This image posted by A24 Films shows Suzanna Son in a scene from “Red Rocket”. (A24 via AP)
Photo: Associated press
Suzanna Son had been living in Los Angeles for only nine days when she was discovered.
In 2018, after moving to LA to try to be successful in show business, Son was standing outside the ArcLight Hollywood theater one night when she was approached by director Sean Baker. Fresh off his 2017 indie hit “The Florida Project,” Baker, who has a penchant for casting non-professionals and strangers in his films, handed Son a card with his email address on it.
âHe just said, ‘I love your look – have you ever played before? “” Son, who is 26, told the Los Angeles Times recently on New York City’s Zoom. âIt took two years to really hear from him again. “
One evening last year, still clinging to hope, Son suggested to her then-boyfriend that she revisit “The Florida Project.”
âHe said to me, ‘I think you should give up because it’s been so long, and I don’t want you to be disappointed,â Son said. âI said, ‘Yeah, I’m kinda obsessed with this chimera, aren’t I? Then, like magic, eight hours later, I opened my phone and there was a message from Sean saying, “Do you want to audition?” It was the best I told you so ever.
Her son’s patience paid off. Impressed with her audition – as well as her Instagram account, with her artistically composed self-portraits and music videos of her melancholy and haunting piano songs – Baker performed Son in her raucous and grungy new comedy drama “Red Rocket,” which is now play in limited version.
Son plays Strawberry, an innocent-looking but sexually adventurous 17-year-old from rural South Texas who begins a romantic relationship with a 40-year-old former porn actor named Mikey Saber, played by Simon Rex. Since its July premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, âRed Rocketâ has received critical acclaim, Son’s underhanded but vulnerable performance earning him a nomination for groundbreaking performer at last month’s Gotham Awards.
Even before the film’s release, Son’s career had been meteoric. The headlines of trade magazine Hollywood Reporter and alternative fashion magazine Nylon proclaimed her “The Next Big Thing”. And Son, whose musical talents are also on display in âRed Rocket,â was recently featured as a series regular opposite Lily-Rose Depp and the Weeknd in an upcoming HBO drama titled âThe Idol,â set in the music industry.
âI could see her having an Emma Stone-like career,â Baker said. âHer instincts were keen, and she has such reach. I’m really excited to see what’s going on.
Growing up in rural Washington, Son never really felt out of place and was drawn to the show from a young age to counter her innate shyness. âI always felt like a dachshund raised by Dalmatians,â she said. “I think I attributed a little of that to Strawberry as well.”
With little professional experience under her belt, Son – who had studied classical singing, piano, and acting at Cornish College before dropping out – found herself thrown straight into the depths of “Red Rocket,” which, like Baker’s previous films explores the messy lives and stubborn dreams of people living on the fringes. For inspiration, Son watched Goldie Hawn’s turn as a small-town Texas woman fleeing the law in Steven Spielberg’s 1974 feature debut, “The Sugarland Express.”
Son’s first day of shooting consisted of shooting the film’s most intimate scenes, in which Strawberry has sex with Saber – who harbors visions of turning her into a pornstar – and performs an emotionally raw rendition of “Bye. Bye Bye âfrom ‘N Sync all naked. (The film’s distributor, A24, recently released the performance as a single.)
âSeven in the morning – ‘Let’s do a sex scene,’â Son said dryly. âGreat way to break the ice. “
âYou could tell Suzy was nervous,â Rex said. “But as soon as it was ‘lights, camera, action’ she relaxed and got it every time. I was like, ‘Where the f- does that come from?’ I just knew she was a star She just got this thing.
The first time Son watched the finished movie, alone in the kitchen of her LA home, she was so worried about how this sequence was going to play out that she interrupted it to shake her nerves with a little dance and did ended up breaking his toe.
âThe movie is there, paused on my breasts, looking at me,â she said. âI threw up on the carpet and kept looking, man. It tells you how badly I needed to see it.
Five days later, Son was on the red carpet in Cannes for the film’s casting premiere. âIt was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is the moment this movie is unveiled to the world, and I’m in a wheelchair with a broken foot, taking pain killers that make me feel terrible and throw up. , ‘” she said. “But I was trying to be grateful – and I guess France is a good place to be miserable.”
“Red Rocket” wasn’t actually Son’s first time dealing with risky material. Prior to the film, her only professional credit was in a 2019 adult film titled âSecret Escortâ. When asked about the project, Son said she hoped to remove it from her IMDb page.
âIt was like a one-day shoot that I did for the money,â Son said. âIt was just talking to the camera: no sex, no kissing. There was no script. The director said, ‘Just talk like you would as a secret escort.’ It wasâ¦ “she concluded with a laugh.” Not very well. “
While 17 is the legal age of consent in Texas – and Son herself was in her mid-twenties when she filmed “Red Rocket” – some viewers are bound to find the film’s depiction of a sexual relationship between an elder. middle-aged porn actor and high school student, even one as self-confident and intelligent as the inherently distasteful Strawberry.
âI haven’t seen any overt attacks, but I’ve seen words used like ‘scary’ and stuff like that,â said Baker, who co-wrote the film with Chris Bergoch. âOf course that’s to be expected – and that’s part of why we wrote this. I think a lot of people expect a very black and white moral tale of a little lamb being exploited by a big bad wolf But I wanted to make it more complex than that because life is more complex than that, and people are more complex than that.
For Son, Strawberry has a lot of control over her sexuality and her relationship with Saber. âShe owns it, for sure,â she said. âShe’s always two steps ahead of Mikey. It’s the naÃ¯ve who kind of put Strawberry in this box of what he thinks she is, but she’s so much more than that. She is quietly focused, quietly calculated. This is what is beautiful: all his hope.
Son has her own hopes for the direction she can take from here in her career, but, after a whirlwind few months, she’s trying not to get ahead of herself. âIt was one thing after another, but it was nice,â she said. âPeople I admire, like The Weeknd, tell me they liked my performance, it’s crazy. It hits me sometimes in the face like, ‘Wow, that really happened.’ “
As for Strawberry, whose fate is an open question at the end of ‘Red Rocket,’ said Son, “I’d like something big for her. I’d like to think she makes her dreams come true.