Abbie Cornish takes on Fanny Brawne in 'Bright Star'
Empty"I could feel her in my body and in my mind -- I was really kind of swept away by her," Abbie Cornish says of Frances "Fanny" Brawne as she sits in a Sunset Boulevard office overlooking the Cinerama Dome on a late Friday afternoon.
Seeing her in person, it's hard to believe this contemporary-looking 27-year-old (who once had the distinction of being named "Australia's Sexiest Vegetarian") could play John Keats' 19th century muse in "Bright Star." Before that, Cornish, who grew up with four siblings on her family's farm in Hunter Valley, New South Wales, had exhibited a convincing range in films like the Iraq War drama "Stop-Loss" and "Candy," a drug-addled romantic drama in which she hooks up with another poet, played by the late Heath Ledger.
She worked briefly as a teen model before turning to acting, first making an impression in the edgy coming-of-age drama, "Somersault," which swept the 2004 Australian Film Institute Awards and earned Cornish the best actress nod.
But it took "Bright Star" and filmmaker Jane Campion, who is known for her intense, exploratory rehearsal schedules, to bring her to international prominence.
"I really had to exercise patience during the rehearsal period because I hadn't worked for a year and a half and so I was really ready to go," Cornish says. "I had so much energy and I had thought about this script and these characters for so long, I just wanted to go and shoot the movie."
When principal photography began just outside London in early spring 2008, after several logistical delays, Cornish and Ben Whishaw, who plays the ailing Keats, finally embarked on a relationship that felt remarkably modern.
"That was something Jane was very conscious of," Cornish says. "I don't think she ever wanted to feel chained to the idea of making a period film. It was much more important to play what was really going on in the scene and letting it live in the moment. That's what made it contemporary."
But Cornish was drawn back to the past by shooting in the real locations, wherever possible.
"We would have moments when we would give each other a knowing look that said, 'Keats was here,' " she says. "You got the feeling that there was an approval over what we were doing. We weren't battling elements and fighting against things going wrong. It was a really nice shoot."
Now she's facing a very different kind of shoot in Vancouver, where she's been making "Sucker Punch" since June -- described by director Zack Snyder ("Watchmen") as "Alice in Wonderland" with machine guns.
"It's like being on a playground," Cornish says of the big-budget action-fantasy. "I get to act, do martial arts, use guns, use a sword, do a crazy burlesque dance, get to be in a psych ward. It's just insane, you know?"