Two years removed from the role that changed her life, Geraldine Viswanathan is settling into the business of being an actor. In the 2018 bellybuster Blockers, the Australian actor delivered a crackerjack performance as a sex-starved high schooler, that catapulted her from an unknown into a comedic heavyweight. Breakout success comes at you fast, and Viswanathan, who longed for a movie career from her home in Sydney, began seizing opportunities such as the acclaimed 2019 indie drama Hala, in which she played a skateboarding Muslim teenager finding her way, the TBS comedy Miracle Workers—an anthology series that swerved from a Heaven-set sitcom in its first season to a medieval-set one its second—and the Netflix comedy The Package (which she’ll tell you about later).
Next up, Viswanthan will appear opposite Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney in the tart drama Bad Education, based on the true story of a student journalist bent on exposing an embezzlement scheme that has ensnared her Long Island high school. Viswanathan recently connected with her Miracle Workers costar Daniel Radcliffe to discuss Bad Education (which premieres this Saturday on HBO), quarantine hairstyles, and the particular hell of dancing without music.
DANIEL RADCLIFFE: I feel like we should have the obligatory coronavirus conversation first. How are you doing in all this? Where were you when the lockdown happened?
GERALDINE VISWANATHAN: I got the keys to my new apartment in Brooklyn two days after the lockdown. You’re in the city?
RADCLIFFE: We’re in the West Village. I was doing a play, which had to close early. The play that was supposed to come in right after us was with Eileen Atkins and Timothée Chalamet, and they had to postpone that one indefinitely. I’m very glad we got to do our play for eight weeks. Did anything get held up for you?
VISWANATHAN: There were some things that were up in the air that are now still up in the air.
RADCLIFFE: Was there anything as you were going into quarantine that you were like, “I need 20 or 30 of these”?
VISWANATHAN: We just got, like, 100 bottles of wine delivered.
RADCLIFFE: That’s a strong start.
VISWANATHAN: And I got a lot of my favorite instant ramen. For clothes, I’ve just been rotating three sweatpant sets.
RADCLIFFE: I had a moment about 20 minutes ago, where I was like, “I should put on trousers and a top for the interview.” It’s just so easy to start slipping into a point where I never have to shave or look good again.
VISWANATHAN: We’re all returning to our natural state.
RADCLIFFE: I’m starting to become very concerned about what my hair is going to do in a few weeks. It does nothing interesting when it gets long. It just sort of mushrooms out. I’m debating shaving it all off.
VISWANATHAN: I’m growing out my bob. It’s a perfect time for it.
RADCLIFFE: So, going back a bit. When did you make the move from Australia to America?
VISWANATHAN: When I finished high school, I did my gap year and went to L.A. for six months. I did classes and figured out if I wanted to live here. I loved it a lot, but the work visa was always a thing that stood in the way of that. I kept at it from Sydney, and then eventually I got cast in Blockers, which was the thing that got me my visa. That’s when I moved here.
RADCLIFFE: When I was getting famous and getting into the industry, I think it was easier because I was really young and you just sort of accept your situation when you’re that age. I thought it would always be quite difficult to have your life changed in that way when you’re older. But I could also be completely wrong. How has it been for you over the last few years?
VISWANATHAN: This collective pause has been a good time to reflect, because it’s been a whirlwind and I’ve been riding a high, so ecstatic that this is my life now, because it’s all I ever wanted. But I’ve also been living out of a suitcase for three years.
RADCLIFFE: You never want to say no to a job. You just don’t.
VISWANATHAN: Yeah, and I’ve enjoyed the pace of it. After I did Blockers, I did two movies and then season one of Miracle Workers back-to-back, and that was crazy. I put on weight and was just along for the ride.
RADCLIFFE: I’m going to be cowardly and consult my talking points for a second. Oh yeah, let’s talk about Bad Education. What I loved about it was it really plays you as the audience, in terms of which side you think you should be on, with these divisions that arise between Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney’s characters. You’re so charmed by these corrupt people. It does a really nice job of humanizing morally dubious people and showing them not just as evil, but as really complicated. What’s the name of your character again? I’m so sorry.
RADCLIFFE: Rachel. Is that all true? All the encouragement she got from all the people she ended up investigating, do you know if those conversations really happened?
VISWANATHAN: In the true story, it was spearheaded by the collective student newspaper who published the story. It went down a little different. But then, Mike Makowsky, the writer, kind of amalgamated all that into Rachel. From talking to Mike and the woman who Rachel was loosely based off of, Frank Tassone was this great figure in the community and was exceptionally encouraging of students. Neither of them had any idea that it would actually amount to his demise.
RADCLIFFE: Rachel is allowed, particularly at the beginning, to do the things she does because she’s constantly being underestimated by the people around her. It’s really fun watching all these guys be strung up by their own hubris. What was it like working with Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney?
VISWANATHAN: Just amazing. They’re so lovely.
RADCLIFFE: Good. You’d break my heart if you told me anything else but that.
VISWANATHAN: Have you not met those guys?
RADCLIFFE: I’ve met Hugh a couple times, and he’s always been really nice. My mom briefly stalked Hugh Jackman around the West Village.
VISWANATHAN: [Laughs.] Naturally.
RADCLIFFE: He used to walk his dog around here, and I’m pretty sure that whatever my mom’s dogwalking route had been, she would be like, “Oh, I see Hugh’s going there. I’m just going to walk my dog near him today.” When I met him, I casually apologized for that. And I’ve never met Allison Janney, but there’s not a film she’s in that I don’t enjoy. We’ve been lucky enough to work with Steve Buscemi on Miracle Workers, and I feel like he fits into that similar category of somebody with a ridiculous career behind them who could not be a nicer human being.
VISWANATHAN: You’re part of that too, Dan.
RADCLIFFE: That’s very kind. Moving on.
VISWANATHAN: But yeah, Hugh and I had this Australia thing going on.
RADCLIFFE: I was going to ask. I didn’t want to be like, “You’re both Australians. Surely, you talked about Australia.” But did you talk about Australia?
VISWANATHAN: Totally. At first you’re starstruck, but then you feel at home.
RADCLIFFE: He seems like one of those people who lives a slightly superhuman life. Did you see how he does it? Are there any tips you could pass on to the rest of the world?
VISWANATHAN: He would dance a lot on set. I’m wondering if that has to do with his fitness.
RADCLIFFE: With his eternal youth. I saw a video of him working out once, where he was dead-lifting something ridiculous, and I was just like, “You’re 20 years older than me.” It puts the rest of us to shame. How do you find the difference between making films and TV? With TV, I really enjoy the fact that the writers get to know you and start to write for you.
VISWANATHAN: What’s lovely about our show is that it feels like a company that comes together once a year to have fun. Whereas with movies, it’s usually more of a sprint.
RADCLIFFE: It makes it sound really flip to say our show is like summer camp, but it does feel like that. It’s just very, very good fun.
VISWANATHAN: And I know I’m not going to be emotionally wrecked after it, which sometimes happens with movies.
RADCLIFFE: What’s the coolest thing you’ve been able to do on set?
VISWANATHAN: Stunt driving is fun.
RADCLIFFE: Oh, really? I feel like we have the opposite things that we like to do on set. If you could list my top-two least favorite things to do, they would probably be horseriding and driving. I’ve had to hit a mark in a car, and have failed so abjectly at it that I remember looking around and seeing the pity and embarrassment in people’s eyes. I got a license specifically so I could drive on set, and I’m still really shit at it. And I hate dancing on set, something you’re also quite good at.
VISWANATHAN: In the final dance sequence in season two of Miracle Workers, you were doing some medieval moves that were impressive.
RADCLIFFE: My least favorite moment on any set is when we’re all dancing, and then they cut the music, and everyone just keeps dancing.
VISWANATHAN: Or there’s no music at all.
RADCLIFFE: That’s one of the things people who haven’t spent time on sets don’t know, or wouldn’t think about, is that obviously you can’t play music if you’re also recording dialogue, so anytime you see anyone dancing, they’re dancing awkwardly in silence.
VISWANATHAN: It’s always my fear that they’re going to leak that footage of the painfully awkward dancing to nothing. That’s just hell.
RADCLIFFE: Since becoming a recognizable person, have you had any awkward encounters with people on the street, or are they mostly chill?
VISWANATHAN: I don’t get recognized much at all. I did this Netflix movie called The Package.
RADCLIFFE: Which I can’t watch, because I know what it involves.
VISWANATHAN: Understandable, it’s about a guy who gets his penis cut off in the middle of the woods. So I get a lot of people being like, “Oh, you’re in the dick movie. Or people who are too shy to say it. And I’m like, “No, you can say it. It’s the dick cutting-off movie.”
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