Barbarella here to talk about family drama. I don’t mean the kind of drama that happens in households around the world during the holidays, although in a way, maybe I do. I mean the movie genre, which probably does somewhat accurately reflect reality. Currently available on On Digital, one such film, THE WORLD WITHOUT YOU, leans into the more serious side of family turmoil. Admittedly, I tend to choose a thriller over a drama any day of the week, but I jumped on this one because I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to speak with Radha Mitchell (PITCH BLACK) who plays Lily in the story of a family reuniting for a beloved relative's memorial service. While tapping into some comedy, THE WORLD WITHOUT YOU maintains a graver tone in its depiction of the family’s fractures and issues.
I caught up with Radha Mitchell via Zoom while she quarantined in her hotel room in Sydney, Australia.
Your birthday was recent, wasn't it?
“It was. I hate to be too political about it, but it was a great birthday present, the changing of the guard. It really felt like, "Oh, finally people are smiling." I had a birthday party. Everyone was wearing masks, so it was a pretty funny looking party. But, yeah, it felt like a real moment of relief, I think. That's strange for birthdays. Normally birthdays, I just hide and don't celebrate, but this one, I had three different parties [because] you can only invite small numbers of people to each.
“[Now] I'm in a [hotel] room, locked up for fourteen days, and outside they look like they're having fun. They are swimming in the pool. They're on the streets. They're not wearing masks. So, anyway, that's Sydney this week. It could change by the time I get out of here.”
Are you just at the beginning of your fourteen days, or how far into your quarantine are you?
“I think I am four days into it. I'm not entirely sure. Oh my God, I've only got nine more days. So, yeah, I'll be out of here in nine days.”
“It went fast, surprisingly fast. I think the first couple of days was like jet lag, the air...the fucking window – excuse my language – doesn’t open. Then you get a little bit of a rhythm going, and it's all okay.”
Let’s talk about the movie. Your character, Lily, seems like she'd be fun to play. What was that like being her?
“It was good fun-ish. She seemed a bit uncomfortable about a lot of things. It was kind of fun arriving on the first day of set because a lot of the actors were already there, and then I arrived two weeks in. My first scene was this confrontational scene where I'm telling people I don't believe in God and all this, and it was kind of a fun way to start because I didn't know anyone.
“They already formed their kind of little clique, and so that was a really interesting way to get to know people. And, yeah, it was fun. A great group of people, really talented actors, very committed to what they were doing and a lovely director. It was a really interesting experience.”
Did you prefer working on the scenes that involved lots of cast members at once or the ones where it was just you and one other person, and why?
“Well, generally, I prefer one-on-one because I don't like to have to capture attention. I just want it to be given to me. I think most people can relate to that. But there is something really fun about being in a group and just hanging out in between takes and telling jokes and stories. It’s a little bit like being in school. The group dynamic can be fun, but I find it a little split-focused in terms of acting. I prefer generally to be in smaller groups for acting scenes. But for social, I like the banter of the group.”
Yeah. So, this is a pretty heavy film. Would you talk a little bit about the atmosphere on set when the cameras weren't rolling?
“Yeah, it was pretty upbeat. There were some funny people on set. Actually, I had my mom there. Yeah, my mom was staying with me in my hotel room. So that's getting a real sense of the reality of the family drama (laughs). I had my mother on set with all of her kind of demands, but how great to be able to have your mom on set. You go to these weird locations. You hang out with people you don't know, and sometimes it just seems like this meaningless exchange, but [it was great] having someone that I really cared about [there].
“My mom, I love her, but she can be so frustrating, and I think that was just generally the experience of the movie. It's like they're getting together; they love each other. There's this thing that's happened that they're trying to process, which is very painful for all of them. They want to lean on each other as this network of support and are just faced with this barrage of family drama. I think that's Christmas for a lot of people. That's Thanksgiving; that's the holidays, and isn't it great? (Laughs) Sometimes, it offers us an opportunity to kind of heal the wounds. I think, in this movie, you see these attempts, and you see people come together, ultimately, just being able to accept each other and accept themselves.”
Since this movie is about family, I have some family-related questions for you. What is your favorite family memory?
“I have such an unusual family. I've been creating these memories where I bring my mom and dad together after thirty years of separation or longer, and we have Christmas together. We've been doing this every year for some time, and they're both so kooky. They're both artists; they're both kind of nuts, but together there's a kind of culture that is created between us that's super unique. It’s a great reference point for how to experience life, some kind of sensitivity that I don't feel with other people, just in the way they process information and things. So that's something we've been working, and it's been quite successful. There have been times in these little bubbles where we go on these holidays where I want to kill my mom, literally. But there's also this real magic about it. So, yeah, we go to this island at the bottom of Australia and hang out for like a week or two and be.”
How much time do you spend with your family then? A lot?
“Well, I don't live in Australia, so probably not as much as I would like, and that's why it feels so intense when we're together. But, yeah. We do another thing, a Christmas Day with all the cousins. A lot of cousins don't live in state, or whatever, so we come together in Melbourne and then there's this picnic that happens in this park. We've been doing that for quite a few years, and that's much more leisurely. Everyone's lying around eating. It's summertime, so it's kind of like a leisurely day. I often haven't seen the cousins for like a year, so there's a kind of catch-up going on.”
In what ways is your family similar to, and in what ways is your family different from, this family in this movie?
“Well, my nuclear family is much more non-traditional, in that sense. I don't really have like sixteen brothers and sisters and so on. So, it's different, in essence, but I think how we can all relate is that our whole identity is so much constructed by this era of family, and these people that we've been associated to for all of our lives. It can be very frustrating and also just so meaningful and beautiful. I think we all kind of relate, in that sense. It's not always perfect, but there's something very significant about those bonds.”
Right. So how did you originally get interested in acting?
“I got interested in acting as a four-year old, or maybe around that time. I used to watch Shirley Temple on Sunday afternoons on the television. At twelve o'clock, there’s always a Shirley Temple movie. I think, as a child, watching Shirley Temple was very inspiring because she was a little girl, and she was running the show. She could dance, and I was studying ballet, and she was just super cute. Shirley Temple was kind of a hero, and remains so.
“I did a TV show when I was thirteen that was set in the 1920’s, and it was about two little girls, or two young ladies, that go to stay with their grandmother to study. They're from a small country town, and they get up to all this mischief. So that was when I got a real sense of, "Oh, this is like fun, and you don't have to go to school." So, I did that for a couple months, and then I went back to school and finished a university degree. But when I was at university, I started acting again, doing various TV shows in Australia. So, I think the original inspiration was definitely Shirley Temple, and the first experience was this TV show with the girls. Then later on, I kind of thought about it more seriously.”
What do you love most about acting?
“I like the collaboration, and I like that, obviously, people come to it because you can get lost in it. You can just not be yourself for a period of time. You can just be somebody else because sometimes yourself is just like, "Oh God, boring." You get to be somebody else, and in different places; you get to really see the world through a different lens. It’s almost like having multiple lives in one lifespan. Actually, the acting part of it, I think, it's the collaboration and all the different kinds of minds that come together. Sometimes I'll be on a set, and I'll stop and look, and I'm like, "Oh my God, there's so many people, and everybody's so focused on the thing that they're doing." It’s like a beehive; there's just this flow of energy that's not just your own, but it's a collective. It's really quite special.”
If you could go back into time and talk to yourself when you were just starting out in your career, what advice would you give yourself?
“Oh God. Probably advice everyone else was giving me, "Don't take it so seriously. Why are you so serious?” I was really serious. That’s the advice, the same that I was getting that I just couldn't hear at the time. You go through your processes until you kind of gain some kind of confidence, I guess. Yeah, so that'd be it.”
Who’s had the biggest impact on you?
“In my career? I don't know. I feel like every experience has sort of led to something else and led to a different way of looking at things. But in terms of process, I think it was really interesting watching Denzel Washington act. I also had an acting coach who passed away who was a bit of an acting guru, really, and just such a committed personality. She had this real connection to acting and process in a way that I don't know if I ever will. It was really the purpose of her life. So just the way she would read text and see narrative and break things down, and just her breadth of experience. She had a deep effect. Yeah, she was a real mentor, actually.”
What do you do to stay motivated?
“What do I do to stay motivated? I drink coffee. I'm really trying to get motivated without it. I just feel like it's a bit of a crutch. But, definitely, it's so basic. It's just this sort of... Whatever it triggers in the brain, it does get me to get up and do the thing, and for fifteen or thirty-five minutes in the coffee buzz, be super passionate about whatever. In fact, I don't think I've ever done a movie without just drinking coffee the whole day through. I’d like to try and give it up. Maybe I'll do it while I'm in quarantine. I'll just not have coffee and see what happens.”
That could be an interesting experiment.
“Even here, you can get coffee delivered to the room. So, I've got this exercise bike [here]. In the morning, I listen to the audible book, and I'm getting on the exercise bike, drinking coffee. It's kind of mad, but it actually puts me in a good mood. Yeah, things like that. It's almost just like a trigger in the brain.”
You’ve won a few awards. What award meant the most to you, and why?
“I'm really not an awards person. It’s more just like, "Did you have a good experience doing the thing? Have you met people that fascinate you?" The award has never really come up, or I guess it's never really been a sort of a focus. I think to get a big award in your 70’s would be great at a time when people would say it's too late. I think that would be the primo time to get an award, for sure.”
How do you define success?
“It’s are you content? Are you happy? Do you have this sense of fulfillment? Are there things that you wish you'd tried to do that you didn't? Did you extend yourself? Were you courageous? I think that's success. It's just how you face opportunity and how you feel about yourself, because it's all so temporary, isn't it? It's going to be gone anyway.”
So how successful do you feel you are right now?
“Right now, in lockdown? Well, I'm feeling pretty successful, I have to say. I came into this room, and they said they were going to lock the door, and I was like, "I think I'm going to have a panic attack. I really don't know how the hell I'm going to do the next fourteen days." I'm actually in a good mood. I'm not even looking forward to leaving the room now. Somehow, I haven't lost my mind. And I think that's definitely success for me for the next chunk of time."
What’s the first thing you're going to do when you get out of quarantine?
“Well, I don't know if I'll get out at four o'clock in the morning or four o'clock in the afternoon, so I've got to figure that out. Not immediately but a few days later, I'm going to go on a road trip to this beach town, and I'm just going to go swimming in this beach. I'm kind of looking forward to that. I thought it would be some sort of culinary thing, but fortunately you can order whatever you want on Uber Eats. Sydney has some really great food, so it's not going to be about eating. Yeah, it will be something like water and sunshine and ocean. It's going to be definitely very motivating.”
If you’re motivated to experience someone else’s family drama this holiday season, THE WORLD WITHOUT YOU, starring Radha Mitchell as part of an ensemble cast, is currently available On Digital.