Guy Pearce and Julia Savage Reflect on The Clearing and a Parent’s Worst Nightmare
May 26, 2023
Based on the bestselling crime thriller In the Clearing by J.P. Pomare, The Clearing, now streaming on Hulu, is an eight-part psychological thriller inspired by real-life cults in Australia. Eerie and at times fear-provoking, episode by episode, it shines an exposing spotlight onto what happens, particularly to children who are forced to live within a cult. Kidnapped and forced into submission, what these pure souls endure is every parent’s nightmare. A faith in eventual redemption is what will keep viewers glued to the screen in this very intriguing production.
Ripped from their real families, the children are forced into assimilation to the extreme point of having precisely the same haircut — dyed platinum blonde — and to obey every command of their cult master Adrienne, who they must refer to as “Mama” or “Mommy.”
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As a viewer, it’s disturbing to accept that what happens to the children in this series is based on a real-life Australian cult. Blurring the lines between past and present, between perspectives of the kidnapped and then the kidnapped turned into heroes, the plot unfolds in an unsettling, mysteriously complex, and yet completely entrancing way. Freya, the lead character, faces the dark past of the cult from where she comes, and it is a race to see if the children will be, or even can be, saved.
Guy Pearce (Jack Irish) and rising star Julia Savage (Blaze) sat down with MovieWeb for an exclusive interview to discuss their roles in The Clearing, as well as the key differentiating element of this production’s cult exploration — the children.
What Drew Julia Savage to The Clearing
Savage, who portrays Amy, a captured teen within the cult and the favorite of their leader, explained what drew her to the role:
“It’s a very fascinating show. I was really captivated by Amy because she’s got such a tremendous weight on her, being next in line to inherit this cult after being told that she’s the chosen one, and that the light shines the brightest on her. She’s very maternal with the children, so she’s in conflict with having to watch them be abused and having to be abused, herself, in order to follow the wants and the needs and the commands.”
Adrienne’s hold on Amy, actually on all of her cult followers and most of the kidnapped children, is mentally terrifying to watch. Impeccably refined from a physical perspective, the woman is also unabashedly manipulative and downright shrewd.
Savage explained why she found Amy’s position as a captured teen who is loyal to her captor to be complex and intriguing. ”Amy is a very anxious character because she has so much weighing on her. I was really interested in the concept of a cult, and especially such young children being a part of it and being so blind to the outside world.”
Guy Pearce on His Cult Character
Pearce shared these sentiments in regard to being drawn to the series and to his role as Dr. Bryce Latham. “Not that there is a weight on his shoulders, but this belief, this idea, that society is getting it all wrong, and that we can create our own society…” He continued:
“That we can, with a different approach and in a number of ways, through sacrifice and all sorts of other ways, and just by thinking about things differently, we can create a different kind of society […] When you look at this idea of believing that, that we will just build an entire kind of community, it’s quite sick.”
Guy Pearce’s character emphatically and completely believed in this approach to life, in creating a cult-like safe haven escape from it all, and Pearce found this quite fascinating. He noted, “On many levels, Bryce was really kind of right in what he was thinking. It’s just completely impractical, and it’s never going to work. But he was really in deep, as far as believing in another way of functioning.”
The thing that enticed Pearce to connect with the dark and grim reality-inspired material from The Clearing was, in fact, even more deeply personal.
On Why Children Matter, Literally
Pearce reflected on and revealed his real-life parallel. “It’s even more emotional for me because I’ve got my own little blond boy now, my own child, so I’m so aware of the vulnerability now, of kids. The idea of kids being taken advantage of, of being sabotaged… I can’t even bear to think about it. The thought that they wouldn’t be allowed to be free, that they’d be imprisoned psychologically and kind of physically, is just too much to bear.”
It is heartbreaking to imagine and yet sobering to realize that, while The Clearing is fictional, things such as this did and do happen. Thankfully, in a remarkable portrayal, Pearce bravely faced the terrifying subject and took on the role.
Related: The Clearing Review: Hulu’s Chilling New Cult Thriller Lures You In
Though too young to be a parent, on the other hand, Savage reflected on the gripping reality of portraying such a deep and complex character who is a teenager herself.
Said Savage, “With Amy, she’s got quite a few heavy scenes, especially with Miranda and also other members of the cult, and I don’t really think she ever left me during filming. I think she was always very much there in the back of my mind. It’s a very immersive experience to play a character like that, that is so internally troubled and has so many responsibilities and so much anxiety that she deals with every day in such a cult and yet also has the duty to care for the children.”
“I didn’t really do much research into my character, in terms of relation to different cults throughout history,” continued Savage. “Because once I was there as the character with the wig and the costume and all the people on location, it was really easy to find that character.”
While there are a lot of various films and television series and documentaries about cults, “The Clearing” delves into children in particular. Added Savage. “There’s not really a lot like it out there, especially exploring a God complex with children who are just devoted followers to a cult. It’s just interesting to see that through a child’s perspective, especially with the character of Amy, my character. She’s only thirteen, so I hope that it offers a different perspective into such a dark cult.”
The Inevitable Joy Of Working With Children
Among other reasons, W.C. Fields was famous for saying, “Never work with children or animals.” This is because they are so unpredictable and quite often steal the attention away from adult actors. With a set full of children, as the subject for The Clearing required, both Savage and Pearce had a much more positive experience with working with young people. The children even added a refreshing lightness to the grim mission of exploring the story of a cult.
“It was amazing, the opportunity to work with so many young kids,” said Savage. “I think the youngest kid that we had there was five. And, I think that especially when you’re handling such dark and mature content, being able to keep it light as a group was amazing. In between takes, there were so many laughs and it’s so cute when you start working together so much, and you start becoming really good friends and building trust.”
“It was so creepy, though, seeing the kids all walking through with their blonde wigs,” laughed Pearce. “And it seemed like the kids were all really taken by Miranda [Otto, who portrayed cult leader Adrienne]. When Miranda walked into the room with her wig and her big glasses, and she’s lovely, Miranda, like really lovely and quiet and sweet, but she would have such a commanding quality with the children when she came into the room. And the kids, well, we all just fell into a state of, ‘We’ll just do whatever she says.’ Miranda is very special.”
Related: Exclusive: The Clearing Stars Discuss Cults and Characters in the New Hulu Series
To this point, Savage reflected on the visual aspect of the cult requirement, platinum blonde hair. “It was so creepy, the wigs, and there was always a parallel because when we’d all take the wigs off at the end of the day,” said Savage, “there was just this massive transformation because we all got so used to each other being white-blonde.”
“I can’t really speak for the kids when I say this, but it might have seemed, especially for the younger ones, like more of an acting class, or some fun experience where they know that when the cameras are rolling, you know, to be quite serious […] All of the kids respected and understood, even at such a young age, that this was a serious job, and that we can have fun in between, but we are making a series. It was a really fun experience. And I love all those kids to bits.”
Adding to that reflection, Pearce summed up exactly why viewers should watch this series. “I think people, when they watch this, particularly those who have children especially, will relate to it in a very moving, very difficult way.”
Created and written by Elise McCredie (Stateless) and Matt Cameron (Jack Irish), with co-writer Osamah Sami (Ali’s Wedding), The Clearing is now streaming on Hulu with episodes released weekly on Wednesdays through June. It can be streamed on Disney+ internationally.
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