Ever since Angourie Rice broke out in The Nice Guys as Ryan Gosling’s onscreen daughter, she’s been destined for big things.
Adept at a pithy retort as well as an emotional moment, Rice’s career has seen her work with some huge names in front of and behind the camera.
Only 21, the Melbourne actor has already staked her place among Kate Winslet and Jean Smart on The Mare of Easttownnext to Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Sofia Coppola in The Beguiled and alongside Miley Cyrus in Black Mirror. She’s also made a mark in ensemble casts, as Betty Brant in Spider-Man: Far From Home and as ingenue Lisa in Ladies in Black.
Honor Society is her first lead role, exactly the challenge Rice was looking for. The teen rom-com features her as Honor, a high-achieving student who decides to take down her academic rivals in the hopes of getting into her dream school, Harvard.
One of those rivals is played by Stranger Things‘ Gaten Matarazzo.
On paper, Honor is not a sympathetic character given her scheming, but in Rice’s hands, she’s charming and relatable – and her conspiratorial fourth-wall breaks lets the audience in on her journey.
Rice talked to news.com.au about the challenges of her first lead role, staying grounded on set and how she related to Honor’s instincts to protect herself.
Is it surreal to keep going back to high school? How long do you think you’ll be content to keep playing teenagers?
I graduated [from high school] just over three years ago, so it does feel very fresh in my mind. Also, because I didn’t go to university, [these high school characters] are like the last experience in education that I had.
But there are definitely some really exciting scripts out there that are about young people that aren’t set at high school or college, and I’m excited for more of those for sure.
Are you happy to keep extending that ride for a little big longer?
Honestly, if I’ve learned anything that is as much as I try, I cannot control anything in the film industry. Whatever comes my way, we’ll see.
This character has so many fourth-wall breaks – she’s always speaking to the audience. Was it intimidating to play someone who is so deliberately trying to connect with the audience?
I was nervous to have that much dialogue and to be so switched on in those scenes.
Honor brings the audience in by talking to them, by making them part of her plan. She reels them in. Then the camera and the audience become her conscience. She feels judged by them because she’s making some questionable choices.
She reminded me a little bit of Election‘s Tracy Flick in that she’s a little intense but not as intense or as unlikeable, even though her plan is some pretty heavy level sabotage of her peers’ future. What were those conversations like the filmmakers in terms of keeping the audience on Honor’s side?
That was important to me. I thought she’s got to be charming and the audience has to want to be part of her plan. Honor should talk to the audience like, ‘let me tell you a little secret and we’ll be a team against everyone else’. What’s exciting about her is that she’s charming, she’s funny and has a sense of humour.
And she’s able to learn and say sorry, to admit it when she’s wrong.
Every role you choose has a different aspect to it. What was new or challenging about Honor Society?
Definitely talking to the camera was a new and exciting challenge for me. Playing a lead – I really wanted to do that. And to map a character’s arc fully. She’s in scene one and scene 100 and every scene in between.
We see her, we see her entire arc and I really wanted to do that. I wanted to show this character change and grow and learn.
What was the experience like of playing the lead? You’re the first person on the call sheet, you’re almost kind of responsible for setting the tone, the energy and the work ethic of everyone beneath you on the call sheet.
It was nerve-racking and very scary. I did feel pressure. But really the thing that made it possible was my sister was there with me the whole time.
She would come to set three or four times a week, and it was great to have her there as an emotional support person.
It really helped to have someone, when you’re so in the world of [a character] and fixed on something, to have someone from home, who’s there reminding you to drink water and to stop talking about yourself, to go home and just watch movies.
For Honor, the book The Handmaid’s Tale is like her bible. I know you have The Community Librarya podcast talking about books so what’s your bible that you carry with you?
It’s Pride and Prejudice. I usually travel with a copy just in case I need it. It’s like comfort food to me. I know the story so well, I’ve read it so many times. Every time I dive back in, it’s like coming home. Every time I read it, I find new things to laugh at or new things to learn.
How many times do you think you’ve read it?
Maybe seven or eight times. I rereading it again right now.
Have you ever pictured yourself playing Lizzie Bennett?
Absolutely! I feel like every Jane Austen fan has. Whenever you read Pride and Prejudiceno one is saying ‘I want to be Mary’.
There’s a line in Honor Society that really struck me. It’s at the beginning and it’s obviously part of where the character starts before she goes on her arc. She says, ‘To survive, I hide within myself’. Is that something you’ve ever done as somebody with a fairly high-profile job and public persona?
Definitely. It’s something that I really related to with the character because she puts up this facade to protect herself from people knowing who she really is, because what if they don’t like her?
I really relate to that.
Yes, as a person with a public profile but also as anyone going through high school, anyone who has social media, anyone living a life as a teenager.
That’s what being a teenager is, it’s hiding who you really are because you are so anxious that people aren’t going to like you, and changing who you are to please certain people. That was one of the main things of the movie that really struck me when I first read it.
Honor Society is streaming now on Paramount+