Women in Film: Kelly O’Sullivan

Kelly O’Sullivan is an American actor and writer, who began her career in theatre in Chicago. She now stars in feature film Saint Frances, based on her debut script. Directed by off-screen partner Alex Thompson, O’Sullivan plays Bridget, a 30-something singleton drifting through life until she takes the job of a nanny for the six year-old Frances.

ASFF: Saint Frances is your first script, right?
KO: This is the first thing I’ve ever finished. I’ve written like one scene of something or a few pages of a short that never turns into anything. And I’m still doing that. This is the first thing that I’ve actually finished, any my first attempt at a feature screenplay too. I feel just flummoxed by it!

ASFF: You treat issues like menstruation and abortion with disarming normality. Was that one of your aims with this?
Yes – just trying to normalise what it’s like to have a female body because to have a female body is inherently messy. I think to have a body in general! But we have a very particular kind of messiness that I think we’ve been encouraged to keep off-screen – to keep to ourselves – when actually it’s this repetitive experience that we’re dealing with all the time. A chief intention of the film was just to say, “Let’s be realistic in the way that we portray these things” and not have it be gross-out humour and not have the women be the butt of the joke.

ASFF: Is Bridget stuck in stasis?
Yes, I think she is. I think this sense of stasis comes from her being too judgmental – comparing herself to all of her peers who she sees as being more successful or having life more figured out. There is a sense of paralysis that can come from that kind of comparison.

ASFF: How did you feel about playing Bridget as well as writing her?
KO: I was trepidatious about it, because I knew that the success of the film would sort of live or die on the writing and then whoever played that part. That’s a lot of pressure! Nobody knows who I am. I’m not famous and typically movies do better with more recognisable faces in them. But Alex said, “you know this character, their voice and how she should be played.”

ASFF: How does it feel to be releasing Saint Frances in this turbulent year?
KO: It feels bizarre. I’m trying to just be grateful that we had any sort of theatrical release. I think so many films were coming out [and then didn’t]. Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a good example. That came out the week that everything shut down. What can you do? It’s one of those things that if you waste any time being sad about it or thinking about an alternate reality it will frustrate you. But in the grand scheme of things, having a film not be released the way you want is pretty minute in comparison to the enormity of what’s happening.

Saint Frances is in cinemas from 24 July. For more details, click here.

James Mottram