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Geraldine Viswanathan On The Palpable Impact That Working With Female Filmmakers Has On Her Acting

By all accounts, it should have been a big summer for Geraldine Viswanathan. After facing off with Hugh Jackman in HBO’s crime drama Bad Education this past April, the 25-year-old anticipated celebrating her star turn in The Broken Hearts Gallery on its July debut. Instead, the Sony-backed rom-com, produced by Selena Gomez, pushed its release date to early September, when major theater chains planned to reopen their doors. Despite losing some mainstream seasonal discussion, Viswanathan’s exponential ascent to leading lady status could never be denied—just delayed.

Born in Australia to an Indian father and Swiss mother, Viswanathan established theatrical and sketch-comedy roots in her home country before pursuing an acting career in Hollywood. In 2018, she broke out in the sex-positive comedy Blockers as one of three high-schoolers attempting to lose their virginity on prom night. The next year, she pivoted into television opposite Daniel Radcliffe on the TBS anthology series Miracle Workers, and showed her range in the coming-of-age indie drama Hala, playing a Muslim teenager. Now, with The Broken Hearts Gallery (currently in theaters but arriving on VOD shortly), Viswanathan has solidified herself as a potent comedic force, graduating from teen anxieties to twentysomething problems. In Natalie Krinsky’s directorial debut, she plays Lucy, an art gallery assistant whose bedroom might as well be a museum of trinkets kept from previous relationships. Reeling from a recent heartbreak, she meets Nick (Dacre Montgomery), an entrepreneur starting a boutique hotel in Brooklyn, and turns his renovated lobby into a makeshift gallery, filling it with dispensed artifacts from strangers’ breakups. It’s a cathartic experience—one that Viswanathan captures in totality with her improvisational wit and charm. 

On a recent phone call with Decider, Viswanthan—in her natural Australian accent—shared some of her quarantine experiences, the importance of working with female filmmakers, and what she thinks of success at a young age. 

DECIDER: I read you were in quarantine the last several months with your boyfriend, Miles Robbins, in upstate New York. What is it like staying at [his mother] Susan Sarandon’s summer home? 

GERALDINE VISWANATHAN: I definitely could have never expected that would be my quarantine situation. But I feel super lucky and very grateful I got to escape the city a little bit, especially at the beginning there, where it was really scary. I got to have some nature time, and it’s always so fun hanging out full-time with someone’s family. 

How is she as a host?

She’s lovely. I mean, she’s the coolest mom ever. She lets us do whatever we want, it really doesn’t feel like mom energy. She’s just a cool cat. 

I was trying to envision the prayers you would have had to answer if Miracle Workers took place in 2020. Steve Buscemi’s God character would be having a tough time up there.

Oh my gosh. I know, what is he doing? He’s drunk right now, he’s left the building. It’s just pure chaos. 

Bad Education came out in April, and The Broken Hearts Gallery finally released over the weekend. What’s it like having two big projects debut at a time when you can’t have social connection?

I think it’s definitely a bummer that we can’t come together and celebrate. We worked so hard on both of those things, especially with The Broken Hearts Gallery, it was such a party to make and even while we were filming it, we were like, “Can’t wait for the premiere!” It’s such a social film, so I’m definitely bummed that we cant be celebrating together, but in a way it almost feels more significant for it to come out now because it’s such a feel-good movie and we felt so good making it. I think that as a collective, we’re really wanting to feel good and reminisce on community and friendship and love and going out in New York. So it’s kind of the perfect movie for now. 

I love the concept of a Broken Hearts Gallery itself. What was it about the movie’s story that pulled you in?

I thought that was really interesting, the way it explores things and how it connects to people and places and time, and how we endow objects with meaning. Something that I’m always interested in. I was raised quite Buddhist, randomly, so I’ve always sort of been aware of detachment and hyper-aware of material things. I feel like this movie explores that in a really interesting way through the lens of a romantic comedy. I also found Lucy’s journey, coming from pain and heartbreak— having to dust herself off and get back up and make something with it—was really empowering and inspiring. 

Based on your upbringing, have you had any similar experiences with artifacts from previous relationships?

Yeah, I am a sentimentalist. I so cherish the memories in my life. I’ve lived such a wonderful and fortunate life, so throughout my whole life I feel like I’ve held onto souvenirs of memories and good times, and I keep them all in my childhood bedroom in Australia. When I go home for Christmas, I’ll often look through them and kind of reflect and just feel extreme gratitude. But it’s a balance, because I also live a very nomadic lifestyle now and I do have to practice that Buddhist [quality] of detachment from material things because I have two suitcases and that’s it. I have both of those things at the same time. 

How nice was it to finally play a character that can drink alcohol legally and doesn’t have to look over her shoulder? 

That’s true. I always forget that the drinking age [in America] is 21. In Blockers, when I played a teen, I guess it was a naughty thing. It was actually fun to play a mid-20s young woman. I think the set of problems are so different. Less “Where am I going to college?” and “I have to say goodbye to my friends in my hometown.” This [movie] is more, she’s moved to the city, she knows what she wants to do, and there’s all kinds of new trials and tribulations that come with that. 

Miles Robbins (left) and Geraldine Viswanathan in the 2018 movie Blockers.Photo: Everett Collection

Have you reflected on your early movie roles and how they’ve potentially mimicked your own coming-of-age experiences in America?  

Yeah, I think so. There’s been growing pains reflected in the films that I’ve done that have mirrored where I am in my life. Leaving home and going out into the world and doing a scary thing, I think that’s something parallel to Miracle Workers and Blockers, that kind of exploration of new uncharted territory. I think that’s been a common thread. I’ve never considered it like that. 

Your director Natalie Krinsky mentioned that she “could write an ode to your eyebrows,” and finds them crucial to your comedic expression. What’s your relationship with your eyebrows? 

Great question. It’s classic—the thing that I got teased for in school is now my greatest asset. I think I’d look so weird with thin eyebrows. I’ve never known what to do with them, so I’ve just left them. I guess it’s true that eyebrows are the most important part of the face—equal to or second to the eyeball. I think they do a great job of framing your eyes, and in acting that’s what it’s all about. I guess eyebrows do play a big part in how I’m able to perform. 

Three of your last four movies have been directed by women. What’s it meant for you to work with female filmmakers so early into your career?

I think I’ve gotten super lucky. I feel really fortunate in my career that I’ve been able to just do things that I’ve genuinely fallen in love with. The reason why I connect to these stories and scripts about women is because they are written and directed by women. I think it’s a palpable impact that it has. When I think about Blockers or Hala or Broken Hearts Gallery, those are stories about women, especially sexually liberated and multi-dimensional and confident women. The scripts have all this nuance and this specificity, and the reason I’m drawn to that is because there’s women behind them. 

They all seem to be sex-positive, which makes them more distinct. 

Yeah, I think on set, the way that manifests is there’s such a feeling of safety. When you’re filming those kinds of intimate scenes, it’s such a vulnerable thing. I’ve been vulnerable in these films and it’s a wonderful feeling to feel safe and supported by your director. I think when they have that mutual understanding, I think that’s where a lot of comfort comes from. Not to say that I haven’t enjoyed working with male directors, but the movies that I’ve done that are directed by men are just sort of different in nature. 

BROKEN HEARTS GALLERY MOVIE
Photo: Everett Collection

Your character Lucy in The Broken Hearts Gallery asks at one point, “Do you ever think you can feel successful?” With the way your career has started, how would answer that question? 

At this very moment, it’s hard to feel anything, even though I’m really proud of this movie and that it’s being released. I think because we’re all so disconnected, I think it’s hard to feel or really grasp the reality of it. You can feel successful, but I think it’s fleeting, just like any feeling. I’ve had moments of such satisfaction and pride and contentment in the work that I’ve been able to do, and the fact that I get to have my dream job, it’s kind of beyond what I ever imagined for myself. I feel less “successful” than just fortunate and grateful. But it’s fleeting, because it’s also like, who knows what the future holds? The future is so uncertain and as soon as you start thinking about that, any kinds of feelings of certainty float away. 

The Oscars just instituted some new diversity and inclusion standards for movies to follow if they want to be considered by the Academy. In your brief career, how have you looked at Hollywood’s representation? 

I feel like there has definitely been a gradual change, and then the way that this year imploded, it was necessary to really shake up the system. The conversation keeps getting more and more nuanced, and it’s really exciting to witness it in real time. The fact that systematic change is being put in place, that’s what needs to happen. I don’t know the details of the Oscars inclusion [standards], but I thought that was really cool. It’s a positive incentive and should have a positive impact on our industry. I’m excited to see how that goes. 

This whole time has been very introspective. How would you say you’ve looked inward throughout this time? What have you been thinking about in quarantine?

Everything has been so “go-go-go” for me the last couple of years. I’ve been just bopping around wherever the work takes me. I haven’t really had any sense of home. I think that in a way it’s been really good for me to have some time to rest and reflect. It has been a little destabilizing, as I was about to set down roots in America. I had just started renting an apartment and I haven’t been living in it this entire time. But I feel like we’re all just re-prioritizing, and I think that I am more aware. We’re understanding what’s really important, and I’ve been reflecting on that, and feeling like my most treasured relationships and my health should come first—my mental health, just learning how to take care of myself. I think that’s something that has been pushed to the back of my mind in trying to keep my head above water with work, because work has always been my number one priority. This downtime has helped me get to know myself a bit better. 

So what are the next few months for you looking like right now? 

Right now my plan is to go back home to Australia, which is very complicated. It’s really hard to get on a flight, so fingers crossed I don’t get bumped. And then when I get there I have to do two weeks of hotel quarantine, and I have to pay for it [laughing], but it’s worth it. I think I really want to feel safe and at home, so I’m just taking a pause on setting up a home here and I hope to come back soon and sort of re-group. We’ll see. We have to stay on our toes. Things are changing every day. I’m just trying to stay vigilant and present.

What’s the first thing you’d like to do that will re-establish some normalcy when this pandemic is mostly resolved? 

Oh my god, everything. I want to just go out with friends, go to a restaurant, go to a bar, see a movie. I do really miss the theater—I miss seeing plays, movies, and taking public transport. I really just want to get drunk outside my house. That’s what I want. 

Jake Kring-Schreifels is a sports and entertainment writer based in New York. His work has appeared in The Ringer, GQ.com, Esquire.com, Washington Post Magazine, The New York Times, and other fine publications. 

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