Australian actress Sarah Snook continues to soar on Australian film and television, capping off a stellar year with a double whammy of The Dressmaker and The Beautiful Lie. By Caris Bizzaca.
The same night Sarah Snook was walking the red carpet at the glamorous premiere of The Dressmaker, her acclaimed series The Beautiful Lie was hitting television screens for the first time.
A chameleon of sorts, this seemingly innocuous night encapsulates the way Snook has managed to deftly switch between film and television, sinking her teeth into fascinating dramatic fare and avoiding being pigeon-holed into one kind of role.
This year alone has also seen Snook star in ABC series The Secret River and smash-hit family film Oddball, which recently passed the $10 million mark at the Australian box office.
But despite her impressive resume, which also includes excellent time-travel sci-fi flick Predestination with Ethan Hawke and her breakout role in Not Suitable for Children with Ryan Kwanten, Snook has been able to keep her anonymity largely intact.
Part of this can be attributed to the wide variety of roles she has played, but also the way in which Snook becomes her characters. So much so, that in Predestination, where she plays a transgender man, some of her friends watching the film didn’t even realise who it was at first.
For The Beautiful Lie, a modern take on Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, the story takes place in Melbourne rather than 19th century Russia, with Snook tackling the starring role. Instead of an aristocrat, she plays Australia’s version of high-society – a former tennis pro – in the six-part ABC series.
Director Glendyn Ivin says Snook’s character Anna is a difficult one to play.
“We all know from very early on that she’s making arguably the wrong decisions and in that way she’s a very morally ambiguous character,” he says.
“But with Sarah you see the indecision, like a tidal wash back and forth, of her right and wrong (choices) and her processing of that. There are very few actors that I’ve seen that have that kind of presence onscreen.”
While The Beautiful Lie has been transported to modern day Australia, Snook’s career has often seen her delve into history.
The Secret River, based on Kate Grenville’s bestselling novel, starred Snook as an early settler in NSW, while The Dressmaker takes place in a tiny Aussie country town in 1951, and even TV movie Sisters of War, with one of her first roles, was set during WWII.
“I guess I’m drawn to them but not exclusively,” Snook says.
“I grew up watching the BBC, and Jane Austen films like Pride and Prejudice, so a part of me loves being in those worlds. They have the most all-encompassing costume and production design and you can really hide.”
The costumes play a significant role in The Dressmaker, where Tilly Dunnage (played by Kate Winslet) returns to her small town after years working in European fashion houses. Her creations have a profound impact on the townsfolk, particularly Snook’s character Gertrude.
“She starts off almost invisible,” Snook says.
“She’s someone who doesn’t have a lot of confidence and is very shy, but when she gets made into this beautiful swan by Tilly for the footballer’s dance she kind of comes into her own. [But she] realises there’s a way to use that power and use it not necessarily for good.”
Based on Rosalie Ham’s novel, The Dressmaker is filled with a lot of drama, comedy and a surprising number of twists. Snook was able to draw on the book, but unsurprisingly worked closely with costume designer Marion Boyce to create the character.
“So much of it was about marking that transformation with the dress,” Snook says.
“There were even little nicknames – the wedding dress, the balcony dress, the footballers dance, the forthy wedding dress – and they all had their individual styles.”
However they also had to have a similar thread (no pun intended) linking them as well, because they were coming from a single designer in the film – Tilly.
“Rather than exploring a different dress just because, it was about trying to make sure it came from what Tilly would design for Gertrude.”
Now with The Dressmaker wrapped, Snook is going to cap off the year by leaping into something different.
The NIDA trained actor is heading overseas to tread the boards at London’s The Old Vic, with rehearsals for The Master Builder starting in December.
“I know it’s been performed at The Old Vic before and Maggie Smith was playing the character that I’m playing, so I’m really terrified, but also excited, because that’s going to be a challenge,” Snook says.
So no pressure, then?
“No pressure,” she says, laughing. “Oh and she just acted with someone called Laurence Olivier, so it’s like ‘oh yeah that’s fine’.”