Outsider by birth
Outsider by birth

Making her major film debut as a misunderstood high school witch in all-star romantic fantasy Beautiful Creatures, this daughter of famous Kiwi filmmaker Jane Campion knows all about feeling like an outsider.

Alice Englert, 18, says it was a role she was born to play.

"For a lot of my own school time, I felt so disconnected and what really sustained me throughout was writing music and poetry and reading books."

She was not the popular girl in class. "I almost managed it briefly because I had nice hair but then I was just too weird," recalls Englert.

"What makes me sad about school is that the people who are unhappy; they're unhappy because they don't believe it will change and I just want to say,'It does. High school ends and it's over'. I will tell anyone that it's OK to be unhappy at school, make lots of mistakes and then it will be over."

If her maturity almost seems at odds with playing a teenager possessed of magical powers, then Englert insists she identifies easily with her character.

"She's a young girl, she's insecure and she's in love. She feels things, she feels out of control - I feel that all the time. I spent time at schools in New York, London, New Zealand, Rome and Australia, a lot of just quick moving around while I followed my mum, who was always on film sets," says Englert who later chose to enrol in a posh British boarding school.

"I deliberately went to boarding school. It was my choice. My mum was abroad and I wanted to wean myself off being dependent.

"It was a very important time for me to be able to create my own individual, independent life; just as a way of growing up."

However, shooting Beautiful Creatures' school scenes in New Orleans brought about painful memories.

"I hate shooting high school scenes. I swear, you put everyone in a classroom and it's just the same again. There's something about a classroom, everyone's just suddenly bad. There I was on set, and I'm a totally normal human being, but when I'm in a classroom I go and find the darkest corner I can," laughs the actress whose lofty co-stars include Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson and Viola Davis.

When her parents divorced Englert would spend time with her father Colin Englert, also a director, as well as trotting around the globe with her mother.

"Apparently I had lunch with Johnny Depp when I was three months old," she says when we meet at a Los Angeles hotel during a dizzying round of global promotion duties.

Englert has no formal training but appeared in two of her mother's short films. So Beautiful Creatures marks her first major feature film, despite having filmed Roland Joffe's epic period drama Singularity some three years ago, now scheduled for release this year.

Ironically her mother visited the Beautiful Creatures set on the very same day Englert filmed a crucial scene where her character destroys her mother, played by Thompson.

"That was interesting. My mum thought it was brilliant," smiles this actress who is so self-possessed and wise beyond her years that even Beautiful Creatures' veteran director Richard LaGravenese, responsible for The Horse Whisperer and The Bridges of Madison County, professes to being intimidated by her.

If Englert was unhappy at school, then she has emerged today as a remarkably confident young woman.

"I'm not interested in changing anything about my body because I'm more interested in being happy and I think that the way you look doesn't ever make you just happy," she declares. "You can be beautiful and unhappy and you can be not attractive and unhappy. And I think that beauty is so subjective. Everybody I love is beautiful because that's how I feel about them."

She speaks like a veteran when she says: "I studied with my mother and I respect her work a lot, and we love working together. I've also worked with a few different people who've just been in my life who have been in film. Mine was a homegrown experience."

She next stars with Elle Fanning and Annette Bening in Sally Potter's 1960s drama Ginger & Rosa, and in low- budget horror film, In Fear.

"It's very scary without the gore. It's always exciting when you can freak people out."

The West Australian

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