The New Cast

The New Cast

'Assassination Nation' is a bloody parable for the Internet age. Here, its stars and director get real about online angst.

'Assassination Nation' is a bloody parable for the Internet age. Here, its stars and director get real about online angst.

Photography: Kayt Jones

Styling: Sue Choi

Text: SAMUEL ANDERSON

This interview appears in the pages on V115, our Fall 2018 issue. Head to shop.vmagazine.com to order your copy today!

Assassination Nation follows the town of Salem’s descent into hysteria after a hacking scandal implicates the local high school’s queen-bee crew (played by Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Abra, and Suki Waterhouse). Reviews tend to include shopping lists of cultural precedents, from witch trials to Jawbreaker. After all, the teen-angst canon spans millennia. Yet never has a film so purely reflected the current social climate. Here, director Sam Levinson asks the cast to reflect on how art has imitated life.

Sam Levinson This film gets described in a million different ways. How would all of you describe it?

Hari Nef Oh boy. It’s a high school film, it’s a satire, it’s a comedy, it’s a drama. It’s a survival film.

Odessa Young I’ve started to think of it less as a comedy and a satire and more as an earnest drama. It really accurately shows the collective trauma of a nation that is raised on social media.

Suki Waterhouse It shows what being a young woman is like in a very realistic way. It’s an expression of all of our rage and all of our sorrow, and just things that have happened to us.

SL Older generations latch onto the fantasy element, while younger generations have felt that the film is very real. What accounts for that divide?

Abra Older people don’t understand the Internet as well as we do. We grew up completely [immersed] in it, and realize how real it is and how it can completely turn your life upside down.

HN I feel like generations that didn’t grow up on social media experience [it] as something that can enrich your life. If [you haven’t] lived a whole life before social media, [it] gets tangled up in this idea of, “Who am I?” There’s a lot of anxiety and terror that comes with that.

SW Exactly. I’m very private, but there are realities that are incredibly real for me. I literally discovered on the set of the film that someone had nude photos of me from when I was 18 years old, right before I shot a scene about nude pictures being hacked.

SL How do you think the film mirrors your own anxieties about the world?

OY I’m kind of a grandma when it comes to this stuff. I suppose my anxiety is seeing how we are going to make our minds strong and resilient enough to handle [social] media.

HN [The film] highlights the divide between who you are, and the person you present to the world. This isn’t a huge secret, so I’ll tell you: I have two Instagrams. One where I amplify what I’m doing, and a “finsta” where I say stupid shit and post nudes. It’s just a raw version of myself, but if the stuff from it got out, I’m sure some people would be offended. People don’t understand that you cannot fully experience somebody through a screen.

OY I think that there are many people who don’t understand that concept, who treat it as an alternate reality and there’s nothing else but “the ‘gram.”

HN Well that’s why we have to draw boundaries in 2018. Hashtag: “Boundaries 2018.”

OY It’s like that Kylie Jenner video when she’s like, “2016 was the year of realizing things.”

HN I was just thinking about the Kardashians. Their show is a finished product yet presents itself as this inherently real thing that is happening. It’s so mind-boggling to try to parse out what is entertainment and what is reality.

OY It’s not reality. It’s a projection of reality.

HN I mean, I know Kendall, and she’s a sweet girl. And I’m not saying there are lies going on. I’m talking more about people’s perceptions.

SL At the end of the day, I think that this exists with everyone on social media. Seeing the behind-the-scenes shit-talk is part of the entertainment value. Our collective lust for entertainment has superseded our sense of self-preservation as a society.

A I feel like people are learning about different ways of life and becoming more tolerant, but at the same time, everyone’s becoming really sensitive. The Internet can feel out of control. It’s a game of telephone where your shit can be flipped at any moment.

HN Exactly. People love canceling people. They dig up something that doesn’t align with their idealized vision of you and people smile and they gnash their teeth, like “Yes, I found the truth.” It’s crazy-town USA.

OY That should be the title of the movie.

SL What drew you to the characters?

A I really enjoyed the dynamic between the girls. We were able to make our dynamic onscreen really sincere. We were each other’s closest friends for about a month and a half; I told them things I’d never told anybody before. It definitely helped the acting process.

SW I was interested in how they asserted themselves in a male-dominated world with this wolf-pack mentality.

HN I was attracted to that vulnerability, mixed with a kind of euphoria. Our generation carries this mix of, “I’m living in the best time to be a woman, but I’m also terrified of how big and scary the world has gotten.” The script nails that simultaneity.

OY And there have been so many movies that deal with the duality of teen life through a filter of ridicule and mockery. This was the first time that I read something where [the writer] so clearly loved and respected these characters.

SL So my final question is, what makes you hopeful about the world?

A We’re really connected; I can’t really find a downside to that. I enjoy that we don’t really know which way the Internet’s going to take society.

SW I do think young people are fucking lit. [Laughs.] One of the nice things about the Internet is that we live in a world where everybody is experiencing anxieties, and we’re all talking a lot more about them. There’s a lovely release in seeing that life contains a lot of shit.

HN I think that previous generations would not have been able to gather the receipts the way our generation can, and say, “Actually, Mr. President, the statistics you just gave were false.” Even seeing which demographics voted blue in the election was comforting to me; if our generation’s had been the only votes that counted, Donald Trump wouldn’t be president. It was comforting knowing that we were all, for the most part, on the same page.

ASSASSINATION NATION HITS THEATERS ON SEPTEMBER 21.

LEFT TO RIGHT: HARI WEARS DRESS LOUIS VUITTON, ABRA WEARS TOP BREELAYNE, ODESSA WEARS TOP TOPSHOP, SKIRT COS, SUKI WEARS TOP BREELAYNE, RING AND PANTS HER OWN

Credits: MAKEUP NATASHA SEVERINO (FORWARD ARTISTS), HAIR CAILE NOBLE (STARWORKS GROUP), PRODUCTION JAY RODAN

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