Suzanna Son’s Unconventional Path to Red Rocket

A chance encounter at a movie theater led the 26-year-old to the latest film from director Sean Baker.

Interview by Lynn Hirschberg
Photographs by Tim Walker
Styled by Sara Moonves

Suzanna Son wears a Moschino dress; Bulgari earrings.
Suzanna Son wears a Moschino dress; Bulgari earrings.

Suzanna Son was on a date at the movies three years ago when she ran into director Sean Baker, the filmmaker who has a knack for plucking people off the street and turning them into stars. When his Red Rocket project finally took shape, she sent in a self-tape and landed the role of Strawberry, opposite former model and MTV VJ Simon Rex. In the film, she plays a teenage donut saleswoman who gets wrapped up in the seedy world of Mikey Saber (Rex), a former suitcase pimp visiting Texas from Los Angeles. For W’s annual Best Performances issue, Son opens up about filming in a donut shop, hitting the Cannes Film Festival red carpet in a wheelchair, and why her nude scenes in Red Rocket didn’t shake her.

How did you get cast as Strawberry in Red Rocket?

I ran into the director, Sean Baker, at the ArcLight. I was seeing Don’t Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot. I was on a date, and he asked me to hold his cigarette, and I was very upset about that because that's very stinky. So I was holding his cigarette kind of away from me while he was on the phone. Sean and his wife, Sammy, just came up to me and asked if I'd like to audition. I went to Cornish College of the Arts, and I studied theater, but he didn’t know that I was an actress.

What did you think when you found out about the character you’d be playing?

I couldn't think straight. I was too excited. I couldn't believe it. He told me it would be like a guerrilla film. Very small, not a big deal. And then we premiered at Cannes.

What was that like?

Crazy. I had a broken foot. I was in a wheelchair, but I didn't even care because I was so happy.

In the film, you’re a donut salesperson. Did you actually make donuts?

I didn't make them, but the wonderful ladies who owned Donut Hole, they made them fresh every morning for us.

Did you eat any?

Yes. Many donut holes.

What was it like to have so many nude scenes in one film?

Acting naked was free. Singing naked was vulnerable. That was hard. I was just so open. There I was, my raw self. When you're singing, you're so yourself, and Strawberry's accent kind of goes away when I sing, and those are my breasts. They're Strawberry's, too, but they're also mine. It's a very vulnerable thing. It’s beautiful, though.

Did you get to pick the song, *NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye,” or was that in the script?

Sean just sent it to me the night before and said, “Learn this.” I had heard “Bye Bye Bye” before, but not this version.

Were you a fan of *NSYNC?

I’m a little young. [Laughs]

Have you ever done a TikTok dance?

No, because it's just so trite, and everyone expects me to do it. They expect me to be on TikTok. So I can't, just for the principle of it, but I feel like I'm missing out. I feel like I probably should join and learn something.

Was there a movie that you saw when you were young that made you want to start acting in films?

No, but I really liked Jane Fonda's workout videos. I loved that. It was fun. It was on VHS. I would work out with my mom to her videos.

Son wears a Balmain dress; Dolce & Gabbana shoes.

Did you see any of her films?

I saw a real inappropriate one when I was probably too young: Barbarella. It was insane. From what I remember, I think my mom turned it off when she found me watching it.

What posters did you have on your wall in your bedroom growing up?

I had a poster of Hannah Montana on my ceiling. So take with that what you will, whatever that means. [I had a crush on] Miley Cyrus. Not Hannah Montana. Miley Cyrus.

Where was your first kiss?

My first kiss was in the wings of a stage, and it was beautiful. I was moving to a different school, and this boy said, "You have three wishes. What do you want them to be?" And one of the wishes was, "Could I have a kiss, please, before I leave?" He was so sweet. Brought me into the wings of the performing arts center and took me by the hand, and then we made out for like seven hours and skipped all of our classes, and it turned into a whole fiasco, but it was beautiful. I think that's one of the last men I really liked.

Your character in Red Rocket is named Strawberry, and your Instagram handle is @thestrawberrybutcher. Did you do that because of the film?

My Instagram username came from a serial killer name generator. I really just needed a name, and I couldn't think of one. You just type it in on Google, and you can have a fairy name generator, or elf name generator. And I picked serial killer because I just thought it would be funny and creepy. I think Sean saw my username and he liked that I was a Strawberry. So he took that.

Hair by Ali Pirzadeh for Dyson Hair at CLM; makeup by Daniel Sallstrom for Chanel at MA+ Group; manicure by Michelle Saunders for Nailtopia. Set Design by Gary Card at Streeters. Produced by Wes Olson and Hannah Murphy at Connect the Dots; production manager: Zack Higginbottom at Connect the Dots; photo assistants: Antonio Perricone, Jeff Gros, Morgan Pierre; digital technician: Michael Preman; lighting technician: Keith Coleman; key grip: Scott Froschauer; retouching: Graeme Bulcraig at Touch Digital; senior style editor: Allia Alliata di Montereale; senior fashion market editor: Jenna Wojciechowski; fashion assistants: Julia McClatchy, Antonio Soto, Nycole Sariol, Sage McKee, Josephine Chumley, Rosa Schorr; production assistants: Tchad Cousins, Juan Diego Calvo, Gina York, Brandon Fried, Nico Robledo, Kein Milledge; hair assistants: Tommy Stanton, Sol Rodriquez, Andi Ojeda; makeup assistants: Tami Elsombati, Bridgett O’Donnell; manicure assistant: Pilar Lafargue; set coordinator: Sarah Hein; set assistants: Olivia Giles, Seth Powsner, King Owusu; tailors: Suzi Bezik, Cardi Mooshool Alvaji; tailor assistant: Elma Click