Imagine this: a place on earth untouched by the pandemic. For all of 2020, that place was Byron Bay, Australia: a beach town located in the far-northeastern corner of the state of New South Wales, where there were zero cases of Covid-19 last year. At that time, the actress Samara Weaving was in the midst of filming the upcoming Hulu limited series Nine Perfect Strangers, a show based on author Liane Moriarty’s novel of the same name. The show follows a motley cast of characters seeking calm and refuge at a wellness center called Tranquillum House, which is run by an enigmatic, cult leader-like Russian woman named Masha, played by Nicole Kidman; it also stars Melissa McCarthy, Bobby Cannavale, Regina Hall, and Luke Evans.
Before filming, there was never a script read-through with the entire cast, Weaving explains over Zoom from her Los Angeles home, ahead of the show’s release on August 18. “I don’t know if that was on purpose to keep us as ‘strangers’ as possible, but we worked in groups,” she says. Instead, the costars got to know each other by simply hanging out in Byron Bay’s clear blue waters and flower-filled forests. “It was almost like a camp—it wasn’t like filming in L.A. where everyone goes home and returns to their lives,” she recalls. “We’d do dinners and lunches, go to the beach and visit waterfalls. As we were filming the show, our relationships with each other were really growing as well. And I think it’s mirrored in the show.”
This shift is especially apparent in Weaving’s character: a wannabe influencer named Jessica who chronicles her entire life on Instagram Stories and always has a designer bag to match her designer tracksuit. Her reason for a visit to Tranquillum House? She’s experiencing marital trouble with her husband, Ben Chandler, (Melvin Gregg) who grows weary of her social media exploits. Weaving couldn’t be further from the influencer type—she appears on Zoom bare-faced, her hair scraped back into a ponytail (and her photoshoot for this very story doesn’t stray too far from that look, either). But the Adelaide, Australia native says she relates to her character’s social anxieties and awkwardness when interacting with the other guests at the wellness center. Despite that, Weaving is experiencing a banner moment in her career: she’s currently filming Damien Chazelle’s upcoming project alongside Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt, and has been cast as the forgotten American socialite Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, in the biopic Liz. Below, Weaving discusses her new outlook on influencers, the judgments faced by women in the spotlight, and dressing up for Margot Robbie’s Love Island-themed birthday party.
At face value, Nine Perfect Strangers is about the pitfalls of “wellness”—and indeed, there’s significant commentary on the wellness industry in it. But while I was watching, I felt like it was, at its core, a character study. Do you agree with that?
It’s a bit of both, and that’s what I love about David E. Kelley and Liane Moriarty’s writing. You think the show is one thing, then it evolves. The characters really drive the story—but the circumstances that they get themselves into definitely highlight the trials and tribulations of the wellness industry. I hope the audience will be able to relate to someone on this show. The subject matter could be very alienating because it’s a bunch of super wealthy people going to a spa, but at the heart of it is this universal story of who are we, what is happiness, and how can we live and be at peace with ourselves—that internal search that we’re all trying to figure out.
You’ve said that you identify with and relate to smart women characters like Hermione Granger and strong characters, like the March sisters in Little Women. Was it a real pivot to get into character as Jessica, who was painted as vapid and obsessed with appearances?
There is a dark underbelly to Jessica, who is trying to solve a problem by changing her body when, really, she needs to have a look at why she wants to do that. She has body dysmorphia and really bad self-esteem issues, and she’s trying to fix that with plastic surgery.
Jessica made me think about my perception of women and where I’m at fault, in snap judgements that are anti-feminist. I’m sure it’s from growing up in this misogynistic, nuts culture, but I had to unlearn certain things about myself—like the fact that certain women who dress a certain way and get a lot of work done are judged and gossiped about. The way someone like Jessica presents herself externally is by no means who she is internally. And even if it is, why do we care and judge people for that? And the judgment on influencers in general—it’s really hard to be an influencer. The marketplace is swamped with people, all trying to do the same thing. You have to be a real business woman to get ahead in the influencer space. That was what drew me to the character: smashing those patriarchal, very stale resentments that are in our culture.
Jessica is the comic relief to some extent, but she does have significant moments of depth. Was it always in the script that Jessica would have this other side of her personality?
She was always going to be both. It’s such a hard thing to do with such a delicate character, because you aren’t laughing with her, you’re laughing at her. But David did it in such a way that there’s not a real judgment there. You’re just enjoying her. But then she has these great moments of being really raw, vulnerable, and thought-provoking. We were just playing the truth of it. And sometimes tragedy is funny.
You mentioned the physical transformation that you went through to play Jessica. Did the costume and makeup departments have specific influencers they were looking at for inspiration?
Yeah, we pulled a lot of really fun references. I had a Pinterest board of different women I was inspired by, and in Byron, I would go out to coffee shops and watch influences do their thing. With Jessica, I was like, we’ve got to make it funny—what can we do that’s a bit silly? She has so much money, we were like, she could just buy the craziest things. So we went a little too far with her outfits—as if she wanted to be a Kardashian, but didn’t quite get it right. And I used to be guilty of this, before I had a team of people who would help me pick out what to wear: I would be a little too matchy-matchy and do a little bit too much. When she first arrives at the wellness center, she’s wearing the Fendi outfit with the matching pants, the high white Alexander McQueen shoes, the high half-pony, and then the huge hoops. There’s a part of me that wishes I could do that, but I’m too afraid.
Do you identify with Jessica’s anxious, jumpy personality?
Oh, one hundred percent. That was really great because I could get out all my anxiety at work and then I’d go home, and I was the most zen, chill, relaxed, human being. But my inner person is there all the time, hiding beneath: just a twitching, nervous wreck.
I worked with my drama coach on those physical attributes we could play with—for instance, Jessica scratches a lot. And in looking at research on body dysmorphia, we found out the disorder is linked to a rapid eye movement study. Women and men with body dysmorphia struggle with keeping their eyes still. And personally, I have this problem where I just can’t get sentences out and I start sputtering when I’m so anxious. I was like, alright, let’s go with that.
How did your role as Elizabeth Bonaparte come about?
I read an early draft of the script and then I met with Adam Leon, who’s going to direct it. We both had the exact same notes on the script, so we’re going back and forth, finalizing the script at the moment. It’s such a cool story, and something I haven’t really done before. She was the first female millionaire who didn’t marry into money, or inherit it. She was a boss. I was like, why have we not heard about her? She should be an American icon.
I read that you recently went to Margot Robbie’s Love Island-themed birthday party. Are you a fan of the show?
Our whole group of Aussies, Americans, and Brits over here in L.A., we’re all obsessed with Love Island. I just think it’s a fascinating human study—and a fun dress-up theme.
Did you get dressed up for the party?
Who did you dress up as?
I didn’t dress up as anyone in particular, but we all let our inner Islanders come out: skimpy bikinis and lots of fake tan. Kind of Jessica-esque, now that I think about it.