Geraldine Viswanathan and I are not in front of each other—in fact, she’s called from L.A., the other side of the country for me—but I can still sense her warmth and openness over the phone, her unabashed laughter coming through even when she’s poking fun at herself.
It’s why she was a natural choice for Lucy, the bubbly though heartbroken main character of The Broken Hearts Gallery. But for Viswanathan, the character—who’s reeling from a breakup before she decides to turn memorabilia from former relationships (think retainers and condoms) into communal art—is someone she could only look up to. “Lucy is so unapologetically herself and feels emotions so strongly and fully and loudly,” Viswanathan says. “I think it’s so hard to do that.”
Perhaps that’s why the 25-year-old Australian is so captivating as characters like the titular protagonist in Hala, a Muslim-American girl grappling with her own sense of freedom and identity, or Rachel, a student journalist determined to expose the illegal acts committed by her superintendent (Hugh Jackman) in Bad Education. They, like Lucy, are outspoken heroines in their own right—and encourage Viswanathan to be the same way. “I wanted to experience being that person,” she says of Lucy. “She is so herself, and that really inspires the people around her to be themselves.”
Playing Lucy also meant Viswanathan got to do lots of physical comedy—like when the heroine, drunk, falls off a stage after seeing her soon-to-be ex (Utkarsh Ambudkar) in the arms of another woman—and finally play a romantic lead. But unlike the many rom-coms before The Broken Hearts Gallery, it’s not just about the inevitable coupling of Lucy and Nick (Dacre Montgomery), the curmudgeon-turned-softie whose hotel she uses for her artwork. It’s about the liberation she gains when she decides to release her grasp on relationships that no longer serve her, instead focusing on the ones she has with herself and her her besties-slash-roommates, played by the hilarious Molly Gordon and Philippa Soo.
“The heart and soul of the film is Lucy’s journey of self-discovery and creation,” Viswanathan says. She talks to ELLE.com about The Broken Hearts Gallery, recreating classic rom-com moments, and living out her American high school fantasies in Hollywood.
I’ve seen The Broken Hearts Gallery twice now—it’s kind of my feel-good film of the moment. You’re playing a woman closer to your age who is extremely relatable. And by relatable, I mean a little messy—how did you come to be a part of the film and what attracted you to Lucy?
I was so taken by Lucy, who is so unapologetically herself and feels emotions so strongly and fully and loudly. I found that really inspiring because it’s so hard to do that. It’s so easy to just, you know…you don’t want to speak out. You don’t want to cause a stir. You want to kind of blend in and go with the flow.
I think there are a lot of parts of ourselves we suppress in order to keep moving socially, and she just doesn’t do that. She is so herself, and that really inspires the people around her to be themselves. She has this very hyper-feminine strength and bravery. I love those people who can just make friends wherever they go [and be] so open and free. I Facetimed with [screenwriter] Natalie Krinsky, [and I] discovered that a lot of [her] essence was put into Lucy and subsequently fell in love with Natalie. They’re both just like the most Leo people in the world. [Laughs] The life of the party and [people] you want to be friends with.
Have you always been a fan of the rom-com genre?
I mean, who doesn’t love a rom-com? Like, comfort food. This movie is a little more com than rom, which is what I wanted.
That’s a good point. At its core, it’s about her reconnecting with her own independence.
Totally. I think the priority in this movie is that it’s funny and believable, and the female friendship is so strong and true to all of us. Also, it’s an interesting take on recovering from heartbreak because she takes pain and sadness and doesn’t let it be destructive. She makes it constructive and productive and turns it into something beautiful and invites other people to participate in it. It goes deeper than a traditional rom-com, where you’re just rooting for them to get together or you want her to get the guy.
That’s true, though there are two classic rom-com motifs in the film: The ex who only wants you when another man shows interest—
—And the big romantic gesture at the end of the film. What are some of your favorite rom-com moments you got to recreate in this film?
I really enjoyed doing the karaoke scene. In a lot of good rom-coms, there’s a music moment—I’m thinking Bridget Jones’s Diary. And it’s a really sweet moment between Lucy and Nick. It really encapsulates their dynamic, because she’s trying to bring him out of his shell. They really complement each other.
They really do. And Bridget Jones’s Diary is another good example of a film that is really about a woman reconnecting with her own independence.
Yes. It’s my favorite rom-com of all time. I can watch that over and over again.
You starred in two fantastic recent films, Bad Education and Hala, playing somewhat of a heroine in both. What drew you to those specific films?
Oh god, Hala was a few years ago now. But that film just felt so nuanced and intimate and personal to Minhal [writer/director Baig]. And I thought it would be a really special experience to work on a film like that when I had only done studio comedies. I’m also really interested in exploring a more dramatic character.
And then for Bad Education, I’m a huge fan of Cory Finley. I think he’s an incredible director and I really love his style. And I thought Mike Makowsky’s script was so sharp and cool. Then obviously, when Hugh [Jackman] and Alison [Janney] came on, that was huge sell as well. But I love a good story too. Truly kind of everything about that one.
I can understand why. You played a high school student in both those films as well as Blockers. Have they made you reflect on your teenage years differently?
It’s been fun for me because I get to live out my American high school fantasy, which I think is very different from my experience at school. Like, not wearing uniforms and having a locker. Those were all things I thought were really cool. In terms of the high schoolers I’ve played, I’m definitely not a jock. I was not good at sports, so I couldn’t be Taylor from Blockers. But I loved Rachel in Bad Education. I thought I would be a journalist for a little bit.
That’s an interesting pivot—from journalism to acting.
Yeah, I studied journalism for a little bit because I knew I wanted to get into acting and writing, and kind of thought journalism would be a cool way to learn about storytelling. But then, you know, I dropped out within a couple of months. [Laughs]
Do you believe, as shown in The Broken Hearts Gallery, that pain can make great art?
Definitely. It’s almost exclusively true. Pain is so inevitable. It’s something we all experience in different degrees and that it is a process. In order to process things, you have to express them. And expressing them in art is the best thing you can do with sadness. Wanting it to be constructive rather than destructive is easier said than done and something I’ve been learning during this tumultuous time. It’s really how the human race keeps evolving.
We obviously know how Lucy grieves a breakup. Do you have a go-to for yourself after a breakup?
I’ve gone through very few breakups, so I haven’t really had the full, I’ve been dumped, what do I do? But when I’m sad, I let myself—I mean, not that I don’t do this in my life—but I eat whatever I want. Like, I’ll eat the whole thing of ice cream rather than just a bowl of ice cream.
Do you have a favorite flavor?
Oh, yeah. Chocolate chip cookie dough.
That’s one my favorites!
I feel like it’s such a clichéd thing—like, we’ve seen it before—but it’s because it’s true! And it’s really satisfying to eat it right out of the pint.
Speaking of ice cream, there’s a great scene when Lucy jumps up in the middle of a conversation with Nick because she hears the ice cream truck—which again, relatable. What’s something like that that excites you these days?
Oh my god—Any food thing! I’m truly like a full baby. Anyone that knows me will tell you it’s quite incredible how quickly I can turn around when there’s food around that I love. Just anything—ice cream truck, Chipotle, truly anything.
A woman after my heart. Now that you’re a leading lady, is it everything you thought it would be?
It’s actually maybe better, because I feel like I’ve been able to lead things, which is so satisfying because it’s so all-encompassing and you get to really get in there. But I haven’t felt like, Oh, I’ve made it. I’m just like, Wow, I get to tell these stories and be the lead of things that I love. That’s the ultimate dream.
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