be okay without us watching. We know that they're on the path to healing.
You’ve already worked with Kate Winslet and Jean Smart. Who’s your dream collaborator?
Just from the work that they've put out recently, I would say Greta Gerwig, Emerald Fennell, Lulu Wang. Those are the top three.
Switching gears, the Spider-Man cast seems like such a fun group of people to just be around. Do you guys all keep in touch?
It's funny actually. While I was shooting Mare of Easttown, Tony Revolori, who plays Flash, was shooting Season 2 of Servant, which is an Apple TV original series, in Philadelphia. We were living in the same apartment building, and he was right next door. So while he was filming that, we hung out, we went roller skating together, we watched the Super Bowl together. And actually Remy Hii, who plays Brad in [Far from Home], is in Melbourne at the moment, so I'll probably catch up with him as well. When we cross paths and I know that if I go to a city and I know that one of them is there, then I can just give them a ring and catch up.
Okay, I’m going to ask you some rapid-fire questions now. What was the one movie you couldn’t stop watching when you were growing up?
I love The Sound of Music. But the one that I remember so vividly is Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. My mom's a huge Marilyn fan and so growing up, that was my favorite. And it actually holds up, because it's about female friendship.
Who was your first celebrity crush?
I was really young when this movie came out, but, Peter Pan in the live-action Peter Pan. I think everyone was in love with him.
Did you have a moment when you knew you wanted to act?
No, I was always around it. My parents work in theater, so I was always going to rehearsals, or rehearsals were happening at our house. I loved watching theater, and I loved watching movies. And, you know, when you're a kid, you play dress-up and you perform, and I just never stopped doing that.
What’s the biggest high from your career so far?
Everything has been super exciting, but the time where I was like, "I could only do this in my job" was filming Far from Home. There was a stunt that we did on a gondola where it was shot in a massive water tank in a studio. It was super safe, but it was the stunt. It was like being on a roller coaster, but it was my special roller coaster; no one else could be on it.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Photos courtesy of HBO, Vien Tran, Sarah Fountain, Theo Le Sourd, and Angourie Rice. Design by Ingrid Frahm.
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