Two days after shelter in place instructions were issued in New York, Geraldine Viswanathan received the keys to what was supposed to be her home base, after three years of “bumping around”: her first apartment in Brooklyn.
Quickly, though, as the realities of the coronavirus pandemic began to unfold for New Yorkers, staying in a new apartment in the city became less appealing, and so Viswanathan is now upstate, relishing the proximity to nature and trying to make sense of everything.
“I feel like just from the get-go, 2020 was unsettling and weird,” Viswanathan says. “Even my New Year’s was weird. I was in Australia over Christmas and the bush fires were going on, and that was also really bizarre.”
In addition to home decorating, Viswanathan had planned to spend this time sorting through new projects (all of which are, naturally, on pause) and promoting her latest, the based-on-a-true-story film “Bad Education,” which stars Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney and premieres Saturday on HBO. Instead, she’s rotating between catching up on movies, playing Animal Crossing, “which has been beautifully soothing,” learning poker with her roommates and trying to figure out how to organize a kitchen.
“Things that I don’t really think about usually,” she says. “So there are good things as well that are happening. We’re all growing in weird ways, I think.”
Viswanathan has been on Hollywood’s radar since “Blockers,” the 2018 SXSW hit that was hailed for showing young women being rebellious, inappropriate and wildly funny while at it. (The movie was her first official job.) The 24-year-old Aussie always knew she wanted to act, having been enrolled at a performing arts school since kindergarten, and comedy was always her specialty.
“I remember being in this play when I was in grade five. I never got any leading roles, but I did get one little comedic bit part and I remember getting a laugh and feeling pretty cool about it,” she says. “My very, very first thing that I self submitted to on Actor’s Access was this unpaid film called ‘All Out Dysfunktion!’ and I played ‘young hottie number two.’ I think I probably needed a visa, and I needed an IMDb credit. So yeah, I just had to go be that young hottie number two — not even number one.”
“Bad Education,” which is based on the early Aughts Long Island scandal in which the superintendent (played by Jackman) was found guilty of stealing millions from the school district, is a turn into drama for Viswanathan. (She was also recently seen in the film “Hala,” a coming-of-age drama about a Muslim teenager.) In the new HBO film, she plays a student reporter at the Roslyn high school paper whose investigations lead to the uncovering of the illegal actions going on behind the scenes.
“She gets to be the hero of the story, the whistleblower. I thought that was pretty cool, to see this high schooler take down the powers that be and ask those questions that no one’s really been bothered to ask yet,” Viswanathan says. “She was sort of an outcast in the community and she had her own scandal and her family life, but she was kind of coming from a place of having nothing to lose. And I felt that was really interesting.”
It also was not hard to sign onto a project led by Jackman and Janey, who she describes as “so dreamy.”
“Just from watching them I felt like I learned a lot. Just from observing them and how they do it, I think you just naturally pick up on things,” she says. “When we wrapped, Hugh gave me a wrapped gift and a card and I was too nervous to open the card in front of him because I thought I would melt down crying. So I opened the present as he was like, ‘You know, you should always open the card.’ I was like, ‘Actually that’s good advice for being a good human.’ So I’ve taken that with me — and he also taught me how to play backgammon, but I’ve immediately forgotten how it works.”