Sophie Wilde’s just had the best year ever. The actor from Sydney is practically swimming in award nominations thanks to her indelible performance in the horror movie of last year: Talk to Me. She’s had not one but two Netflix hits in the past 12 months: the tender coming-of-age tale Everything Now, and the Brisbane-set adaptation of Trent Dalton’s 2018 novel Boy Swallows Universe. Lately, she’s been living in New York shooting another A24 film, Babygirl, this time opposite Australian icon Nicole Kidman. “My queen,” Wilde says. “I’m so obsessed with her. I’ve seen Moulin Rouge a billion times but I’m too scared to tell her that.”
The cherry on top of it all? Her Bafta Rising Star nomination. “It’s the most surreal thing ever,” Wilde says over Zoom, sincerely. The 26-year-old finds herself in good (though tough) company, up against Saltburn’s Jacob Elordi, The Bear’s Ayo Edebiri, Bridgerton’s Phoebe Dynevor, and How to Have Sex star Mia McKenna-Bruce. “It feels ah-mazing,” grins Wilde. “These are people whose careers I’ve been watching for years and I’m in the same group as them. Honestly, what the hell?”
Wilde is warm and wide-eyed – literally speaking. She has large, expressive eyes that directors love to focus on, whether they’re brimming with tears or petrified in terror. While the roles Wilde chooses tend to skew dark – lately, she’s played a possessed, grieving teenager; a recovering anorexic; and a missing girl in London – in person, she positively beams with joy. There’s still a palpable air of “can’t believe it” energy about her.
In truth, it is pretty unbelievable. Talk to Me was made in the suburbs of Adelaide during lockdown on a shoestring budget, under the direction of two YouTube famous bros having a go at their first feature-length film. The film’s near $100m grosses not only made it A24’s most profitable horror movie ever (beating out Ari Aster heavyweights Midsommar and Hereditary) but also singled out its star as One to Watch.
Wilde couldn’t have anticipated any of it. “I mean, we all thought the film was f***ing awesome, like yes this might slap in Oz but who knows if it’s going to make it anywhere out of the country?” she says, dropping that famous Generation Z slang into conversation. Talk to Me was invited to show at Sundance, where Wilde and the team spent the whole of the film festival walking around in awe.
Horror movies tend to elicit broad performances, but while Wilde can scream with the best of them, it’s her subtlety as a lonely teen in the Philippou brothers’ frightfest that’s so striking. Wilde’s Mia practically aches with desperation for companionship, holding on with both hands to her best friend whose new boyfriend (Mia’s old childhood sweetheart) is syphoning away her attention, and all the while Mia is trying to be fun and normal – a teenager who hasn’t just lost her mum.
Talk to Me stands out, too, because it depicts a side of Australia that viewers aren’t used to seeing on the big screen: one that’s urban and young. “A lot of Australian film sensibilities are around the outback and nature and that’s beautiful, but I think this felt interesting because it was so different,” says Wilde. “I thought it was a really great representation of Australian youth culture, which I hadn’t necessarily seen before.” Some of the best scenes in the film occur early on as Wilde’s character and her friends gather around an embalmed hand that acts as a portal to the underworld. It’s entirely believable that if any group of teens came into possession of an embalmed hand capable of demonic powers, the first response would be to Snapchat it.
Wilde has her own horror story to tell. In 2014, she and her father were feared missed after a deadly avalanche hit the Himalayas where they were travelling together. The blizzard killed more than 40 trekkers and injured 175; when Wilde and her dad failed to phone home for an agonising nine days, her mother feared they were among those killed. “God it was crazy,” says Wilde now, shaking her head. “I remember when we finally got home, I saw my mum and I’ve never seen her so fragile in my life. I think she was just in shock seeing me and my dad.”
It’s not an experience that she draws on much for acting, though. “I used to use a lot of emotional recall earlier in my career, but now I think it’s more about living and breathing that character,” she says, adding with a laugh: “But yeah, sometimes you do have to be like, OK! Let’s relive some trauma!”
Scream queen isn’t a label that offends Wilde. “I don’t mind the idea of being a scream queen,” she laughs. “It’s a slay title! And there are some great scream queens out there.” Anya Taylor-Joy, Jenna Ortega, Janet Leigh and Mia Goth all come to mind. Wilde, though, has a taste for diversity that would likely prohibit any labels as prescriptive as that. “Honestly, it’s just down to how I’m feeling. If I’ve just done a horror film, I want to do a comedy and live in a lighter space for a while. It’s just what I’m feeling in the moment where I am in my life.” If there is a throughline in her work, she suggests it’s when something is just a little off. “Strange worlds that are weird and a little off-kilter,” she swoons.
It’s for this reason she admires Robert Pattinson. “I keep talking about him and one day this man is gonna be like, ‘This woman is crazy. She’s obsessed with me,’” says Wilde. “I’m such an R-Patz stan, what can I say? I love that he and K-Stew [Kristen Stewart] did Twilight and then both went into interesting independent cinema. They did the big movie thing and then went and did a bunch of random shit. Weird stuff.” She loves “weird stuff’ – anything by David Lynch, for example. Or Robert Eggers.
“The guy who did The Lighthouse,” replies Wilde when I ask who her dream director to work with would be. “And the person who did The Witch.” Aren’t they one and the same? “Are they really? What about the guy who is doing Nosferatu?” One quick Google search later, and it turns out, all three are Eggers productions. “As a child, I religiously watched Pride and Prejudice. I think I’ve seen it probably 200 times. I’ve always loved period stuff,” explains Wilde. Eggers famously has never, and once told me he would never, make a film set in the modern day. On Wilde’s bucket list is a Victorian ghost story – that way, she can break out the English accent she learned for the BBC’s 2021 taut courtroom drama You Don’t Know Me.
It’s been a quick rise, but she has been preparing for this her whole life. From the age of five, Wilde, having seen Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, started acting classes at Australia’s National Institute of Dramatic Art (Nida) in Sydney. She stuck with it until high school, which she completed at the Newtown High School of the Performing Arts, and afterwards returned to Nida to study drama as an undergraduate. For Wilde, it’s always been acting – no question. “As soon as I started, I was just gung-ho with it,” she says. “Instantly, I knew this is where I thrive.”
Still, a career on screen wasn’t always a sure thing. “There was a period of time when I was 17 or 18 and I thought maybe I wouldn’t be an actor,” she says. “I lacked a little self-belief, and the industry wasn’t as diverse at the time, so I thought, is this even a possibility?” Wilde was weighing up doing a degree in international studies instead. “But then I was on my gap year and my grandma, Jane, died so I came home for the funeral, and my dad asked what my plans were, and I said either Nida or uni, and he said, ‘I think you should audition for Nida. I think Jane would be really proud of you for doing that.’ So, I did.”
The course was intense. “I did struggle sometimes because I think they’re stuck in this archaic mode of thinking they have to break you down to build you back up,” she says. “I just think you can nurture people and get the same results. But also, it’s just a difficult environment, and competitive. It’s really insular and no one knows who they are, it’s emotionally turbulent. Kind of like a cult.” Regardless, she has fond memories of her time there. “I don’t think I’d be an actor if it wasn’t for drama school,” she says.
There is a sense around Wilde that things are only going to get bigger from here. “It’s definitely a strange concept, the idea of losing your anonymity. But for me it’s on such a minuscule scale that it’s actually just exciting,” she says. Wilde recalls how she was recently waiting at baggage claim in an airport when she found a very complimentary note that a stranger left on her luggage. “I thought that was just really sweet and cool,” she says. “On this very small level, it’s just fun.” Looking at all the projects Wilde has lined up, I’d wager her “level” won’t stay very small for long.
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