TV & Movies

Angourie Rice Unleashes Her Inner Control Freak

In Honor Society, the Australian actor plays a new type of teenage antihero.

by Jessica Derschowitz
Angourie Rice's movies & tv shows roles have included Betty Brant in Spiderman.
Vien Tran

After graduating from high school in Melbourne in 2018, Angourie Rice wanted something to fill time while she wasn’t acting. So the Australian teen launched The Community Library, a “fortnightly” podcast in which she talks about books, but also other kinds of storytelling like music and movies. “I like to have structure,” she explains to Bustle over Zoom. “I set assignments for myself when I’m not working, like, ‘I’m going to write an episode about this,’ and I do all the research for it and basically write an essay.”

This tendency seems emblematic of Rice, who’s now 21. The actor, whose first name rhymes with “floury and dowry,” takes projects seriously even if they’re technically extracurricular — a focus she recognizes both in herself and the characters she portrays, including her latest and largest film role to date.

In Honor Society, a charming YA comedy streaming on Paramount+, Rice stars as the titular Honor, an indefatigable high schooler so laser-focused on getting a recommendation to an Ivy League college that she schemes to knock her three competitors out of the running. (One of those classmates is played by Stranger Things’ Gaten Matarazzo, whom she met for the project. “We got along so well that one day the director [Oran Zegman] put us in separate rooms,” Rice says. “She was like, ‘You guys are having too much fun. This is not the vibe for the scene right now. You need to have quiet time away from each other.’”)

Vien Tran

Honor manipulates everyone around her in chameleonic fashion in a quest to escape her hometown post-graduation. Viewers get their own dose of the Honor treatment, when she breaks the fourth wall in the confessional style of Fleabag and Netflix’s new Persuasion adaptation. “I wanted the challenge of playing a character who makes mistakes and is morally gray, but still has the audience on her side,” says Rice, who’s dressed casually in a black shirt and glasses, with her blond hair pulled back in a loose bun. “She’s a performer. She’s constantly changing herself to be whoever people want her to be, [but] all of her decisions come from a fear of not being liked or seen.”

The leading role marks a new step in Rice’s career. The actor grew up around the arts (her mom is a playwright in Melbourne; her father, a theater director and producer) and acted in Australia before crossing into Hollywood at age 15 to play Ryan Gosling’s daughter in the 2016’s The Nice Guys. Since then, she’s acted opposite Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst in Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, played student-newscaster Betty Brant in the most recent trio of Spider-Man films, and cartwheeled intro cheerleader formation in the Netflix comedy Senior Year as the younger version of Rebel Wilson’s main character. She gained even wider acclaim in last year’s Emmy-winning crime drama Mare of Easttown, playing the strong-willed daughter of Kate Winslet’s detective character.

It’s really hard when you desperately want something and they say, ‘No, you’re not right for it.’ ... It’s so hard. It’s so painful.

“In a show with such heavy themes, [Winslet’s] attitude was still, ‘Let’s have a good time. We are here to enjoy ourselves because we love what we do and we're so lucky to be able to do it,’” she remembers. “That was always the energy she brought.”

In Honor Society, Rice assumes that tone-setting role. “This was my first time being in every single scene of a movie, [which was] so different and overwhelming. I loved every second of it,” she says. “It did a lot for my confidence because at the end I felt like, OK, I did that.”

Rice is aware of her own competitiveness — she describes her teenage self as an “overachiever” — which can be tough when working in an industry known for its volatility. Auditioning, for example, requires her to be vulnerable and openly want something she might not get. “It’s really hard when you desperately want something and they say, ‘No, you’re not right for it,’” she says. “I’ve sent emails saying, ‘I really want this, please.’ And sometimes it’s worked, and they’ve gone, ‘Yes, we agree,’ and sometimes it’s like, ‘We’ve gone with someone else.’ And it’s so hard. It’s so painful.”

Vien Tran

Currently, she’s filming an Apple TV+ adaptation of The Last Thing He Told Me alongside Jennifer Garner, a mystery-thriller based on the same-named novel. She can’t say much about her other upcoming projects, and is wary to do so, lest some agreed-upon plan comes undone.

“I don’t think I’ve really learned this lesson yet, but I’ve gotten better at accepting it since the beginning of the pandemic — you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, you can’t control it,” says Rice, who, after our call, intends to tidy up before her parents visit, maybe do some yoga, or read Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. “I can plan all I like and think plans are fixed, but then suddenly something happens and they’re not anymore. That’s hard for a control freak like me to accept. It’s that thing of like, ‘Well, I guess I’m just living day to day,’ which is very hard for me to do.”