Lismore-born actress and singer Maia Mitchell is a huge talent on the rise. A former child actor, the cute-as-a-button 24-year-old started out on Australian television series Mortified, Trapped and Castaway before heading to the US for a slew of Disney TV movies and series, including Zombies and Cheerleaders and Teen Beach Movie, which spawned a sequel. She became widely known in the US for The Fosters, a series following the lives of a lesbian couple raising a multi-ethnic brood of biological, adopted and foster children. The series was cancelled in January after five seasons, though a spin-off is in the works.
On the cinema front, Mitchell has a supporting role in Hot Summer Nights starring Oscar nominee Timothée Chalamet, but her biggest role to date has been in Never Goin’ Back, which has just premiered at Sundance. Mitchell and 20-year-old Camila Morrone (who actually looks older) co-star as a pair of high school dropouts stuck in dead-end waitress jobs. Their house has been robbed, but they are determined to find joy in life and use their rent money to take off to the beach.
The film’s writer-director, Augustine Frizzell, based the film on her own misspent youth and describes it as a gross-out stoner comedy of the kind that usually features men, like Superbad.
“I wanted to make the film with girls, because in my experience we cussed and were gross, doing bad stuff, and you just rarely see that with girls,” Frizzell says. “I love the female/female stuff. But it’s not about teen negligence, it’s more about their friendship, how obviously their situation is not great, but together they've managed to overcome adversity and find family.”
She calls Mitchell “unbelievably talented and hilarious. I could have cast her in both roles. Her performance is so nuanced. She made all of these choices that were so bold and different.”
Mitchell is also responsible for one of the movie's most original scenes, which involves an exaggerated and hilarious projectile vomit.
“I had a vomit rig that was strapped to the entire side of my body,” Mitchell told the ebullient crowd at the film’s Q and A.
Morrone had one, too, and it's the chemistry between the two young women above all else that makes the film work.
“How could anyone not have chemistry with this girl?” Morrone says. “Maia and I hit it off in our chemistry read with other girls. It just felt super natural. As we kept doing the scenes and improvising, I was like, ‘Can I get your number? I want to hang out with you even if we don’t get this movie.' Then we ended up getting it and now we are friends.”
Before the premiere, Mitchell was excited to meet a fellow Australian, greeting me with a hug before our chat about her on-the-rise career and Never Goin’ Back.
You haven’t lost your Australian accent.
When I speak to Australians it comes out thick.
Are you looking forward to seeing the movie?
Yes, it's a bit wild. I show my butt and my knickers in the first five minutes, so I’m glad my parents aren’t here!
You’re much older than you look.
Yes, I am a little older.
Do you sometimes get into trouble because of that?
Yes, every time I go to a bar, I get asked at least four times for my ID. They don't believe me. “I’m 24, I promise!”
What’s your secret?
A baby face, big cheeks. That's it.
It's a big deal to be the co-lead in a movie. You've mainly done television.
Yes. My goal since I was a kid was to be in a movie at Sundance, in whatever capacity. So this is a really big moment and it’s great to share it with so many fantastic, talented women who led and pioneered this film. I shared the screen with Cami for the whole movie. It’s the most fantastic way I could be introduced to Sundance, really.
Is this movie more adult than what you’ve been doing on television?
It’s adult in the sense that it’s not so clean and proper. I don't know if I can call the film adult; it’s quite youthful and silly. But it’s definitely a little more controversial than anything I’ve been able to do. So that's been exciting just to do something with a little more grit.
Is comedy your forte?
It’s actually not. It’s something I’ve done in the past, like at the Disney channels, but I learned a lot here. We got to improvise with Kyle Mooney, who’s on Saturday Night Live, which was amazing and terrifying but fantastic. So it’s really been fun. The comedy’s quite grounded in the film.
How does if feel to be better known in the US than in Australia now?
It’s kind of nice, because when I go home, it feels very relaxing. People often ask if it’s OK living so far from home and, actually, I really like it because when I go home to Lismore, it feels so separate from my work environment. I never get recognised, so I totally decompress and have some R&R. I really love it.