Last year, Australian beauty Abbie Cornish played supporting fiddle in "Limitless," "Sucker Punch" and Madonna's critically assaulted "W.E." She had already proved she had leading lady chops after impressing critics as John Keats' doomed girlfriend in Jane Campion's 2009 period romance "Bright Star," so it's good to see her back as a headliner in her new indie, "The Girl," playing at this year's Tribeca Film Festival.
In the tense drama directed by David Riker ("La Ciudad"), Cornish plays an unemployed single mother trying to win back custody of her son after the authorities deem her an unfit parent. With seemingly no one to turn to, she takes a cue from her dad and smuggles a group of illegal immigrants across the Mexico/Texas border; but when things don't go according to her plan, she finds herself forced to care for a motherless Mexican girl.
Cornish spoke to us about the kinds of characters she tends to portray, how she coped with being tabloid fodder during her relationship with Ryan Phillippe, and the first time she ever visited New York City.
The characters you play tend to go through a lot, and the one you play in "The Girl" is no different. Why not go for something a little more lighthearted?
The lighthearted stuff appeals to me, too. There stories I do have resonated with me, and these characters are ones I want to explore. They're all films that I've felt very passionate about, films like "Somersault," "Bright Star," "Candy" and "The Girl." The other genres of film do appeal to me, and I do want to explore them. It's part choice and part coincidental that this is the way my career has taken. I talk to my agent a lot about wanting to do different things. It's not like we sit there and go, "This is a comedy, let's not even read it."
I imagine the characters you portray aren't easy ones to shake off.
Some stick more than others. Some, you just finish the film and let them go. Films like the ones I just mentioned, those four films won't ever leave me -- the characters or the experiences. Like I still recite the poem "Bright Star" in my head at least a couple times a week. Sometimes more, even. I don't know why that's so deeply ingrained within me. I think when you invest that much into something, artistically or creatively, there's this connection to it that never goes away.
Australians for the past couple of decades have really taken over Hollywood in a big way. Was it always your intention to break into the American market?
To be honest, I haven't up until recently had any intentions with my career as an actor. I was incredibly grateful that I found acting and that I started to work as an actor. I'm lucky that it's supported my life and my travels. I just bought a home! But I actually avoided Los Angeles for a long time because I didn't know what that meant for me. I moved to Los Angeles not for work but for love, and coincidentally it's been really good for work. And I love Los Angeles. I love being in the middle of what's happening.
I used to work, and then run off and travel, make music, paint and live life. For me it felt like a divide between work and life. And I don't mean a disconnect. They just felt different. I feel like that divide doesn't exist anymore. I'm so excited right now about the idea of creating something. I just see film from so many different angles now. That's just such a good feeling to have.
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When you were starting out in America, you became tabloid fodder once the press caught wind of your relationship with your "Stop-Loss" costar Ryan Phillippe. How did you navigate that experience and come out of it with your integrity intact? [The couple split in 2010.]
A positive way to look at it, and it is how I look at it, is it gave me a really tough outer shell. I don't get bothered by it much anymore. You go through it and you come out the other end, going, "Okay, that's what that's like." You develop the skills to be able to let things go, to protect yourself, to be able to say, "That's outside of me." And so yeah, that's what I would say. I'm a bit tougher, a bit stronger.
Given that this is a New York-centric film festival and you're Australian, I'm curious -- when did you first come to the Big Apple?
I was 17 years old on my first trip to New York. I had just traveled through Europe for five months, and I came to New York just to hang out for a couple of weeks. I landed and instantly fell in love with the city. I got a job as a receptionist at an Internet company, so I would answer the phones: "Safetydirector.com, how may I help you?" So I just sat at the desk and made as much money as I could, because I'd run out of money. I was meant to go home. But I ended up staying for a month! I moved into an art studio with my friend. We just crashed out there and had the time of our lives. It was one of the best months of my life.