Making the jump from Australian independent cinema to an international horror franchise can seem daunting, terrifying, and just plain scary. For actress Lily Sullivan, she handles it with ease. Sullivan’s go with the flow demeanor seemed key to navigating two premieres at SXSW at once, along with the immense critical support for the latest installment of the iconic Evil Dead series. In Evil Dead Rise, Sullivan plays Beth, who visits her sister Ellie in Los Angeles, but the pair are confronted by flesh-possessing demons from a strange book. Critics praised Sullivan’s performance,
Promoting such a huge movie from an iconic horror legacy at SXSW is no easy task. Add in another movie, and it's even harder. Then add in the fact that Sullivan is the only onscreen actress in Monolith, a thriller about a journalist who uncovers an alien conspiracy. No co-stars, and no sharing the burden of press junkets and screenings. Sullivan did not attend the screening of Monolith, however, in her words, “you’ve got to be a serious narcissist to sit and watch yourself as the only person on the screen for like an hour and a half.”
After some big state-side releases later this month, Sullivan’s taking the time to relax before jumping into the next big thing. She has a list of genres, directors, and actors she’s been itching to work with, but for the meantime, she’s perfectly fine with laying low and soaking it all in. Flaunt sat down with Lily Sullivan to talk about the perfect storm of SXSW, Aussie independent cinema, and more.
What was your very first acting job, and what do you remember about it?
My first acting job was actually a super extreme experience. There was like a casting open call for anyone and everyone else around Australia. And it was a film called Mental, which stars Toni Collette, and all of a sudden I was just on set with no acting skills whatsoever or abilities. So I feel like from my first job, it's now informed me of there's no right or wrong way to do this. All of those actors worked completely different.
You’ve done a lot of film and television roles in Australia. What’s your favorite part about working in Australia?
How much the crew circulates, how much it becomes like a TV or film family, which becomes a great experience when you feel like you're collaborating and creating something from the ground up. You feel a part of the family, because I feel like when you go away on jobs those little worlds pop up and then they disappear. It's sometimes traumatic in a way. So when working in Australia, it's really nice, because the industry is small, and everyone is very familiar with one another, which is great.
Evil Dead is such an iconic horror series. How did you feel joining the legacy of films over the years?
The Evil Dead franchise has never been afraid to get wild. It's an enormous success in some right, like the total trailblazers for independent filmmaking and horror as a genre. So for me, as a horror lover, it was so exciting, and Lee Cronin, and the director, had such a powerhouse script for female roles, which is just awesome to be super physical and in your body, and be given a chainsaw, and a shotgun. I just realized how much, comparing to all the roles I've done prior, how little I feel like I've ever been able to be super physical as a woman. It's not that common, you know. It was really awesome to be super super physical.
Was it a fun experience working on it?
I like the beauty of horror from an acting point of view, it's an invigorating challenge. You have to push the boundaries of full expression and exercise realities that we push to the back of our minds. It's more like dancing in a way, like your nervous system pretending you're about to die. The film takes place over 24 hours, so it's one costume, chronological order, and you can't keep pretending you're about to die and tell your body that. So it became like dancing. It was a really really cool experience.
What was it like promoting two films at SXSW at once?
So amazing. I did Monolith, we shot it in 15 days. Evil Dead was a much bigger slog, so going back to grassroots filmmaking and that was a palate cleanser to get Evil Dead out of my body. But then to have them both like welcomed and celebrated at South by Southwest, which is such a diverse, awesome festival, was incredible. It’s such a different experience, shooting Monolith is dialogue heavy, one woman show, and no other cast. Evil Dead is full franchise. It’s like being at a rock opera of horror at the festival. Monolith is indie, quiet, and I didn’t go to that screening because you gotta be a serious narcissist to want to sit and watch yourself as the only person on the screen for an hour and a half.
Was it daunting working by yourself on Monolith? Or did you find some creative freedom?
It’s interesting when you remove other actors. I've never appreciated other people and actors on set more in my life. But what was super interesting was how hard it can sometimes be when you remove the physical behavior of another person, which is like a second language. It's like removing a sense in a way. So for me it became quite heavy, quite overwhelming, and your imagination is a really powerful thing. Also kind of exhausting being lost in that chamber. But there was this ability to kind of free fall and rely on myself, and only have myself, which is a nice life lesson.
What does independent film mean to you?
How the building blocks come together, it’s more of a quiet process. There's something really cool, independent filmmaking is kind of stripping back to the basics. It's just taking it all, cutting off the fat of it and going back to going back to basics. It’s crafted with love.
It looks like 2023 has treated you very well so far. Coming off of a busy spring with SXSW and movie premieres, what are your favorite self-care and rest and relaxation practices?
I'm always like, “Get me to a body of water or a hot heated room.” Yoga, too, is so important. For unfolding the kinks and all of that. But a body of water, feeling buoyant, light, and weightless is crucial.
What’s coming up next for you project-wise? Do you have a dream actor, director, writer, etc. to work with in the future?
I wrote these down. It’s my thing! Ruben Östlund, Justin Kurzel, Aubrey Plaza, Margot Robbie, and Kathryn Hahn, who I love. She’s so underrated. I’d love super physical comedy, I've done black comedy where you're laughing at the real tragic nature of what's happening to these characters. I feel like it's something I would love to do because I've done my period drama and that world, which is like second nature to me. But I think really sinking my teeth into comedy that's explosive, and comedy that is physical in a way would be great.
What's something you’ve been dreaming about recently? Can be literal or figurative.
I’m staying with one of my best friends in Venice, and I keep dreaming about owning reptiles, like having a pet crocodile. And she would have to feed the crocodile that we both had together, so I’m taming prehistoric animals.
Photographed by Beau Nelson
Styled by Lucy Warren
Hair: Dallin James