It makes sense to write something about Eliza Scanlen in 2020. The Australian actress is a rising star with serious talent—someone who introduced herself to American audiences by going toe to toe with Amy Adams and Patricia Clarkson in HBO’s 2018 miniseries Sharp Objects. If we’re sticking to sports analogies—something that is contractually obligated when working at The Ringer—you could say that watching Scanlen act right now is like seeing Jayson Tatum cook on a rookie contract. But what’s most peculiar about Scanlen’s latest role—in Shannon Murphy’s feature film debut, Babyteeth—is perhaps best summarized by my colleague Andrew Gruttadaro’s initial reaction on Slack: “ELIZA SCANLEN IS SICK AGAIN?!”
The through line in Scanlen’s early filmography is that, at some point, her character is going to be bedridden. In Sharp Objects, she played a teenager who was being repeatedly severely poisoned by her mother in a case of munchausen by proxy; in Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, she plays Beth, the purest soul of the March sisters who is doomed to die from scarlet fever; in Babyteeth, she’s a teenager with some type of cancer (the details of the illness are never fully explained) trying to make the most out of life who falls in love with a 20-something drug dealer. It’s like a casting director looks at a script, sees a role that requires an actress to sweat in a bed and/or look frail, and shouts, “Get me Scanlen on the line!”
On the surface, it might seem like Scanlen is being typecast for certain kinds of roles and embracing it—like Tom Hardy playing characters who obscure their face or Matthew Rhys portraying someone who is very sad.
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