In playing the trepidatious role of retired tennis star Anna Ivin, Sarah Snook admits it is difficult not to judge.
In ABC’s modern day version of Anna Karenina, The Beautiful Lie, her character embarks on a road to infidelity. As actor, processing the motivations leads to judgments, but Snook says she came to terms with not having to work things out so much.
“You could totally judge her for making a (bad) decision, but then she makes a right decision,” she says.
“So I can step back and not have to work it out. That’s the best part… it’s real life. People are fallible, humans are complex, they make the right or wrong decision, they’re out for themselves one minute and then out for other people.
“It’s the hardest thing to try and not judge your own character or feel judged for being the character.”
In the 6 part series Anna is hopelessly drawn to music producer, Skeet (Benedict Samuel), who is already engaged to family friend Kitty (Sophie Lowe). Using Tolstoy’s classic novel as a template, the family consists of a complex myriad of relationships and in-laws.
“I found it to be like a hexagon, or octagon. All of the characters sit at a main point but they cross each other somehow. Anna and Kitty are at opposite ends of the scale, but they cross-over. Anna seems to have it all at the beginning but has nothing at the end,” she explains.
“There are maybe three worlds that rotate around each other.”
Also appearing in the cast are Rodger Corser, Celia Pacquola, Gina Riley, Alexander England, Dan Wyllie, Catherine McClements, Daniel Henshall and Robert Menzies. Reworking Anna Karenina for a modern audience were writers Alice Bell and Jonathan Gavin, with Offspring and Tangle’s John Edwards and Imogen Banks producing.
“I was interested in whether it was something you can tell in a modern context. But I think you can, interestingly enough,” Snook continues.
“I read the script first and then the book. I got to about 700 pages and thought ‘I feel like I know Anna enough!’ as a character. She is different from the novel.
“The interesting thing about the novel is that so much of it is her perspective of other people. And other people’s opinions of her. But there is less active direction on her part. There aren’t that many chapters dedicated to her thoughts and feelings which don’t involve everybody else’s ideas on her.
“Our Anna is put into a very public life and it tells the story through those eyes.
“The joy of a visual medium is you are allowed to be inside that character and see the person without words.”
But while the script lured her back to Australia from the US, tackling seduction, commitment, jealousy, envy, obligation and mad passion, was demanding and intense.
“They’re dealing with high levels of emotion and concepts. Anna particularly in the last half of the series is quite depressed and dealing with her own demons, I suppose,” she recalls.
“There’s a feeling that anything she does is futile. She feels like she can’t make any active changes to her life. So that can be difficult to play because you’re not moving forward. As an actor it would be easier to make decisions to move forward. But instead you have to pretend that you can’t. So it’s hard not to feel self-indulgent or ‘wanky’ or being an internal ‘actor.’”
Snook, whose recent projects include The Secret River, Holding the Man and Predestination is forging an enviable career at just 27 years of age. She is happy to juggle film, television and theatre in the US, UK and Australia.
“We have a solid cache of writers and directors and creative here. That can only get better if you keep injecting your time into that and creating work. Work begets work.
“Having both bases covered is my preference. It just depends where there’s good work. If it’s an interesting character that’s what I want to do.”
The Beautiful Lie premieres 8:30pm Sunday October 18 on ABC.