"It's like screenwriters have forgotten that teenagers can be complex, fully formed people."
When Odessa Young auditioned for Simon Stone's debut film The Daughter, the director initially didn't want to cast her, figuring a 16-year-old so prepossessed and audacious wasn't right to play the naive, sheltered lead character. But those same qualities were what drew Sue Brooks — when casting her newest feature, Looking For Grace — to Young. "Sue really wanted someone who could really grab onto this character, contribute a lot of ideas to the performance," says Young.
With two leading turns in her first two films — acting opposite Geoffrey Rush and Miranda Otto, Radha Mitchell and Richard Roxburgh — Young has spent 2015 touring film festivals, being fated as Australian cinema's new 'It' girl at just 17.
"There were bits of the floor that were rotting that'd just been covered over with cardboard, thongs in the shower, dirty tracksuit pants left behind under the doona..."
Put in drama classes as a child by her parents because she was "loud" and a "total show-off", Young's first-ever open-call audition — "it was a shitstorm, just a bunch of kids in a room playing drama games" — landed her a gig on the ABC3 show My Place. "I was in an episode with Dan Wyllie and Susie Porter, and I was this 11-year-old girl still trying to tell people what to do on set."
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On set, at work, Young "felt really grown up", but back at school at Newtown High in inner Sydney she was a "terrible, terrible student", constantly "questioning authority": "I didn't want to believe any 'fact' that they told me." When she was cast in Looking For Grace and The Daughter — the two films shooting back-to-back — Young struggled with committing to both acting and to schoolwork, and left school.
Now, she's a proud high-school drop-out: happy to turn an interview into a forum on the state of higher education and the "industry of fear" that inculcates kids into pursuing degrees that drag them into debt, dismissing those who ask if she's going to one of Australia's prestigious drama programs. "I don't know why I'd sign myself away for four years and spend all this money to get a degree that might help me get to do something that I'm already doing."
Young's first full-time year on the job found her on location in rural Western Australia for Looking For Grace. "The crew had to stay in the local pub, where there were bits of the floor that were rotting that'd just been covered over with cardboard, thongs in the shower, dirty tracksuit pants left behind under the doona; and apparently the smell, god..." Then the Snowy Mountains for The Daughter. She got to experience two directors with vastly different approaches. "Sue really steps back and quietly observes what the actors are doing, and really uses an actor's intuition," Young says, "Whereas Simon had this tight vision, and it was really about fine-tuning this precise thing he already had in mind." And, best of all, she got to play two roles that, in her experience, are few and far between: complex teenagers.
"You don't get complexity in teenage characters and their relationships," Young spits. "So often when you have a script with a teenager they just become a token, just a catalyst for things to happen in the parents' lives. They're just these two-dimensional figures of angst. It really pisses me off. It's like screenwriters have forgotten that teenagers can be complex, fully formed people."