Emily De Margheriti does it all; act, dance, produce, write. Having worked on an array of films from I Hate Kids with Marissa Tomei to To Hell with Reno, she is also the co-founder of production company, Dems Entertainment. In her latest film, Sissy, we find her in front of the camera, the film a scathing satire of influencer culture.
De Margheriti’s first foray into filmmaking was in school, turning her assignments into movies which she would do really well, but not necessarily the format teachers were accepting. A science practical as a short film? That was her choice of prac report, rather than your standard hypothesis, outcomes and conclusions.
Her latest film is Sissy, where she portrays Alex, a high school bully now grown. The feature centres on teen best friends Cecilia (Alicia Dee) and Emma (Hannah Barlow), reunited after a decade. Cecilia is invited on Emma’s bachelorette weekend, where she becomes stuck in a remote cabin with her high school bully and an appetite for revenge.
“For me in exploration of what it meant to be Alex, I drew on people that I know in my life that make their friends their family, because Alex is very, very loyal and she will do anything to increase her popularity, but also she'll do anything for friends,” days De Margheriti of portraying Alex in Sissy. “I admire her boundaries and I feel that at every point in someone's life, we are hurt and then we're reactive.”
We spoke with De Margheriti about her journey into filmmaking, her creative process and what she has learnt through being on both sides of the lens.
Tell me about yourself and your beginnings: How did you start in filmmaking? What was your journey?
My journey with filmmaking first developed when I was in school. As a child, I would turn assignments into movies. I think I always had a knack for it. I always loved making movies and creating them in some way. I used to film a lot of things I used to do, even with science, I'd film experiments. I would do really well, but I wouldn't do it in the format that teachers necessarily wanted me to, but I made it very entertaining for the class. Then, [I was] always dressing up and acting like zookeepers and whatnot when I was really, really young, always putting on a performance, I guess. I always loved performing, acting, creating, so the producing side of things… I've always felt like I could do both.
I studied at Canberra Dance Development Center, I did full time dance for a very long time, where I did eight hours of dancing a day – I wanted to be a dancer. Then, I decided I wanted to lean more into acting, and I would do acting class there too. I ended up going to Brent Street after I'd graduated from school and then after that, I auditioned for Whopper. From there, I moved to LA. I got into a movie called I Hate Kids and I was directed by John Asher and Titus Burgess, and Tom Everett Scott was starring in it. I got to watch Marissa Tomei nail her first scene in one take and I remember watching that I was like, “that's so impressive. I wish to do that.” I was associate producer on that as well as acting in it. After that, I've just been making short films and producing them. One film, To Hell With Reno, and we got into like Holly Shorts and the Beverly Hills Film Festival.
Sissy at the moment is the feature that I've been touring around. I'm in South Korea at the moment. I've really enjoyed doing this festival circuit. We've gotten really good feedback. I was just in New Orleans for the Overlook Film Festival and we won Audience Choice Award. Here in South Korea, people have really loved it and resonated with the themes of the film. It’s really beautiful and heartwarming to hear that so many people love it around the world.
Where did you draw your inspiration from? And did you draw on any elements of personal experience?
Sissy was a script that was given to me, and Kane Senes and Hannah Barlow are both of the writers and directors. We've been doing the festival circuit together, so they wrote it and the themes really resonated with me. I think mental health and the correlation between that and social media is interesting to explore. Influencers hold so much power, and how do they get that? And, why do they have that power? We live in an era of social media; it's at the forefront of our lives. I think it's scary that we all want that dopamine hit and likes coming in and on Instagram and really, we're just putting out a highlight reel. I just find it so fascinating to explore that.
I am aware that Belle Gibson is an influencer that they based it upon, or at least, they drew inspiration from her. She was an Australian influencer and she pretended to have cancer. There were lawsuits against Gibson for claiming to be able to cure cancer, and they [Senes and Barlow] wanted to explore that and see how far can you go with the negative aspects of social media. That led to Sissy, and also exploring female friendships and how complicated they can be. Which, to me, specifically in childhood, they are very complicated and it is the end of the world if something happens at that age.
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That is Cecilia in the film. I drew inspiration from Rachel McAdams in Mean Girls, I drew from Rose Byrne in Bridesmaids. The filmmakers, I think, vibed a little bit from Cabin in The Woods. But specifically for me in exploration of what it meant to be Alex, I drew on people that I know in my life that make their friends their family, because Alex is very, very loyal and she will do anything to increase her popularity, but also she'll do anything for friends. I admire her boundaries and I feel that at every point in someone's life, we are hurt and then we're reactive. We can come across as the bully. It's just a matter of perspective. Unfortunately, in this I am seen as the villain, but I am also a victim. I think it's important to remember that. Perception is not always reality.
What is your typical creative process?
My typical creative process is starting with the script, reading the script a million times. I mean, that's an exaggeration, but a lot of times and breaking it down. I like to start with the facts of the script: “What does everyone say about me? What do I say about everyone?” I go through the objects, what they mean, I go through everything. I think every role is different, so it's hard to specifically narrow down what is the typical thing I do, but I definitely start with the facts first. And then, when you've got that, I guess you can really get into it.
What does the rest of your 2022 look like?
The rest of my 2022 is looking like a lot of traveling for the film of Sissy, which is very exciting. I am also attached to make two films with Luke sparks. I will continue to look for amazing stories with my production company Dems Entertainment and find juicy stories that I can sink my teeth into, and produce and act in. I'm very excited for that.