Three years ago Lily Sullivan was in Year 12 at Calvary Christian College, a rural school just south of Brisbane. An open call had gone out for young actors to be in the new black comedy by Muriel’s Wedding creator PJ Hogan. Sullivan enjoyed her school drama classes and decided to send in a “silly little tape”. Weeks later she was walking onto a Gold Coast set with Toni Collette, Anthony LaPaglia and Liev Schreiber, to play one of the five daughters of Rebecca Gibney’s disturbed mother in Mental.
Sullivan had had no formal training. Instead, she got a daily masterclass. “I think I picked up on their energy of being relaxed and open and completely immersing yourself in the moment,” Sullivan tells Time Out. “Just believing 100 per cent in all your choices. Because as soon as you’re unsure, you stop playing it true. Toni Collette was mesmerising: every time she walked on set she would be open to anything and willing to change it up.”
The film was not a huge moneymaker but it gave Sullivan a springboard into television. After a guest role as a nymphet villain on Rake (“just a black hole, evil, a sociopath”) she signed onto short-lived US series Camp alongside another Muriel alumnus, Rachel Griffiths. Set in a lakeside family summer camp, Camp was shot near Mount Warning in NSW. “It was great,” says Sullivan, “because none of us had to leave Australia to have the exposure of a US series.”
Sullivan’s new film Galore took her to Canberra for a dark story of antsy adolescents in the days prior to the 2003 bushfires. She plays Laura, best friend to Ashleigh Cummings’ Billie. Laura is hesitant to sleep with her boyfriend Danny (Toby Wallace), not realising that Billie and Danny are having a secret affair. Written and directed by Rhys Graham (The Turning), Galore portrays a world of parties, desire and teen recklessness. “Laura is a girl who is constantly chasing sensation,” Sullivan says, “in contrast with Billie, who is more afraid of change and wants to keep living the life they’ve had for 12 years.”
To get his cast into the sleepy rhythms of teenage life on the outskirts of the capital, Graham’s first step was to give them bikes and leave them to their own devices. “We spent two weeks just riding around, getting to know each other.” Graham filmed in a raw, neo-realist style, asking the cast to improvise some of their dialogue; it was the dialogue-free love scenes that Sullivan found the most challenging – along with general exhaustion. “Playing these kids who ride bikes every day," she says, "we all realised just how unfit we were.”
Galore opens Thu Jun 19.