When Emily Wiseman first stepped onto the set of The Offering—a terrifying new supernatural film by the director Oliver Park—she’d never really screamed before. At least, not in the kind of bone-chilling way that’s so synonymous with the horror genre. “You never really do that in real life,” the Australian actor tells StyleCaster, “so I had to ask our director Ollie, ‘Do you mind if I practice screaming? I’m so self-conscious.’ What if it’s just this weird little gargle?”
Thankfully, “everyone was like, ‘That was a great scream’,” she laughs. Wiseman is speaking to us via Zoom from Los Angeles. She moved from Australia once before COVID and returned a few months ago; in between, she’d hunkered down in the idyllic coastal town of Byron Bay—more accurately, Lennox Head—about an hour’s flight from Sydney to see out the worst of the pandemic.
Born in the United States and raised in Australia since the age of five, Wiseman always wanted to be an actor, even though she admits it’s a “cliché” to say so. From the age of eight or 10, she asked her mom to get her an agent—“I don’t even think I knew what that meant”—but Wiseman didn’t realize you could make a career out of it until later. She’d already gotten a degree in communications and worked in television production before realizing she wasn’t where she wanted to be. “I tried really hard not to be an actor,” she says. “But I think when you’re called to do something, it’s really hard to ignore it.” So, in February 2019, she sold her car and bought a one-way ticket to Hollywood. (As luck would have it, she immediately landed two TV roles in Australia and had to fly back.)
As one Aussie to another, this writer can attest to the reactions family and friends might have to someone who says they’re going to pursue this notoriously volatile career—it’d be a “Yeah, right-o” or something along those lines, maybe coupled with an eye-roll. Wiseman’s parents “were very supportive, but the tone of voice slightly changes,” she reflects on the moment she told them. “Hollywood just seems so far away … It’s not a career choice that seems feasible.”
But she must be doing something right. A few years ago, Wiseman was in the audition room when Australian producer Lizzette Atkins compared her to a young Nicole Kidman, arguably the nation’s biggest Hollywood export. “That’s such a lovely thing to hear as an actor, especially when you’re first starting out,” recalls Wiseman. “It’s that little pat on the back that says you’re going in the right direction and someone’s recognizing your work.”
Sure enough, her feature film debut would come with Winchester, a supernatural horror/thriller inspired by the true story of the eccentric firearm heiress Sarah Winchester (Dame Helen Mirren), who believed she was being haunted by the spirits of those that died at the hands of her husband’s rifle. Now, Wiseman stars as Claire in The Offering alongside Nick Blood (Euphoria), in a story about an evil demon being released in the halls of a Hasidic funeral home in Brooklyn. People are clearly loving it, as indicated by its 92 percent rating on the review aggregator, Rotten Tomatoes.
She never really gave me any advice personally, but I remember her saying during a table read that ‘You don’t have to worry about me. I will always be on time. I will always show up and I will always be prepared.’ That was I definitely took that away with me. For someone of her celebrity stature and talent…
Exactly. You know, it doesn’t have to be another way. It shouldn’t be any other way.
That’s obviously the hardest part of the career, but what I really appreciate about what I do is that I’m enjoying the process of who I’m becoming in pursuit of it. It’s a challenge. It’s being able to go and do something that terrifies you. And actually, who you grow into on the other side of that is what motivates me the most. Aside from the work, I think the rejection side of things gets easier when you grow in confidence. My validation doesn’t exist externally; it’s not based on who rejects me and who doesn’t. But yes, you have to become very familiar with rejection or at least redefine your relationship with it.
It’s so funny. I am such a scaredy cat. Wallace and Gromit used to scare me. So, it’s funny that I’m attracting these roles. I don’t know if people just like seeing me scared or… But what I enjoy about it is that I basically get to pick apart my own psychology and what I’m afraid of. I clearly have a few things hiding deep down in my subconscious, but The Offering was a beautiful experience because actually doing a thriller or a horror is very different from watching one. Because, as an actor, I know what’s happening. I’m in control. In some sense, I think part of the main things that scare me is the idea that I’m not in control of what’s coming or that I don’t know what’s around the corner.
[Laughs] No, but I did have to practice my scream… From an audition perspective, they generally give you a part of the script where the stakes are the highest. You don’t have to scream necessarily, but they will require you to demonstrate your skills from that standpoint.
Oliver did ask permission if he could beforehand and I was like, ‘fine, whatever, I’ve got this,’ and then you’re peering around every corner [laughs]. But some people did experience some sort of haunting around the studio. One of our producers, Jonathan Yunger; his wife was having distressing dreams while we were filming in Bulgaria.
Yeah, actually. I had just got to LA and I was having a nap, I was sort of in that between-state of sleep and awake. I felt someone jump on the end of the bed, like a small human.
And in my head, I was like, ‘Who are you?’ and then what felt like a small child’s hand pressed up against my face. And then I felt safe. It sounds insane. So, I went back to sleep. But that feeling of that hand on my cheek felt very, very real.
The Offering is in select cinemas and on-demand on Prime Video .
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