Lily Sullivan remembers her first kiss in vivid detail. The pubescent rite of passage occurred “next to a cow feeding trough and my best friend’s quad bike”, indicative of her upbringing surrounded by farmland Logan, south-east of Brisbane, attending school “in middle of nowhere, with alpacas and a veggie patch”. Her first memory is dancing with her mother, being held upright and swinging around, and though a propensity for performance was uncovered in Sullivan’s early years she describes falling madly in love with the craft of acting at age 15. “I would carpool into Brisbane city with pals after school … and see the great plays performed by the QUT acting students. It was the first show, A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams. The production was intoxicating – the stage, the lights, and the moment the young actor yelled ‘STELLA’ I was done.”
Sullivan’s official stumble into the film world was during her final year of school, when an open casting call went out for a film being directed by P.J. Hogan (Muriel’s Wedding, My Best Friend’s Wedding) called Mental. “I sent in a Photo Booth tape and experienced my first audition process with Toni Collette days after. I just remember sweating a lot from nerves … I still sweat a lot in auditions.” Sullivan secured the role of Coral in the film, the eldest of the five Moochmore daughters, and by the time she graduated high school had shared screen time with industry giants such as Collette, Liev Schreiber and Anthony LaPaglia.
“As an actor you have to enjoy embarrassing yourself over and over … that’s another part I now love and find rather liberating.”
A few films followed, as well as a role in the ABC drama Rake, and in 2015 Sullivan was named runner-up in the Australians in Film Heath Ledger Scholarship. But it was the 2018 release of short series’ Romper Stomper and Picnic at Hanging Rock (via Stan and Foxtel respectively) that cemented Sullivan in our minds as a blazing talent of the screen. In Romper Stomper she plays the leader of an anti-fascist group – a tough student activist named Petra whose presence is commanding, and though there is no doubt she’d knock your teeth in if compelled to, beneath the authoritarian guise you sense a strong well of moral justice. For the darker, sexier remake of Peter Weirs’ iconic Picnic at Hanging Rock, Sullivan tackles the iconic Miranda Reid, one of three school girls who goes missing on Valentine’s Day 1900. “I watched the Peter Weir flick with my mum a lot as a kid so it was quite overwhelming to jump on board, that was before I even knew I’d meet some of the most inspiring and outrageous woman in my life,” she recalls. “Picnic was a game changer in so many ways for me.”
“Every job you fall in love with your film family. Together you create a little universe, emotionally and physically. The level of immersion is bizarre and fantastic!”
“Screen found me first but the stage is calling … I am always writing, plotting and observing.”
Though Petra and Miranda occupy spaces that are culturally worlds apart, it is the opportunity to connect with such diverse human spirits that is most appealing to Sullivan. “Acting allows me to reflect and explore the many ways people choose to live life, which fascinates me endlessly,” she says. “Creating moments that we all experience privately in some way or another … Being in film and watching cinema definitely helped me learn a lot about myself.” Herself being a self-described ‘walking contradiction’: “I’m a Virgo. I like to think I’m carefree and an earthy woman with flowing long hair, but what makes me a true Virgo is I have to move in my own controlled and meticulous way.”
Sullivan’s home life reflects her nature-driven childhood; beauty-wise the actor is always experimenting with natural homemade concoctions (“but rose hip oil and mist are my everyday”) – and her life lessons intimate a strong desire for self-care. “Don’t bother beating yourself up. Be kind and support yourself like you do for the ones you love,” and “Enjoy and learn to be comfortable in the moments of stillness … being ‘busy’ is overrated.” Sullivan’s ability to transform physically for each role she undertakes is also manifested in a personal love of fashion, the last few years cementing her as a style icon in her own right. She is visually striking, to be sure, but it goes beyond this – there is a confidence and innate sense of self that allows her to carry the strongest pieces of the season, evident the day of this shoot as we captured her in Sydney wearing Louis Vuitton.
In recent years Sullivan has found herself, like many other Australian expats, spending time working and auditioning in Hollywood. “L.A. is a melting pot of film folk from around the world. It’s an intense and exciting place,” she explains. “Australia is a magical place to grow and find your voice. I can’t articulate how exciting it is to witness the blossoming of such a myriad of new voices in Australian cinema, it’s so wonderful to see so much new audacious work by distinctive and brave image makers here! I really love jumping between the two countries … I feel grateful to get the chance to experience both.” While currently preparing for a film next year “which I cant reveal at this stage”, and future plans that include simply “to live by the sea”, Sullivan remains as open minded to any specific city as she is to any role archetype, and chooses to find beauty in whatever the universe throws her way. “Wherever I am is the best place to be,” she muses, “because it’s the only place I can be.”
All clothing available from the Louis Vuitton Sydney concept space.
PHOTOGRAPHY Tim Ashton
FASHION Ellen Presbury
TALENT Lily Sullivan
HAIR & MAKEUP Teneille Sorgiovanni @ Lion Artist Management
PHOTOGRAPHER’S ASSISTANT Leif Prenzlau