Interview: Robin McLeavy; star of The Loved Ones.

Interview: Robin McLeavy; star of The Loved Ones. By Simon Miraudo.

Robin McLeavy gives one of the breakout performances of the year as the deeply deranged Lola in the new Aussie horror flick The Loved Ones. The Melbourne-born NIDA graduate has spent much of her career on the stage – she recently appeared alongside Cate Blanchett and Joel Edgerton in the Sydney Theatre Company’s A Streetcar Named Desire – but she’s about to drill her way into the national consciousness (and your nightmares) thanks to her leading role in Sean Byrne’s comic hell-ride. She stars as a lonely teenage girl who kidnaps the object of her affections, and treats him to a prom night he’ll never forget.

I spoke to Robin about embodying a future horror-icon, Lola’s repressed sexuality and the psychosis-inducing powers of Britney Spears.

You can also check out my interview with writer/director Sean Byrne here.

SM: I asked [director] Sean [Byrne] this, so I’m going to ask you as well. How did you celebrate your Halloween?

RM: My friend has a huge party every year, and she’s having it a week later so I’m going this weekend. And I’m seriously contemplating getting the Lola stained-dress out of the cupboard.

SM: That’s not a bad idea.

RM: I don’t know if it’s a good idea.

SM: Let’s start at the beginning. Do you remember seeing a film when you were younger that inspired you to become and actor?

RM: I really loved the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, just for the magic element. I loved Gene Wilder. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time. So I suppose that’s one of the first films that really excited me.

SM: When you made the decision to become an actor, was it something you had to break to your parents, or was it kind of assumed at that point?

RM: No, they were always very supportive. My mum’s a historian, so she’s got a bit of a passion for stories and oral history. My dad is a graphic designer, so they’re both kind of artistic people. It was never something that you had to break to them.

SM: OK, well tell me about getting the role of Lola.

RM: Yeah, well, when I read the script the first thing that really appealed to me was that the lead actor was not only a female, but she was also a villain. And playing a victim role in a horror film is something I would never contemplate doing. So it was really exciting that Sean had written such a powerful, twisted, vulnerable psychopath. That’s really what drew me to it.

SM: What about the auditioning process? What was that like?

RM: It was pretty straightforward. I just kind of went in there. I auditioned for Mia, the gothic character that Jessica McNamee plays, initially, and that was kind of a walk in the park. Sean asked me to come back in and audition for Lola, and that’s when I really sunk my teeth in and got excited.

SM: Was the character of Lola already on the page, or is her current incarnation something you and Sean worked out together?

RM: Lola was kind of a monster we created together. Sometimes I can’t remember what was on the page, and what we came up with on the day, or what I brought to the table. It was a kind of very fluid process that Sean and I had together. And I think we’re as meticulous as each other when it comes to research, so that was really great. Sean gave me like an 100-page document with all his research notes; all this stuff about Jeffrey Dahmer that was completely disturbing and horrible. And I kind of realised if I was going to play Lola for five weeks without being psychologically disturbed I had to come at it from a creative point of view as well. So I read a book called ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat’ by Oliver Sacks who’s a neuropsychologist, and that was about patients with borderline personality disorder. How, when they’re on the verge of an episode they feel maniacally well, like the realm of possibility unfolds before them, and they have hallucinations, and all these kind of wonderful sensoric experiences. I thought, “what a great in point for me to find Lola”. So I kind of looked at the whole series of events as a series of magic tricks at a party, just to give it a bit of joie de vivre; kind of bring a bit of lightness to allay the vengefulness and the horrifying acts.

SM: Do you sympathise with Lola? Do you have to find an aspect of her that you sympathise with, or are you able to embody someone that you find repulsive?

RM: It’s kind of a juggling act between the two. Because you have to be sort of brave enough to go to those vulgar horrible places but you can’t judge that at the same time. I kind of looked at the violence like – because she’s so socially inept, the only way she knew how to communicate with members of the opposite sex – it’s like that’s her only vocabulary for intimacy. And I found that quite fascinating, to think of it like it comes out of necessity because she’s so lonely. At the same time, you kind of just got to roll with it and have fun.

SM: Was the song Not Pretty Enough always in the script? Or as long as you’ve been involved?

RM: Sean actually wanted to use another Kasey Chambers’ song. I can’t think what it was off the top of my head. I think he thought ‘Am I Not Pretty Enough’ might be too much of a perfect fit for Lola, and it might be too on the nose. But I think it’s perfect (giggles), and as tormenting as anything else in the film. It’s perfect because it’s a song about wanting validation from the opposite sex; it just shows how vulnerable the person is.

SM: The sequence where you, or Lola, listens to it, reminds me of a story in which Daniel Day Lewis used to listen to Lose Yourself by Eminem –

RM: Oh right.

SM: He would listen to that in his trailer before he would shoot his scenes for Gangs of New York. To amp him up and get him ready.

RM: I didn’t know he did that.

SM: Yeah. Well, that’s the story anyway. Was there anything like that, like a song or a film, that you used to get into character?

RM: This is a big admission, but I was listening to Britney Spears (laughs).

SM: Oh really? Which album? The early stuff?

RM: Umm, oh what was I listening to? What’s…I’m not going to sing it to you.

SM: This is a written interview anyway. It won’t be broadcast, so you’re free…

RM: (Sarcastically) You’re not recording?

SM: I am recording.

RM: It’s the video clip when she’s in the sauna [Womanizer]. You know what I’m talking about.

SM: I won’t admit to that.

RM: The ladies in the room are helping me out. Yeah, I listened to that. Britney’s good. It’s was just perfect for that little girl; watching MTV and Video Hits.

SM: Sort of oversexed at a young age.

RM: Yeah.

SM: You recently starred in a production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Obviously The Loved Ones and Streetcar are very different, but they both deal with sexuality and violence and denial. Do you see any connection between Stella and Lola?

RM: Wow.

SM: And you’re allowed to say no.

RM: This is a question I get from my boyfriend; he comes up with these crazy questions: If three of the characters I’ve played recently were in a room together, what would they say to each other? So, umm. (Laughs). I think they probably have a similar sexual appetite, but Stella’s is probably satisfied and Lola’s is not.

SM: Well Lola’s definitely about to become an iconic horror villain. I’ve been seeing the poster all over bus ads for a few weeks, and the film has been knocking around and gaining buzz for over a year now. Are you a fan of horror films?

RM: No. I’m not. I was a huge horror wimp, and I had to slowly introduce myself. I started with Misery, with Kathy Bates, and moved onto Carrie. I’ve toughened up a little bit since then, and I was kind of inducted by way of playing Lola. Yeah, I’m still a bit of a wimp when it comes to watching horror films. Being the villain in a horror film kind of demystifies all the process of the prosthetics and everything. Because you’re the villain, you’re in control of everything, so it’s not a scary prospect.

SM: How do you fare watching The Loved Ones?

RM: I do kind of horrify myself a little, just because I can’t believe that I did those things. I’ve sat and watched the film with John Brumpton a few times – he plays my dad – and we start chuckling like little school kids, and we kind of get back into character, which is very disturbing for the people sitting next to us.

SM: Tell me, what’s coming up next for you?

RM: I’m actually going on tour with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, just to do something at the complete opposite end of the entertainment spectrum. And it’s a piece based on a Tolstoy novella, so we’ll be doing a national tour of that with an actor called Samuel West. He’s coming out from London, so it’ll just be us two and the amazing chamber orchestra. So we’ll be coming over to Perth for that too.

SM: Are you interested in continuing in film, or is theatre where you’re at?

RM: Yeah, I’ve actually turned down all my theatre gigs for next year, which is kind of difficult, but I think it’s time for me to … I’m going back to L.A. to do pilot season again. It’ll be my second time so hopefully something will come of that.

SM: Well good luck with that and congratulations on the film.

The Loved Ones is now showing across Australia. Check out my interview with writer/director Sean Byrne, or read my review here!

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