"Si Madonna met son esprit à quelque chose, cela existera vraiment".
Cornish defends fantasy film
April 13, 2011
Abbie Cornish opens up about Heath Ledger, Madonna and the fuss over fantasy flick Sucker Punch.
It is apt that Australian Abbie Cornish provides the most convincing voice in Zack Snyder's brave new world. Having been raised on a farm as one of five children, only to suffer the stress of her parents' divorce in her teens, this country girl learnt to be amiable but tough, open but loyal, before her star began to rise.
When we meet, in Sydney's Sheraton on the Park hotel, to discuss her latest film - which sees Cornish ditch period dramas for action, playing Sweet Pea, the reluctant stalwart in Sucker Punch's five-girl fantasy troupe - personal questions are off limits. Just to remind me, an army of publicists and technical staff hover within earshot throughout the interview.
But Cornish seems happy to veer from her minders' ''protection''. The 28-year-old - who grew up just hours north of Sydney, on a sprawling 70-hectare farm in Lochinvar, in the Hunter Valley - talks about her formative years and her decision to stay in Los Angeles following her split from Ryan Phillippe last March. She's not afraid of the storm her new film has generated. Cagey she is not.
"My mum was Australian national karate champion - full-contact karate champion - when I was nine years old, so it seems like it," she says with a smile, when I ask if she was destined for Snyder's kick-arse all-action feature: a film that follows a group of girls who escape brutal institutionalised torment through a series of high-octane musical fantasies.
The film - which director Snyder (Watchmen, 300) also wrote - has been savaged by critics for having a gratuitous, chauvinistic agenda. The Guardian's Steve Rose summed up the feelings of many, writing of Snyder: "This man needs help."
But Cornish says Snyder has created something new, which audiences and critics will come to appreciate over time.
"It is the type of film that it is," she says of its tone, which takes a leaf from Sin City's comic-book aesthetic and transfers it to the more brutal arena of the video game. "It's so stylised, so specific; there's no other film like it at all. When you have something totally new, it's going to be judged to the 10th degree."
Lady Gaga's image provides a comparison, she says: "No one says, 'Yeah, she's all right.' People either say 'I love her!' or 'I hate her!' Like Eminem. It's the same with movies. When you've got a totally new concept, it's a love or hate relationship."
Cornish, who says she is enjoying herself during the film's release (she's just in from London), doesn't reference music by accident. She's long been rapping and beatboxing during her spare time but, despite Britain's Esquire magazine curtly claiming this as a career option "if the roles dry up", she insists it's merely another side to an apparently fearless nature.
"I've been rapping since I was 18 years old, with a crew called Blades," she says, with the hint of a trans-Pacific drawl. "We've released a couple of albums. I've been working on other stuff, other collaborations, since. I play the keyboard, piano, I like making beats. I paint as well, actually. I'm a jack of all trades. And I hang out with friends, I surf. I live a normal life."
Cornish appears to have lost none of that level-headed focus that made her performance in the Australian drama Somersault in 2004 opposite Sam Worthington so memorable. The subsequent move to LA with her Stop-Loss co-star Phillippe might have seemed risky at the time but to her, the world has always been there to explore.
"I just have this really strong memory from when I was a kid, of playing on a trampoline and looking up at the stars," she says. "And thinking how big this Earth, this world was. Because I lived in the country, you could almost get a sense of the Earth curving - I know it sounds strange - and I was just fascinated by that. That and watching indie and foreign films late at night on television."
A so-called indie film she made just before that LA move - Neil Armfield's award-winning Candy - happened to give her one of two life-affirming experiences: working with Heath Ledger. "I had never met anyone like him," she says of her late friend and co-star. "He had such a full, open, generous, adventurous magical spirit. He was so filled with light. To look in his eyes, to see him smile. He was incredibly unique. Incredibly talented, very instinctual. Everything just flowed with him, everything was this constant discovery."
These days, Cornish also counts another "bright star" - Madonna - as a friend and collaborator. Her next film, W.E, is directed and co-written by the singer and will premiere in Venice later this year. It tells the story of a lonely woman obsessed with the abdication of King Edward VIII, a subject integral to this year's best picture Oscar winner, The King's Speech. Cornish says, as with Ledger, that her new co-star has given her something inspirational to add to that teenaged view of a world where anything is possible.
''It's her discovery of love and sacrifice and what [they] mean,'' Cornish says of the film, in which she plays an unhappily married woman named Wally Winthrop. "And I remember when we were shooting Madonna said, 'I really want to go to Venice.' And sure enough, we're off to Venice. That's Madonna. She's such a force. She's such an amazing woman. If she puts her mind to something, it'll actually exist."
Source: Sydney Morning Herald.
Girl power ... Abbie Cornish, centre, with the cast of Sucker Punch.