How Playing a One-Armed Badass Helped Suki Waterhouse Get Over Heartbreak
The British model shines in her first lead role—as a one-armed, one-legged survivor navigating a cannibal wasteland in ‘The Bad Batch.’ Movie stardom surely awaits.
Suki Waterhouse is trying to convince me that she isn’t famous. It’s a hard sell, since the 25-year-old London native has been modeling professionally since she was street scouted at 16. In addition to being the face of Burberry and Redken, Waterhouse has modeled for Tommy Hilfiger and H&M, and appeared on the covers of several countries’ Vogue. She’s done editorials for Elle and Marie Claire, and walked the runway for Burberry and Balenciaga. Still, Waterhouse assures me, Wikipedia pages can be deceiving. “I have been around famous people quite a lot,” she laughs, “So I’m like no, I’m not famous.” Waterhouse is presumably referring to her group of photogenic British cohorts, which includes Cara Delevingne, Clara Paget, and Georgia May Jagger (just don’t call them a squad). Waterhouse also garnered headlines for her 2-year-long relationship with Bradley Cooper, which ended in 2015. But exes and girl gang’s aside, Waterhouse is an undeniable talent and soon-to-be star in her own right.
In her latest film and biggest role to date, Waterhouse—who’s dabbled in acting for a few years now—more than rises to the challenge. As Arlen in director Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch, she navigates an endless dystopian desert punctuated by acid raves, scavengers, and cannibal sects. Within the first few scenes of the film, Arlen’s arm and leg are sawed off for dinner. After tricking and incapacitating her captor, Arlen escapes to a nearby collective known as Comfort, only to wind up—through a series of violent and tense adventures—forging a relationship with one of the cannibals, played by a hulking and terse Jason Momoa. Waterhouse’s ability to turn a near-silent interaction or close-up into a moment that audiences can’t look away from makes The Bad Batch far more watchable than any two-hour long, El Topo-inspired dystopian cannibalism thriller ought to be.
Waterhouse, who Amirpour has described as both a “light, beautiful, brave angel” and “tough, wild, and feral,” doesn’t disappoint in person (Waterhouse, for the record, returns the favor, calling Amirpour a “badass” visionary with a “freaky mind”). In the dark, empty, blissfully air-conditioned restaurant of Williamsburg’s William Vale hotel, Waterhouse orders a pot of green tea with “loads” of honey and lemon on the side.
For the next 45 minutes, Waterhouse—fidgety, urgent, inquisitive and quite funny—tells me about The Bad Batch, the modeling industry, overcoming what felt like an endless sadness, and her irritation with social media. Eventually we break, with a hug, and Waterhouse runs off to take a smoke break outside, presumably basking in these last few months of anonymity.
So how did you get involved with The Bad Batch?
I just went for an audition basically, because I started coming to LA—obviously you have to start coming to LA and doing your rounds of auditions and just sitting in rooms with ten other girls around you and like wanting to kill yourself. So I went and did an audition, and then I went to see [Amirpour]. And it was, I guess I’m really lucky, it was one of those things where she saw me and it was like, “Oh that’s the girl.” And I got really attracted to, I remember on the audition email it said don’t try out for this movie unless you understand that it’s going to be really brutally difficult…and that made my antenna just go —whoop—me please! So that drew me in, and obviously I had seen her first movie before so I was just praying every night that I could maybe get it. I went to the second audition, and she took me. And this never happens—you usually get a call from an agent or whatever. She just said, “Can I take you out to dinner now?” And then she said, “I want you to do this,” but the conversation was more like, “I want you to do this, but you have to understand that you’re going to really suffer and struggle and I’m going to take over your life for this amount of time and you’ve got to surrender.”
Were there any conversations you two had about her vision for the film that really stuck with you?
See, Lily’s not really the kind of person who’s like, “We’re making a film about politics and feminism,” or anything like that. I think she just wants people to ask questions, and to ask themselves questions. It’s been so interesting, listening to what people’s interpretations of it are. There’s a lot of empty space in this movie; there’s not a ton of words, so it’s not a load of certainty. So you have to do it yourself, and that’s uncomfortable. But I think Lily likes to live in a state of some kind of honesty, and with that comes discomfort.
There’s this whole dystopian element to the film, where we see that America has turned into this strange, cruel place, but we don’t really understand how it got there. And so while I was watching, I was thinking about how Trump probably wouldn’t have been part of the conversation while you were filming—
No, I mean Lily didn’t even know. She wrote it three years ago. She had no idea.
And at the same time, it’s pretty relevant now—there are these themes of illegal immigration, the border wall…
Yeah. It’s bizarre, isn’t it?
It is crazy. Even when we were filming it, we didn’t know that it would be such a thing. But it’s great. I think we’re really happily surprised that it’s happened. Did you feel like it was a really political movie?
I feel like everything is now.
Everything is political. I mean, but, it’s a love story and it’s a fairy tale and it’s violent and it’s touching…
It’s funny that you’re calling a cannibalism thriller a fairy tale.
I mean, she ends up with Jason Momoa. That’s kind of a fairy tale, isn’t it?
Is that what you think happened?
Oh, you weren’t sure? See, that says something about you. That’s interesting, because some people are like, “Ah they end up together!” But they’re more romantic people. Some people are like, “Oh, I don’t know, she might be for dinner next.”
But you read it as a love story?
Well I think I was definitely into Jason Momoa…
I mean my character! My character…they have that moment under the sheet…Obviously it’s never that explored, that whole thing, but I think it’s like…Going to Comfort is sort of like following all of the things that you think you should have, or all the things you thought you wanted. But I think that going back to Jason is saying, no, what are the simple things around me, what are the little things I can do? Just having a barbecue at the end of the movie with a dude and a kid. It’s kind of nice, isn’t it? Just have some food and breathe.
Sure, but overall I think it’s safe to say the film is pretty dark. Did that darkness impact your personal life in any way?
This movie, like…I literally got cast in it, and then my personal life just [mimes an explosion]. So many bad things happened! It was really crazy.
Waterhouse and Bradley Cooper broke up in March 2015 after two years of dating, around the time she was cast in Amirpour’s film.
Because you were putting yourself into this? Or unrelated?
I don’t know! I think when Lily wrote it, she had this feeling of being dismembered. You know, when literally your heart just feels like there’s a hole here. I was like that. And then just more and more. Shit, shit, shit. But I don’t know, I think I’m actually very grateful that that happened. Because I was this girl that didn’t know what the fuck up and down was, and I was completely lost. And then I met this woman, and I went to the desert for two months. And I was just alone, having one of the best experiences of my life that would go on to change the course of my life. I mean, how fucking lucky am I that I got to do this movie? It’s nuts. And then [Arlen’s] putting herself back together and trying to find her way, and that was kind of me; I feel like that’s been me the past two years. So it was kind of emotional. I remember before we went to Venice, and knowing that everyone’s going to see it, and watching myself as that person two years ago…I find it quite disturbing to watch the film, to be honest.
Well, me too. But probably in a very different way.
Yeah, that movie completely like…it was the coolest thing ever. But it’s like anything, isn’t it? You have to go into the dark to go into the light. So I was actually really glad that that all happened around then. Because it was like, “I don’t think I can do this, how am I going to know if I can do this movie?” All this doubt, and I was feeling like shit anyway. And then I just decided, “Yeah, I can do it.”
It’s interesting, I was going to ask how you managed to tap into the emotion of being physically dismembered, but I guess you found a way.
Yeah. When you just feel like you’re not whole. it’s like…sorrow has the longest…it’s just this giant, long, endless…when you really have it, it just buzzes through you, and it takes a long time to get out. And it has a way of just sneaking back in. You can always feel a little bit sad for a long, long time. But I’m like fucking great! That’s my first movie really, the first film I’ve ever done. And now I’m just great! Whatever life throws at you, it’s all perfect, because you need to be able to tap into those feelings.
One of my favorite scenes was this moment when Arlen tapes a picture of a model’s arm to her mirror and stares at herself, trying to imagine herself whole again. I was interested in the idea that even in a brutal dystopian society, women will still be judging themselves in the mirror.
I don’t think it’s that hard to relate to. I wish I could sit here and be like, “I’ve never wanted to look different,” and I’d love to be able to sit here and say, “I wake up every morning being like I love every single part of my body.” But I’ve worked in an industry that is basically designed to make you not like the way you look. And I’ve worked in an industry that was designed to make other people feel like they don’t look good enough. But it doesn’t matter if you’re a model or an actress or you’re considered the most beautiful girl in the world, it’s the system that’s drowning us. And the most punk, radical thing you can do is to be like—not just think oh I’m good, I’m beautiful, I’m perfect—it’s not about thinking it, it’s about really feeling it. Because we know that’s right. But you’ve got to do whatever you can to actually feel it.
And coming from the modeling world, was it freeing to not have to be preoccupied with looking pretty?
I’d like to be doing that every day. If I could do every single movie like that I would. I was very much brought up like, my dad’s a black belt karate; I trained with him my whole life. I’m someone who wanted to put mud all over my face as a kid, I’m kind of a tomboy. And I love physically exerting myself. I loved doing this movie—the fact that every day you’d wake up and feel like you’ve been hit by a truck. I’d walk in and not be able to shower and have shit all over me, but that’s peace to me. There’s nothing in your head that’s even thinking or being anxious or manic.
Was it hard to turn off the part of yourself that’s trained to look a certain way for the camera—finding your most flattering angles, or something like that? Or was it an easy transition?
It’s such a different medium. When you’re doing photos, everything ends up so different to how it might even look on the screen when you’re on the shoot. You can have ten pins behind you and you’re sucking in and [makes a ridiculous face]. Actually, some of the best actors understand where the camera is and how to work it to their advantage. The tiniest adjustments. So I haven’t learnt that kind of stuff with the film camera yet. But no, I wasn’t like sucking in my cheeks and…Voguing. Voguing in the desert.
Voguing in the desert with Jason Momoa
I was never going to look like a model next to him anyway!
So I know that this is Williamsburg. But if you were on the street at home, you would get recognized, right?
Ok, if we’re on like Oxford Circus, maybe a couple of kids that have come down to London for the day would recognize me. But I promise you, my experience of life is not at all like that. I have been around famous people quite a lot, so I’m like no, I’m not famous. I can still do whatever, basically. I never have to censor my life.
Really? You must censor your life at least in terms of social media.
I don’t know. I got told the other day, one of my agents was like, “You have to start being better…you’re acting crazy on it!”
You got told off?
Yeah! She was like, “You look hungover.” I was like, “I’m not! I just woke up! I don’t even drink!” But so no, I don’t…I mean, I don’t feel like I censor. If I had a private account maybe it would be a bit more interesting.
You don’t have a finsta?
What’s a finsta?
Oh a finsta! You know what, some of my friends have finsta, and it is the most entertaining…We should all just have finsta and not public ones. It’s the best! But it’s too much having one anyway, isn’t it? It’s already too much. Instagram’s just like…I just feel like quite stagnant humans seem to thrive on Instagram.
What does that mean?
Just the fact that if I post something like a beautiful picture at a museum, versus a picture of me in a bikini holding coconuts around my boobs…It’s just so stupid! There’s such an algorithm of what people want on your page. It’s just depressing. But I just did something really radical: I went on a week and a half holiday and I didn’t post one picture.
Did you really?
Yeah I did. I went on a week and a half holiday, a road trip, and there were so many beautiful sunsets. And I went on a girls’ trip to Vegas with a bunch of people who people would like to see on Instagram, and we were up in a male strip club all getting multiple lap dances.
I would look at that picture.
Yeah, and none of us posted anything! It’s punk to not post.
Was that a conversation you all had on the trip?
I think actually we couldn’t post because someone was meant to be at work or something like that. But then it’s something that’s just for you and the people who are around it, and that’s cool. Social media is tiring. But I do need to get a finsta.
So you can post all your pics from the strip club.
So now that the movie is out there, I was wondering—do you read the comments/reviews?
I stopped reading comments on January 1st of this year.
Like a New Year’s resolution?
Yeah. I’m amazed that I stuck to it, because it was one of those horrible things that I would do to feel worse about myself. But I really was like: what is going to make my life happier? You’ve got to stop, Suki. It’s those Daily Mail things that are just the worst. And I have so many friends that read them too, and I literally just don’t do it anymore, and my life is so much better. I actually only read the Guardian review from Venice, because I had heard that it was five stars. Because I can’t change anything now, I don’t think I’m going to be really reading those. Because I’m very critical of myself—incredibly so. Nobody’s going to be able to beat me up as much as myself, and if I see the things that I’m afraid of in print, then I might just go further down the rabbit hole. So I think I’m just going to look up and on.
Were you proud of your performance when you finished? Or were you self-critical throughout?
To have not really trained and not really acted before and then to do that, I was really terrified. But the first time I saw it, I was really happy. So that—your first mind is what really matters.
So what other projects do you have coming up?
There’s a movie called Billionaire Boys Club. And then there’s another movie I did with Ansel [Elgort] called Jonathan. And then I did this movie called Assassination Nation, which is really dope. It’s me and Hari Nef and this amazing actress called Odessa Young who’s fucking great, Australian girl, and a musician named Abra. It’s a high school movie that just gets…dark.
We really need more high school movies.
I know! And our outfits are, everyone else at the school dresses normal, we look bonkers. We’re dressed in—I’ve got Miley buns, and my hair’s pink, and we’re just wearing the most outrageous outfits to school. And then it takes a really scary dark turn. By the end of it we’re just in red leather coats, all of us, with Uzis. I think you’ll like it.
Is there anyone you’re dying to work with?
Quentin Tarantino. Lars Von Trier—he’s the one who did Breaking the Waves, right? I fucking love that movie. That’s one of my favorite movies ever. And Emily Watson. There are so many directors that I’d love to work with. Lily calls it “creative intercourse.” I want to work with really tough people. Not necessarily tough like difficult, but people who are going to really challenge me; who I’m just desperate to hang out with. And I don’t care if they’re difficult or weird, I don’t care if they give me so much shit and yell at me for two months, I just want to go through something. But I’d also love to do a movie where you go and train for six months, do martial arts.
So we need to get you a superhero movie.
Yeah, exactly. I’d like to do stuff like that.