American Gods star Emily Browning instinctively rejects poorly written roles

Emily Browning plays Laura Moon, who comes back to life after a fatal car accident, in fantasy series American Gods.
Emily Browning plays Laura Moon, who comes back to life after a fatal car accident, in fantasy series American Gods.PHOTO: AMAZON PRIME VIDEO

Australian star Emily Browning says she turns down poorly written female roles in favour of more unconventional ones

It says something that Emily Browning at 19 had the audacity to turn down a chance to audition for the lead in the Twilight movies, despite having been endorsed for the role by author Stephenie Meyer, who penned the best-selling young- adult books that inspired them.

Twilight went on to become a billion-dollar five-film franchise (2008-2012). But even at the casting stage, it was obvious this could be a career-defining role for the then little-known Australian actress.

This did not stop Browning from passing on it after she read the story, which is about a romance between a teenage girl and a more than 100-year-old vampire.

She felt there was something "emotionally abusive" about the relationship, a criticism that would later be echoed by some critics of the films.

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And she has continued to turn down poorly written female roles in favour of more unconventional parts, such as the one she plays in the fantasy series American Gods, which airs on Amazon Prime Video.

Based on the 2001 novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman, it casts Browning as Laura Moon, the wife of ex-convict Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), who finds out Laura died in a car accident just a few days before his release from prison.

Grief-stricken, he becomes the bodyguard of a con-man named Mr Wednesday (Ian McShane). Things take a turn for the surreal and he becomes drawn into an epic battle between the Old Gods of mythology and the New Gods of this world, who represent things such as money, celebrity and technology.

And, if that was not weird enough, his wife also comes back to life.

"Obviously what makes her special as a person is the fact that she came back from the dead," Browning, 28, tells The Straits Times.

The character is not the typical two-dimensional wife or girlfriend character either. "She is depressed and experiencing life in the way a lot of people who don't know what it is they want from their life do. And she is also selfish. She's one of those people who hasn't figured out her problems aren't everybody else's fault.

"I don't think you often get to see women portrayed like that on television or in film - female characters aren't usually allowed to be awful, morally questionable and ethically murky, and it was such a pleasure for me to be able to bring that character to life."

Browning - who did Australian television shows before appearing in Hollywood movies such as the horror flick Ghost Ship (2002) and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) - says she has long been wary of scripts where female characters are underwritten.

Looking back on her fateful decision to not put herself forward for the Twilight franchise, Browning is also self-aware enough to see that her rationalisation for that move has evolved over the years.

"I think as time has gone on, I've maybe intellectualised that more and found words to describe something I've always felt.

"I think my gut instinct has always told me: Don't play a character that isn't interesting to you. And it was only later that I realised it was about the way women were portrayed in general," says the actress, whom Twilight author Meyer had recommended for the role after seeing her play an imperilled orphan in the Lemony Snicket's film.

With American Gods, the star once again found herself getting a ringing endorsement from the author of the source material.

The series goes further than the book when it comes to Laura, giving her a bigger role and fleshing out her backstory - something Gaiman was fully on board with.

The writer, who is an executive producer on the show, was on set, watched daily footage of Browning's scenes and met the actress after filming was completed.

"We had a lot of discussions about Laura and met finally at the wrap party. We sat and talked for two hours about her and I was so happy to hear him say that he loves her even more now than when he wrote the book. That was a really nice thing for me to hear."

•American Gods is available on Amazon Prime Video

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2017, with the headline 'Passing on the Twilight films'. Print Edition | Subscribe