Brianna Geiger discusses Sissy with actress Emily De Margheriti for its Overlook Film Festival premiere this weekend.
Emily De Margheriti is an Australian actress, producer, and inspirational woman in Hollywood. She is one of the founders and a director of DEMS Entertainment, based in Los Angeles. In addition to her role as a producer, Emily is an actress. This weekend, her latest film Sissy (2021), is premiering at the Overlook Film Festival in New Orleans.
Directed and co-written by Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes, Sissy follows Cecilia (Aisha Dee) and Emma, who were teenage best friends who planned to grow old together and never let anything come between them until Alex (De Margheriti) arrived. Twelve years later, Cecilia is a successful social media influencer living the dream of an independent, modern millennial woman until she runs into Emma for the first time in over a decade. Emma invites Cecilia away on her bachelorette weekend to a remote cabin in the mountains, where Alex proceeds to make Cecilia's weekend a living hell. Cecilia is forced to spend time with Alex, her childhood bully, and this unlikely gathering of individuals will cause Cecilia's true character to emerge.
The film explores the dangers of social media and influencer culture, which initially drew De Margheriti to the project. I sat down with her to discuss Sissy and her role as bully and resident “mean girl” Alex. Speaking of social media, you can follow her on Instagram.
Bri: Tell us about how you grew up and got into acting?
Emily De Margheriti: I started by begging my parents to take acting classes. So, I took acting classes in Canberra, where I grew up. I was born near Bondi Beach in Sydney. Then I moved to Canberra, spending most of my childhood in Australia's capital. I honestly did too many things. I was a jack of all trades; I did horse riding, snowboarding, dance, and gym. I feel sorry for her because she drove me to all these things. So I don't even know how she did it. Ultimately, I picked to focus on dance for a duration of time. Besides acting, I wanted to be a dancer for most of my childhood life.
I constantly turned my written assignments into movies, which led me to do acting classes at the dance school. It was called Canberra Dance Development Center at the time. I later moved to Sydney. I went to a performing arts school called Brent Street. It was kind of like a gap year from dance, I suppose. Instead of traveling, I did that. Then, I got into WAAPA, which sounds funny, but it's Western Australia's Academy of Performing Arts. I went there for three years, and I studied acting more seriously. I learned how to create my own physical performance pieces. My own one-woman shows. I learned to produce as well. That's where I realized I could do this duality, create my own things, facilitate work for myself, and be an actor as well.
I always had the bug. I loved acting so much. I couldn't shake it. So, here I am in Los Angeles right now. Acting, trying to make movies, and facilitating work for myself. As well as auditioning, I’m trying to get other roles.
Bri: It sounds like you have a deep passion for what you do. I commend you for that. Tell us about your new film Sissy.
Emily De Margheriti: I love the name, Sissy. It reminds me of someone who doesn't like owning up to the truth. I think that represents the film very well. The writers and directors initially gave me a script. We decided to make it during the pandemic—which is madness—so I didn't even meet them. I read the script, and I thought it was fantastic. The subject matter is so prevalent with what's happening right now with the social media epidemic. I find it fascinating to talk about mental health and its connection to social media.
The film is a satirical horror. It's not something that's too intense. You don’t have to hide behind your hands. It's funny, engaging, and reminds me of Ingrid Goes West (2017), meets Kill Bill (2003), or something like that. I love how every energy on set was, like, honestly amazing because everybody just wanted to be there so badly. It was funny because Aisha Dee had to be put up in a hotel, and she was very isolated, which is exactly like her character. So everything just kind of fed into the world of the scripts. Which I think was very nice.
Bri: Speaking of the set, do you have any interesting stories from the set during filming?
Emily De Margheriti: In one scene, I have to lay in a hole in the ground. It was dark because it was in the early morning. I was looking up and listening to the wildlife in Australia. I was coming to terms with things.
Bri: What can you tell us about your character, Alex? Were there any challenges you faced bringing the character to life?
Emily De Margheriti: Oh, my gosh, so many challenges. Specifically, I found it difficult because Alex holds a lot of hurt in her body and pain. I have worked on myself a lot as someone comfortable in my skin. I know that she is comfortable in her skin, but she struggles with mental pain. She's worked through trauma because she's a survivor of abuse. So, the stuff she's been through and trying to imprint that in my body was difficult. It wasn't always a fun experience because it’s far from how I feel. I like to say I’m optimistic because I don't have all of Alex's negative energy.
Bri: How about any other interesting characteristics about her that you like? Did you draw from any sources in your life to portray this character?
Emily De Margheriti: I definitely drew from the characters I looked at, like Rachel McAdams in Mean Girls (2004) and all the other mean girls. I was looking at all of the characters that are bullies because Alex is essentially the bully of the story. I feel like every bully has a story. So she's someone that falls into the trope, but she's someone who's very hurt. She's a survivor of abuse, a fighter, and so loyal. I also looked at some of my friends. I know that sounds crazy. To them, their friendship circle is their family. They'll do anything for them, and I think that's important to know with Alex. Her friends are family and everything to her. She's motivated by a desire to increase her popularity often, and she's ultimately just seeking the truth.
Bri: Were there particular scenes in Sissy that were your favorite to film?
Emily De Margheriti: Gosh, all of them. They all have interesting things about them. Okay, there's one scene. I had a prosthetic attachment on my face, and it got weirdly sexual. I mounted on top of someone, so it was funny, even though it's meant to be scary. It turned out completely different from how I expected it to be because it was meant to be a little bit terrifying. I suppose what's interesting is how dissimilar things behind the scenes are compared to when the edits and music are added. Sometimes it appears very different from how it felt when you did the scene.
Bri: It sounds like it was a blast. I wanted to bring in Instagram's role as a character in the film. Cecilia is a social media influencer, so there must be a social commentary about the negative aspects of social media and influencer culture. I understand that the film's exploration of social media is what drew you to the project. Can you tell us more about that?
Emily De Margheriti: Aisha Dee is frozen in time. There’s a nostalgic kind of feel to it. It reminds me of when people gave each other best friend necklaces. It reminds me of very anxious times with female friendships where everything a friend said to me meant the world. Especially when you're a teenager, you hang on to everything in comparison. We're still comparing ourselves as we develop with social media, but it's just a much bigger platform of people we judge ourselves against. You can also publish one perspective of yourself. You've got your little box. You've got your pictures. You're showing the world, not necessarily the reality of your life, but the highlight reel. So I felt like it was interesting to explore that.
Bri: Considering that this is not your first horror film, nor the last, would you consider yourself a fan of the horror genre?
Emily De Margheriti: It's funny. I actually don't like horror because I struggle to watch horror films. I have such a vivid imagination. When I look into my mirror or when I'm in the bathroom, I think of American Psycho (2000), and I freak out. My imagination is so wild. If I see logs in front of me when I'm in the car, I think Final Destination (2000). I guess I don't like being scared. Especially when I'm by myself a lot of the time, if I watch a horror film alone, I won't be able to sleep. I prefer satirical horror. It's easier for me to watch.
Bri: To bring us back around to Sissy, what will audiences enjoy about the film, and what do you hope they take away from the viewing experience?
Emily De Margheriti: Well, I hope they don't look at their friends like they always have. Perhaps they’ll look at them like they could potentially be a serial killer or a sociopath. I want people to question if social media is healthy.
Bri: Absolutely! Are you excited about the film’s premiere at the Overlook Film Festival this weekend?
Emily De Margheriti: I'm so excited! We love the film festival. I'm representing the film, the whole cast, and crew, which is really exciting. I get to watch horror films for five days straight. I'm going to be scared, but I'm allowing myself to be scared. I'm really looking forward to it, to be honest.