Emily Browning from Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events on the roles she didn’t choose
When actor Emily Browning looks back on her eight-year-old self and ponders why she might have been bullied at school, concluding, “I was a little bit like Lisa Simpson.”
Why would a resemblance to the adorable animated icon make her a target? “I was one of those kids who was a nerd but not a quiet nerd. A real nerd,” she says.
“Because I was blunt, people thought I was full of myself.” The bullying was so relentless that Browning eventually transferred schools. It turned out to be a lucky move.
Growing up just outside of Melbourne, she ended up at a progressive school where her confident personality (“a little baby actress pain in the ass,” as she puts it) was rightly seen as an asset, and she was encouraged to step into it plays on.
It was a parent of one of her school friends who first spotted her precocious talent and suggested that she audition for a television drama. At the tender age of eight, Browning landed her first role in the made-for-television movie The Echo of Thunder (1998). Next came parts in the ABCs Something in the airSeven Blue heelsthe 2002 horror film ghost ship and the 2003 movie Ned Kellyalongside Heath Ledger.
Then in 2004, at the age of 16, Browning appeared as Violet Baudelaire in the film adaptation of Lemony Snicket A chain of unfortunate events. What came next was instant fame.
“It was really overwhelming,” says Browning, looking back on this turbulent time. “I had a different management team at the time and they pushed me to be on Nickelodeon and Disney. Luckily at that age I had the foresight to know what kind of career I didn’t want to have.”
Not only did Browning decide she didn’t want to be the next Selena Gomez, she wondered if she even wanted to pursue acting.
“I thought, ‘Oh, that was fun.’ But I felt like I was too sensitive to handle the industry. I was very aware that it was really emotionally draining. After that I actually stopped acting for a while because I wanted to go back to Australia, finish high school and just be a normal kid.”
“I felt like I was too sensitive to handle the industry. I was very aware that it was really emotionally draining.”
Although her parents had been supportive of her acting career, she believes they were “quietly relieved” when she returned home. But the move required Browning to return to her high school in suburban Melbourne, now a Hollywood star. How did that go down with your fellow students?
“High school was interesting because by that point, people knew I was in TV and movies, so there were definitely a lot of people who weren’t very excited about it,” she says. “But I also had a really great group of friends in high school who are still my friends to this day. So it wasn’t that bad.”
It’s high school challenges and women’s friendships that are at the heart of her latest venture. class 07, an eight-part series starting this week on Amazon Prime Video. Created by Australian writer-director Kacie Anning, it’s a high-concept comedy that follows Zoe Miller (Browning) who accidentally crashes her 10-year high school reunion. As she throws herself into the party with her former schoolmates (and enemies), she chooses not to tell them about the apocalyptic wave just outside the door.
Described as “Lord of the Flies in cocktail dresses,” it’s a hilarious and insightful look at the complexities of female friendships and the lasting effects they have when forged during those formative teenage years, subjects Browning can identify with personally.
“My female friendships have been so much more dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking than my romantic relationships,” she says. “I loved being able to explore that.
“I feel like it’s very common to see the drama of a romantic relationship, but just the drama of all these women and how they interact has a lot to say to me about female friendships — especially those high school relationships and how.” People grow up and may not change.”
For Browning, once she completed her high school journey in real life, she found herself drawn back to acting. “I was like, ‘You know what, that was really fun.’ I got back into acting and it kind of just kind of went from there.”
She starred in the 2011 films sleeping Beauty And sucker Punch. Then, from 2017 to 2021, she appeared in the television series American gods and had a recurring role on the Showtime drama The affair (2018-19). As a result, she has lived in LA for 10 years. As she puts it, “I ended up just staying here. There was never really a decision. It just happened. And now I’ve built my whole life here.”
Browning lives with her partner, writer-director Eddie O’Keefe, whom she met on a film 10 years ago. “We were friends for a few years before we started seeing each other,” she says. “He’s from the Midwest. I’ve noticed that Midwestern Americans are the most similar to Australians. They are very self-deprecating, somehow naturally friendly. There is no pretense.”
It’s clear that finding a life in LA that reminded Browning of her Australian roots was important. “I’ve found my people here and found parts of the city that have nothing to do with Hollywood that feel a lot more like home. The neighborhood I’m in right now reminds me of Melbourne. It’s way chilled. And there aren’t many actors, which is really nice.”
“I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be an actor, but I really didn’t want to be famous. I saw what it did to people.”
But Browning’s second stint in Hollywood also came with the same uneasiness about fame she felt when she first got there. “I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be an actor, but I really didn’t want to be famous. I saw what it did to people. I thought, ‘I’m the kind of person who could ruin this.’ ”
So how did she manage to be a working actress and not be a celebrity? “It has a lot to do with the projects I decided against,” says Browning, who famously turned down the chance to audition for arguably one of the biggest roles of the mid-noughties: Bella Swan in dusk. “Maybe in a way my fussiness has really helped my career.
“I probably screwed up a couple of times. But again, it was that awareness of just being a little too sensitive. I needed some time off to work on myself and find myself.
“Working so much as a kid made me grow up very quickly, but it also hindered growing up. I feel like a late bloomer; I’m 34 now and just beginning to feel like an adult. Child actors don’t have the best track records as adults!
“I’ve gotten to a point now where I’m very comfortable. I know how to protect and take care of myself. I’ve gotten to a point where I feel pretty good about my choices. I’m more interested in longevity than breakout.”
Browning’s role in class 07 is her first time tackling comedy. But within the first few minutes of the opening scene (featuring a defecating pigeon and Browning’s gaping mouth), it’s obvious that she has natural comedic talent.
“That was actually my casting scene, which was really scary,” she says, laughing. “I remember saying to Kacie before we shot the scene, ‘So that bit at the end where the bird, you know…you don’t want me to do that, do you?’ And she was like, ‘Everyone that I’ve cast on this show has to be comfortable being a jerk.’ ”
Although she mastered the audition, Browning’s fears were only increased once she arrived on set. “I was scared, mostly because all the other girls are so naturally funny. A lot of them come from comedy backgrounds, but even the ones that don’t are just plain funny.”
Browning is clearly the most accomplished actor in the cast, but she found her experience more of a handicap than an asset. “Because I’ve done mostly dramatic stuff, I’ve always tried not to make a fool of myself. But Kacie said again, “You have to be willing to make a fool of yourself.” It felt like going to clown college.
“I was so bad at it for the first few days. There was just this wall where I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m so scared of looking stupid.” Then I realized that I should try to be stupid. It was really liberating and I would like to do more.”
And she’s clearly developed a talent for comedy. When asked what she thinks happened to the girls who bullied her in elementary school, Browning replies, “I’m sure they grew up to be lovely women.”
class 07 Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video starting March 17th.
Find out the next TV, streaming series and movies to add to your must-sees. Get The Watchlist delivered to you every Thursday.
https://www.smh.com.au/culture/tv-and-radio/emily-browning-on-being-picky-about-roles-i-ve-probably-screwed-myself-over-20230221-p5cmb9.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_culture Emily Browning from Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events on the roles she didn’t choose