When Tilda Cobham-Hervey turned up on the first day of shooting on The Kettering Incident – the Tasmanian thriller about two missing teenagers, also starring Elizabeth Debicki – she couldn’t understand why there were so many campervans on set. “Someone said, ‘oh, that’s the trailers for the catering,’” she recalls. “I was like, that’s a thing? [That] was the first time that I literally wasn’t making my own sandwiches to bring to set.”
She might have started off small – in Australian indie 52 Tuesdays, about a year in the life of a transgender teen, filmed Boyhood-style on sequential Tuesdays for a year, which saw the then-16-year-old jet off to the Sundance and Berlin film festivals – but she’s making up for lost time. There are major roles in the TV adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ Barracuda and The Kettering Incident airing as we speak, and this month she starts filming Hotel Mumbai in Adelaide and India with Dev Patel and Armie Hammer. A harrowing drama set during the 2008 Mumbai bombings, the film’s producer is one Mr. Harvey Weinstein, who says it will play a major role in his company’s Oscar campaign next year. “I’ll try not to think about that too much or I’ll get nervous,” she laughs.
Not bad for the 21-year-old from Adelaide, who supplemented her acting income by working in the tea shop attached to her local cinema, and had to tell customers that it wasn’t her in the posters tacked up in the ‘Coming Soon’ section. “It was so embarrassing,” she says. “I just used to go, ‘Oh no, that’s not me. Funny, huh?’ It was very surreal.”
We caught up with the rising star actress to learn about her start in cinema, and her big plans for the future.
MARIE CLAIRE: Is it true that you got your start in a circus troupe?
TILDA COBHAM-HERVEY: I started doing circus school when I was about nine, and then at 14 me and six and other members of the youth circus made a company. We decided to make a show for the Adelaide Fringe thinking it was kind of hilarious and it went so well that we travelled around with that show for three months.
MC: What kind of circus are we talking here, lions and tigers and bears?
TCH: It was never a straight circus, no leotards and animals… It was more circus theatre, circus storytelling. My parents are both in the arts and I had grown up watching my mum perform and my dad light shows. What I really loved was the process of making something and coming up with different ways to tell stories.
MC: What’s been the biggest pinch-me moment of your career so far?
TCH: Everyday? I think probably when 52 Tuesdays went to Sundance and Berlin. When we were making that film, we really thought it could be quite bad. We had no idea how it was going to go. It was very much an experiment. So it was this weird, wonderful thing of getting to [Sundance and Berlin Film Festival] and with such a labour of love.
MC: Those festivals are so famous. What was it like?
TCH: You do just walk past people all the time who are just… so famous. Particularly at Sundance because it’s so small. You’ll be walking down the street and there’s Nick Cave. Or, you know, doing a photoshoot and Ethan Hawke’s just sat in a chair before you. What is that?
MC: Who do you look up to in the industry?
TCH: I really admire Miranda July, who is a sort of performance artist who works in so many different forms of theatre and art and film and writing. I also love Mia Wasikowska, I think she’s incredible. Tilda Swinton. Ah, hundreds.
MC: Miranda July also directs and writes projects… Would you also want to go into that area?
TCH: Definitely. I write a lot just to get things out of my brain. I don’t know if it’s worth anyone looking at it, but I do enjoy doing it. I don’t know if I could ever direct anything, maybe my own stuff, but I don’t know if I could direct anyone else.
MC: You’ve got two great projects out this month. What was it like working on the first, The Kettering Incident?
TCH: That was four whole months in Tasmania [shooting] where you create a small family and it becomes a little universe that completely takes up your brain and mind and then it disappears as quickly as it appears. I think it’s always a strange feeling after that. But it was such an amazing project for me to work on because it was so different to anything I had done before. It was so challenging and much bigger [than any of my previous projects].
MC: What about Barracuda? What can you tell us about your role in this miniseries?
TCH: I had a ball! It’s slightly different to the book: I play the sister of the main character Danny’s best friend, and I have a sort-of relationship with him too. I love Christos Tsiolkas’ writing so I had read the book and loved that and was just so excited to even audition for that project. I’m playing Rachel Griffith’s daughter in it, and [in the show] we have a lot of money and I was in high heels half the time. Before that I [usually] play the strange kid and look a bit creepy in the background. It was a very big shift for me!
MC: Last year was the year of discussing sexism in Hollywood. What has your experience as a young actress been like?
TCH: I remember when I first started getting sent scripts and people would tell me ‘Oh, there are terrible roles for girls and young women,’ and I thought, ‘Oh yeah, I get that, but it’s not so bad,’ but when you actually start reading a lot of scripts you see the patterns: it’s the girlfriends in every story. That was a big shock for me. I’ve been lucky to work with three female directors, half of all the projects that I’ve worked on. I remember when we were doing press for 52 Tuesdays Sophie Hyde would always get asked what it was like to be a female director and ask me how it felt to be directed by a female director. It was a thing that we [Sophie and I] talked about a lot afterwards, like isn’t it crazy that we even have to discuss this in an every interview, that that’s something that people are interested in. I feel really lucky to be part of that conversation around change.
The Kettering Incident airs on Foxtel's Showcase from Monday, July 4, Barracuda will air on the ABC from Sunday, July 10. Hotel Mumbai will be in cinemas in 2017.