Following in the footsteps of Nicole, Naomi and other great Australian actresses, 25-year-old beauty Abbie Cornish, Cate Blanchett’s co-star in Elizabeth: The Golden Age, might surprise those who see Shekhar Kapur’s historic epic, because few people will have seen the actress’ amazing performances in the Aussie dramas Somersault and Candy. (A few more people may have seen her in Ridley Scott’s 2005 comedy A Good Year but not too many more.)
In “The Golden Age,” Cornish plays Bess Throckmorton, Queen Elizabeth’s first lady-in-waiting, who has an affair with Clive Owen’s Sir Walter Raleigh, much to the ire of the queen who also had her eye on the dashing adventurer, and when ComingSoon.net spoke to the young actress recently, we were pleasantly surprised by her eloquent responses to our questions.
ComingSoon.net: I just got off the phone with Geoffrey, your co-star and countryman who you worked with in “Candy,” so how was it working with him on this kind of thing?
Abbie Cornish: It was different, and the relationship of the characters and the time frame of the film and everything was completely different. It was kind of interesting for me, because I walked into a film that, even though a lot of time has passed since the last film, essentially a lot of the cast and crew were the same. It was funny because there was an establishment of some of these characters and their pasts and stories, and Walsingham in the first “Elizabeth” was such a presence. I remember he was so scary and dark, even though he was very loyal and there was a warmth to him, you knew that he was not the person that you wanted to have searching after you. It was interesting to already have a knowledge of characters and a film behind me, but being a newcomer into it.
CS: How was it being the newcomer? Was it hard coming into the bonds that had already been formed between Shekhar, Cate, Geoffrey and the crew as this new and very prominent character?
Cornish: No, it wasn’t hard. It was just interesting. It was nice to have those insights. I felt like I had little to no knowledge of that world in regards to historical facts and also Bess’ life. Obviously I had to research as much as I could and ask a lot of questions. There was already an energy to the film. Shekhar had already created something, so there was a basis to work from, and it was kind of fun like that I think.
CS: Bess is such a close confidante and friend of the Queen. Do you have any insight on how and why she went behind her back and had a relationship with Sir Walter? She obviously must have known that the Queen was interested in him.
Cornish: Yeah, I think Bess definitely has the sense that the Queen likes this guy, and I think everyone likes this guy, to tell you the truth. I don’t think it’s abnormal for her to have similar feelings ’cause I think all the other ladies in waiting probably thought, “Wow, who’s this adventurous, dashing young man.” Even the Queen’s taken by this guy, but I think what happens is that things get incredibly confusing. I mean, she’s told that he only likes her because she has the ear of the Queen. She is told to send messages back and forth basically, so she becomes the physical representation of the Queen’s message or Raleigh’s messages. Her and Raleigh get close through being forced to spend time together in a sense, and I think what happens is when the kiss that happens just outside of Bess’ chapel where she’s praying at. In Bess’ eyes, I feel that there’s a sense of what’s happening, that “this is wrong, but this is probably the most alive I’ve ever felt.” Bess’ journey is very much one of someone who is very good at what she does and very spirited and very light, but underneath, has this sadness to her. There’s this want for something that she can’t get within the court, that there’s this need for love, need for life. There is this almost dream-like quality of something much more emotional and spiritual. I think Sir Walter Raleigh evokes that within her, and she can’t deny that. I think after that first kiss, her mind starts going crazy, and I think she falls in love and she decides to choose love over work really.
CS: Now, Bess was based on a real person, she was a real person or was she fictionalized from different people in Queen Elizabeth’s court? Did you ever find that out?
Cornish: Yeah, she’s real. She’s a real person. She actually was first lady-in-waiting to the Queen, and she did have a relationship with Sir Walter Raleigh, which got her banished from the court, and also they had a child who died at six months, they then went on to have one or two children, and then Walter Raleigh was killed, and she went on to defend his person and honored him till her own death. Very strong woman and very much driven by spirit, you know?
CS: It sounds like they have to do a spin-off movie about Bess and her life. Do you think your character would return if they did the third movie they’ve been talking about and would you be interested in doing more of this kind of thing?
Cornish: Oh, of course. I don’t know if they would. I think in the next film, which would then be the later stage in Elizabeth’s reign and her life, my feeling is that historically, Bess would be out of the court by then, so the films are so concentrated in that court world, that I don’t know if they’d go outside of it. That’s a question for Shekhar I guess.
CS: In just a few movies, you’ve worked with some of England and Australia’s finest actors. Are you able to take something away from each of those experiences? Especially working with Cate, since so many of your other movies have been male-driven in some ways.
Cornish: Yeah, I mean it’s always interesting working with different people. I’ve been lucky enough to work with a lot of Australians overseas, so it’s a very comfortable, very homey feeling. I think you take things away from the entire experience of making that film. It’s not compartmentalized, and for me, making “The Golden Age” was a journey of exploration into that whole world and what that world could be like, and taking risks. I really felt like Shekhar encouraged me to take risks, and he challenged me. He kind of gave me this infinite world to dive into and create within, so you kind of take the whole experience away, if that makes sense.
CS: For a while, you were rumored to be the next James Bond girl, so how do you feel when you hear things like that which I assume must happen with every young actress eventually? Did you hear those rumors?
Cornish: Yeah, I was told about it, but it’s not true. You just dismiss it. It didn’t come from me.
CS: But once you heard about it, did it become something you might be interested or did you try to find out more about whether to go after it?
Cornish: No, I mean it essentially was just a rumor so you just let that go. I didn’t really think of it like that, no.
CS: Your next movie coming up is “Stop Loss” by Kimberly Peirce, director of “Boys Don’t Cry,” her first movie in a while. That must be very different thing. You’re playing an American in that?
Cornish: Yeah, I play a Texan girl who’s around 24-years-old and her fiance comes back from the war in Iraq, and the dynamics of their relationship and everyone around them gets really messed-up, I guess.
CS: What was that experience like? Very different from the last few movies you’ve done I’d imagine, being more American?
Cornish: Yeah, I think everything’s always different. I like to be open about each individual project. That was very much an ensemble cast and a great cast, like we all had so much fun together. Working with a bunch of people when everything’s really shared in the way that it was in that film. It’s a really great experience. That was very much teamwork making that film. It all felt like we were all leaning on each other’s shoulders, so it was a good one.
CS: You just got signed to do “Last Battle Dreamer” which is also with Ryan Phillipe (who’s in “Stop Loss”). How did you both end up working on two movies in a row together?
Cornish: Yeah, I really loved the film. Menno Meyjes is really interesting, really intellectually, and seems extremely aware. I’m kind of excited to do a film that is very dream-like. There’s fighting and wolves and Vikings and all of this sort of thing and you really feel like your imagination goes wild. Your imagination just never leaves. You’re born with it, you die with it, and I’ve wanted to do something that’s really sparked that part of my thinking in a while, and this one is that one, so I’m pretty excited about that one. I start it at the end of November.