Given her famous surname, Samara Weaving’s career could have been all but mapped out, but the Australian actor is proving she plans to conquer Hollywood on her own terms. Here, she opens the door to her home in LA and reflects upon her latest role in a highly anticipated reboot.
Samara Weaving remembers it was a particularly monotonous day of filming on the New Orleans set of Bill & Ted Face the Music when the first few lines of Annie’s It’s a Hard Knock Life erupted from the lungs of Keanu Reeves. “He had brought the lyrics to set and broke into song and dance and had everyone join in,” the 28-year-old says laughing as she recalls that spectacular vision. “It was quite a tedious couple of scenes to get through, a lot of waiting around … and that just boosted morale.” The impromptu singalong enjoyed by cast and crew offered Weaving a taste at how fun – and memorable – her latest project was destined to be.
In the new iteration of the comedy sci-fi series, Weaving plays Bill’s daughter Theodora (named after Reeves’s iconic character Ted), while Reeves and his co-star Alex Winter reprise the titular roles that made them famous three decades ago. Though now middle-aged (Reeves is 56 and Winter, 55), they’re once again up for a new – and equally as excellent – adventure, this time with their offspring, played by Brigette Lundy-Paine, as Ted’s daughter, and Weaving, along for the ride.
Prior to being cast, Weaving admits she’d never seen the original 1989 film or its 1991 sequel, both of which were huge box office successes and are widely regarded as pop culture marvels. She says it was before her time (only just), but not so for her fiancé, American writer and producer Jimmy Warden.
“I got the email for the audition and Jimmy leapt off the couch and started doing Bill and Ted impersonations and immediately forced me to watch both films back-to-back,” she remembers, adding that she was an instant convert. “I am obsessed with that style of comedy. It’s classic and so nostalgic of that era.”
Of her character Theodora, Weaving comments that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”, in reference to her onscreen dad Bill, and she revelled in working with Reeves as the heartwarming yet daft time-travelling stoner Ted. “Keanu is such a beautiful soul. He was really wonderful and a great leader,” she offers. “The locals in New Orleans had left signs for him and he made the effort to actually stop and get out and reply on their signs and really make time for his fans. He’s a very generous human being.”
It also isn’t the first time a Weaving has played opposite Reeves, who is currently enjoying a career renaissance or ‘Keanaissance’, as fans have dubbed it. As many would know, Weaving’s famous uncle, award-winning actor Hugo, saw his own career soar after acting alongside Reeves in sci-fi phenomenon The Matrix back in the 1990s. The younger Weaving, who was born in Adelaide and grew up surrounded by creatives (her father is a filmmaker and her mother is an art therapist), says it was almost inevitable she’d continue the family vocation based on her colourful upbringing. “I don’t think it was a light bulb moment where I thought: ‘Oh, I’m gonna be an actor.’ I just think I was surrounded by so many creative people and it’s sort of that nature versus nurture thing. That might be a really strange answer, but I’m not sure where it comes from; it’s in the genes, maybe?
Weaving, whose younger sister Morgan is also an actor, cut her teeth from a young age. “I was 14 or 15 on my first job on Out of the Blue,” she says of the local TV drama set in Sydney’s Manly. “Even at school, you know, I did art and drama and English and I was always in school plays. I was a bit of a mimic at a young age. I was quite shy, so to make friends I would do impressions of teachers and my parents and things like that.”
Then came a larger TV role – in 2009 Weaving landed the part of Indigo ‘Indi’ Walker in the Australian soap Home and Away. “In Hollywood and LA, they recognise that show as a breeding ground of actors,” she explains. “So that was a really good stepping stone.” She left the show in 2013 to pursue a career Stateside and in the same year starred alongside her uncle, Ryan Kwanten and Aaron Pedersen in Mystery Road.
The 2017 teen comedy-horror film, The Babysitter, was her first lead in an American film. “That opened up more doors,” Weaving says, alluding to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which was released that same year. In it she played Penelope, a 19-year-old who shacks up with the ex-husband of Mildred Hayes (played by Frances McDormand in her Oscar-winning role), a grieving mother seeking justice for her murdered daughter. “Frances’s career is astounding,” Weaving says of the Hollywood veteran, who is one of the few people to achieve the ‘triple crown of acting’, a term to describe actors who have won an Oscar, Emmy and Tony Award. “If I’m lucky, it would be great to have a career that mirrors one like hers,” she says, though adding: “I don’t think too far in the future. I think as an actor, especially when I was starting out, it gets a little dangerous thinking too far ahead, because you sort of have to manage expectations.”
Weaving says that in Hollywood, this way of thinking can take you away from the work. “I want to be successful. And I want to keep working, but I’m happy in the present moment, I’m happy with how my things are now and I want to be able to enjoy that rather than always thinking the grass is greener.”
Weaving hasn’t been afraid to take matters into her own hands to land at such a content place, either. In 2018, she made the decision to leave the Frankie Shaw television series SMILF after lodging a formal complaint to the Screen Actors Guild. In the report Weaving said she was asked to perform a sex scene with just 40 minutes’ notice, despite having a no-nudity clause in her contract.
It marked another turning point in her career – one that proved she has the courage to back herself in an industry that has been plagued by #MeToo. But Weaving doesn’t consider the success of her stint on the show – or any of her roles for that matter – as an official big break that has cemented her as one to watch. “I think there were a lot of little mini-breaks, if that makes sense,” she says, before explaining that her trajectory has been “less a big break and more of a rolling stone that’s gathering speed and momentum … and hopefully it still does and doesn’t just break off!”
Her self-deprecating humour and refreshingly down-to-earth approach is reminiscent of other young Aussies leading the Hollywood charge. Weaving has formed close-knit bonds with a “support group” that includes Margot Robbie and her husband Tom Ackerley, Robbie’s cousin Julia Chalmers, and her photographer husband Nicholas Chalmers (who captured Weaving for these pages), as well as Robbie’s Neighbours alum Ashleigh Brewer. “Oh it’s great!” Weaving exclaims of her crew, who have been captured on social media enjoying group dinners. “Especially when you come back from a big job – just to have your support group there and be able to hang. I mean, there are a lot of Aussies in LA, so they’re very easy to come by.”
When these shots of Weaving at home in Los Angeles were taken, the world was still in lockdown. She had just wrapped filming Snake Eyes with Henry Golding and had flown back to her base where she would spend the next few months. “We had just moved house, which was incredible because now we have a big garden and it feels like we have more space,” she says, adding of the period in isolation: “It’s been great reading scripts and talking to directors and to writers and producers and finding out what we should do when we go back to work.”
One script Weaving lost herself in is the adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers, which she is now filming alongside Nicole Kidman, Melissa McCarthy and Asher Keddie in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales. The shutdown period also saw the Netflix release of Ryan Murphy’s miniseries Hollywood, another show Weaving has a hand in. “Everyone was a bloody legend to work with,” she says, also noting that fashion from the show’s post World War II era is reason alone to do a second season, should the opportunity arise.
“Oh, the costumes in that! It was up there with one of my most favourite sets to be on; it was absolutely brilliant! Ryan Murphy runs a tight ship, but a very, very happy ship. I would do that over and over again if I could.”
For Weaving, fashion is a huge part of her life in and outside of her career. She’s a friend of the house of Louis Vuitton and loved swapping pyjamas to play dress-ups in some of their prefall 2020 looks for Vogue Australia. “It’s one of the downfalls of Covid-19 that you can’t get all dressed up and go anywhere,” she says, quick to quip that “it’s a champagne problem … and I’m really loving my pyjamas!”
“If I’ve been struggling to really find a character, the wardrobe makes such a difference,” she continues, contemplating the power of a certain ensemble. “Like, you really hold yourself differently wearing something special. In [2019’s] Guns Akimbo, I played a deranged woman and the hair, make-up and wardrobe was so incredible that every day when I put on the outfit I could really feel the character. I think that sort of bleeds into everyday life. If I’m not feeling too confident, and I’ve got an intimidating meeting with someone, putting on something like a Louis Vuitton suit, I feel more confident.” With a career that’s rapidly building in momentum, there’s no question she has the skill – and sense of self – to back it up.
Bill & Ted Face the Music is out now.
This story was originally published in the September 2020 issue of Vogue Australia.