From writer/director Sam Levinson, the wild and crazy vengeance thriller Assassination Nation follows high school senior Lily (Odessa Young) and her three best friends – Sarah (Suki Waterhouse), Bex (Hari Nef) and Em (Abra) – who live in a world of selfies and sexts, where all aspects of their private life are stored online. When their town of Salem ends up the victim of a massive data hack, half of the citizens’ lives immediately become public and Lily finds herself targeted after being falsely blamed for the hack, forcing the four young women to fight for their lives to survive a very blood-soaked night.
At the film’s Los Angeles press day, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with co-stars Suki Waterhouse and Hari Nef to talk about making a fun movie that also has something to say, how filmmaker Sam Levinson sold them on his vision for Assassination Nation, that they immediately connected with each other, their most challenging scenes, the crazy home invasion sequence, and those red vinyl coats. They also talked about their desire to have more of a say in the projects and roles that they do, and Waterhouse talked about her roles in Charlie Says (about Charles Manson, with Matt Smith in the lead role) and Pokémon: Detective Pikachu while Nef talked about the scripts that she’s currently writing for herself.
Collider: I had so much fun with this! This is one of those wild, crazy movies that has something to say, but you can also just have a ton of fun with it.
HARI NEF: It seems like everybody is trying to make these films that have complex themes, but then disguise them in genre stories, so that people can access them easily. That way, the films are universal while still being complex, and I feel like this film is very that. We tackle these hardcore themes of privacy and righteousness and feminism, but it’s woven into a thriller. It’s disguised as this girls with guns movie.
SUKI WATERHOUSE: Yeah. After watching it, it made me understand how just being a girl in this world is brutal, especially having social media. Everything is just terrifying and brutal, but you swallow that down and pretend it’s not there. There’s this thing, in this new age, where it’s just a slight veil of terror that we all have, that permeates everything.
When you guys first read this script, what was your initial visceral reaction to it? Did you immediately get a sense of how the tone would be, or has this developed a lot since you read it?
WATERHOUSE: I didn’t know what the tone was gonna be like, but I’d watched Sam Levinson’s movie, Another Happy Day, and I thought it was excellent. I really enjoyed it. I usually like to go off of how I feel about the director. I go for a meeting and I’m like, “Do I like this person? Do I wanna hang out with him? Are they interesting? Am I gonna be a changed human by the end of this?” And I felt that way about Sam.
NEF: Yeah. The tone, to me, did resonate, right off the page. I could tell that this was written and was going to be directed by somebody who was just my kind of twisted. I’m a twisted girl. I can put on my Gucci and sit with my legs crossed in a hotel room, but I also like the nasty and the confrontational. I don’t always get to use all of that when I’m working, but I felt like this was a person in a script where I could lean into those proclivities. And then, when I met Sam, that sealed the deal.
WATERHOUSE: Yeah, we could talk to Sam. We were all so incredibly open, with each other and with Sam. Having a director like that, you want to do well for him. You feel safe with him and you can talk to him about anything because he’s non-judgmental. He’s had a crazy past of his own, and he’s been on an interesting journey.
NEF: Sam is one of the girls, at this point, but he knows his place, as well.
WATERHOUSE: I actually haven’t really come across someone like that before. It’s very rare.
NEF: Sam is a very, very special, and very, very strange man. And I love him, dearly.
WATERHOUSE: We adore him. It’s such a testament to him that he managed to create this atmosphere where we could just run free.
To do something like this, it seems like there would have to be a certain level of fearlessness among all of you, and then there has to be a certain amount of trust with your director, which I would imagine you don’t always have.
WATERHOUSE: No, not at all. When you’re making a movie, you know when you’re making something special. You just feel it. You don’t come across movies, all the time, where you really have the best times of your life like, in this weird little hotel in downtown New Orleans.
Did you guys have a moment, before you had all met, where you were worried that you might not get along with each other?
WATERHOUSE: I’d met Hari before, but Sam would talk about everybody else, before we met them, and I just trusted that he’d put together this great group. We also wanted to bond quickly. It was in our best interest, for our work. We were just really lucky that it happened, organically.
NEF: Yeah, I think Sam was casting for girls who were able to be very open and honest, and almost brash, if they needed to be. That’s what was demanded, in the script. We show how snappy, snarky, dirty, weird and nerdy teenage girls are. There was an openness that we all brought to the table, that allowed us to connect, but we also wanted to connect. Actresses love to connect, but now, we’re really connected.
WATERHOUSE: Yeah, exactly! One of the best thing about making films, for me, is that I love just getting to know someone. I want to know all of their shit, straight away. I don’t know what that’s about, but that’s literally my favorite thing.
NEF: We all met in the nail salon, and we were just talking about the boys in our lives. It was instant dirty sex talk.
WATERHOUSE: Yeah, we just get to know each other so quickly.
NEF: I have three life-long friends from this movie. Four, if you count Sam.
In this movie, you all get moments to be vulnerable and to be bad-asses. What most scared you about your character, or about the scenes you had to do?
WATERHOUSE: Every day was an absolute whirlwind, whether it was getting beat up, or Hari in a pool, trying to nail gun someone.
NEF: I had my first sex scene.
Which is a very different type of sex scene than we typically see in film.
NEF: Yeah, and it goes from one thing to another thing, which is indicative of life. There are two different movies going on, in the heads of these characters. For her, it’s her crush reciprocating and she’s having that magic moment, which feels so much more magical when you’re a teenager. And with him, he’s doing something that he wants to do, but it turns into this secret, dirty thing that he doesn’t want to share with people. When those conflicting narratives crash against each other, there’s pain and tears. You think this romance is something, and then it’s not. That happens, all the time.