BETHANY Whitmore has been in front of a camera since she was 6 years old, appearing alongside Debra Messing and Judy Davis in US television series The Starter Wife (2007).
Since then, Bethany has built up a CV that boasts projects with the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman (Mary and Max), Toni Collette (Mary and Max & Mental), Liev Schreiber (Mental) and – most recently – Natalie Dormer (Picnic at Hanging Rock).
A few years ago, Bethany took centre stage for the first time with a warming central performance in Rosemary Myers’ coming-of-age story Girl Asleep. A heart-stealing performance that introduced her to a global audience and cemented her place as one of Australia’s most promising actors.
Close-up Culture caught up with Bethany – now 18 years old – to talk about Girl Asleep, life in Melbourne, her love for cinema and much more.
Q: Many of our readers will be familiar with your tremendous lead performance as Greta in Rosemary Myers’ film Girl Asleep. What is your relationship now with the film and with Greta?
A: When looking back on Girl Asleep and its achievements I feel very honoured and proud to have been a part of such a wonderfully creative collaboration. I still feel very closely connected to the role of Greta, even though it was a few years ago now, as she and I are both very similar people and our pathways to adulthood were almost identical. I hold the entire experience, and the film, very dearly and close to my heart.
Q: The film is destined to be a cult classic and is still finding fresh eyes around the world – it had a theatrical release in France this time last year and is now available on Sky Cinema in the UK. What is it like to be involved in a project that has that reach and provokes such an excited response?
A: It’s always a thrill when a film that was made on a low budget, and isn’t a huge blockbuster, can be successful through its truthful creativity and innovative thought. The film has had such a great response internationally because the story is universal and appeals to people of all ages. Everyone was a kid once and knows the difficulties of entering the terrifying realm that is adulthood, and Girl Asleep captures this uniquely and beautifully. The fact that I was an integral part of this film was such a privilege; it was a dream role for me.
Q: Watching Girl Asleep in 2018, I couldn’t help but view it with Greta Gerwig’s American coming-of-age story Lady Bird in mind. Did you get to see the film?
A: I did get to see Greta Gerwig’s film Lady Bird, and I thought it was an excellent film that beautifully captured the comical nuances of modern youth. Although both Girl Asleep and Lady Bird explore the coming of age of a teenage girl, their journeys are both very different as Greta’s approach is much more reserved and conservative, whereas Lady Bird is more neurotic in her decisions. These different approaches to the same topic show the unique ways that one can tackle the same type of story, which is always exciting to watch.
Q: Girl Asleep is how I discovered your work. But you have been involved in many impressive projects since the age of 6. One that stands out is animated film Mary and Max starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Do you have any memories of this project you can share?
A: I VOICED Mary and Max at the tender age of 8. I still remember going into the audition room wearing my favourite brown dress and sporting messy hair. I stood out in the crowd because all the other little girls were neat and wearing pink. Director Adam Elliot knew at that moment I was to be Mary.
I remember feeling honoured and grateful that he took such an interest in me – an interest that remains to this day. One fond memory from the recordings was that Adam bought me a Cherry Ripe, one of Mary’s favourites, to eat as a snack in-between takes.
Mary and Max is one of my proudest achievements. Working on a film where the director is a genius was an opportunity that I cherish to this day. Adam Elliot is amazing and a great friend of mine.
Q: Has there ever been a moment when you thought about taking another path or has this always been your sole passion?
A: THERE has never been a day when I remember waking up and not wanted to be an actor – it has just always been inherently there.
That said, the goal is not to become an actor for acting sake, but rather the drive and passion to be able to tell stories that affect, move and teach people about humanity.
If you trace storytelling back through history, it has lasted all these years because of its ability to make you feel and learn. I believe it is vital to carry on this tradition. I am not solely pursuing the art of acting, but also scriptwriting and hopefully directing so that I can tell my stories too.
Q: I saw you recently praise Bong Joon-ho’s film Okja and declare your love for films. Can you tell us about the type of cinema you love and interests you?
A: THROUGHOUT my life, I have been a movie nerd. Instead of having a multitude of friends, I simply watch movies. I love most genres although I think my favourite are thrillers, especially European thrillers. They capture an ambience that is so looming yet so beautiful it makes the film even more suspenseful and intriguing.
My favourite film is the director’s cut of Donnie Darko, not only because I love Jake Gyllenhaal as an actor, but due to its ability to capture real characters and the complexities in relationships – while at the same time telling a deep and layered psychological story.
Q: Can you tell us about the creative scene and environment living in Melbourne? We are big fans of Courtney Barnett and recently had talented director Danny Cohen on the website.
A: BEING one of the most fantastic places in the world, Melbourne has many creative and entertaining events. We are currently in the middle of the Comedy Festival, so the whole city is buzzing with creativity and laughs.
I live in the inner north of the city which is a cultural kaleidoscope. It makes for an exciting variety of people and expressions of art.
Q: How are you enjoying being part of The Family Law?
A: I FEEL honoured to be part of such a beautiful ensemble and an excellent production which has had a profound effect on so many.
We have just finished filming season three, the final season, which I believe is the most heart-warming yet, and most comical. I cannot wait for its release and to see how the public reacts.
My character Melissa takes a more prominent role in this season, so it was great to take her on another journey. The set was calm and everyone involved loved the work – all collaborated so well.
I will miss the family I have made on this three-year journey, but I know we will all be friends for many years to come.
Q: Picnic at Hanging Rock looks promising and will air on the BBC later this year. What is next for you?
A: I HAVE recently received a scholarship from 16th Street Actor’s Studio to study anywhere around the world. You will be pleased to know I have chosen to come to London to take a course at RADA.
In the meantime, I am studying scriptwriting with Australian Film Television and Radio School and in the process of writing and making my own short film.