It’s just 9am in London and 6pm in Sydney when I joined a Zoom call with Mia McKenna-Bruce this month and there is one thing I immediately notice from the 24-year-old – her energy. She’s bubbly and bright and a far cry from her character Mary – Anne’s sister – in the upcoming Netflix adaption of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. But in many ways, her quick-witted personality would prove perfect for the romantic-comedy film which has shined modern day light (no matter how controversial for purists) on a classic novel. Boasting an all-star cast including Dakota Johnson, Henry Golding and Richard E. Grant, McKenna-Bruce has edged her way ever so closely stardom in the company of Hollywood royalty. But as the actress tells GRAZIA, it hasn’t been an easy adjustment.
Below the 24-year-old discusses her latest role with GRAZIA and exactly what comes next for the up-and-coming star.
Grazia: You’ve been acting since a young age. Had you always wanted to be an actress?
Mia McKenna-Bruce: “Yes! I started off wanting to be a dancer when I was two years old. I had too much energy. I used to watch this documentary on Shirley Temple, the same documentary everyday after school. I had a little notebook making notes when I was five years old. First of all I thought I had to be American so I’d put on an American accent all the time. Second of all, it was said in the documentary that Shirley Temple used to have exactly 52 curls in her hair so I would roll my hair to make 52 curls.
“I saw an ad in the local newspaper for an amateur production of Seussical The Musical… I [auditioned] and somehow managed to be cast in the show. From there I was scouted by an agent and it went from there.”
This could be considered your biggest film role to-date. Can you recall the experience of auditioning for the film?
MMB: “It was during COVID so we didn’t have an in-person audition. I was speaking to the director Carrie Cracknell the other day and she made a comment about in the film, Mary is married to Charles. Ben Bailey Smith plays Charles and Ben is really tall and I’m really really small. Without doing in-person auditions, she didn’t realise until we had rehearsals for the first day. The height difference is comical.
“I did a self-tape and I did a Zoom with Carrie and spoke about the film, what I thought about Mary and I explained that I’m one of three sisters – I’m the eldest, Mary is the youngest – and my sister Anya is as dramatic as Mary. Speaking to Carrie I said I really relate to this a lot.”
And what about the moment you found out you had been cast?
MMB: “I was at my boyfriend’s mum’s house in Manchester and it was a really sunny day. I saw my agent was calling me and I thought, ‘This could be it!’. It had been COVID so a lot of work had stopped, for everybody. This was the thing to get me going again. And working with Dakota Johnson, Richard E. Grant, Cosmo Jarvis. It was mind blowing. I kept saying, ‘Are you sure, are you sure?’.”
The adaption of Persuasion is surprisingly comedic and light-hearted. Your character Mary certainly steals the spotlight. What was the cast dynamic like on set? Was it as much as I had watching the film?
MMB: “That was one of the huge parts that came across in the film, they did such an amazing job in casting it. The cast were so much and amazing people. We were having just the best time. Because we shot coming out of COVID, everyone was so excited to be around people again. We all had really similar personalities. For a big part of the film we were away from home so we were all in a hotel together. Outside of working we would get to socialise together. We got really close, really quickly. It just meant that we could have so much while doing these scenes and experiment with the funny side of things.”
Did you receive any advice from Dakota or Henry?
MM: “Not advice as such, but watching their work ethic was amazing. Especially for Dakota, she was in every scene, had so much dialogue and had to do a British accent. So watching her balance that between being able to have fun on set and building a great relationship with us as well was amazing to see. The whole thing was an amazing learning curve. It made me realise that it’s the [work] I would really like to do more of.”
Is there anything that surprised you about Jane Austen during your research for the film?
MM: “This film is really trying to combine the modern day, because the book itself was so ahead of its time. A lot of Jane Austen is. Realising who you can and can’t marry because of social status, because of money, that was so important in Jane Austen’s era. And reading a book where someone is going against that grain is so pivotal. I didn’t quite realise how important it was.”
You’re also set to star in the new television series Vampire Academy. What genre do you prefer, horror or period-style?
MM: “Ooh what do I prefer? That’s so hard because that’s so different. I loved the comedy-period aspect of it because it was bringing in modern day, but I think if it was a real period piece I’d prefer horror. I get really excited and I have a lot of energy to give off, so if it was a period piece and I’m not able to give that energy, horror would be better.”
You’ve seen a steady rise to fame in your twenties. What have you found the most challenging aspect of your job?
MM: “Understanding that you’re an influence on people without meaning to be. I’m really lucky that my following so far has come from when I was working as a child, they’re quite young. Anything I put on social media is going to be seen by a lot of people that are at an impressionable age. So having to think about everything I do and say all the time, it comes with its challenges.”
Is there anything you’ve learnt recently that will stick with you throughout your career?
MM: “I was really scared to talk about what I believed in. I thought that I shouldn’t comment on anything. Recently I’ve learnt that it’s really healthy to open conversations with people and be understanding of other people’s views. I hope that I will learn more and more about that. Being willing to be told that you’re wrong.”
Do you have any goals you’d like to achieve in the next five years?
MM: “Okay, big question. Goals. I would really love to get to do action work. There is a little bit for me in “Vampire Academy” which really got me excited so I’d love to do more action roles.”
Persuasion is streaming on Netflix from July 15.