Thomasin McKenzie Loves Her ‘Messy’ Character in Mental Health Dramedy ‘Totally Completely Fine': ‘She’s a Self-Sabotager’
Thomasin McKenzie, who’s drawn acclaim for he performances in the films “Jojo Rabbit,” “Last Night in Soho” and “Leave No Trace,” plays a “messy,” self-destructive young woman who becomes an unofficial suicide prevention expert in Sundance Now’s series “Totally Completely Fine,” which debuted on AMC+ in the U.S. in April.
As the New Zealand actress told TheWrap, her “Kiwi” sense of humor fit the tone of the project, which is cowritten by Gretel Vella of Hulu’s “The Great.”
She plays Vivian, the black sheep of her family who unexpectedly inherits her grandfather’s cliffside home — and along with it, the responsibility of preventing the seemingly endless line of suicidal people who want to jump off that cliff.
“I just instantly fell in love with the characters and the storyline and the themes and was really keen to work with Gretel Vella,” she said. “I think I’m drawn to dark comedy. I can be quite sarcastic and have kind of a Kiwi sensibility, which is kind of putting ourselves down. So it’s something that I respond to. I also think it’s a really amazing tool to hit people hard.”
Read our full interview with the on-the-rise actress below.
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How would you describe Vivian?
She’s very messy. And I think very lost and confused in life and ridden with a lot of pain and a lot of guilt because of events and traumas that she just hasn’t been able to move on from. And she hasn’t allowed anyone to help her move on from those things. She’s so closed off.
And then she’s stuck with a roommate when the first person she saves from jumping decides to move in with her.
She’s not super open to connection. Any threat of someone trying to get to know her is something she runs away from because she’s so ashamed of herself. Vivian doesn’t make it easy for herself. She’s a big self-sabotager.
But she does start to realize that she is actually cut out to take over for her grandfather in helping people in distress.
Vivian starts to entertain the idea of following in her granddad’s footsteps in her own style. But she does recognize the importance of this responsibility of living in her granddad’s house on the cliff and hopefully connecting to these people who are suffering. So she’s beginning the journey of taking on that responsibility. She’s still allergic to help, but she slowly opens up to the people around her.
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It seems like the show is setting her up for a romance with Dane (Devon Terrell), the helpful psychiatrist who lives nearby.
You assume that Vivian and Dane are going to get together because that’s the expected progression of their relationship. But it’s a lot messier than that. I love how messy the series is. And I love how nothing is ever tied up in a pretty bow. That’s not how life is, things are complicated.
Is it too early to know if there’s going to be a second season?
I think it is too early to know at this point, but I’m hoping because honestly, it was such a dream working on this for me. I absolutely loved it. I love doing series because it really gives you a chance to get to know the character even more than you otherwise would be able to in a feature film format. It allows you to develop the character a bit more slowly.
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What has the response to the show been so far?
The response in Australia has been really heartwarming. And I feel like it’s opening up that conversation around mental health and trying to push through the stigma and encouraging people to reach out and connect and ask for help.
How is it different filming in New Zealand or Australia versus the U.S.?
I’ve been acting my entire life. I’m a third generation actor. My grandma was made a dame for her services in theatre and radio. My mum was just made a dame for her contributions to the New Zealand film and theatre scene. So it’s something that’s in my blood. So working in New Zealand feels like a family kind of deal.
I’ve known so many of the cast and crew here since I was literally a newborn. So many of the actors I meet in New Zealand say, “Oh, I babysat you when you were younger,” or, “Oh, I’ve changed your nappies.” I’m like, “OK, I don’t remember you.” So, yeah, working in New Zealand is definitely a different experience from working in the U.K. or in America or anywhere else in the world where I’m meeting these people for the first time. They haven’t changed my diapers.
All episodes of “Totally Completely Fine” are now streaming on AMC+
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This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity and flow of conversation.