The one comparison cast members of the new feature film, “Shirley,” kept making during the rehearsal and filming process was to the 1966 release “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” that starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Both films deal with the same kind of raw emotional, sexual and psychological drama.
Odessa Young, who plays the initially naïve Rose in the production that will be available through multiple digital platforms including Hulu and Video on Demand starting June 5, saw that comparison immediately.
“The archetype of the married couple who are too unhappy to be with each other but also too smart to be with anyone else is such a difficult thing to get right,” Young says. “That’s because the writer of this story needs to be as smart as the characters inside of it.
“We really got lucky because Sarah Gubbins (“Better Things”) is whip-smart and an incredible writer.”
The story that Gubbins created from the novel by Susan Scarf Merrell deals with how noted horror writer Shirley Jackson (Elisabeth Moss) is on the verge of writing her masterpiece. This changes when newlyweds Fred (Logan Lerman) and Rose (Young) move into her home.
This not only creates chaos in Shirley’s meticulous routine but adds to the tensions in her already explosive relationship with her philandering husband. Their volatile relationship often tends to erupt during dinner. And that tension is not limited to the married couple but involves everyone in the house.
Young found making the movie physically and emotionally draining because of the intensity of so many scenes. She laughs and then adds that working on any production ends up being a draining experience.
“No matter what you do, when you get home each day you are happy you made it through the day,” Young says. “The upkeep of the energy of what will she do next takes a lot of holding your body in a certain way and breathing in a certain way.
“What helped with that is that Lizzie Moss is such an incredible actor that she does inspire this feeling of what will she do next. Every take, every scene is different. Every moment she goes through as an actor is different.”
Young felt a sense of awe of working with Moss. It ended up being a great opportunity for the 22-year-old Young who is slowly building her acting credits.
The Australian actress is known for her roles in the 2015 feature films “Looking for Grace” and “The Daughter.” She started acting when she was 11 landing a role in the television series “Wonderland” and “Tricky Business.” Her early work earned her very positive attention including being named “Australia’s brightest rising star” by Elle Magazine.
“Shirley” is based on the life of American writer Shirley Jackson who was best known for her works of horror and mystery. She wrote six novels, two memoirs, and more than 200 short stories during a two decade period including The Haunting of Hill House in 1959.
The film unfolds during Jackson’s main writing period of the ‘50s. Young found the time period gave the movie a distinct tone as this was a time of brewing social change in regards to femininity and what women were being allowed to do in the creative arena.
“There were a lot of limitations at that time on how much a woman could express herself,” Young says. “I also think there are some universal issues in the film of female relationships and feminine aggression and the minimization of one’s character so to fit in with a structure or a community.
“Those themes are very prevalent today. We make movies about the past to analyze the present. This is a real example of that.”
Unlike many of the Australian actors who have migrated to the United States for work, there is no hint of Young’s Australian roots when she speaks. She says that came about just because of living in the United States for four years.
Young laughs and says she feels a little bit like a traitor because her accent is gone but her love for Australia has not faded.
“If you get a few drinks in me, I turn Australian pretty quickly,” Young adds.