In Julia Leigh's divisive arthouse film Sleeping Beauty, Emily Browning showed she wasn't afraid to push her limits with a demanding performance, playing an erotic freelancer drugged into deep sleep to satisfy the fetish of ageing clients. With pop musical God Help the Girl, the directing debut of Belle and Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch, the Australian actress throws herself in at the deep end again with her first singing role, playing a girl who – fresh out of a stint in a mental ward – forms an indie band with two friends (Olly Alexander and Hannah Murray). With the film hitting UK screens this week, we caught up with the chameleon actress in London.
How did you feel about doing all your own singing in God Help the Girl?
Emily Browning: I'm a massive Belle and Sebastian fan, so when I heard Stuart was making a film I said I really have to be in this. It was only after I’d gotten the part and was in the room about to rehearse with Hannah and Olly that I was suddenly like: “Oh my god, can I do this?” But I realised quickly that Stuart wanted it to be my voice, and kind of liked how it's a bit weird sometimes. The story of making the film is similar to the film itself in that we were all in Glasgow for the summer and like a little gang, running around in the sunshine being silly and making music. It was perfect.
The film was crowdfunded and is part of a wider project, with an album tied in. Was the process different to what you're used to?
Emily Browning: The whole project didn't feel like any film I'd made before and I learnt very quickly to drop all assumptions about what it was going to be like, which was very freeing. It's great it was Kickstarter-funded, so there weren't these big, mean financiers peering over your shoulder all the time going, 'What are you doing with my money?' It was just people who loved the band and wanted this film to be made, so that meant Stuart had total freedom.
Your character Eve has mental health issues. How did you get into that side of her?
Emily Browning: I didn't need to do that much research to be honest. I have a good understanding of that from my own life, not in terms of eating disorders but I know enough about that just from people I know. I've always been just a very anxious, panicky person, and I have people in my family that suffer from depression. What I liked about this film was that it wasn't this really dark rumination on someone who's depressed and feels trapped, but with this girl it is just one part of her life – the script doesn’t focus solely on that. I also love that she's kind of a jerk sometimes. People are assholes as well as other days being wonderful. She's not this perfect, consistently likeable character. There's a moment where James says to her I had a dream last night and she asks if she was in it. You just think, 'You dick!' But that's what people are like. What Stuart did brilliantly, you know as a dude, is write a woman who actually seems like a real human woman.
You're shooting a new film in London now, right?
Emily Browning: Yeah. I have a film that should come out next year sometime called Shangri-La Suite about these kids in the 70s who drive across America to kill Elvis Presley, and right now I'm working on a film called Legend, about east London gangsters the Cray twins. Tom Hardy is playing both twins. I play Frances, one of the twin's wives. It's pretty intense. It's about the twins and is completely Tom's film but it's told from my perspective. I narrate the whole thing in a Cockney accent, which is terrifying to do! I haven't heard it yet except when it's coming out of my mouth; I can't watch playback or anything as I'm too hypercritical of myself and I know I won't be free enough if I do that. I just trust the people around me to tell me if I fuck up really badly.
God Help the Girl is in cinemas tomorrow