By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—When Bella Heathcote arrived in Hollywood from her native Australia six years ago she didn’t know anyone. Luckily, the Melbourne actress met fellow Aussie actress Teresa Palmer, who’d emigrated here a few years earlier. The two instantly bonded. Palmer introduced the new arrival around, something you might not expect in such a competitive and sometimes cutthroat industry.
Heathcote landed her first Hollywood movie role in 2011’s sci-fi thriller “In Time,” which starred Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried, and then was cast the following year as the romantic lead opposite Johnny Depp in Tim Burton’s “Dark Shadows.” Last year, she played one of the Bennett sisters in the big screen adaptation “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” which required her to master swordfighting and martial arts.
In “Neon Demon,” she co-stars alongside Elle Fanning, Abbey Lee, Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks, and Jena Malone as an L.A. model obsessed with her own beauty. When a younger, more beautiful upstart (Fanning) arrives on the scene, Heathcote’s Gigi and a pack of other beautiful but not quite as young and awe-inspiring woman will do anything to destroy her. Their cattiness goes to the extreme in the superficial realm of La-La Land. The dark, moody thriller is directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, whose previous films include the 2011 neo-noir crime thriller “Drive” and Thailand-set thriller “Only God Forgives,” which both starred Ryan Gosling.
Heathcote recently wrapped “Fifty Shades Darker,” the sequel to “Fifty Shades of Grey,” in which she plays the vengeful ex of Christian Grey (played by Jamie Dornan again), and she joins the cast of the acclaimed Amazon sci-fi TV series “The Man in the High Castle” for its second season. Down to earth and amiable, Heathcote sat down recently to talk about her new role, navigating the waters of fame in Hollywood and more.
Q: Is there more of a sisterhood of women helping women in Hollywood or do you see more of a competition. Have you been helped or hindered by people of your own sex?
Heathcote: I feel like I’ve been helped more and more, although there is one girl specifically who I based Gigi off of, who will do anything she can to destabilize you in any situation, professional or otherwise to increase her own power or make herself feel better. But, by and large, the last film I did was all girls (“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”). I was a bit nervous going into it because I didn’t know what to expect and it was just a really beautiful sisterhood. I got a really supportive kind of vibe, which is really good.
Q: Both of those films have a female-dominant cast.
Heathcote: (laughing) Yeah, but that’s where the similarities end.
Q: How did you get involved in “Neon Demon?”
Heathcote: I came across the script through my agents and I loved it. God, I loved it. I went through kind of a rigorous audition process, and a very long, very odd meeting with Nic. It was a strange general meeting and that was it.
Q: For this, did you have to actually audition or did Nic just ask you to play Gigi?
Heathcote: No. Part of me was going to say I wish, but actually those films I’ve been offered have usually been the most terrifying, because I go into it thinking, I haven’t proved myself at all. I don’t know if I can do this. For this I had three long auditions and then that general meeting with Nic. Each time, Mary Laws, the screenwriter, would just write different scenes—these wild scenes that were really subversive and funny. Each time I’d audition I’d just want to do it more and more because the material got better and better.
Q: This film is very dark and intense. Did Nic foster that tension on set?
Heathcote: I wonder if he did. I did kind of get the feeling that that permeated the set. Although there were moments where we would break, and Abbey (Lee, who plays another model named Sarah) and I would laugh. And Elle was just a ray of sunshine. She’s just a delight to have around. She can keep her in almost any situation. You felt like if the tension was too much, you had Abbey and Elle around you. But that tense feeling was definitely there.
Q: There’s a lot of talk about the bathroom scene and the one-upmanship that goes on between Elle and Abbey’s characters. Did that take a while to do?
Heathcote: Yeah, Nic likes to take his time. He allowed for that throughout the film. It was quite a long shoot. He really likes to do a lot of takes.
Q: A young woman who comes to L.A. to become an actress or model can face a variety of challenges.
Heathcote: In my experience, 90 percent of the time it’s been great and women have been supportive. For me, there’s not some weird sexual undercurrent that might develop with a male if you’re new somewhere. I feel like you can develop a sense of trust quickly (with a female). I’ve had work situations with difficult women but no more than I have with difficult men. That competitiveness I’ve only run into it a couple of times, thankfully, which is a relief. There are always going to be people who mess with you. I’d be really worried if that was the majority of people.
Q: Have you maintained a lot of friendships you made before you became famous?
Heathcote: Yeah. I maintain friendships with a lot of my school friends and a lot of the girls I met in L.A. when I came here six years ago, when I first moved out here. I actually met this (Australian) actress Teresa Palmer the first week I was here. I met her at a barbecue, and she said to me, “I remember my first year in L.A. was so lonely, I’m going to introduce you to all of my friends” and she just totally took care of me. And I’m still friends with all of those people today. Circumstances like that I can’t help but think all women are excellent. So, yeah, I have a lot of long-term friendships.
Q: Was it a long shoot? And what was most memorable for you?
Heathcote: I feel like it was over two months; it was quite long. For me, the biggest challenge was just letting go of the things I’d become attached to because the script changed. Nic shot consecutively, the script would change all the time. You’d get really excited about a scene or a line that was going to happen and then it would just go. (She snaps her fingers.) Or you’d come in the next day and someone else would be doing that. It was constantly evolving. So, for me, the biggest challenge was just being in acceptance, and being able to go along for that ride.
Q: You wear a lot of high fashion costumes and jewelry in this. Did you have a favorite?
Heathcote: I kind of loved the last two outfits. The one where we’re in the car and arrive at the Malibu house. And the final costume, where Abbey and I have those parallel costumes. It was kind of fantastic because they were kind of bizarre and sadomasochistic. (She laughs.)
Q: Were you familiar with Nic’s previous films?
Heathcote: Yeah. I’d seen a few of his films. I remember really loving “Drive” and “Pusher 3.” When I got this job, I was driving around L.A. listening to the “Drive” soundtrack. So I was like, “Yay!”
Q: Have you finished filming “Fifty Shades Darker?”
Heathcote: I’ve finished shooting my piece on “Fifty Shades Darker,” and I’m now shooting (Amazon Studios’) “The Man in the High Castle.”
Q: In “Fifty Shades Darker” book your character is pretty twisted. How twisted did you get to be in the film?
Heathcote: I definitely went for it. I think James encouraged that. At the same time, it’s further down the spectrum but she’s also just a girl who’s grief-stricken and heartbroken. I feel like grief can make people do pretty crazy things. And if you’re already not in a good place to begin with, it sends you off the deep end. I think we can all relate to that feeling of grief and heartbreak, so I just tapped into that and went for it.
Q: She’s got a reason for her actions…
Heathcote: She’s not a psychopath. She’s not going around mowing people down. She’s confused and deeply troubled. After every breakup, you have those feelings.
Q: Whom do you play in “The Man in the High Castle?”
Heathcote: I play a German woman called Nicole Becker, a filmmaker who’s kind of like a Leni Riefenstahl-type. It’s great.
Q: Whom are you mostly acting with?
Heathcote: Luke Kleintank, so far.
Q: How many episodes are you in?
Heathcote: I’m pretty much in it throughout the whole season. So I’m a new series regular.
Q: Did you watch the first season? Were you a fan?
Heathcote: I did. I thought it was beautiful. It just looked so incredible. And he concept is just great.
Q: The show is set in the early 1960s. How do you like the period costumes?
Heathcote: It is set in the 1960s, but everything’s been kind of halted because of the wars and this kind of parallel universe. So it’s the ‘60s, but it throws back to the ‘50s and sometimes the ‘40s. It’s kind of this limbo period. My costumes are fantastic. The character is so stylish.
Q: Do you now make your home in L.A.?
Heathcote: L.A.’s been my home for six years. I actually haven’t been home to Australia since the end of 2013. I need to get myself together. My brother lives in London so my family often meets up there. I’ve gotten lazy. I just need to take that extra plane trip back home.
Q: What have you not done yet that you’d like to do?
Heathcote: Hmm. So much. I feel like the ultimate challenge would be to do a comedy. It scares the crap out of me. It’s so much harder than people think. So probably that if I could manage it.