Suzanna Son Talks ‘Red Rocket’ and What Really Rattled Her About the Shoot

·3-min read

On the first day of her first movie, Suzanna Son had to play keyboards and sing a song for a crucial, poignant scene. Oh, and before that, she launched her film career off by shooting her sex scenes.

Red Rocket” director Sean Baker wasn’t happy about the logistical constraints that thrust Son into that situation — he only had that house as a location for one day — but she had no qualms about it, in part because she had been in Texas rehearsing and getting to know Baker and star Simon Rex for a month.

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No, what really gave her the shakes came later in the process when she had to ride an old wooden roller coaster … while hitting all her lines.
“It was helpful to get the hardest scenes out of the way the first day,” Son says, calling her sex scenes “a great icebreaker.”

“It made my connection with Simon better, getting through that rough beautiful first day together.”

Leading up to the day of the roller-coaster scene, however, Son grew so fearful that “I was sobbing because I knew it was coming on the schedule. On the day of I told Sean I might throw up and he said, ‘Well, drink something green so it’s a pretty color.’”

Baker and his wife, Samantha Quan, had first spotted Son at the ArcLight Hollywood movie theater more than two years earlier and approached her to see if she was interested in acting. “When I street cast, I’m looking for that aura, that energy where you say, ‘I can see that person on screen for two hours and I want to see that person on screen for two hours,’” Baker says. “When I saw Suzi I said to Samantha, ‘If she’s not already a star she will be.’”

Son, who had a background in music and dancing, had just arrived in Los Angeles to try to make it as an actor. “I thought, ‘This is it,’ and I lost my mind,” she says. “I became obsessed and watched all Sean’s films and interviews.”

But while she was “hopelessly hopeful,” Son didn’t hear from Baker for two years. And while she’d made two music videos, her acting career had not happened. But just as she was wondering if she’d misplaced her optimism, Baker called and soon she was transforming herself into the 17-year-old Strawberry, who flirts with Rex’s porn star Mikey Saber, both aware of and heedless of the consequences.

“I listened to young, poppy music and started a diary as Strawberry,” Son says.

She worked on her character’s physicality — “I tried to keep her very up, light on her toes” — and her voice, lifting the timbre to sound younger, and finding the accent by writing out crucial lines in the international phonetic alphabet.

Son found it easy to inhabit Strawberry in part because “she’s so far removed from who I am. I was very frightened as a teenager,” Son says.

While Strawberry has a “soft sadness” underneath the surface and no one to advocate for her, “she’s very buoyant and two steps ahead of everyone else. I really appreciate how she’s not scared, and I think I’m bringing some of that along with me.”

Shedding her fears is what helped her get through the day on the roller coast, though she also knew she had to nail her lines because she didn’t want to have to go again and again.

“I actually had a fun time and we did get the scene,” Son says. “After that I felt like I could call myself an actor.”

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