I didn’t, actually. My dad is an atheist. When I was six, I asked, «What happens when you die?» He gave the same answer my character Laura gives in American Gods: «You go in the ground and worms eat you.»
Geez. How did your six-year-old brain process that?
Well, I’ve since been a bundle of neuroses and fear, so it probably has something to do with that. [Laughs] My mum is not a religious person, but is very spiritual. A bit of a hippie who was eating vegan food before it was trendy, who had crystals and Buddha statues around the house. But I was sort of raised to be very sceptical of organised religion.
Your dad is an atheist; your mum is spiritual. Do either of those labels apply to you?
I’m a combination of both. My dad has softened slightly in his atheism over the years, and I’m becoming less sceptical. I’d like to think there was something else, something outside of science and what we can see, which unifies us in some way. There’s that quote, «God isn’t above us; god is between us.» I like the idea there is something innately magical about human connection. But I don’t know, I’m okay with not knowing, and I get pissed off by anyone who claims to know for sure. A dogmatic atheist is just as annoying as a Bible-thumping crazy person.
A lot of people find meaning and connection through religion. Where do you find those things?
For me it’s about being connected to other human beings – and my dog.
I get the sense that if you’re a woman in the screen industry, you get a lot of unsolicited commentary and advice about your body.
I’ve been mostly pretty lucky. I’m thin and I’m white. I can’t imagine what it’s like for so many other women if your body falls somewhere outside of the expected Hollywood body standard. But I’m thankful for how things are shifting in the industry at the moment in terms of diversity and treating women as though they’re human beings. We’re slowly getting there.
Is there still a double standard between women and men in the industry, though?
For instance, you still don’t often see men naked on screen or on stage, compared to women. I’ve always had conflicting opinions about this. There’s more pressure for women to be naked, and to look a specific way naked. At the same time, I’ve always been very open to doing nudity, because I feel it’s been something that’s really helped my body image. Playing a character is like a security blanket; and my brain switches off. For some reason, I don’t give a shit about being naked, because it’s not me.
But I’ve never taken on a role where I feel like I’m naked as an accessory; it’s always been relevant to the role I’m doing. Also, in the first season of American Gods, there’s a very explicit gay sex scene. Full-frontal cock, right there! The male nudity is lit so beautifully and it’s an incredibly sexy thing. By contrast, I have a few naked scenes in which my body’s decaying, my skin is grey and I look disgusting! That was really freeing for me.
That actually sounds like a great work environment.
I’ve had male actors say, «Why don’t you shave your armpits?» and I respond, «Why don’t you shave yours?» That shuts them up. When I was shooting American Gods, I had my first sex scene with Ricky Whittle, who plays my on-screen husband – the sweetest man alive – and he asked me, as a genuine question, «Why don’t you shave your armpits?» I said, «Why don’t you shave yours?» And he said, «Oh, I do!» and showed me! [Laughs] That was kind of great. To prepare for our sex scenes, I was hairy, and he was doing push-ups and oiling his muscles – a nice role reversal that I really appreciated.
You’re an Australian based in Los Angeles. Are you more invested in Australian or American politics?
At this point, it’s impossible not to be more invested in American politics. After the election of Donald Trump in 2016, I almost drove myself crazy refreshing the news non-stop all day. Now I’ve kind of detoxed a little bit. I do my hour-and-a-half of podcasts in the morning – The Daily and National Public Radio’s Up First – for an overview. I can’t not be invested in it.
On social media, you were particularly elated when the Democrats took the House of Representatives after the 2018 mid-term elections.
It felt like something had finally changed. It’s been horrible news after horrible news, and it gets to a point where it becomes normal. I still wake up some days where I’m like, «Wait a minute. The president of this country is the guy from The Apprentice. We’re living in a science fiction novel. This is a joke.» But I do feel the one thing that’s come out of the past few years is I’m learning about things I otherwise probably would have remained ignorant about. I try to remain educated about Australian politics, but I was speaking to my mum on the phone the other day, and said, «Hey Mum, who’s the prime minister right now?» [Laughs]
Do you see US politics as a comedy or a tragedy?
Oh, god. It’s Shakespearean tragedy. We have to find the comedy, because we have to laugh to keep us from crying. But once you stop laughing about it, it hits you how f…ed it is. It’s a constant cycle.
Season two of American Gods airs on Amazon Prime from March 11.
Writer, author of The Family Law and Gaysia.