‘The Assistant’ star Julia Garner: “#MeToo is so much bigger than Harvey Weinstein”

The 'Ozark' actress on why her new sexual assault drama is 2020's most vital movie

Julia Garner is an actress on the rise. From her film debut in 2011 mystery thriller Martha Marcy May Marlene to recent Netflix hits like crime drama Ozark and Seth Rogen and Emma Stone-starring comedy Maniac, her CV is increasingly stuffed with big-name collaborators.

Of all those roles, it is arguably her Emmy-winning turn as ballsy Ruth Langmore in Ozark that has won most acclaim. Season three of that moody thriller has only just dropped, but Garner is already gearing up to lead new Netflix series Inventing Anna – about a grifter who wrangles her way into New York high society and swindles poshos out of thousands of dollars.

Before that comes The Assistant – the first great #MeToo movie. Garner plays Jane – a bottom-wrung clerk at a production company whose boss bears more than a passing resemblance to Harvey Weinstein. As the film arrives online, we met its star to hear how documenting harassment on-screen is so crucial to stamping it out in real life.

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This is the first #MeToo movie to come out after Harvey Weinstein’s conviction – does that add any pressure?

“Any heavy subject, even if it’s not about sexual assault, is scary. But that’s even more of a reason as to why I want to do it. The problem is so much bigger than [Harvey] Weinstein. If he was the main problem then the problem would have gone away already. It needs to continue being a conversation, especially in this day and age where terrible new information comes in every five minutes and then leaves [immediately]. And it’s not just about sexual assault. It’s about abuse in general. People make a lot of exceptions for people who are extremely talented, or have extreme wealth or power, and that has to stop.”

Did playing Jane have a personal impact?

“By the end of every shoot I start feeling what my character is feeling. It’s great for my work but in terms of my personal life it’s not that great! On this job, I felt very lonely.”

The Assistant
Julia Garner stars in Kitty Green’s ‘The Assistant’. Credit: Vertigo

The Assistant also exposes the sexist framework supporting abusers – why is that so important?

“I don’t want to bring up Weinstein, because it’s not a Weinstein movie, but if those men were the main problem, then it would already be fixed. It’s the system [that is the problem]. There’s a scene where a female executive is in the office… she’s part of the system too. It’s everyone. For such a long time people were terrified and scared, because powerful people would make the little people feel replaceable. And nobody wants to be replaced.”

Have you had any bad experiences working on films?

“I’ve been very lucky in that every job I have been on has been wonderful – even from a young age. I worked with this one person before and she was young. There was a younger girl that she was not very nice to. I said to her, ‘this is this girl’s first movie. She’s always going to remember you not being nice to her and she’s going to treat other people like that.’ Kindness is contagious, just as not being kind is contagious too.”

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The Assistant
‘Succession’ star Matthew MacFadyen in ‘The Assistant’. Credit: Vertigo

How do you feel about social media and its role in raising awareness?

“I’m not crazy about social media. I was probably born in the 1800s or something… [laughs] I don’t know! Well, I think it’s a blessing and a curse. Social media in general gets attention, which is a positive thing. The curse is, yes, you do get the news right away but it also passes through straight away.”

Have you spoken to any actors that have endured abuse?

“Yeah, you hear about actors getting sexually assaulted. But then you also hear of actors working on sets who haven’t experienced sexual assaults. It is still an abusive work environment. And it’s not just actors. I’ll get my makeup done and I’ll hear of makeup artists that it’s happened to, or hair people, or female grips or a woman in the camera department. This movie is not just about the film industry. I think that is why it was important to keep the boss and certain other things ambiguous. There’s a world outside of the film industry where this happens all the time.”

‘The Assistant’ arrives on digital platforms on May 1

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