Australian actress Radha Mitchell started her career acting in various Australian films and TV series, becoming noted for her roles in Hollywood films. She began acting when she was still in high school and had her professional debut on the popular Australian soap “Neighbours” (1985) in 1994. Two years later, she made her film debut in the romantic comedy “Love and Other Catastrophes.” The film proved to be fairly popular in Australia, but it wasn’t until she was cast in “High Art” (1998) that Mitchell gained an introduction to a wider audience. The critical success of “High Art” made it possible for her to do more international work, and her increasing popularity was reflected by her subsequent casting in a number of projects. Among them were “Pitch Black” (2000) and “Everything Put Together” (2000). Her career continued with a diverse run of films, including “Nobody’s Baby” (2001), “Man on Fire” (2004), “Finding Neverland” (2004), and “Melinda and Melinda” (2004). Her other credits include “Silent Hill” (2006), “Henry Poole Is Here” (2008), “Surrogates” (2009) and “The Crazies” (2010).
Tara Karajica talks to Radha Mitchell about one of her latest films, “Life Upside Down,” directed by Cecilia Miniucchi where she is starring alongside Bob Odenkirk, Rosie Fellner and Danny Huston, and that opened in US theaters and on demand yesterday. “Life Upside Down” is a romantic comedy about time, distance, and the human condition. Three couples, connected by friendship, love and work, are each stuck in their respective homes in Los Angeles during the beginning of lockdown. Finally forced to face their spouses, friends, lovers, and eventually themselves head on, their lives turn slowly but surely upside-down.
What made you want to become an actress?
Radha Mitchell: I think I wanted to be a thousand different things as a kid, but one of them was to be an actress. I had a very childlike idea of what that was and I had visions of feather boas and sequin dresses and that kind of thing. I actually ended up doing a TV show when I was thirteen years old. So, I had the actual experience of acting and it brought a lot of the confusion about growing up into context and gave a goal, doing that show. I didn’t really want to continue acting until I finished school, but I had already got an agent. So, in a way, it was a prelude to things. It gave me a sense of the industry. But still, I got to do the rest of my childhood without being too involved in acting.
How did you get on board Life Upside Down?
R.M.: Well, a friend of mine, Cecilia [Miniucchi], the director, had this idea that it would be good to do something creative. Well, everyone was sitting around in this holding pattern. And, in LA in particular, it was a tense situation with this pending election and everything was obviously bizarre, and sort of stressful. So, we collectively decided to do something creative with the time and she was able to write a whole script quickly and motivate a shoot, which was maybe not going to ever be a film, but we were going to play around with storytelling in an unconventional way.
Can you talk about your character of Clarissa Cranes? How do you see her?
R.M.: Clarissa was probably an amalgamation of a few of us. This is silly – whatever issues we were playing with at the time were put into a role. And, in the story, she is somebody who is in a complicated relationship with somebody who’s married and unavailable and they have a Zoom thing still going on, even though they can’t see each other because of the pandemic. She’s turning forty, but she hasn’t quite solved any of the issues of her life. By the end of the film, I think she has figured some stuff out and is moving forward. So, she’s like an adolescent adult in a complicated relationship who is able to resolve it by spending time dealing with herself and ultimately the reality of her situation.
Did you have any time to prepare for the role or you just plunged in it because of the circumstances?
R.M.: I mean, the preparation was just just doing it. I guess it was shot in a way that there was the director – she was not present because of COVID – so there was one person who would come and bring this camera into the space and we were just improvising in the space with the constraints of what was happening on the day, including personal stuff that was going on. So, it was shot in a very fluid, very unstructured, between lunch, between whatever kind of way.
And fully immersive, I imagine!
R.M.: Like a Big Brother voice screaming down the floor. That was the voice of the director. And, because she wasn’t present, she had to communicate with the person that was doing the camera work, who wasn’t a camera person, but who was basically just holding the phone in the way that she advised. They were actually connected. And, she’s very Italian, so it was a sort of chaotic, informal, communicative style. Very informal; very much like doing something with a bunch of friends.
This is a rom com about time, distance and the human condition? Can you elaborate on that and the rom com genre as it is now, experiencing a renaissance of sorts?
R.M.: I think particularly in that period, there was – and probably there still is – a need to just psychologically process that experience and I think just the stress of life in general. And, I’m not sure what the current evolution of rom com is, but I’m presuming it’s coming out of this trauma that we’ve been through culturally, this desire to reflect, laugh and look at things in a light way because we are collectively creating our own realities and a global reality and we’re going to lighten things up a bit.
Do you have a favorite role among the ones that have played? And, one that really marked you and profoundly changed you and your worldview?
R.M.: I know that sounds like: “Who’s your best friend?” I have friends I like and I put them on pedestals. So, I would say that I’m, at this point, looking for ways to personally evolve through each character and imagine that I’m all the characters in this story, although I’m playing one and, that way, it’s how you might experience a dream; in a dream, you’re all the characters. And so, I guess, the message of the story is what’s most important; what’s the spirit of the storytelling, and you’re just facilitating that. And, this character was interesting because I normally play American roles and, in this case, I just chose to have the character speak kind of like I do, which is fluid between accents and that felt revealing in a way, a bit exposing, and that was interesting too, because there’s a rhytmh and a cadence that you unconsciously adopt when you’re playing, say, American roles. It’s a way of speaking and, personally, I don’t really have any of those cadences. So, it felt a little uncomfortable even on the performance level – we didn’t have the staccato – and a bit revealing. That was interesting for me in this situation. And, subsequently, I have recently been making a lot of films in Australia so I think it was a good rehearsal for that even.
What is your take on women in film today?
R.M.: It feels like there’s a real excitement about women in film and if you talk to any of the men about it, a lot of them have a sense that they’re being pushed out of the store or something like that. That’s a whole conversation now – women in culture at the moment, and how do men process that and where do they fit, which I don’t think is relevant to my take on things. But I think it feels like it’s good that there’s an excitement about bringing more women into film, but personally, I’ve always felt like it’s such a personal challenge, that it hasn’t seemed relevant. And, I was lucky enough early on to work in films where the crews were entirely female. And, at the time, that wasn’t something I was thinking about in terms of the politics of storytelling. But that was just the experiences that I was exposed to, so I don’t think it’s changed my perspective in terms of career trajectory, but in terms of maybe how people are financing things. It’s a great time for women in film, and in terms of how the audiences are receiving them. I think it’s really important and really interesting to keep opening up the perspective.
It does seem there is a sense of women’s perspective in the story, even though there are some really dynamic male characters. And, Cecilia being Italian has an old school take on things in a way. I do think you get a sense of her point of view as a woman and her ironic, abstract sense of humor, which I don’t know if that’s gender specific, but it’s very Cecilia.
Do you have a favorite female filmmaker and a favorite film by a female filmmaker? And, one that you would really love to work with?
R.M.: Oh, yes! Jane Campion! I guess, she’s the champion, isn’t she, Jane Campion? I think it’s more just a general perspective. I think she’s a true individual and she is constantly telling stories that are a little bit spiritual, poetic, contemplative, irreverent and funny. And, she seems to be a bit of a rebel. And also, Australian or Kiwi, depending on how you want to view her passport. She’s a compatriot, so I would love to work with her!
What are your next projects?
R.M.: There’s one coming out right now called Blueback, which is screening at Sundance. It actually has a very strong female impetus. It’s a story about the ocean and the environment and it’s told through the perspective of a young woman who reflects on her childhood, and her very inspiring and interesting mother who was an ocean activist. It’s a beautiful story, and it encapsulates a lot of the female energy, especially in the sense of the planet and the female aspects of the planet.
Photo credits: Courtesy of IFC Films.