Emily Meade is a 27-year-old Hollywood up-and-comer. From playing mischievous high schooler Aimee in HBO’s The Leftovers, to starring alongside Dave Franco and Emma Roberts in the upcoming crime adventure Nerve, her youthful exuberance and determination to traverse this rocky industry indicates she’ll be a name worth remembering.
A glance at Meade’s IMDb page will display a handful of impressive titles. But in an industry where age is so much more than just a number, she has noticeably fewer credits than other actresses of her vintage. Having said that, there's something to be said about her history of choosing quality over quantity, and what growing up in as normal an environment as one might imagine has afforded her as an adult.
Even more than her IMDb or Wikipedia pages, Meade’s personal Instagram profile speaks volumes about her as a person. Instead of the glossy and tailored social media presence that so many Hollywood hopefuls lay claim to, Meade's looks like it could belong to your best friend — or, more likely, your best friend’s far cooler big sister. Eschewing this all-to-common air of chic celebrity that can oftentimes be intimidating, Meade's interview with Movie Pilot quickly settled into a comfortable conversation about life, fame, tarot cards and karaoke.
Talking to Meade was a breath of fresh air. Despite describing herself as weird — which, as I assured her, is a good thing — the grounded and unaffected tone in which she speaks about her past, future career goals and everyday life gives the sense that she is a normal girl — like you and me — who just so happens to be a movie star in the making.
Meade had always wanted to be an actress. When asked if she envisioned herself on this path from a young age, she says yes, but her obstinate attitude prevented her from chasing her career goals any sooner.
“I wanted to be an actress from the start and the only reason I didn’t start pursuing it as a kid is because I was also a very neurotic and controlling kid and I didn’t want to be a kid actor. So I was thinking long-term and wanted to experience childhood to the fullest so that I could be as good of an adult actor as possible. I was definitely a weird kid in that way because I was really thinking ahead.”
Her first televised appearance was on the international singing competition Zecchino d'Argento in 1997. The adorable then-seven-year-old graced the stage with an endearing nervousness and toothy grin that would capture the hearts of audiences. Ultimately, she won the award for best non-Italian song.
Instead of using this win as a means to springboard her way into the life of a child star, she opted to take her time to grow up as normally as possible.
It wasn’t until a decade later that Meade finally made her way back in front of the camera. But this time, she brought the wisdom she gained from experiencing a typical adolescence that gave her acting prowess a sense of grounding and authenticity.
“I’m not a method actor. I don’t need to have gone through exactly everything that my character’s going through, but I need to have gone through at least something … that I can apply to myself, and my performance. For me, the more time I’ve had to experience real life without the variable of being seen all the time, or being known, or interacting with the world as a famous person versus an anonymous person, I think that’s really helped in all ways. It’s helped me as an actor; it’s helped me as a human.”
Meade made her film debut in 2006 in Holger Ernst’s German English-language film The House is Burning. Her turn in Wes Craven’s 2010 horror My Soul to Take garnered the attention of US audiences that had previously alluded her.
This year alone, her résumé has grown by three impressive titles: Max Landis’s Me Him Her, Jody Foster’s Money Monster alongside George Clooney and Julia Roberts, and Lionsgate’s millennial thriller Nerve.
Since it’s an experience that belongs to such a small minority of actors, I was curious to learn what it’s like to watch years of hard work turn into a substantial career.
“It’s exciting and surreal. I think the thing that happens to everybody is you’re in this industry and you get to the point after a few years in where you’re sort of desperate to get to the point you want to get to, which is where you’re consistently working, consistently making money and getting new choices.
“Then, I think, at least for me … you get to a point where you’re so frustrated that you just let all of that go and accept the idea that maybe that is not what you’re life’s going to be — and that’s when everything you want starts to happen.”
So how has her life changed since her recent surge of stardom? As it turns out, not that much. When asked if she’s noticed a difference in her everyday life, Meade said she had in the past, but it was also a reminder of the fleeting nature of fame.
“When I was on a show called 'The Leftovers' … that was the first time I ever noticed a change of being recognized or getting a different kind of attention. It’s also crazy how it was a lot at the time, and a little overwhelming and stressful, but then as soon as the show is not happening, that dies down a little bit and it shows how short people’s memories are.”
As short as our collective cultural memories may be, I think Meade has a whole lot of nerve — and everything it takes to make it in Hollywood. And using a plot point from her new film Nerve as the basis of our final question, we had to know if Meade is a watcher or a player. Much like with her character in that film, Meade's answer came easily.
"Definitely a player. I mean, I love to observe — to a fault sometimes — but if an experience is presented to me that I haven’t experienced yet, it’s very hard for me to say no."
Hopefully Meade is presented with enough new opportunities to keep her on the silver screen for many years to come. As a self-proclaimed watcher, I'm excited to see what this bright young star will make of her career.
Emily Meade's next movie Nerve starts playing in theaters today.