“The Girl” is one of the most challenging films for Australian actress Abbie Cornish. The actress showed her acting range as a struggling and depressed mother who is trying to win back her son from child protective services. Her life then changes after an encounter with a young girl in Mexico that starts towards her life-changing journey to truly realize what it really means for motherhood.
In a recent phone interview with Latino-Review, Cornish talked about working on the project with director David Riker and acting newcomer Maritza Santiago Hernandez. She even discussed her research on the life and culture of both sides of the borders. She also mentioned the challenges with developing a Texan accent and learning the Spanish language for the movie.
As an added bonus, Cornish eagerly talked about her experiences on the set of the upcoming “RoboCop” film and working with the respected thespian Gary Oldman.
“The Girl” is currently in limited release in New York. The film will be in limited release in the cities of Tuscon, Los Angeles, Orange and Santa Monica. And then the film will expand to more cities later in the month, including Phoenix, San Diego, Chicago, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.
Read the interview transcript below.
Latino-Review: Could you start by telling me why you were attracted to this project?
Abbie Cornish: I was attracted to the script and the character. And it was also when I met David [Riker]. He was a great director to work with. I just love the concentration on the issue with the Mexican immigrants coming to America and as an American making her journey through Mexico.
It highlighted on what’s happening at the border, but it also tells us a story in a different perspective. It’s about a young American having to go into Mexico and it changed her life. It’s about finding herself. It’s finding a different dream and eventually being awaken to a new life perspective for her.
Latino-Review: Being a foreigner yourself from Australia, were the subjects on the film entirely shocking to do a movie that is socially and politically motivated like this?
Abbie Cornish: No, I think I was always interested in the world even though I grew up on a 170-acre ranch, which feels like I’m out in the middle of nowhere. I used to watch a lot of SBS and ABC in Australia, which has a lot of foreign films, foreign correspondence, short films and independent film. So I was exposed to different cultures and different lifestyles at a young age. I also watched a lot of television late night since during the day we’re rooted on a farm and riding a lot of horses. At nighttime, I’ve watched a lot of European films and sort of had wider vision of the world cause of that.
And I also loved reading encyclopedias. I know it sounds incredibly geeky, but I loved it. When I was growing up—we didn’t have the Internet until I was twelve or thirteen. Back then, it just e-mail and some online encyclopedia. My parents had this amazing encyclopedia set with the page edges with gold. Remember those books when you rub the fingers on the edges and you get gold on your fingers.
Latino-Review: Yeah, I remember those books.
Abbie Cornish: I just love flipping through those pages. I’m a bit of a science freak. I just love the different ideas and different cultures. And I just love the idea of travel.
So no, there wasn’t any fear or surprises when I dived into [this film]. It was just exciting, if anything.
Latino-Review: What was the biggest eye-opening lesson that you learned from this movie?
Abbie Cornish: Gosh, there were so many things. When I got back from Mexico, I was a little overwhelmed. Actually, I was in culture shock back in America. Going there was just a lovely, intense and amazing confronting experience that changed my life. It’s the people and the relationships I’ve built there. I spent a lot of time with David [Riker], Maritza [Santiago Hernandez], actors and non-actors in the film. I spent a lot of time in the village, in which they opened up their lives to us.
I also spent a lot of time at the orphanage there too. That was also life changing for me. So there was more of a shock coming back. I was concerned with all these things that I’ve absorbed and learned were going to dissipate over time.
Luckily, I’ve shot fifteen hours’ worth of footage when I was there. I made a little documentary through my eyes. I didn’t know what I was making when I’ve started out. But, I really wanted to document the journey. I knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
So I came home with so many things I’ve learned while I was there. I’ve started to write them down. In fact, it’s hard to pinpoint them—I think it gives a really wonderful perspective on life and especially on your life on how fortunate you are. I already knew I was fortunate. I knew blessed. I have a wonderful family, successful career and a beautiful home. So I’m blessed with all these things, but I was able to see through things clearer with my experiences. I felt so in tuned and connected [from this journey].
Latino-Review: I also understood that you had to learn Spanish and develop a Texas accent for this movie. What was the process of learning these things? And how difficult was it? Your Spanish is pretty good since I could barely speak Spanish and I write for Latino-Review.
Abbie Cornish: [Laughter] Oh, right. I loved it. It took on a whole another level when I worked with a dialect coach and a Spanish teacher. You get all the sounds, nuances and the flavor of the language. I worked really, really hard on it. It was the hardest thing for the film for sure. That’s the thing I was most concerned about, especially the bridge between the Texas accent and Spanish. How do you bridge all that? How do you make that all into one character and one voice? There was a lot of work into that. I had a dialect coach, Gerry Grennell, for the Texas accent. And I had this Mexican lady named Tina, who was my dialect coach for my Spanish. We all worked together to create one character and one voice. That was the hardest and scariest thing in the beginning. Once I had that under my belt, I was good to go.
But, not only that, it was also researching on Mexico, the border and also motherhood. It was also researching on what it is like to lose your son to the welfare system and living in a trailer park to fill in the back story. It was homework and I put my life aside for a while. I was at this for three and a half months as an actor who was totally immersed in this film, this character and this journey.
It’s a beautiful journey. If you watch the movie, then the character seems so full of anger, resentment and regret. But, as soon as that camera wasn’t rolling—we were all laughing, smiling and having the most incredible time.
To play a character like that who goes from the dark to the light is quite a rewarding journey as an actor. And in a way, we shot the film in sequence. And we ended in San Juan Chicomexuchil.
Latino-Review: Speaking of research, how much depth did you research for the role of a mother who lost her child in the movie?
Abbie Cornish: I spoke to a lot of people. Not only I spoke to younger women or single mothers in the welfare system, but just mothers in general. I don’t have any children. I’ve been in a relationship with someone who had children—which was the closest I’ve got. I was twelve when my little brother was born and ten when my little sister was born. I saw them grow up, but they are still not my children. However, you don’t know a love of a child until you have one.
The more you talked to women then the more you can create that world to understand that and sympathize with them. I wanted to find that compassion and that love. And the character in the film didn’t have that in the beginning, but eventually becomes that.
Latino-Review: We’re talking about towards the end of the movie, right?
Abbie Cornish: Yeah, like towards the end. Ashley’s journey is about letting go. It’s about opening her eyes. It’s about seeing the world. It’s about being a mother and learning what it is to be a mother with responsibility. It’s all about becoming a woman.
Latino-Review: Did this movie teach you the lessons of some day you want to become a mother yourself?
Abbie Cornish: Yeah, I can’t wait to be a mother for sure. I wanted to be a mother for a long time, but I don’t think the time is now. But, I can’t wait.
Latino-Review: What was it like on working with Maritza Santiago Hernandez?
Abbie Cornish: I loved working with Maritza. She was a girl I’ve adored from the very first moment we’ve met. We got along really, really well and really, really fast. Within a day, we were holding hands and piggybacking her around. We were just two kindred spirits. So things were easy for us since we easily connected. We could just look at each other to be connected and she really trusted me. I also trusted her. It was beautiful. It was perfect casting on David’s part.
Latino-Review: It was her first time acting. Did you overall help her through the process?
Abbie Cornish: That was something to David’s credit too. He was so opened and collaborative. It was so wonderful to work on a film that had so much heart and soul for being an indie film. He had me as quite a large part of the development of her and her character on set. We were practically next to each other making this film. I felt like he was always running next to me and I was running next to him. The support was very strong and there’s that camaraderie.
We also worked with a lot of actors and non-actors. The grandmother was a non-actor. A lot of the actors in the film are non-actors.
Latino-Review: No kidding.
Abbie Cornish: Yeah, a lot of them. So Maritza never acted in a day of her life. David did such a wonderful job to help her with that. To me, it’s incredibly humbling. It sort of made me think of what it is to be an actor and how it everyone act or how I act. I’ve never trained formally, but I learned so much through experience. I’ve learned new skills at every gig. I’ve learned new things about myself. And I even learned new things by working with Gary Oldman.
Abbie Cornish: It’s like watching an acting god at work. You just learn from sitting there. There’s one thing on “RoboCop,” I said to Gary if it’s okay to sit by the monitor while you do a scene. He said, “Yeah. Come along.” From that, I learned so much from him, because he is so professional. He is such a lovely human being. He is so well prepared and always bring his “A” game. It just warms your heart.
I’ve been really lucky. I think I’ve been picky, but it’s great to have that payoff. It requires a little bit of patience and waiting for the next gig. I’ve always been really lucky with the projects and the people I’ve worked with. It’s been very rewarding and the girl is one of the people for sure.
The girl certainly changed my life and RoboCop was just like that. Jose Padhilla was one of the best directors I’ve ever worked with. Gary Oldman and Joel Kinneman were so supportive. I’ve felt that I’ve been really lucky.
Latino-Review: Since you’ve brought up the RoboCop movie, how does it feel to be on the remake of a cult movie?
Abbie Cornish: To me, I felt very nostalgic. I grew up with that film. It was huge when I was a kid. I was five years old, but I would watch it on VHS with my brother a bunch of times. So I really wanted to do that movie. I’ve never had so much interest in any other movies that I’ve done.
Everyone like from the ages of five and forty would say, “So you’re playing Mrs. RoboCop? You’re kidding me.” So it was one of those pinch me moments for me. I’ve jumped around the room like a child when I got the role. Everyone around me was so happy me, because not only it is a remake of a great film—it has an incredible director and an incredible cast. It was just a wonderful gig to come our way. It ended up being one of the best experiences I’ve ever had on a film set.
And I’ve actually think I’ve done some of my best work in this movie. You wouldn’t think about it for a multi-million dollar blockbuster film. I turned around and said, “I think I’ve done some of my best work in this film.” It’s really surprising and you get to act alongside with people like Gary Oldman.
I did a scene with Gary and I just wanted the day to go forever. It was all over and done with it in two hours. I said, “Awwww….”
Latino-Review: Wow. Gary Oldman must be one cool guy then.
Abbie Cornish: Yes, Gary is one incredible human being. He is one of the best of the best of the best. He’s just an amazing actor. He’s on another level.
Latino-Review: Thank you very much for this interview and hopefully I get another opportunity to talk about your other projects.
Abbie Cornish: For sure! It will be a good year.