Australian actress Geraldine Viswanathan has been receiving rave reviews for her work in “Bad Education,” which opened on HBO on April 25. Viswanathan plays Rachel Bhargava, a high school sophomore, who finds a passion for journalism when her puff piece for the student newspaper turns into a full blown investigative reporting.
Based on a scandal that rocked the upscale Roslyn School District on Long Island in New York in 2004, “Bad Education” stars Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney in lead roles, along with Annaleigh Ashford, Rafael Casal, and Ray Romano, in supporting roles.
The film is directed by Cory Finley, and is based on a script by Mike Makowsky, who was a student in the Roslyn School District when the incident, billed as the single largest public-school embezzlement scandal in history, became public. Makowsky’s script is said to be based on a a2004 New York Magazine article on the incident.
“Bad Education” follows Frank Tassone (Jackman) and Pam Gluckin (Janney) who reign over the popular Long Island school district. “But when an embezzlement scheme surfaces that threatens to destroy all they’ve built, Frank is forced to maintain order and secrecy — by whatever means necessary,” according to a synopsis of the film.
Viswanathan’s character is based on Roslyn High School alumna Rebekah Rombom, who initially broke the story about assistant superintendent Pamela Gluckin’s embezzlement from the district in her school newspaper.
For the 24-year-old Australian-born actress of Swiss and Indian descent, positive reviews for her work translate to her cementing her position in Hollywood. With nearly 100,000 Instagram followers, Viswanathan is quite well known. She’s also worked with some big names in the industry – John Cena in “Blockers,” Daniel Radcliffe in “Miracle Workers” and Jackman in “Bad Education.” And given the kind of films she has in her kitty, she’s undoubtedly here to stay.
Going Back to High School
Having grown up in Australia, Viswanathan needed to familiarize herself with the Long Island suburb and it’s school district, for her role as Rachel in “Bad Education.” While she was preparing for her role as Rachel, Viswanathan told InStyle magazine that she took a “little road trip” with Makowsky to the town of Roslyn and talked to some locals. “That was actually really informative and helpful in just kind of understanding that world,” she said.
There was also the “star” factor.
She told Variety that she was introduced to Jackman at a table read. “I was very star-struck,” she said of their first meeting, adding that “he immediately put me at ease.” Both of them being from Australia also helped, she noted.
“Bad Education” had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in September last year, where Viswanathan was honored with the festival’s Rising Star Award for her role in the film.
On its website, TIFF says the film is “a master class in duplicity, with the charismatic Frank taking extreme measures to not only shield himself and his colleagues from the law, but also to keep his carefully constructed façade from crumbling to pieces.”
Variety magazine calls “Bad Education,” Viswanathan’s “high-profile project to date.”
According to Deadline, “What makes ‘Bad Education’ really work is that it never once slips into the tired tropes of these kinds of stories, injecting a wry humor, and importantly making it recognizable with all the failings and unpredictability of human nature on full display.”
The A.V. Club, an online newspaper and entertainment website, in its review of “Bad Education,” noted that the film “takes time and great care laying out the interpersonal dynamics of the school system, before slowly lifting the veil to reveal what few within that system knew or allowed themselves to know.”
In a review, following the TIFF premiere of “Bad Education,” Variety said the film “can be a hard lesson to accept, but a necessary one in how the world works.” While the film “doesn’t shy away from the humor of the situation,” Variety says “it doesn’t go for the cheap laughs either.”
Similarly, The Hollywood Reporter, in its review, wrote that in “Bad Education,” “satire is softened to let reality sink in, with characters and plot points drawn from actual sources, resulting in a movie that plays like a slow-burn investigative thriller with comic touches and a major comeuppance in the last act.”
Viswanathan has recently wrapped filming the lead role in the romantic comedy “The Broken Heart Gallery” opposite Dacre Montgomery. The project, written and directed by Natalie Krinsky, is produced by No Trace Camping’s Jeff Arkuss.
Viswanathan stars as a woman in New York City trying to overcome her latest failed relationship by curating an art show of objects associated with her past romances and breakups. It is something she can relate to. “I have so many boxes of little memory things,” she told Variety. “I love living in the past. It’s nice there. I’d say I have a few breakup boxes.”
Viswanathan came into the limelight as the surprise breakout star of the 2018 box office hit, “Blockers,” a raunchy comedy about three American teenage girls determined to lose their virginity on prom night and their equally determined parents’ ploys to stop them. She made headlines for her “sweet connection” with her on-screen dad, played by John Cena.
“Blockers,” which premiered at South by Southwest in 2018, received rave reviews. The Last Magazine, in an in-depth profile and interview of Viswanathan said that many critics singled out her performance in “Blockers,” along with its “feminist undertones.”
In its review of “Blockers” and Viswanathan’s performance, The Hollywood Reporter said: “In the R-rated comedy, she makes a pledge with her two best friends to lose their virginity on prom night.
She was also cast in the Netflix film “The Package,” directed by Jake Szymanski, about four teenage friends on a camping trip during spring break where an unfortunate accident sets off a race against time to save one’s most prized possession.
She told THR that she was briefly worried about being pigeonholed as “the brown girl who does dick movies.”
The same year, Viswanathan was listed among The Hollywood Reporter’s “Next Gen Talent 2018,” a list of 20 rising stars who are shaking up the industry.”
Most Challenging Role
Another role that fetched her instant recognition and stardom was her lead role in “Hala.” The film, written and directed by Minhal Baig, follows a 16-year-old Muslim girl living in Chicago under the strict, religious rules of her parents. The film was screened in the U.S. Dramatic Competition section at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
TV Guide said Viswanathan’s role in “Hala” is “a big swing” for her, “not just because it’s her first dramatic part, but also because Hala, who skateboards and masturbates and recites Anne Carson poems in class, is a (not The) portrait of a modern Muslim teenager, a community to which Viswanathan is not necessarily connected.”
She told The Last Magazine that the character of Hala was the most challenging to shoot as it was poles apart from Viswanathan. During the process to acquaint herself with Hala’s character, she told the magazine that she had to constantly keep talking to Baig. However, she told the magazine that despite the challenges, it was quite a rewarding experience” to tell “such a coming of age story.”
Not a ‘Harry Potter’ Fan
It’s being widely reported that when Viswanathan heard that Daniel Radcliffe would be starring in “Miracle Workers,” she felt she could not measure up to what was expected of her. The TBS comedy series which also stars Steve Buscemi, Karan Soni, and Jon Bass, is executive-produced by Lorne Michaels, and is based off the Simon Rich book “What in God’s Name.”
The second season was released on Jan. 28.
According to TV Over Mind, Viswanathan is not a fan of the “Harry Potter” series. Although she was reportedly intimidated by Radcliffe, she still told him that she only watched the first film when she was 8, and did not finish because she was scared. She instead read the books but confessed that she is still not enthusiastic about the “Harry Potter” series.
Meanwhile, in an April 22 interview with Variety magazine, Viswanathan said she was thinking about using the unexpected free time to finally watch the “Harry Potter” franchise, referring to the lockdown and stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Harking back to her conversation with Radcliffe on the sets of “Miracle Workers,” she said she was “traumatized” by one of the “Harry Potter” films. “A troll stuck a wand up his nose, and it freaked me out, and I left the theater,” she recalled. Viswanathan is following stay-at-home orders with some friends in a house in upstate New York.
Along with catching up on “Harry Potter,” Viswanathan says she’s trying to “get better at cooking,” trying to exercise more,” and “kind of just trying to take a step back from looking at my phone and checking updates. I find that helps.”
The Road to Stardom
The young actress has often spoken about growing up in a country where neither of her parents belonged to. Her father, Suresh Viswanathan, is of South Indian descent and her mother, Anja Raith, is from Switzerland. She has also talked about not completing her education, and leaving Australia to come to the U.S. at the age of 15 to pursue acting.
She told The Wrap that it was during a family vacation to Los Angeles, when a manager she met through family friends told her she had potential. “I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s all I needed to hear,’” she recalled, according to The Wrap, “And then I was set on making this my career.”
Since her mother was also interested in acting, Viswanathan found herself being drawn to the craft. Viswanathan began acting while in kindergarten, and at age 5, she was cast in a Kodak commercial.
When she was 6, her mother’s friend suggested that Viswanathan’s bubbly personality could come in handy in a performing arts school. That’s when Viswanathan went to Hunter School of the Performing Arts and told a story about the zoo for her audition and was accepted immediately.
After high school, she took a gap year and moved to Los Angeles for six months to start auditioning. She returned to Australia for a brief stint at university before realizing it wasn’t the right choice for her. “I went to school for international studies and media. I thought maybe I would want to be a diplomat,” she told The Wrap. However, it was due to her “very supportive parents,” that she dropped out of university to pursue her passion for acting.
Her Inspiration to do Comedy
Viswanathan has said that she’s always been interested in comedy. She told TV Over Mind that when she was 8, she had watched “Friends” “so many times that she thought America was like what she saw in the comedy.” Of course, when she eventually came to the country, she realized that wasn’t the case, she told TV Over Mind.
Viswanathan soon began doing standup regularly and joined the all-female comedy troupe, Freudian Nip, in Sydney, which tackles issues of gender in its sketches and videos. She told TV Over Mind that these early experiences “helped affirm” her decision to venture into the genre. “It felt so good to be actually doing what I wanted to do, performing,” she said. “With standup, you don’t have to wait for someone to ask you to do it. I was frustrated with auditioning and not getting anything, so it was more just for the soul. It felt good to be proactive. I think it did give me confidence because standup is terrifying. It definitely makes everything seem a little less scary.”
“Blockers” was Viswanathan’s first comedy film. She told TV guide that since “Blockers,” she’s been honing her instincts in picking distinct parts. “What connects? What feels interesting and exciting?” she asked. “Are they a fully realized character, who isn’t lazily written, who serves the story, who isn’t just a sounding board for other characters — particularly male characters — isn’t just like the best friend?”
For Viswanathan, being one of a handful of Indian diaspora actresses who Western audiences recognize isn’t enough. She told TV Over Mind that she wants a career full of roles in which the audience and the industry can “see you as a complete person, or character.”
Similarly, she had told InStyle magazine that she feels “very fortunate to be entering the industry at this time where I am able to play a leading role or a role where I don’t feel completely defined by my ethnicity.” She noted that “the playing field has opened up and kind of evened out in a way that it hasn’t been before.” She said that since she’s started working in the industry, she has “felt the progress and I think it’s moving in a good direction, but I think there’s still a ways to go. I just hope we keep telling different and new stories and keep going with it.”