Having the creative freedom and passionate to uninhibitedly explore your options, motivations and feelings can be both daunting and liberating as you decide the direction where you want to take your life. While you may be afraid of making the wrong decision that can ultimately lead to harrowing effects, you may also make the right choice that can forever powerfully change your life for the better. Rising Australian actress Sarah Snook rightfully decided to take on dual roles in the new sci-fi thriller, ‘Predestination,’ which powerfully chronicle how much a person’s approach to identifying with their gender defines their personality and place in society. The action drama, which was written and directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, and is now playing in select theaters and On Demand across America, powerfully explores how people’s need to find answers and closure, in combination with their life experiences, can truly shape their decisions and future.
‘Predestination’ follows the intriguing life of the entrancing narrator, a Temporal Agent (Ethan Hawke) who is one of the select few who can time travel for a secretive organization, known as the Temporal Bureau. His current mission, which will serve as his last before his retirement, is to stop the Fizzle Bomber, the only terrorist who has ever eluded the agency, from unleashing a bomb in New York in 1975. Someone, presumably the agent, tries to deactivate the latest explosive rigged by the infamous bomber in 1993, but it blows up in his face, and forces him to undergo reconstructive surgery.
The agent is then seen working undercover as a bartender during the mid-1970s, as the news of the Fizzle Bomber’s ever-increasing terror is eliciting so much fear in New Years that they’re leaving Manhattan. During the city’s increased awareness of the extremist, the Temporal Agent begins a conversation with a customer, John (Snook), who refers to himself by his pen name, “the Unmarried Mother.” The writer, who pens popular confessional stories for magazines, tells the curious agent he has garnered so such intuition into women’s minds, as he was born as a girl, and was left on the doorstep of a Cleveland orphanage in 1945.
After being named Jane (played by Snook in a dual role) by the hospital’s nurses, she’s raised in the orphanage, and realizes she was never adopted, or accepted by her peers, because she was different. After developing an unusual physical toughness and excelling in her studies as a teenager, Jane is considered to be an ideal candidate for the 1960s government space program Space Corp., which provides woman as comfort to male astronauts while they’re on missions. But she unexpectedly fails one of her physical exams, after which she’s disqualified from the program. Jane then meets one of the leaders of Space Corp., Mr. Robertson (Noah Taylor), who initially appears unforthcoming and distant to her true needs, but proves to be an important ally later in her life.
The Unmarried Mother also reveals to the Temporal Agent that as he was trying to readjust to life after being forced out of Space Corp. when he was still Jane, she was seduced and abandoned by a young man, who she fell in love with and left her pregnant. After she gives birth to their daughter, her doctor reveals that she was actually born with both male and female internal reproductive organs, and complications from her surgery require her to transition fully into a man. Hoping to give him the chance to avenge his abandonment by the man Jane fell in love with, as well as her harrowing medical experience after she gave birth, the Temporal Agent offers the Unmarried Mother the opportunity to go back in time and alter his past. However, the writer’s time travel not only modifies his own life, but also everyone he has been in contact with, as well as the entire city of New York.
Snook generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘Predestination’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the actress discussed how she was drawn to star in the action sci-fi thriller, as she was interested in playing the tough and complex side of Jane, particularly while she was making the transition into John, and also embraced the opportunity to portray both the feminine and masculine sides of both characters; how doing research into transgender characters in literature and figures in history, as well as the make-up and prosthetics she wore throughout filming, helped her better understand and play both Jane and John’s motivations; and how she enjoyed working with the Spierig Brothers and Hawke on the set, as they were open to new ideas, and very inspired by the creative aspects everyone else brought to the table, which helped her bring a freedom to her characters.
ShockYa (SY): You play the dual roles of Jane and John in the new action sci-fi thriller, ‘Predestination.’ What was it about the characters, as well as the script and film overall, that convinced you to take on the role?
Sarah Snook (SS): Well, firstly, the opportunity to play such a different role really appealed to me. Jane is a tough female character, which you don’t necessarily see all of the time; she’s a complex, diverse character. Also, the opportunity to play a man doesn’t come around very often.
SY: What was the process of playing both characters, and getting into their perspective mindsets as you were filming?
SS: It was something that I enjoyed a lot. Connecting to both characters was quite a different process. I thought I was going to find it easier to connect to Jane, since we’re both girls. (laughs) But it was a difficult process, as I had to make sure she didn’t seem too girly or masculine. But she had to seem a little masculine, in order to make it believable that she would turn into a man at the end. But I enjoyed being inside the mindset of both characters.
SY: What was the process of changing your physicality, and undergoing the physical transformation with the make-up, for both roles as you were filming?
SS: We had a great prosthetic team, which was led by (special makeup effects designers) Steven Boyle and Samantha Little. They were great to work with on the film. I had prosthetic ears and nose. I felt like once that mask was on, with all the make-up around it and blended down, it was very easy from that point on to feel more masculine for the part of John. I also did a lot of training and character research before we started pre-production. But to be able to put the make-up and the prosthetics on my face was the main thing that helped me.
SY: Speaking of the research you did for your roles, were you familiar with the short story (1958’s ‘—All You Zombies—’ by Robert A. Heinlein) is based on before you signed onto the film and began filming? How did you really prepare for both films overall?
SS: I wasn’t familiar with the short story before I became attached to the project. I only read it when I signed on to play Jane and John, as it was sent out with the film’s treatment. Instead of a script, we were able to read the short story.
Once I did read the script, I started doing research into transgender characters in literature and figures in history, as well as Greek mythology. I also found that talking to a friend of mine who recently made the transition from female to male was helpful, as we talked about the physical side of things.
There are also women in places like Albania, who are a part of groups called the sworn virgins, which is the Western name that they’re referred to as now. But they choose to live like men from a young age. Even though they don’t change their gender, per say, they change how they’re perceived in society as a gender. I found them really useful to research, as your gender often makes up your identity.
SY: When your two characters finally do meet each other later in the film, what was the process like of portraying both characters in the same scene?
SS: Well, we had stand-ins and doubles that I worked with throughout the shoot. When we shot the scenes where I had to play opposite myself, they stood in for me, as either the male or female character, and I acted alongside them. That was useful, because it meant I was working with a real person, rather than just an idea of what I wanted to do next. When I initially watched the film, it was the first time I saw myself talk to myself, which was actually a weird thing. (laughs)
SY: Speaking of working with the idea of how you wanted to react in the scenes where Jane and John were talking together, what was the process of planning out those responses before you began filming?
SS: It was a little bit challenging, but my idea going into the project was to be as prepared as possible before we started shooting. So that way when we did, I could go with the flow and trust the directors and Ethan. That seemed to work, as Michael and Peter, as well as Ethan, are incredibly talented. Ethan helped me feel incredibly calm on set, as nerves got the better of me sometimes. But I was able to keep them in check because of the people around me.
SY: Speaking of working with Michael and Peter, what was the process of working with the two of them, as they both wrote and directed the film? Do you prefer working with helmers who also penned the script?
SS: Usually I find that when I work with directors who also wrote the script, they’re quite intimate with the material. Whether they’ve been with the material with six months or 10 years, it doesn’t matter; they really know it inside and out. That can be a hindrance sometimes, because it can be hard for them to unblock the ideas they’re set on.
But I didn’t find that to be true at all with Michael and Peter. They were really open to new ideas, and very inspired by whatever creative aspects everyone else could bring to the table. That was really helpful, as it made everyone feel as though they had freedom with their characters, which I think is important.
SY: Also speaking of acting with Ethan, what was the experience of working with him, particularly since most of your scenes as John were with him?
SS: It was great, because he’s a very inspiring and passionate person. He still has a childlike wonder to him while he’s acting. It’s amazing that he’s managed to maintain that over such a long career. He’s been acting since he was about 13, so to be able to still approach it with the enthusiasm of a kid or a teenager, is great. He really believes in what he’s doing, and is a real artist. So I found it very rewarding to work with him.
SY: ‘Predestination’ is the second project Ethan worked on with Michael and Peter, after their 2010 action horror movie, ‘Daybreakers.’ If the opportunity came up to work with all three of them again, would you be interested in reuniting with them?
SS: Yes, definitely-they’re all great. We all get along great as friends, as well as creative collaborators. I think Michael and Peter are a talented duo, and whether they work together again or separately on an upcoming film, I’d happily work with them again.
SY: Once you began filming, what was the process of shooting the action sequences? Does performing those stunt-driven scenes influence the way you portray your character at all?
SS: Yes, I do like filming action sequences, as they’re quite fun. Anything that you can do that involves movement in film can often be rewarding, as it shows another facet to your character. Much of this film was shot in a bar, which was interesting, as it was all very cerebral. But once we actually got to go outside and move around different locations, that’s always pretty good.
SY: Speaking of filming on location, do you find that process easier to help you connect with your character, as well as the story, as opposed to shooting on a studio soundstage?
SS: Yes-filming in a studio is always very funny, because if you arrive there early in the morning, often times the sun isn’t up. Then when you leave in the evening, the sun has already gone down again. So you never get to see the daylight, which can be displacing and detaching, in a way.
But what was great was that the whole bar set was built in a studio. But I personally wish it was a real location, just so that I could go back to the bar again in my regular life, as it was a cool place to work in. (laughs) But generally, I enjoy working on location.
SY: Your performances as Jane and John in the film have been receiving positive reviews, and you have also been nominated for Best Actress at the 2015 Australian Academy of Cinema & Television Awards. What does it mean to you that people are embracing, and connecting to, your characters?
SS: It feels great, and I’m honored that I’ve been nominated by my peers in the industry. I’m really happy and grateful that everyone’s responding to the film so much. It is a strange, off-beat and quirky film, so I’m proud that people dig it. Since filmmakers are always doing an amazing job on their projects, it’s amazing to be honored.
SS: Besides ‘Predestination,’ the horror movie you starred in last year, ‘Jessabelle,’ also received positive responses. What was your experience of playing Jessie in that film? What is it about the horror genre that you also enjoy, in addition to the action and sci-fi elements of movies like ‘Predestination?’
SS: I loved filming in North Carolina, as Wilmington was really great. It was my first experience making a film in the States, and I couldn’t have asked for a better one; it was really fun. It has a really great crew, and everyone welcomed me in.
Shooting a horror film is one of the best experiences you can ever have, provided you’re not doing a whole lot of torture. (laughs) But when the movie has supernatural elements that are haunting you, it’s the best. When the camera’s rolling, you have to act scared, and you’re constantly screaming. Then when they call cut, you think, this is a ridiculous job-what am I doing? I’m screaming at thin air! (laughs)
SY: After making films like ‘Predestination’ and ‘Jessabelle,’ what’s the process of shifting away from your characters’ mindset? Is it a difficult process overall?
SS: I didn’t find it to be difficult to get out of Jessie’s mindset after I finished filming ‘Jessabelle.’ She’s similar to myself, as she’s a young female. But it’s much more difficult when you’re playing a man, or a woman who’s so tortured and complex. But what I like about the characters I’ve played throughout my career so far is that you can learn something from each of them, and I’ve enjoyed that.
SY: Besides starring in films, you have also appeared on several television shows throughout your career, including ‘Spirited’ and ‘Packed to the Rafters.’ What is it about television that you also enjoy working on, and how does it compare and contrast to filming movies?
SS: In terms of acting, I approach both mediums exactly the same. I also hope to create a character who’s interesting, complex and feels like a real person, whether it’s theater, film or TV. I think television at the moment has really grown, in terms of content and quality, and to be a part of that again in the future would be great.
SY: You have also appeared in several theatrical productions, like you mentioned, including ‘Macbeth’ and ‘King Lear,’ during the beginning of your career. Is performing in more plays in the future something you’re interested in doing? Has your theater experience influenced the way you approach your film and television roles?
SS: Yes, absolutely-I would love to do more theater in the future. I miss being a part of that type of team, as well as the adrenaline you get from performing in front of a live audience. I do think my theater training in predominately theater schools, as well as my experience in live productions, has helped me with my feature film and television roles. It helped me become comfortable in my technique.
SY: Beside acting, are you also interested in trying directing, whether in films, television or theater?
SS: At the moment, I’m enjoying being on the acting train. But I will direct something in the future, and also produce something, I’m sure. I am interested in trying that eventually, but right now I’m happy and content with acting. Directing is something I’m going to mentally prepare for later.
Written by: Karen Benardello