Culture / People

Caitlin Stasey doesn’t want to live online anymore

caitlin stasey

If you're my age, it's likely Caitlin Stasey had a heavy hand in your social and political awakening. Before any of us had sworn off Twitter, back when Instagram had its chronological timeline, the actor used her digital platforms to speak on everything from abortion to slut-shaming, which was a refreshing thing to see in Australia at the time. Even as she pursued an acting career in Los Angeles, our eyes followed Stasey, silently cheering her along on the sidelines whether that was for her 2015 appearance in the What's Underneath YouTube series, her role alongside Sosie Bacon in 2022 horror Smile or just simply posting a (searingly hot) thirst trap.

These days Caitlin Stasey is trying her best to stay off social media – she even bought a cookie jar jail contraption for her phone, so you know she's serious. The actor is reading Joy Williams and considering taking up synchronised swimming, all in an effort to return to the things she loves. While in Australia filmingRUSSH sat down with Caitlin Stasey to discuss why she wants to play the villain, her stint writing and directing porn, and why the Peanuts comics are an unexpected place to turn to for comfort. Read our conversation, below.


What do you wish more people knew about you?

God, I don't know. Probably that I'm a pretty good time. I think I'm pretty fun. In Australia at least, I have a reputation of being a stick in the mud. But I'm cool, I can hang!



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I was actually going to ask you about that because we watched you grow up on screen. Do you ever feel like this reputation seems to dog you around?

Australia is like an elephant, it will never let you forget anything you've done. And the internet is like that too.

I think I Anne Hathaway-ed myself for a little bit there. People pick up on something and – not that I'd say it wasn't true about me, I did use to be pretty humourless, but definitely having done Neighbours and the Sleepover Club. It's really funny because in America, work begets work and nothing really sticks to you. But back home, it can be really hard to overcome the choices that you make professionally, and I made those choices when I was a teenager. And I don't regret them at all. But it's interesting how you become marred by it... it doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Because on Neighbours, I mean – look, you never work harder as an actor than you do on a soap, it's such an intense work environment. It's nonstop. It's a machine.

So yeah, I guess I kind of have always felt a bit stuck in the mud when I go home. I can't reinvent myself in any meaningful way.



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Do you still think of Melbourne as home? You've lived in LA for over a decade now.

I definitely still call Australia home (Stasey winks at me as she says this). I do think of Melbourne as home. I feel a real sense of relief and claustrophobia when I get back there because I left when I was 18.

Similarly to how I feel like I can't break out of my role that I've been put in, I feel like Melbourne has a hard time breaking out of it for me too. Because when I'm back home, I'm reminded of being in school and not having a lot of autonomy and being on Neighbours, all of which are good and bad things. But going back this time, and the more often I visit as an adult the more in love I fall with Australia. I do really fucking love Australia, I think it's such a special place. I think it's the most beautiful country in the whole world and my family are such intrinsically Aussie characters. I do feel deeply connected to it now.

LA is not my home. LA is taking care of me, for better or for worse, for this stage in my career. And it sounds kind of cheesy, but I feel like you get just a limited amount of time in your young adulthood to really make your dreams come true. And in LA, the ceiling is is much higher than it is in Australia. I would love to work in Australia consistently but it's just a lot less likely to happen; there's fewer jobs, the industry is smaller. So LA is my home for my career in a sense, it's helping me foster a career that I'm using to be able to come back to Australia and make more work for myself.


What kind of roles speak to you these days? What are the ones that catch your eye?

The villains. I just want to play people with bad intentions who are more complicated. Being a romantic lead can sometimes be a little dull. It's exciting work if you can get it obviously, because getting work is so hard and few and far between, but I want to play more fringe characters. I want to play people who have a bit more grit, a bit more imagination. I want to be able to get away with doing more stuff, you know? Being bigger, being louder. I feel like I'm good at being a relatively naturalistic actor and I think I want to do some more wacky shit. Playing people who are just out for themselves is really fun, in the same way being a Slytherin is way more fun than a Gryffindor.



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Tell me about Afterglow. What drew you towards the adult film industry? And what was that experience like writing and directing?

I kind of had this naive vision that I would single-handedly spearhead an avant garde porn resurgence, but it's actually really hard to do that – if you can believe it (laughs).

I got to work with some really amazing people. I worked with Erika Lust and with Afterglow and my experience was wholly positive. But just like with non-porn sets, money is tight, resources are shrinking. There's no lack of talent or hard work, it's just that money doesn't go very far. We managed to make some pretty cool stuff on small budgets but it's overwhelming. I just always thought that directing – I just thought it'd be easier, but it's really hard (laughs).

I also have always been an advocate of ethical sex work, whatever that means. I don't think it's a big deal. I think people need to get over their fears about it, and their fears associated with it. It's so archaic and ridiculous. It's crazy to me that there's any barriers between porn and regular film and television, because you watch regular film and TV now and it feels like you're watching porn. And some porn is actually becoming incredibly thoughtful and storied. Like Erika Lust makes a lot of narrative driven content. Even people's OnlyFans; people are getting really creative with the stuff that they make. It is an art form in and of itself. Yes, it's exposing, but I just don't see what the big deal is.

Even sex work that isn't caught on camera, it's like, who fucking cares? As long as you're safe, as long as you're being treated fairly. And the thing is, it's up to you, it should be up to you! I'm not saying anything that people don't already know but the older I get, the crazier it feels to me that anyone could tell you what to do with your body. And Australia is a lot more lax with that kind of stuff. America is still super puritanical. I think I also just wanted to do something that felt kind of shocking in a way and I got to be protected by the fact that I wasn't on camera. I'm directing it, so there's a degree of separation between me and the thing that I'm making. But it was still kind of risky. For a while there, whenever you would google me it was just "Caitlin Stasey's doing porn".


It's insane. I don't know how you deal with that.

It stressed me out for a good few days. And then I was like, "oh fuck it, who cares". The thing is, if people read those articles then they're going to be like, "oh, she's directing for porn. Fine." But even if I was in it – I don't know that I could do porn myself, because I don't think I could have sex unless I really, really wanted to. Being able to do it and make it look like it's what you want – which is something you have to do on camera sometimes anyway – but to actually go through with it is such a skill set. And performers that I've worked with are just incredible. They're actors, they're artists and they make it look easy and natural. And that's why I think some people just ultimately don't respect it because they don't realise how hard it is.



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Do you prefer acting or directing, or are they both two different things to you?

I hate directing. It's so hard (laughs). I mean, I say I hate it but you need to have a certain set of skills – I sound like Liam Neeson in Taken. But you do, you need to be really confident and possessed but also calm and collaborative. You've got to kind of be like a Zen Buddhist in all of it. Actors are delicate creatures, sets are delicate ecosystems. You have to be able to fulfil your own wishes and dreams whilst also taking into account the wishes and dreams and hopes of everyone around you. Some people are there just to make money. Some people are there because they really believe in the project. From the technical aspects down to the human aspect, the skill set is so varied and it's very psychological.

You've got to be capable, which sounds so obvious. But you know when you watch a stand up comedian on stage, and you're like, "I don't want to feel embarrassed for you. I don't want to feel like I'm not in safe hands." It's the same with directors. You want to feel like this person is in control.

As an actor, I've spent most of my life being told what to do and I can do it very well. I can be pretty combative but, for the most part, I'll do what I'm told. So being in charge of telling people what to do was just something I have not finely tuned in myself. I hope to come back to it eventually. I much prefer writing. I think I'd like to write and then like have a relationship with the director where I can tell them to tell people what do (laughs).


In 2013-14 we experienced another wave of feminism. One of the things that stuck with me from that period was a Tweet you posted that read, "you don't earn your body upon becoming 18, it is yours from birth". Can you recall any formative moment, people or text that came to shape your own understanding about identity and socio-political issues?

First of all, I'm glad you remember I said that because all I can remember from that time was being so embarrassed. We were the guinea pigs of social media. I was 24 when all of that was happening; social media was an available tool to me, feminism was this new idea to me, all of these things I had been thinking and feeling – I finally had a place to project all of it and project I did! I don't regret most of the stuff I said but then there's some stuff where I'm like "oh god".

Clementine Ford is someone that I've always really respected and she was one of the first people that was talking – I don't want to say angrily, because that's reductive, but she was the most forthright person out there. It was really exciting for me to see someone who was like "fuck this, fuck you". That was really cool. I wish I could really remember that period of my life. I've kind of compartmentalised it because I feel like I've come so far since then.

I was not big on feminist theory, that shit all bored me, I just knew what I felt. It was more just a case of all these internal dialogues I was having with myself and then going on Twitter and looking for people who were confirming the things that I believed too.

But I was raised by a single mom who worked full time and just being around her and looking to her for all of my comfort and strength was a massive part of it for me.



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What else was informing your world view at that time?

I was just picking up on what was going on around me. I was living in Toronto filming a TV show, I landed my first job in America and I was just witnessing the imbalances in power. I was also looking back over the course of my life – it was more of a reflective thing – and I realised I'd been treated like shit. I mean, my life is great. I'm so lucky. But even for someone who is really fucking lucky, I can pinpoint some moments that I was like "that's just not on". Like the way men would talk to me at work, the ways I've been shut down, the way I've been objectified and sexualized since I was a kid; the adult situations I found myself in far too early. Part of that is also just being a young person in an adult world and less to do with sexism, although it plays a part.

I just had this gut reaction where I was just like, "this isn't cool. This isn't fair. This isn't okay". To this day, I have a little Rolodex (that I need to get rid of) of times men have been really cruel to me at work based on the fact that I was a woman. I was pretty passive for a lot of my life, I let a lot of shit slide. Then all of a sudden, I just kind of snapped. Not even just with work, but with life.

As I got more involved in feminism and became more literate in it, then I started to seek out people. But really, it all came from that moment of a total rejection and anger over everything that I had experienced which included a full-hearted resentment towards men completely – and women who let men treat them badly. So that was kind of a breaking point. And then, you know, there was social media there to help me kind of exhibit that breaking point. Now it's there for eternity. Oh well.


Naturally, you've evolved since that period. Who are the voices, thinkers and people inspiring you right now?

I love therapy, I'm really into therapy. I love my therapist (laughs). I love Esther Perel. I've always loved Carl Sagan and Alan Watts, people who kind of look beyond and at everything all at once. I still believe that there is a gender divide and that there are gender constructs. But more and more, I'm less interested in myself. And I'm less interested in my own burdens. I'm looking at life with gratitude and trying to find purpose.

At the moment if I'm feeling down, I really love the Peanuts comics. They're really existential and peaceful and meaningful and not always funny, but they're certainly special. So I take a lot of comfort and solace out of those. For the most part, I'm trying to just regain a spiritual level to my life and some routine as well.



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How do you navigate your queerness in Hollywood? Have you had to amplify or tone down certain parts of yourself to secure roles?

It's funny, once upon a time I'm sure that would have been true, but not anymore. There was a period of time where I was trying to amplify that part of myself and I was calling myself a lesbian long before I was in a relationship with a woman, which pissed off people – like I give a fuck – but that was less about professionalism and trying to get a job than it was trying to kind of showcase to people that I was available to date them.

I think we're a bit more fluid with all that stuff now. Not that I am actively selling myself as a queer artist, but I'm certainly not encouraged to hide it. I think this town has learned from its mistakes in some ways. I also think it's realising that you can make a lot of money off of your queer communities, which is a little cynical and disappointing, but it's true.



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You never seem to play into trends when it comes to your own style, yet you have such a strong sense of what that is. What influences your approach to clothes?

Honestly, I hate to admit it but I use Pinterest a lot. But it's starting to make me feel a bit sick. My girlfriend works at the LGBT centre so she gets a lot of donations and people have been donating a lot of fashion magazines from the early 2000s. They're full of stuff that are ultimately kind of ugly but there's cool shit in here (shows me a magazine).

I fucking hate looking like other people – and of course, I do, because we're all just a byproduct of circumstance and there's only so many things you can try. I just like to go and look in things that are not widely circulated. I'm sure all of these images are online, but to find them would be kind of difficult. So yeah, looking at old magazines has been fun for me because I haven't been a super adventurous or inquisitive person when it comes to fashion. I've just always known what I liked. And now that we're on social media so much, I'm always second guessing myself and I feel so self conscious now. So I'm trying to just get back to what I love.

I can't remember what fashion editor it was, but someone posted about how they weren't going to buy new clothes for a whole year. So I'm going to tentatively commit myself to that. I never buy new stuff anyway. I only ever buy vintage stuff because it's more fun. The clothes are better. Nobody else has it. It's cooler. And then it's great when someone's like, "where'd you get that?" and you're like "oh, it's vintage". It's a fun feeling.



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Do you have any personal boundaries in place when it comes to social media?

I'm trying to stay off social media because it really is perfectly designed for my ADHD brain. I'll just get stuck and I will lose hours of my time looking at Pinterest or Instagram and I can feel myself getting depressed while I do it, you know?

I'm just trying to consume less, right? I barely post any more. I think the Stories feature is great because you can just dump a bunch of stuff and then go. I'm trying to limit my phone usage time. Being in Australia, I didn't have the internet outside of my house, I was just on WiFi or nothing and that was great. It was amazing because it meant that I was out in the world looking around. I was so inspired again by my home and the beautiful landscape and the sounds of all those insane birds.

I've been reading a lot too, and a book I'm loving is The Visiting Privilege by Joy Williams. I'm playing a lot of Bonnie Raitt. I'm just trying to remember what I love and get back into it. Like I want to take synchronised swimming lessons, I want to do Italian lessons. I don't want to live online anymore. It's making me ill. You've got evidence, I went mental back in 2014. And I've been slowly becoming more hermity on the internet since then, just watching what everyone else is doing. And it sucks. It sucks because you're like, "why am I not doing that? Why don't I have that?"

It's pretty obvious, but life is so short. We're all going to die. Why am I looking at TikTok? And sometimes TikTok is amazing. I fucking love TikTok, some of it is great. But I also just need some space. So I keep deleting Instagram off my phone and I'll redownload it for two minutes and ultimately do it again. But I've also bought this cage for my phone. It's like a big cookie jar where you put in a code, it electronically locks and you can't get your phone out. So I'm going to start using that again. So yeah, big plans for 2023.


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