It’s no surprise that Odessa Young was apparently on the list of actresses recently auditioning for the Madonna biopic. She’s got heat. The Australia-born Young, 24, has been perfecting her craft since she was 11 on her way to becoming an indie darling (The Daughter, Assassination Nation), and has a confidence beyond her years.
She’ll next be seen on the big screen in Sony Pictures Classics’ Mothering Sunday, which opens in select theaters March 25. The post-World War I romantic drama — perhaps best described as a moody, erotic and more tragic version of Downton Abbey — stars Young as an English maid who has an affair with an aristocrat (played by The Crown’s Josh O’Connor). THR‘s Leslie Felperin noted in her review that Mothering Sunday “may be one of the sexiest heterosexual period dramas in some time” and called out Young for her “committed” performance, saying she “makes the character’s frequent nudity feel entirely comfortable, even sort of glamorous.”
The film, also starring Olivia Colman and Colin Firth, premiered at the 2021 Cannes festival but was among numerous movies that waited out the omicron surge in order to have a theatrical release.
Young also stars later this year (opposite Firth once again) in The Staircase, an HBO Max series about convicted murderer Michael Peterson.
What attracted you to Mothering Sunday?
The script, trusting the director and feeling like it’s something — not to sound so self-important — I can bring to [it] that maybe no one else can. In this case, it’s always a challenge as an actress to not have too much dialogue. If I succeed in that challenge, I can bring authenticity to the experience of just watching someone go about their day-to-day business.
There are extended scenes in the film when you are nude, including walking through an English manor house enjoying a late lunch. Can you describe that experience? Was there a body double for any part?
No, there wasn’t a body double. It’s probably not so romantic for me to reveal this, but I could do it because I treated my body like a costume. I enjoy the challenge of those moments where you don’t have to rely on written action or written dialogue.
Did you rely on Olivia Colman as a mentor of sorts?
We shot the movie in the fall of 2020, during COVID. It was the first time I had really been around people. She had interesting reflections on the nudity as well, and her experiences kind of saying no to that. I definitely looked to her for comfort and for context.
Your co-star Josh O’Connor previously played Prince Charles in The Crown.
Yes. Every single person in that main core group except for me has played members of the British royal family — Olivia and Josh and Colin. And Olivia and Colin are also royalty of the screen and stage.
You haven’t played a royal yet? Would you want to?
That’s a fun question. I honestly have no idea. But if I did, I’d probably play someone from a royal family long forgotten. I can’t think of any current-day royal or royal family in recent history that I feel particularly connected to.
You mentioned that you started acting when you were 11. Did you ever have thoughts of doing something else?
Definitely, at the start of the pandemic. I think everybody had a collective existential crisis and mine just manifested into, “Do I want to keep acting?” I experimented with doing some other things and realized that, yeah, I actually do want to do this.
What did you attempt?
I took a writing course, and I started painting a little bit, and I started using Photoshop and just trying to figure out if there’s actually any other skills that I have.
Do you live in Australia full-time?
No, I live in New York.
Did you want to stay away from living in L.A, the Hollywood of it all?
Yeah, as much as I can, even though I love the mythology of it. But I think it’s nothing but a mythology.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
A version of this story first appeared in the March 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.