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Julia Garner: ‘There is a sense of ease, but the film industry has not changed at all’

The actress who attached a face to Hollywood’s shameful episodes by addressing toxic work environments in ‘The Assistant’ does it again in ‘The Royal Hotel,’ a film so uncomfortable that some people prefer not to see any villains in it

Julia Garner
Julia Garner started acting to overcome shyness. Now, she is a star in 'The Royal Hotel.’Michael Schwartz / trunkarchive.

One of the countless consequences of the 2017 journalistic bombshell that revealed the sexual abuse to which Harvey Weinstein subjected almost all of his actresses was the advent of the MeToo movement. Another consequence? What will perhaps go down in history as the movement’s first great film, The Assistant (2019). The movie is carried by director Kitty Green’s haunting gaze and Julia Garner’s masterful performance. With hardly any dialogue, the 30-year-old actress conveyed the tension and emotional charge of a woman trapped in a toxic work environment. The actress and director recently reunited for the film The Royal Hotel (2023), which explores the macho violence that two tourists experience when they start working at an Australian pub.

“Although there is obviously a dialogue between the two films, they are very different stories,” Garner explains via video call from her New York home. She argues that these power dynamics are so ingrained in various spheres that it is not enough to consider them a significant common thread. “Sadly, it’s not surprising,” laments the actress, illuminated by natural light that enhances her unmistakable blonde curls. The native New Yorker emphasizes that the MeToo movement has transformed various aspects of the entertainment industry, “There’s a sense of freedom and ease, like we don’t have to constantly be thinking, ‘What if it happened to me?’ anymore.” However, after returning to two of her favorite films, All About Eve (1950) and Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Garner says that she has realized that certain structural problems remain unchanged: “After watching them, I thought, ‘My God, the industry hasn’t changed at all. In the end, it’s still playing the same song.’”

The winner of three Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Ruth Langmore in the series Ozark (2017-2022), Garner has gone from being one of Hollywood’s most promising up-and-coming actresses to an established star. She began acting in high school to overcome her shyness, and made her screen debut in 2011 as a cult member in Martha Marcy May Marlene. The following year, she participated in independent films such as Electrick Children and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. At the age of 19, The New York Times already considered her a “cinema veteran.” The writer and director of Electrick Children, Rebecca Thomas, told the Wall Street Journal that Garner is “like someone in the 1800s who you would want to see in a painting or a 1940s Western in the middle of nowhere. She’s very otherworldly and that took the role above what it was initially. She just glows.”

Garner has shown a penchant for atypical and morally ambiguous characters, as in the miniseries Inventing Anna (2022), in which she played Anna Delvey, a con artist who duped New York’s elite. “I’ve been lucky enough to receive very interesting roles since I started acting. At this point in my career, what I’m looking for is to work on timeless series or films that can be appreciated years from now without losing their relevance.” Madonna chose Garner to star in her biopic, although it was recently announced that the project was canceled. Among other projects, she is now slated to star in Blumhouse and Universal’s remake of the 1941 monster classic Wolf Man.

The Royal Hotel is set in a small town in the southern Australian outback and tells the story of two backpackers who, after running out of money, start working in a bar in a remote mining town. It is inspired by the 2016 documentary Hotel Coolgardie. The plot demonstrates how what begins as a promising work adventure can turn into a suffocating nightmare. The friends are threatened night after night by their violent clients. As in The Assistant, in the Royal Hotel the workspace is transformed into a house of horrors where the two young women are instrumentalized for male entertainment.

The actress is struck by the disparate reactions it has elicited in different countries. “In Great Britain and Australia, many people have been fond of the male characters. In the U.S., they think they are villains,” she says. Garner believes that they are men trying, unsuccessfully, to control their toxic and violent behavior. “They all fail miserably because of alcohol; they are unable to manage their anger. This, coupled with ingrained sexism, is a reality that many men have been exposed to all their lives.” The actress stresses her preference for films that capture reality’s complexity, which is something she values from her collaborations with Kitty Green: “For me, the most important thing is to tell the truth. Great art comes from telling the truth; that’s the essential thing.”

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