Based on a true story, the new Australian drama Don’t Tell follows a landmark court case wherein a young woman who was sexually abused by a teacher fights back by suing the school who covered up her predator’s activities. The film boasts a top-notch cast, including Jack Thompson, Jacqueline McKenzie, Aden Young, Susie Porter, and Rachel Griffiths, but at the heart of the film is a fearless and affecting performance by Sara West as Lyndal, the abuse survivor.
How did you come to be involved in Don’t Tell? What attracted you to the role?
The film came along as any other job audition – I read the script and knew it was nothing but, I was going to LA the following day so had to go in and meet Tori [director Tori Garrett] immediately to test for her. It was the most unprepared audition I’ve ever done but something about the role and the story gripped me so instantly – I felt like it was mine to lose. Lyndal is a courageously vulnerable woman who beats the system – that’s what drew me in.
Were you concerned about the fairly dark and traumatic nature of the part and the story?
My only concern was doing her story justice – when you’re playing a real person there’s always an added pressure of doing them proud.
What kind of research did you undertake? Did you speak with anyone involved in the actual events?
The real Lyndal was generous enough to chat with me a couple of times over the phone before I flew up to Queensland to shoot. It was mainly about the weather – ha ha – but getting a sense of her energy was really important to me. I’ve also got an amazingly selfless woman in my life with a not dissimilar story and she helped me immensely to prepare. I research a lot and read everything I can and then trust it’s in my bones. Tori was so versed on the case too and an incredible help.
How did you find the set? What was the atmosphere like – was it fairly serious, or did the cast try and lighten things up between takes?
It was pretty serious – everyone was there as a bit of a passion project – I think we all knew it was really special. We had our days though – Susie Porter and I were in hysterics most of the time we had scenes together and I spent a lot of time trying to make Tori crack. I think you have to with content like this – as long as you’re respecting the material and doing it justice, you might as well be laughing.
How did you find working with such veterans as Jack Thompson, Aden Young, Rachel Griffiths, and Jacqueline McKenzie? Did they have any advice for you, or did you learn anything from the experience?
I think Jac Mac was the first to sign onto the film and I was so excited – and then they just kept coming. All these heroes of Aussie screens: I was just so struck by how humble they all were. Jac Mac and her daughter Ruby and I went out to Robert Coleby’s farm. Jack Thompson looked at me every day with those deep soulful eyes and told me what I was doing was very special. Aden Young and I talked so much shit together and Susie Porter and I, like I said, would be in tears from laughter. Everyone was so incredible and generous and nurturing to me on the shoot – it was a once in a lifetime gig.
Between this and Bad Girl, your two most recent roles have both been troubled young women who act out in sometimes quite self-destructive ways – is that something you’re drawn to as a performer?
I think roles like this are what I’m most known for within the acting community – I don’t shy away from the darker material and give it my everything to tell stories of people who don’t always have the voice. That being said my mum is dying for me to do some comedy! And I’d love to, it just doesn’t seem to come my way all that often. But I’m heaps funny.
What are we going to see next from you?
I’m in the edit now on a short film I wrote and directed called Mutt, so that’s keeping me busy – also developing a feature script of my own and slowly chipping away at a TV series I’m writing. I’m very available in terms of acting work so if everyone could go see Don’t Tell and give me a job that would be awesome!
Don’t Tell is in cinemas now. Read our review here.