Try to set up an interview with a Hollywood star and you’re likely to be buried in weeks’ worth of emails and phone calls with studio publicists, personal publicists, stylists, photographers and anyone else who wants to get involved. Then there’s Aussie actor Abbie Cornish.
The 35-year-old ingénue-turned-movie star has three big projects coming up: the blockbuster movie Geostorm; the Oscar-hyped indie film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and the Amazon series, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, based on the best-selling books.
But Abbie turns out to be a one-woman entourage, sending her own emails to schedule our breakfast chat, and arriving on time and alone. She seems pleased when complimented about being so accessible.
“It’s true I don’t know anyone else my age doing what I do who doesn’t have a personal publicist, so I definitely went against the grain,” she admits with a hint of pride as we settle into a corner table on the patio of an airy Beverly Hills restaurant. “But I have to say I love it. It’s given me so much happiness to know I can be myself and do things my own way. I will always support the work but I don’t need to be famous.”
Dressed in a long-sleeve khaki T-shirt and matching cotton pants, Abbie looks youthful with her long brown hair up in a ponytail and not a skerrick of make-up on her luminous skin.
She ponders the menu, orders an eggwhite frittata and watermelon juice and then apologises in advance that it will have to be a quick meal because she’s heading off to the airport in a few hours to attend Paris Fashion Week as a guest of Dubai designer Kristina Fidelskaya.
”She contacted me directly, too,” says the actress. “Now I have a relationship with her. She invited me to her show and is putting me on a plane and in a nice hotel, and that would never happen in that other world where everyone is dealing with everyone’s assistant.”
Gregarious but thoughtful, funny yet earnest, Abbie is a bundle of contradictions. As a result she’s impossible to tag, except for the certainty that the warm, grounded vibe she radiates is not fake.
Raised on a farm at Lochinvar in NSW’s Hunter Valley as the second of five children (she has three brothers and one younger sister, Puberty Blues actor Isabelle Cornish), she doesn’t think it’s incongruous to describe herself as a “farm girl” and “hardcore rap fan” in the same sentence.
“Growing up in the country I really took in nature,” she insists. “But I also loved hip-hop because my brother was two years older than me, and when he was 12 he started buying CDs. So a big part of our relationship was hanging out listening to music together.”
Inspired by ’80s acts including Cypress Hill, Ice Cube and N.W.A, at 17 the independent free spirit moved off the farm and into the city of Newcastle, where she started writing rhymes and DJing under the moniker Dusk.
This dabbling in the arts paid off for her in 2004, when Australian director Cate Shortland cast her in the breakout hit Somersault. Within two years she had moved to Hollywood and established a reputation for edgy, independent films including 2004’s Candy (co-starring Heath Ledger), 2008’s Stop-Loss (with Ryan Phillippe, whom she dated from 2006 to 2010), 2009’s Bright Star (directed by Jane Campion) and 2011’s W.E. (written and directed by Madonna).
I MOVED TO LA FOR LOVE … HONESTLY,
I WAS AFRAID AND DIDN’T KNOW HOW I
WOULD BE. I’M SINGLE NOW BUT I’D LOVE
TO GET MARRIED AND HAVE KIDS.
Geostorm, however, is neither edgy nor independent. The blockbuster, in which Cornish plays a secret service agent, centres around climate change. World leaders react to a series of natural disasters by creating a network of satellites designed to control the global climate. When the satellites start to attack Earth, a scientist (Gerard Butler) is sent into space to uncover the truth.
“It’s insane how timely this movie is, because we shot it a few years ago,” she says of the film’s exploration of global warming. “It doesn’t feel that far-fetched any more and it’s kind of blowing my mind at the moment.”
She’s not bothered by the suggestion that doing a blockbuster is a departure for her. “I had such a great time on Sucker Punch and Robocop, so I definitely knew I wanted to do another big movie.
“The filming process is essentially the same but you get to work with really talented people who have the resources to make what they want to make. And I’m all about empowering women, so it makes me happy that young women will see this movie and go, ‘Yeah, it’s okay to be vulnerable and also kick some butt!'”
She does, however, return to her independent roots in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Here she teams up again with Martin McDonagh, who directed her in the 2012 movie Seven Psychopaths, and her co-star from that film, Woody Harrelson.
In Three Billboards, Abbie plays the wife of a small-town sheriff (Harrelson) who’s provoked when a resident (Frances McDormand) puts up billboards shaming him for not solving her daughter’s murder.
“It’s a killer cast so I was just happy to be asked back, regardless of the role,” she says. “I was also in awe of Frances McDormand as an actress. I admire her so much and watching her be so vulnerable in this role, with no make-up or vanity, was really inspiring.”
Abbie also has a key role in the forthcoming eight-part Amazon series Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, which stars John Krasinksi as the famed CIA analyst on his first dangerous field assignment. Somehow, between all these acting gigs, she’s also managed to become passionate about cooking. “I’m a real foodie. When I travel, I always research restaurants and love seeking out good food and wine. Then one day I was like, ‘Why don’t I know how to cook?'”
“I asked my best friend, [chef] Jacqueline King, if she could teach me and we started spending every Sunday together, with her first taking me to the farmers markets and teaching me how to buy local and seasonal food. We began making up recipes and now we have a cookbook in the pipeline.”
Not surprisingly, that laser focus helped Abbie find a way back to music, too. In 2015 she returned to Australia as the opening act for acclaimed New York rapper Nas, once again using the name Dusk. “It was the greatest few weeks of my life,” she says of her concerts with Nas. As Dusk, she also released two tracks – Evolve, with rapper Jane Tyrell, and Way Back Home.
Can she continue pursuing all these interests at the same time? “I’d like to keep going like this, with work and life and music,” she says. “And things like the cookbook make me feel very connected and keep my brain active, so it’s all fun.” Fun is a word she hasn’t applied to her personal life during our chat, which begs the question: is it really possible to have it all? “I’m single now but I’d love to get married and have kids when the right guy comes into my life,” she responds with a hint of sadness.
Abbie credits her relationship with Phillipe for helping her overcome Hollywood’s challenges. “In the end, I moved to LA for love, because Ryan and I really wanted to live together and his two kids were in LA. So I made the move. I’d danced around the issue for a long time because, honestly, I was afraid.”
“I didn’t know if I could be in that Hollywood environment as a country girl from Lochinvar and not feel insecure. When I came here to live with Ryan it turned out that it was really good for me, and for my career as well.”
She flashes a wicked smile when asked about work getting in the way of dating. “I saw Rihanna in an interview recently, and when she talked about her personal life being sacrificed because of work, she made a joke like, ‘This, down here, needs some attention.’ ” Abbie mimics gesturing at her crotch. “I totally understand that, because it’s easy to get work-obsessed. Now I really want to create some empty moments to chill and enjoy life.”
Sipping the last sip of her juice, she fidgets with a red string around her wrist that suggests an interest in the esoteric Jewish practice of Kabbalah. “My friend gave it to me; every time you want to do something in your life, you just make a knot,” Abbie explains.
Pausing, she takes in the significant number of knots already in the string. “Obviously I still have lots of things I want to do and make in the world!”
Geostorm is in cinemas now.