This article is part of Greenlight — The Latch’s commitment to the Australian film industry. For more content in this series, click here.
Earlier this year, the sparkly, slick horror/comedy film Sissy took the US by storm when it celebrated its global premiere at South By Southwest.
Sissy follows Cecilia (Aisha Dee), an influencer (or “mental health advocate”) who runs into her tween-age bestie Emma (Hannah Barlow, who co-wrote and co-directed the film with Kane Senes) at the chemist one day. The two had pledged to grow old together, until Alex (Emily de Margheriti) arrived on the scene.
After a brief, awkward interaction, the pair soon reconnect and Emma invites Cecilia (and don’t call her Sissy) to join her on her upcoming hens weekend. The catch? Alex is there, and seemingly committed to not letting Cecilia forget their past.
The film has a refreshingly diverse cast, something that Barlow and Senes were intentional about while casting the film.
“We cast the film based on just the people that we wanted to work with and were talented,” Barlow told The Latch over Zoom. “But there was intention there of having an actual representation of Australian youth on screen”.
“Sydney is the most multicultural city in the southern hemisphere, and so it just feels really archaic to just have people who look like me as the whole group of friends,” she added.
So much of Sissy hangs on Aisha Dee’s skittish, sympathetic, confused depiction of Cecilia, and she’s received rave reviews for her performance. It may be surprising then that when Dee was originally sent the script, Barlow and Senes had her in mind to play Fran, Emma’s fiancée. After reading the script though, Dee fought for the role of Cecilia.
“Aisha read the script and she came back to us and said, ‘Hey, I actually align more with Cecilia. Would you talk to me about this?'” Barlow recalled, “and so we had a meeting with her over Zoom, and she just shared her whole upbringing and what she went through. And it was way more savage than the bullying I went through as a kid, but we really bonded over it.
“And she was like, ‘I am Cecilia’. And she just kept insisting, ‘I am Cecilia’. And we were like, ‘Okay! Okay!’,” Barlow said. “But also, she was the only person who read the script and had said that. And I was like, Yeah, ‘I’m Cecilia too’.”
Speaking to Concrete Playground, Dee praised the film’s “heavy female gaze” and its diversity.
“Beyond just Cecilia the character, you had a very small cast that consisted of an interracial lesbian couple, a gay man with disability and an Asian woman,” she said, “And the only man that you really saw was a queer man”.
Once Dee had the role, Barlow said, she “brought all this intelligence to the role that [they] weren’t even thinking about as writers”.
The role of Jamie, played by Pulse star Daniel Monks, came about organically — he’s a good friend of Barlow’s and they wrote the role for him, with Monks’ helping to craft his character.
Calling Monks “the most warm, generous, giving, kind person on the planet”, Barlow said that when it came to Jamie, Monks’ greatest desire was for his character to just be awful.
“When he was developing the character of Jamie with us, he was like, ‘I’m so sick of playing the victim, or the nice person’,” Barlow recalled. “He’s like, ‘I want Jamie to be the most detestable character in that group’.”
“Daniel was saying to us, ‘just because I’m a disabled actor, people think they have to approach me with kid gloves’,” Senes added.
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“And Aisha said the same thing,” Barlow said. “She’s like ‘I just wanna play a villain. No one will let me play a villain’.”
“It was just really cool to think in our little slasher film that we can somehow take one step in the right direction towards changing that,” Senes said.
Yerin Ha, who plays Tracey in the film but is otherwise best known for her role as Kwan Ha on Halo, came on after a recommendation from Monks, after the pair starred in a stage production of Lord of the Flies together.
“He was like, ‘She is the most talented person and most hardworking person I know’,” Barlow recalled. “And she said yes, in between two seasons of Halo, and we were so lucky to have her — now I wanna work with her on everything if she’ll have us.”
With just a day before production began, they signed Lucy Barrett of Charmed on to play Fran after chatting on Zoom. In fact, with only two weeks of pre-production, the pair found themselves “still prepping the movie as [they] were shooting it”.
“It was all very quick and it was just very instinctual speaking to someone, feeling them out, being like, ‘Okay, I think you’re right’,” Senes said. “We just had a talk on Zoom and we felt like she was great, so charming and sweet.”
The final result, as Dee told Concrete Playground, is a film that reflects “the colourful, diverse, beautiful Australia” that exists off-screen.
“It didn’t feel like any other Aussie movie that I had seen,” she said. “I think, unfortunately, up until kind of recently, Australian film and television really hasn’t reflected that same colourful melting pot that like we all know actually exists here — so that was another big reason why I wanted to be a part of it.”
Sissy is in cinemas now.