The trailblazer on Assassination Nation, the duality of social media and the hysteria of playing a teenager.

Bullying, toxic masculinity, guns, nationalism, murder… giant frogs? The trigger warnings at the beginning of Assassination Nation are enough to unsettle the most resilient cinema-goer. Yet amidst all the blood and extreme violence (the squeamish should probably sit this one out), there glimmers the film’s refusal to shy away from poignant and timely social issues.

Social media hysteria, data leakage, revenge porn, blackmail, slut-shaming, vigilante action. In case you were wondering, “this is the story of how [the] town Salem, lost its motherfucking mind,” all following the fallout after an anonymous hacker leaks private information about its inhabitants, and widespread violence ensues in order to find the culprit.

And at the centre of it all are four teenage girls, played by Hari Nef, Odessa Young, Suki Waterhouse and Abra. We chatted to model-turned-actress Hari Nef about the film…

How did you first get involved with Assassination Nation?
The script found me. My friend was like, “I think you might like this.” I read it, and was just really curious about it. I wanted to hear more. Took it to my agent, and when they started casting Bex, I went in, had my audition and then I came back with my callback with Sam [Levinson]. We really hit it off right off the bat. It was the day after the US Presidential election, so emotions were running high. Those more emotional scenes from my callback were not very much of a stretch for me that day.

The film is pretty brutal – what drew you to the script?
I was really excited by the film’s representation of teenage girls. They don’t really want to admit it, but they’re kind of living rated-R lives, and speaking rated-R language, and having rated-R sex. It’s difficult for a lot of us to talk about, and it’s something that representations of teenage girls in the media just ignore completely. And this felt real, brutally real. It’s unfamiliar to find something that feels true to how girls are, and how they talk and how they act. Especially if it’s written by a man. So there’s sort of a double-shock there. My favourite scenes, both watching and shooting, were the ones where we’re just hanging out talking shit.

And how did you prepare?
I tried more broadly to understand, and reflect on, and live in the emotional reality of being a teenager. Which isn’t so different from my or your emotional reality, it’s just everything’s happening for the first time and the world is so much smaller.

Everything’s heightened…
Exactly, heightened. There are no options when you’re a teenager – you can’t find new friends, you can’t move city, you’re stuck with what you’ve got and have to make the best of it. It feels like there’s almost not enough room for these huge emotions – love, rejection, sex, fun. It will never be as vivid as it was when you were a teenager, so I tried to access that vividness.

Did you relate to your character Bex?
I related to her a lot and also found her quite aspirational. She’s so confident and smart, and sure of herself in a way that I wasn’t when I was her age. I thought she was cool.

The film has a lot to say about social media – what are your views on it?
Social media itself isn’t positive or negative. It’s the way we use it and what we bring to our screens that defines whether it’s positive or negative. If you’re coming to your screens with insecurities, and bones to pick, and bitterness, and inputting from a place of trauma, that’s what you’re going to reap from social media. If you bring a gentleness to social media, a desire to learn and listen, to read, perceive and consume as much as you output, and engage and dialogue, I think a more positive yield is in your future.

A lot of the scenes must have been pretty intense to film…
It was a demanding shoot, especially as we had two full weeks of night shoots when we were shooting that final portion of the film. It just took a lot of stamina and a lot of trust in my collaborators. They don’t really prepare you in acting class for being thrown into a pool 18 times with rocks in your pockets. But that’s what was required of me and I actually loved handing myself over to that adventure, it was fun. Scary, but I like scary.

With all the slut-shaming and double standards, this film came at an interesting time with the #MeToo movement…
I think this film comprises a catharsis for girls and women, particularly within this current climate. Women who have been singled out, and women who have been victimized. I know this film tackles all of these difficult political themes, but I don’t think in a discussion like this we can disregard how fun this movie is. And how boisterous it is. I’m much less concerned with this film as a political commentary than I am with this film as a midnight movie, for you and your girlfriends to go out and see, and share a giant bucket of popcorn and slushies that you spike with vodka at the back of a theatre.

But do you think the film has more serious currency?
When it comes to #MeToo, I’m thrilled by it and I think it’s important. I just hope that the movement remains open to multiple different kinds of women, and multiple different kinds of traumas, and doesn’t lose its urgency and diversity, as I’ve seen a lot of other leading feminist movements do.

So what’s next for you?
I’ve got some fascinating projects lined up, where I’m finally being afforded to play people who are very different from me. Bex wasn’t such a stretch, but the next couple might be and I’m really excited for that. I’m also excited to take control of my own work as a writer and creator, and to tell stories on my own terms. I’m excited for that.

Assassination Nation is out in UK cinemas today

Maybelle Morgan

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