“Kurt Russell and Peter Fonda do it in Escape from L.A.,” I point out, bringing up John Carpenter’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi film, to more disbelief.
“No way!” She laughs. “I have to see that.”
We’re tucked into a corner lounge at the Palihouse restaurant in West Hollywood, where the 29-year-old actress—dressed down in the de rigueur L.A. workout uniform of a hoodie over three-quarter sweatpants and trainers—is scarcely recognizable from her role as Woody Harrelson’s handcuff-wielding lover in last year’s True Detective; a breakout performance of literally naked intensity that became the talking point of the nation. Yet there’s no mistaking those translucent blue eyes, lit up almost comically bright against the café’s faux-Explorer’s Club décor on a sleepy Tuesday morning.
“I do get recognized more often,” Daddario says, ordering an iced tea and reflecting on her post-Detective notoriety, “but I still lead a pretty normal life.”
That may change again when San Andreas crashes across multiplexes this month. In the disaster epic, fashioned in the vintage Roland Emmerich mold, Daddario plays a young woman attempting to reunite with her helicopter rescue pilot dad (Johnson), after a catastrophic earthquake lays waste to California and summons a tsunami that would drown Godzilla.
Suffice to say that Daddario got wet. Really wet.
“It was tiring,” she says of the film’s Australian shoot, which often required her to be submerged in a tank of water for days on end. “It was a difficult movie to make. There were a lot of stunts and a lot of physical preparation.”
Battling earthquakes and tidal waves also meant spending the summer kicking back on the coast of Surfers Paradise and learning to scuba dive, hanging out with The Rock (“one of the most awesome people on the planet”), and experiencing the distinctive regional wildlife. “I saw a python, went to see kangaroos and held a koala,” she says excitedly. “I felt like I was 12 again.”
The blockbuster kicks off a heady season for Daddario, who’s just wrapped a Nicholas Sparks movie The Choice—“Everything I dreamed of growing up: dating the high school football player and making out in the back of his pickup truck underneath the stars,” she chuckles—and is set to star in the horror-comedy Burying the Ex, from Gremlins director Joe Dante.
For the New York-born-and-raised actress, it’s the payoff for a lifetime’s hard work that began with her acting as an adolescent. “I was determined, bordering on stupidity I suppose,” she recalls. “It’s an extremely difficult business and you’re told no every day.” By the time she arrived in L.A. six years ago, Daddario had worked as a bartender, notched up a string of TV credits, and played a role in YA fantasy franchise Percy Jackson (alongside later rumored-boyfriend Logan Lerman). But she felt alone, she says, just another hopeful in the town that eats them up. Endearingly, she shares with me her unlikely affinity with Tommy Wiseau, whose toil to make his infamous The Room, Daddario explains, “reflects the struggling artist, the struggling actor in L.A., and the despair you go through.”
Then that small role in True Detective blew up, and here we are. The whole thing caught her unawares, she says. “My manager told me that his phone was ringing off the hook,” she recalls. “That was incredibly shocking to me.”
Even someone with her looks can face the industry’s superficial judgment, though, a fact that Daddario is candid about.
“As young women there’s a lot of pressure on how you look,” she notes. “I remember I was told once to lose an inch from my hips by an agent. Little things like that. You have to have this sort of blind confidence in the face of being told ‘no’ over and over.”
I wonder if those things get better with age.
“Yes,” she responds. “I’m almost 30. Being a woman in your 30s is one of the best times in your life, because you’ve gone through all that shit and you know who you are. I mean, it is about how you look, but it’s more about your love for it, your charisma and your ability, and I think that if you focus on that you’re focusing on the right thing.”
Daddario pauses to consider the much-criticized age ceiling that Hollywood traditionally imposes upon its actresses.
“I’d be lying if I said it [was] something I didn’t think about,” she says, addressing the dearth of parts for older actresses, “but there’s more discussion about women’s roles, and I think that’ll help be a catalyst for some change.”
In the meantime, Daddario subscribes to her hero Steve Martin’s philosophy. “He has the approach to life that I identify with,” she says, “which is to use humor to deal with incredibly difficult things. There’s a sense of humor to life, you know; there’s a sense of humor to Hollywood.”
Case in point: an especially arduous day on the San Andreas backlot. “People were peeing in the pool so they didn’t have to leave the tank,” Daddario laughs.
I ask her if she was a culprit; surely the mark of a true diva’s arrival.
“No,” she smiles at the suggestion. “I couldn’t bring myself to do that…yet.”
Photographer: Carlos Serrao for BeautyandPhoto.com.
Stylist: Sean Knight for Jedroot.com.
Set Designer: Bette Adams for MaryHowardStudio.com.
Hair: Jamal Hammadi for forwardartists.com using Hamadi Organics.
Makeup: Rachel Goodwin for starworksartists.com using Chanel.
Manicurist: Denise Bourne for therexagency.com.
Photography Assistants: Amy Lynne, Ron Loepp, and Roger Pittard.
Digital Tech: Damon Loble.
Location: Mack Sennett Studios at MackSennettStudios.net, Los Angeles.
Beauty Notes: Le Blanc Brightening Moisturizing Cream Txc and Nail Color in Rouge Noir by Chanel. Shea Cream, Healing Serum, and Pomade by Hamadi Organics.