No other genre in literature or film will ever feel as universally relatable as the coming-of-age story because, unless you’re Peter Pan, eventually everyone grows up. For 20-year-old Australian actor Angourie Rice, becoming an adult looked slightly different than the rest of us. She marked the end of her teens by wrapping up the upcoming Spider-Man film and finishing her role as Siobhan in HBO’s detective mini-series Mare of Easttown.
Mare of Easttown stars Kate Winslet as Mare, a 40-something detective attempting to solve a murder while coping with her personal life slowly falling apart. Rice is dynamic as Mare’s 18-year-old daughter Siobhan, playing the role of a struggling teen with deftness and poise despite the weight of what her character is going through. “She’s the person holding the family together; she’s the go-between between her mother and her father, and with her grandmother and her mother,” Rice notes of Siobhan. “She feels she has to be fine because everyone else isn’t, and if she breaks down, then what?”
In Mare of Easttown, motherhood is at the forefront; Mare’s mother Helen, played by Jean Smart, lives with her and Siobhan and attempts to guide Mare, which Mare also tries to do with Siobhan and her grandson. The mothers outside of Mare’s house — whether it’s the teen moms, the grieving moms or the ones just trying to hold their families together — all coexist and work to help one another. “What drew me to Siobhan’s story is the dynamic of living in a house with your mother and your grandmother. That was so intriguing to me,” says Rice. “Both my grandmothers died before I was born, so I never knew them, and I always wished that I did. Naturally, I was very drawn to this script because that’s something I didn’t have growing up, but something I always wished I had. I loved that this family unit at the centre of Mare’s life is three generations of women. I thought that was really powerful.”
After playing a series of characters that could be considered stereotypical ‘good girls,’ Rice was itching to play someone different like Siobhan. Still, she feared her previous roles might deter casting directors from hiring her. “I never thought I was going to get Siobhan,” she admits. “I was excited because I felt I could give a lot to Siobhan, and I really wanted to be a part of the story, but at the time when I did my final callback, the second Spider-Man had just come out, and Betty is such a goody two shoes. I really didn’t think that they were going to cast me, and I’m so glad they did because not only is she different from any other character I’ve played, she presented new challenges and ended up being one of the hardest characters I’ve ever played, too.”
The role required Rice to push herself out of her comfort zone in more ways than one. First, the character Siobhan is in a band, which required Rice to sing for the first time “that wasn’t in the shower or performing karaoke.” To accomplish this, she received rockstar coaching from Philly musician Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast. “They taught us how to look like a band, and I was learning how to look like a singer. I think, out of everything during filming, looking like the leader of a rock band was the hardest thing for me — but I think I pulled it off!” she laughs.
The biggest change Rice experienced during her time as Siobhan? “On my first day of pre-production, they said ‘Okay, we’re going to cut your hair now!’ And they gave me a short, blonde, Kristen Stewart-type haircut. I had never had my hair that short in my life.” Understanding the transformative aspects of a haircut is something Rice embraced wholeheartedly. “Don’t get me wrong, I was terrified, but I was excited… It changed the way I felt about myself and how I wanted to present myself to the world,” she explains. “Suddenly, in all of my cute dresses, even though they were still cute dresses, I felt edgier and more masculine. It was a really big step in creating Siobhan as a character, so it helped us both.”
Although the series centres around a murder, the show also explores grief and its ripples through a small, everyone-knows-everyone town. While Mare can’t bring herself to even speak about the death of her son, Siobhan finds ways to both honour her brother and communicate what she’s going through. “It is a sad, heavy show,” Rice states. “When I think about Siobhan, I am reminded about how much I admire her ability to understand her grief and ability to express it without it making her harsh and cold.” After the pandemic halted filming for nine months, Rice carried Siobhan and her grief, not exactly knowing where to put it while the world went on pause. “Holding on to that character, holding on to the things she’s been through, was difficult… I read somewhere that your brain can’t distinguish your emotional response to something that’s pretend versus something that’s real — you get so connected to these people who aren’t real, but your emotions are real… It’s quite a relief to let [Siobhan] go now and for her story to be out in the world, independently of me and independently of my memories”
Outside of acting, one of Rice’s biggest passions is literature. In 2019, she created The Community Library, a podcast-book club hybrid where she discusses everything from what she read on holiday to Disney princesses and their fairy-tales. “The initial reason why I started it was that I wasn’t going to university immediately and I wanted to keep self-educating to still think critically about things,” she explains. “I realised I was having conversations with people my age and older about how they don’t read and why they didn’t read because they didn’t feel smart enough to read authors like Jane Austen. I was trying to figure out why they have that attitude, and I wanted to show them that it could be accessible.”
While listening to The Community Library, it’s obvious Rice is passionate about deconstructing the boundaries between highbrow and lowbrow. In one episode, Rice explores the sexist ways society celebrates certain writers while denigrating others, comparing none other than the great Taylor Swift and her song I Knew You Were Trouble to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 35 to explain her argument. It is a perfect insight into the type of analysis Rice is doing — juxtaposing works from the past and present and analysing them in a way that is both critical and fun.
“I’m interested in the ways we understand highbrow culture and lowbrow culture and what these things mean,” she starts. “Why has Taylor Swift been so critiqued in the media, versus Shakespeare’s works being upheld? At the time, in the 1600s, Shakespeare’s works were for everyone. He was the pop culture of the time. How can we apply the same critical analysis to things that we enjoy in pop culture today?”
Once the conversation shifts to Taylor Swift, Rice excitedly waxes poetic about the artist. “[Fearless (Taylor’s Version)] is taking me back to my childhood. Suddenly, all the songs have a new meaning because I’ve been through it … except when you realise when you are sad and heartbroken, it’s not as cute as when Taylor sings about it!” she laughs. Pressed about her current favourite tracks from folklore and evermore, Rice responds without hesitation. “Gold Rush. I love Jack Antonoff and everything he creates, like [Lorde’s] Melodrama and his own band. He produced Gold Rush, and it just hits me differently. I just bought an ‘Easy Piano Folklore’ book, and I’ve started learning. At the moment I can play Cardigan and This Is Me Trying, which I also love. I actually also just bought a Cowboy Like Me jumper because that’s a new fave.”
After this bit of nostalgia, it’s only fitting to end the interview by discussing what it was like to let go of Betty Brant, Rice’s character in the Spider-Man franchise and a role that shaped so much of her adolescence. “I started when I was 15, and by the time the final film comes out, I’ll be almost 21. I feel I really grew up with Betty,” Rice expresses. “After we wrapped, I sent an email to the producers and directors and told them how much my life kind of imitated Betty’s in certain ways — her going to the school dance, getting her first boyfriend, and going overseas for the first time are all things that happened in my life around the same time,” she reminisces. “Letting her go was an emotional thing, but it’s kind of nice she can’t stay a teenager forever, because neither can I,” she says. When asked what she will look back on and remember about those films in particular, Rice smiles and states, “When I think about those films, the experiences with the cast, and the press and the premieres, I think: that’s my coming-of-age story.”
Mare of Easttown premieres 18 April on HBO.
photography. Ivana Martyn-Zyznikow
fashion, art direction + production. Carlos Mangubat
talent. Angourie Rice
hair + make up. Georgia Ramman using Oribe + Dermalogica
fashion assistant. Ethan Wairau
words. Kelsey Barnes