Angourie Rice: the Melbourne schoolgirl heading places in Hollywood

Ryan Gosling and Angourie Rice attend "The Nice Guys" press conference during the 69th annual Cannes Film Festival at the Palais des Festivals on May 15, 2016. Photo: Getty Images

Ryan Gosling and Angourie Rice attend "The Nice Guys" press conference during the 69th annual Cannes Film Festival at the Palais des Festivals on May 15, 2016. Photo: Getty Images

It’s too soon to talk about Hollywood endings, but Angourie Rice’s acting career has certainly had a fairytale start. Having made her feature film debut when most people are starting high school, the 16-year-old has already notched up lead roles beside luminaries such as Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman.

Right now, her biggest drama is trying to balance life as a screen star with completing VCE at a local Melbourne secondary college. As luck would have it, her latest role in Aussie drama Jasper Jones allowed her to kill two birds with one stone. Playing Eliza, who is obsessed with Audrey Hepburn, Angourie used an English assignment to engage in a bit of character research.

“While I was filming, I had to do a school project that has been turned into a film, so I chose Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I read the book and I watched the film, which really helped me with Eliza,” Angourie says.

She says studying the American Civil War in history class also put her in good stead for her role in Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, due for release later this year.

While meeting professional and educational demands isn’t easy, Angourie says she appreciates the steadiness that school life brings. “I quite like the routine. I really enjoy getting back to reality and focusing on something other than my lines and who I was working with.”

As level-headed as she seems, you couldn’t blame her for getting distracted by her co-stars. When co-starring with Ryan Gosling in The Nice Guys, Angourie says it probably helped she hadn’t seen his movies. “I knew of his reputation, but I think it’s good that I wasn’t a hardcore fan. That would have scared him off a bit. But he was fantastic to work with.”

Still, she admits it’s strange to be working closely with people you’re accustomed to seeing on billboards.

“It is quite surreal and overwhelming. It’s like there are two different versions of Ryan Gosling that I know. There’s Ryan, who I worked with. And there’s Ryan Gosling, teenage heartthrob, star of The Notebook.”

Among her school friends, however, her most exciting co-star isn’t Ryan but a certain web-slinger. Angourie has been cast as Betty Brant in the new Spider-Man: Homecoming film due later this year. Comic nerds will know Betty as one of Peter Parker’s paramours, but Angourie refuses to reveal whether she will be Spidey’s latest love interest. “I’ve been trained to say no comment,” she says.

For now, her focus is on Jasper Jones. Directed by Rachel Perkins, the drama is an adaptation of Craig Silvey’s acclaimed novel, in which bookish teen Charlie is drawn into an apparent murder mystery. Eliza is the sister of the dead girl, with some pretty heavy emotional baggage for a young actor to shoulder.

“It was difficult because all of her struggle happens in her head,” Angourie says. “Rachel was great at creating a safe environment to be in, which allowed me to not be scared of what anyone might do, say or think.”

Photo: Adam Haddrick

Photo: Adam Haddrick

If she sounds like a seasoned veteran, it’s for a good reason. Angourie has been acting as long as she can remember, making her stage debut at the age of two.

“I did a dance to I Just Can’t Wait To Be King from The Lion King. I was in a lion onesie and I did a forward roll onstage and got up and did a roar into the microphone.”

With that, the theatre bug had bitten. It helped that Angourie, who is named after the beach in northern NSW where her grandmother lives, was from a theatrical background.

The daughter of a director and a playwright, Angourie hasn’t had any formal training, but she grew up hanging around rehearsal rooms after school. Early roles in a series of short films led to her being cast in her first feature at the age of 12 – Perth thriller These Final Hours. That part won her an American agent and an audition for The Nice Guys. Stardom followed. If the Spider-Man role continues, Angourie will be spending a lot more time in Hollywood. She’s already considering universities a little closer to the action.

Given how fast her career has moved, does she ever wish her star had risen a little later in life? The leap from child star to adult actor remains a perilous one, after all.

“Not really,” she says. “I think that I’ve been taught by my parents that the industry is always changing and I might never get a role again. If this industry allows me to keep working, I would love to. If not, then I have to remember that it’s not the end of the world. It all comes down to luck at a certain stage.”

Jasper Jones is in cinemas now.

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