At 14, Samara Weaving Was Learning To Shave Her Legs
The actor went from “sweet gal” to “psychotic hormonal psychopath” overnight.
Big things were happening in Samara Weaving’s life back in 2006. The then-14-year-old had only recently moved back to her native Australia, after spending most of her life abroad in places like Indonesia, Fiji, Singapore, and, most recently, Florence, Italy — a perk of her parents’ careers in academia. “It was bit of a shock,” Weaving tells Bustle. She and her sister had gone from the judgement-free cocoon of homeschooling in Florence to the elite-level social hierarchies of Canberra Girls Grammar, a place Weaving describes as “like something out of a Chris Lilley show.”
Adolescence hit her like a brick. “Suddenly it was really weird to play sports at lunchtime and it was really weird not to shave your legs and you've got to wear the lip balm with the cherry flavor,” Weaving says, recalling the unwritten rules of her teenage social world. She dutifully noted and abided by every one, “because you're the new girl, you’d better fit in or it’s social death.”
Meanwhile, she was also about to begin acting professionally, on a show called Out of the Blue. She’d always found comfort in performing — her parents had first enrolled her in acting classes to help her get over her shyness — and although the stakes were higher on a real set, it was still her happy place. “I had that 14-year-old ego that was really fearless. I can't believe how unafraid I was,” Weaving laughs. And because of the the different practices around child acting in Australia, she was still able to go to school and lead a relatively normal life while working. “Weirdly I think it actually cemented that that was my safe place,” she says. “I felt like home on set and still do, because I still have social anxiety, but at work it goes away.”
Seventeen-odd years later, Weaving’s never left her safe place. Now 31, the actor has built an impressive career with roles in films like Ready or Not, Bill & Ted Face the Music, and now Chevalier, a biopic of the forgotten Black composer Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Soon, she’ll play Holly Madison in Down the Rabbit Hole, a limited series about life in the Playboy Mansion, and 19th-century celebrity Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte in Liz. It’d all be a lot for 14-year-old Weaving to take in, and not just because of the Hollywood glamour. “She'd be like, ‘What the hell are you worried about? You have literally everything,’” Weaving says of her younger self. “‘You don't have to live with your parents. You can do whatever you want. You can stay up all night. Oh, my God. You can have sugar whenever you want to. You don't have to go to school.’” Teens: When they’re right, they’re right.
Below, Weaving reminisces about her brief flirtation with dragon boating, her passion for Molly Ringwald films, and crushing on Orlando Bloom.
Aside from acting, what were your interests and hobbies at 14?
I played soccer. I played left wing striker. Oh my gosh, I think I started doing this weird sport called dragon boating — I went to Canberra Girls Grammar, all-girls school obviously, and dragon boating was the only sport that joined Canberra Girls Grammar and Canberra Boys Grammar together. I got one really big muscly arm from one side of the boat.
I’d make up weird short films with my cousin. They were always really dark. They'd always end with a death. We were really emo together and we put really creepy music on. Lots of funeral scenes and themes.
How were the hormones and puberty treating you?
My poor mother, going from this sweet gal to this psychotic hormonal psychopath, just trying and be really cool and really caring about what I wear and wanting to wear mini skirts and tank tops. I had really thick glasses and I immediately wanted contact lenses. Wearing way too much makeup and straightening my hair and learning how to shave my legs. It's a lot at once.
You've talked a lot about having anxiety and getting diagnosed as an adult.
[Laughs.] I have mental health problems.
Do you think it would've helped you to get professional help when you were younger or were you coping with it on your own?
I don’t know. I didn’t know any different. It was weirdly manageable. Also when you're younger — I had a routine, which I think really helped my mental health. And then as I got older, and in this line of work, you really go ups and downs and you're not working and then you are working. And the stresses for me, obviously there are kids with real stresses, but for me, I had quite a lovely upbringing and my parents were great so I think that helped ease my anxiety and depression. And then as I got older, it kind of became more apparent when I didn't have those comforts.
I definitely did have highs and lows. I'd have weeks where I just couldn't do anything, and I just watched movies in the basement for a week, but I didn't know that that was weird, if that makes sense. And I could literally do that. Whereas now it's like, "No, you got to go to work. You can't just lie about doing nothing." Does that make sense? It was less obvious to me or my family, I think.
What movies did you find comforting?
I remember when I watched The Breakfast Club for the first time, and I watched it over and over again for months on end. I showed every one of my friends. I was like, "You got to come round and watch The Breakfast Club. It's the best." And then I watched Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink and just did a full Molly Ringwald deep dive. I love Pirates of the Caribbean. That movie made me want to get into acting. What else? Me and my best friend just watched Friends on repeat every weekend. We would just make Mi Goreng [instant noodles] and get bags of chips and just not leave the couch and just watch Friends all weekend.
That sounds lovely.
And Harry Potter, obviously.
Obviously. Did you have a celebrity crush?
Yeah, everyone. I had a crush on everyone. Orlando Bloom, and then [Jonathan Rhys Meyers] from Bend It Like Beckham. I loved a British guy — all the British pretty men. Like, non-threatening [ones]. Johnny Depp was a little bit too intense for me, but Orlando Bloom seemed manageable.
Who were your style icons?
Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. I just really loved that early ‘90s grunge, and I still do. But then I was like, "What's everyone else wearing?" The Simple Life had just come out, and The OC, so those style icons, the Von Dutch of it all — and the low rise jeans that are so hard to pull off. And just so many accessories and a belt for no reason. So many bangles. Then it was High School Musical era too. I had a massive crush on Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens. I was like, "I'll make out with either of you."
What do you think your 14-year-old self would think of you now?
Oh, she'd be so excited. I've met some of my icons. The fact that I did a movie with Daniel Radcliffe, little Sam would be like, "Oh, God." I try to remember that when I'm feeling ungrateful.
Is there anything you wish you could tell your 14-year-old self? Any advice?
I was really in survival mode, but I wish I could be like, “Just be more yourself. Be weird and dress how you want to dress.” Because now, I just give way less sh*ts about what people think about me. But that's hard to tell a 14-year-old. They'll be like, "What do you mean? That's not helpful at all. It really matters what everyone thinks about me." So I think even if I did give her advice, she'd be like, "Shut up."
Generally when you try to give 14-year-old kids advice they look at you like...
They're the smartest people on the planet. They're not having anything. Adults are so dumb. When my mom was like, "I know you're heartbroken, but it will get better." I thought, "No, it won't. This is terrible. I'm never going to get over this. I love him." It got better.
This interview has been edited and condensed.