From high school dropout to Colin Firth co-star: Odessa Young’s big gamble

Odessa Young dropped out of high school in Sydney a few days after her 17th birthday. The teenager had two major Australian film roles to her name, her performances were celebrated on the film festival circuit and she’d decided that year 12 meant “the learning part was over and then it was all about testing”.

She was “pretty convincing” with her parents that she was serious about acting: “I was always a good debater, so they had no choice but to accept.”

Young was single-minded in her ambition. Having had her major career break when she was 16, she played the teenage runaway of the same name in Sue Brooks’ Looking for Grace, before filming the role of Hedvig in Simon Stone’s film The Daughter, based on Henrik Ibsen’s play The Wild Duck, a week later.

But the gamble would take time to pay off. The early school leavers were not offered any roles. “For a year nothing happened, and I sat on my ass and did nothing,” she says with a laugh. The day after her 18th birthday, Young moved to Los Angeles.

Young is now 24 and has lived in the US for six years – the past four years in New York (“I don’t like some industrial cities,” she says, about leaving LA). She takes a star turn as a 1920s English maid in French director Eva Husson’s film mothers Day, which comes out this week in Australia. Her character, Jane Fairchild, is prevented from marrying her secret lover Paul Sheringham (The Crown’s Josh O’Connor) because of class, gender, and religion restrictions. maintenance.

Odessa Young in a scene from 'Mothering Sunday'.
Odessa Young in Mother Sunday. The 22-year-old plays her character Jane as a young woman and a woman in her forties. Photo: Robert Viglasky/AP

The feminist role, in which Jane gains freedom by receiving a typewriter and the words by Virginia Woolf, is a departure from Young’s breakthrough role in The Daughter. In the midst of a bleak family maelstrom, Hedvig was given no room for autonomy in that story, only a fatal tragedy.

“I think I was typecast as ‘the screamer’ for a while after that,” jokes Young, speaking from her home for the past four years in Williamsburg, New York, where she lives with her boyfriend and dog. “I thought I was good at crying in front of the camera; now I actively try not to cry.”

Mothering Sunday was released in the UK in 2021 and the US in March, with Young’s performance being praised for its vibrancy and power. The screenplay is based on a novella by Graham Swift from 2016 and the film was largely shot in 2020 in the small English village of Hambleden in Buckinghamshire, west of London. Young, 22 at the time of filming, stars Jane as both a young woman and in her forties, prompting director Husson to describe Young as “an old soul‘, saying it’s ‘sometimes hard to remember she’s only in her early twenties’.

As she played the older Jane, Young thought about her own mother’s aging. “What I’ve finally seen change in her is that she’s becoming more and more herself, which is really exciting to play,” says Young. “I can only hope that will happen for me… it was a fun way to pretend I was already there, that I had some things figured out already.”

Until then, Young is learning from the best, like O’Connor, with whom she shakes off inhibitions in bedroom scenes. “There’s an alchemical happiness in that,” Young says of their casting. “It doesn’t help to necessarily talk dilly dally about these things. We both knew what to talk to each other about, and then we just had to put each other at ease.”

Jane’s employers, Godfrey and Clarrie Niven, are played by Colin Firth and… Olivia Colman, who are broken by the death of their two sons in the trenches of war. Colman’s performance is an examination of grief, but she thoughtlessly says to orphaned Jane, in what she thinks is a kindness statement, “What luck to be completely deprived at birth.”

Olivia Colman (L) and Young in a scene from Mothering Sunday.
Olivia Colman (L) and Young in a scene from Mothering Sunday. “Olivia has a knack for breaking any tension in the room,” says Young. Photo: AP

“Olivia has a knack for breaking any tension in the room,” says Young. “It wasn’t an easy scene, but it’s one that makes the work worthwhile. I learned so much from the day that I may not be able to articulate it until many years into the future, but the way they behaved was so powerful and defining.”

Most recently, Young starred in true crime series The stairs as one of the daughters of murder suspect Michael Peterson, Martha. Toni Collette stars as Kathleen Peterson, the woman who was infamously found dead at the bottom of the family stairs, and her husband, Michael, is played by Colin Firth – it’s Young’s second time working with him.

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†[Firth] is one of the most important people in my career so far because he’s so damn good,” says Young. “So damn fun.”

In that role, Young felt some of her character’s “lostness”. “I felt absolutely incapable. I felt like I was doing the worst job in the world,” she says. Really? “Yeah, I felt like I wasn’t specific. I felt really uncomfortable and restless for six months of shooting, and then I realized I really don’t think there was any way to feel comfortable and settled.”

Upon learning more about the case, Young dropped all preconceptions and concluded “it’s none of my business whether he did it or not.”

Young, second from left, as Martha at Kathleen Peterson's funeral in The Staircase
Young (second from left), as Martha at Kathleen Peterson’s funeral in The Staircase. Photo: HBO/Binge

Young takes a break and considers her next move. She then wants to do more filming and find television a “marathon sprint”. For the foreseeable future, in addition to her transatlantic film career, New York will remain her home.

It has a “non-destructible identity,” she says. “It made me fall more in love with the city, because I was in it because of the pandemic, because all of a sudden I felt I had an interest in it, I was active in it, instead of just observing or harvesting it its benefits without giving myself to it.”

Unlike Jane in Mothering Sunday, Young doesn’t feel schooly at all when she comes to rest. “If I’m being honest, I’m really struggling with my TikTok addiction right now,” she says. “I haven’t read a book in over a year, and it’s been awful — it’s been really, really bad, and I’m feeling all limp.”

She plants a dry Australian tongue firmly in the cheek, adding: “I just try not to spend too many hours looking at my phone. I want to be transparent about it and give people hope that talking about it can help.”

Mothering Sunday will be released nationwide in Australia on June 2

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