Her blonde locks and blue-eyed smile only tell half the story. British import Eliza Bennett is about mining each role that comes her way, with honesty and the passion of a true artist. Taking the lead in the MTV dramedy, Sweet/Vicious, Bennett takes on a controversial subject with the skill of a seasoned pro.
HYDROGEN MAGAZINE: Tell me about growing up across the pond…
ELIZA BENNETT: It was wonderful really. I started acting quite young so performing was always a part of my childhood, but I think I had as much of a healthy child actor experience as I could have! I grew up in a countryside village outside Reading with my parents, brother and sister and I think it provided a safe normality for me to come home to when I wasn’t filming. I still love coming home to my parent’s house, especially at Christmas!
HM: You got your big break playing Tora in Nanny McPhee opposite Emma Thompson and Colin Firth. What was that experience like for you?
EB: I remember just having a blast on that movie. I was one of six kids and so they would have rooms full of Playstations and toys for us and I remember Emma Thompson would order Ice Cream trucks to set. It was pretty much heaven. I also never remember feeling the ‘pressure’ of filming when I was younger. I think maybe we are just more fearless at that age. It’s sad that we lose that lightness as we get older.
HM: What impact did the film, Inkheart, have on you?
EB: Inkheart was my first lead in a studio film where I wasn’t part of a child ensemble. It was a much bigger responsibility than I had ever had before, but I had the time of my life. Two months of the shoot was in Italy and it was the most magical experience.
The cast on that film were such powerhouses (Helen Mirren, Paul Bettany, Jim Broadbent) and I tried to soak up as much as I could while working with them. They all have an amazing work ethic and most importantly, I always remember them treating everyone around them with dignity and respect. That’s probably the greatest thing I took away from them.
HM: What are the biggest differences going from working largely in the British television and film industry, to working on an American series?
EB: It’s difficult to put my finger on the exact differences, but it does feel very different to me. The process for getting cast in a US show sometimes feels nearly impossible with screen tests, pilots and the fear of being cancelled always looming. I had never even thought of checking ‘live ratings’ until I started working in America.
Lots of shows in the UK are straight to series and the audition process always feels a little more relaxed and shorter. The creative process functions slightly differently in an American series, but filming feels largely the same, bar all the American accents!
HM: Let’s talk about your MTV show, Sweet/Vicious. The show tackles the subject of sexual assault on college campuses and you play Jules, a sorority member who has an unwanted encounter with a friend that changes her life. She becomes a masked super-heroine of sorts, hunting down rapists on campus to deliver rough justice. What were your first thoughts on the show when it came your way?
EB: I thought ‘I’m gonna work my arse off for this audition.’ I hadn’t read a script that tackled this topic in a way that was so nuanced and delicate whilst still being funny and badass. I get to do so much in this show. I play a sexual assault victim, a sorority girl, a kick ass vigilante. The writing is so smart, so layered and I knew that if I had the chance to work with this creator (Jennifer Kaytin Robinson), I had to grab this opportunity with both hands. It’s not often that you find a writer with the unique voice that Jenn has.
HM: Tell me about Jules. What makes her tick? What is she all about?
EB: Jules is an incredibly sweet and bubbly girl who loves her friends, and who loves her sorority. Then something terrible happens to her. Something she never asked for, never wanted and she is forever changed. After Jules discovers that she is not the only one that has been sexually assaulted on her campus, she channels her trauma into fighting for other victims. She is a survivor and a fighter. Throughout Season 1, we really unpack her trauma and dig into what it really is to tell a survivor’s story.
HM: What was your approach to playing her?
EB: Well, right after I was cast, I tried to do as much research as possible. Missoula by John Krakauer was a huge source of research for me, as was The Hunting Ground documentary. But the most important part of playing Jules was speaking to as many survivors as I could and sadly, it wasn’t difficult finding people.
Many of my friends are survivors and one of the greatest benefits of being a part of Sweet/Vicious, has been the conversations it has opened up with women in my life. It was very important to all of us to tell this story truthfully and respectfully, so survivors stories were so important to enabling us to tell Jules’ story.
HM: Campus sexual assault is very relevant to society today. How challenging was it for you dealing with the subject matter?
EB: It was eye opening. I knew that it was happening and I was definitely aware of the rape culture that women often have to deal with daily, but I don’t think I realized the vast numbers of people that were being assaulted. It is happening to so many people and we can no longer stand by and do nothing.
Alongside the horror of this topic though, the Sweet/Vicious process has also been incredibly uplifting and empowering. Every time a survivor watches the show and tweets about how the show has helped them, there is such a flood of love and support for them. There is a powerful and growing community of people that will no longer allow survivors to be voiceless and I am so proud to be a small part of that.
HM: What do you hope people come away with watching the show?
EB: First and foremost, I hope they enjoy it! Although we tackle a heavy topic, Sweet/Vicious is also a funny story about two mismatched girls that try to become campus superheroes, so there is light with the dark. But I also hope we play a part in educating people on what sexual assault looks like and what consent looks like and if you are a survivor, I hope that you come away knowing that you are not alone, you are believed and we stand with you.
HM: Let’s switch gears and talk a little fashion…who are some of your favorite designers right now?
EB: I love Zuhair Murad dresses and am also big fan of Louis Vuitton. I loved Ruth Negga’s metallic dress at the Golden Globes.
HM: How would you describe your style?
EB: That’s so hard because my style changes with my mood, but overall, I’d say I’m attracted to interesting cuts and textures and anything that looks classic or chic.
HM: Trend you love…
EB: Knee High Boots
HM: Trend you wish would die…
EB: I feel like fashion is such an unique expression of your individuality, that trends look so different on different people. Having said that though, I wouldn’t be devastated to never see kitten heels again.
HM: If you could raid one celebrity’s closet, whose would it be?
EB: Emma Watson or Emma Stone.
HM: What are some of your passions away from work?
EB: When I’m in LA, I love hiking and playing ultimate frisbee with my friends at the weekends. I think having grown up in England with rainy weather, if I can be outside, I’m there!
HM: If you could have dinner with any 3 people past or present, who would they be?
EB: Nelson Mandela, C. S. Lewis and Meryl Streep.
‘SWEET VICIOUS’ AIRS ON MTV.
ELIZA ON TWITTER: @ElizaBennett
ELIZA ON INSTAGRAM: @elizahbennett
PHOTOGRAPHY: FAYE THOMAS