Interview Date: 03/09/2011
Run Date: 03/16/2011
Already well-known in her home country of Australia, 2011 could be Abbie Cornish's breakout year stateside. Known mainly for period pieces and emotionally gripping independent films such as 2004's "Somersault," the actress has diversified her role choices as of late, starring as Lindy, Bradley Cooper's girlfriend in "Limitless," and as Sweet Pea in Zach Snyder's upcoming action-fantasy film "Sucker Punch."
Cornish sat down with a group of journalists recently in New York to discuss her past, present and future, touching on growing up on an Australian farm, focus-based drugs like Adderall and Ritalin and what it's like to have your name above Robert De Niro.
Journalist #1: Why don't you tell us about the character of Lindy and how you came to choose this project?
Abbie Cornish: Neil Burger sent me the script a while back and he really wanted me to do it and I thought it was a really interesting film and I felt like the character had room to grow and evolve within the scenes that were already written. Because it is a small part. As an actor, you always want to have a journey to go on. You want to have something where you can sink your teeth in and get your hands dirty. So I felt that was possible with this role and I was a fan of Bradley Cooper. We had never met, but through the process of making the film, we became really good friends. And I thought Neil as a director would be a very present and caring and collaborative director. The genre of the film was something I hadn't explored before; the idea of this drug of what it could do and the possibility that it could merely exist in our everyday lives. Even though it's far-fetched, at the same time, it felt possible and real. So that interested me.
J2: How does it feel to have your name above Robert De Niro? Would you take the pill?
AC: I remember when we did the script readthrough and the seats were very much like this [points to dais] but closer together. There's a little placard that says Abbie Cornish; there's one here that says Robert DeNiro and one here that says Bradley Cooper. Bradley sits down and I sit down and we were talking over Bob De Niro's chair to each other like this and then all of a sudden I looked and I saw his placard and I said to Bradley "Look, in a moment, this chair will be filled by Robert De Niro. How surreal is that?" He goes, "I know. I can't believe it." It was just that moment of realizing that and all of a sudden we were giddy. Make sure his chair's ready for him. It was just the most amazing thing for me. As an actor, his performances are incredible. He's such a talented and amazing actor and has had such a wonderful career. When you meet him, it was like this fog for a moment or moreso when people talk of near-death experiences like their life flashes before their eyes. When I saw Robert De Niro's face, all his characters flashed before my eyes. Then that cleared and I saw this man who is Robert De Niro. It's surreal and wonderful and amazing.
As for the pill, if you could have the ability to take a drug like that without any side effects or consequences or having to face addiction. If you could just go on an adventure with it and feel what that is like. If you could open your mind and utilize 100% of your brain for a moment and feel that. So many of us have these infinite lists of things to do – I want to learn a language, play the piano, run faster, whatever – we always have these aims and aspirations and the idea of taking a drug where within half a hour you could read a novel or whatever is fascinating. Imagine that. I don't know why I would ever say no to the concept of that.
J3: There's a serious side to this. There are kids today that are taking these enhancement drugs.
AC: They are?
J4: Yes, in college to stay awake. Can you weigh in on that?
AC: That's something that I was talking about today. The closest things to it that I can think of are Ritalin and Adderall – these drugs that make you focus and are meant to accelerate the process of study and learning. For me, it's each to their own. You could have a debate about it and express your own personal opinion on whether you yourself would want to do it or whether you're against it or for it but at the end of the day, how much can you really judge someone else's existence and their life and what they choose to do? As long as it's not harming anyone else, I don't know how much judgment can be placed upon it. I'm a vegetarian and very much active in how I feel about animal rights and protecting animals and giving animals a voice, but at the same time, I appreciate and respect other people's decision to eat meat. The only thing that I hope is that people are educated and aware that they're living a conscious lifestyle. The only time where I feel the hairs stand up on its ends is when someone is very ill-informed and arrogant. They feel like they know what is right, but haven't explored the truth of the situation.
J5: When did you decide to become a vegetarian? Did you go to the cinema a lot growing up?
AC: I became a vegetarian when I was 13 and because I grew up on a farm, that was just a way of life. The farm that I grew up on was more of a hobby farm but the meat and eggs that we ate were all from our farm, so it was like a self-producing farm. I didn't actually know what a vegetarian was until I was 13. I know in this day and age, it's hard to believe that. I grew up on a farm so I wasn't indulged in magazines, newspapers, Internet, television and so for some reason, I was never exposed to what a vegetarian was. As soon as I found out — I was at a dinner where someone wasn't eating meat and it was such an abstract idea so I questioned them about it — I told my mom I wanted to become a vegetarian. It was immediate. It was a way of life that felt so right to me. Almost like the way certain people feel about their religion. I've never felt better from that moment.
I didn't go to the cinema a lot as kid. Where I grew up was 170 acres and it's a really small town. It was five kilometers to get to the little corner store, and that was a post office, a news agency and a fish and chips shop. It was about 15-20 minutes to get to the cinema. In Australia, we only had, at that point, five television channels. One of them played a lot of foreign-language films and I was always a night owl as a kid. At midnight, I was the only one awake in the house. I would watch European and foreign language films in the middle of the night and independent short films. On Sunday mornings, I would sit with my brothers for hours and watch music videos. That's where it began for me. It wasn't until I became an actor and that I started to understand it more and be more interested in. I still feel I have a lot to learn about the process of filmmaking and the films that have been made to this point.
J6: How do you choose what role to do? Does it affect you personally if a movie does or does not do well commercially?
AC: I've been really blessed with the career that I've had and the work that I've been able to do as an actor and because it originated from a place of films like "Somersault," where it's a smaller budget film, great director, very hard working crew, and you make that film with your heart and your soul, you don't even think about what's going to happen with it. I remember making "Somersault" and I didn't even think about what was going to happen with the film when it was actually a film. I just thought about the film we were making.
I remember when the film came out and I got the phone call that we were going to Cannes, I couldn't believe it. It was the most amazing, awesome thing. The process of making the film is where all the energy goes and what's really important. If you're passionate about it and you pour yourself into it, it doesn’t matter. Not a lot of people have seen "Somersault," but I'm so proud of that film. I don't really think of things in those terms. Even with "Sucker Punch," it's a $100 million film. I've never done a film like that with that budget. You see big billboards everywhere but it still feels the same to me. The process of making it was the same and I really care about the people I made it with.
I make choices based on my instinct, the story, the character, the people that I'll be working with. The more I work actually, I realize how important it is on the people that you make the film with. In the last couple of years, I've worked with some really awesome people and developed friendships that I will take with me the rest of my life. On "Sucker Punch," the five of us girls bonded like you wouldn’t even believe. We were all so sad when we wrapped on that film because we felt like the family was breaking up. I still stay in contact with everyone. It's not defined just as work because it's so enriched.
J7: This is a thought provoking story. What really stops people from enhancing their achievements and why do you think your character decides to treat Andy like a regular drug addict?
AC: We do have a hand in our own destiny. I look at my mother and I see the evolution of her life and this amazing woman that she's constantly becoming. To me, that's so inspiring and gives me so much hope. We all have things in our lives – some worse than others – in regards to the family we were born into, the lifestyle, money issues, education, etc. There are so many layers that we have to deal with and break through and also, we're born with our personal quirks and nuances regardless of if we're given a difficult or easy path. I feel like it's one's own drive.
In regards to your second question, I don't think she leaves him like a drug addict. The relationship in the beginning has been under a lot of stress and you can see in that breakup, it's not an impulsive breakup. It's something she's thought about for a while. When they get back together, that all happens quite fast. She's leaving a situation that she feels doesn't have an outcome that she agrees with. She can see that he has a one-track mind and because she gets to experience this drug, she has that awareness to speak from. She has a pretty good case. I don't think she's leaving him high and dry.
J8: Were you planning on working with ["Somersault"director] Cate Shortland again or just within the Australian film industry in general? What future projects do you have lined up?
AC: Cate Shortland: incredible woman, amazing director. I really hope she makes more films, but she's also been living life. She has a family, so she's been concentrating on life and she is the sort of artist that takes time. You can see that in "Somersault." So who knows? It might be five years until the next film comes around for her, but I know it's going to be great. I'd love to work with her again. It was such an incredible experience.The next film that I'm doing is called The Girl. It's the story of a 25-year-old Texan girl who lives close to the Mexican border. She has a 5-year-old son that she's lost to the welfare system. She sees an opportunity to make money bringing illegal immigrants across the border, so she does it as a one-off. During this incident in the river, she's life with the responsibility of a 9-year-old girl. So it's her journey with a 9-year-old Mexican girl through Mexico to get her home. It's quite a challenging film. I'm prepping more on this film than I have on any other film before. "Sucker Punch" was physical preparation – we trained for three months before we started shooting — but I've had to start to learn how to speak Spanish. 70% of my dialogue is in Spanish. It's an incredible feat. I wish I had a year up my sleeve before I made the movie. I can only do what I can do. I go to Mexico really soon. I'm going to spend a lot of time with the little girl. She's a non-actor, native Mexican girl. It's pretty awesome.