I recently got the chance to talk to Ashleigh Cummings about her role as Robyn in ‘Tomorrow When The War Began’. Here, Ashleigh talks about the film, what it was like working with Stuart Beattie and Caitlin Stasey and what made her want to get into acting in the first place…
Hey Ashleigh! Thanks for taking the time to talk to me. I’ve just seen ‘Tomorrow When The War Began’, and I must say – what a big surprise it was!…It seems to be quite successful here too!…
Hey Matt! No worries at all – thanks for having me on your blog. I’ve had a quick read and you can definitely count me in as a regular subscriber!
Thank you! Of course, for anyone who didn’t get chance to see the film and is frantically waiting for the UK DVD release, what’s the general plotline?
TWTWB is a character driven action film about seven teenagers who go on a camping trip in rural Australia and return to their country town to find that it’s been invaded by a foreign force. It then tracks the transformation that occurs as they attempt to fight back and survive in that experience both emotionally and physically.
You play the role of Robyn. How would you say her character develops over the course of the film? She’s like this kind, innocent religious girl at the start, but by the end of the film she changes into someone completely different…
Yes, so Robyn undergoes probably the greatest transformation in the film. She’s fairly straight-laced to begin with but as the war progresses, there’s an underbelly of instability which begins to evolve. This inner conflict concerning her faith is something she basically denies until the end of the film when she is ultimately forced to face it. She doesn’t lose her kindness; it’s just kind of reconfigured according to her circumstances and she has to make decisions where before, the answer seemed very black and white. It’s funny you mention innocence though, because the story deals with that exact concept in terms of its definition. In the new context of war, Ellie (the protagonist) redefines innocence as “the big fantasy” of “believ(ing) we were safe.” (pg 107 of the book by John Marsden). So by that definition (and I don’t yet have an opinion on whether or not it’s true), the entire group venture on that loss of innocence together. However, Robyn is one of the last to admit it and that transformation is much more accentuated because, originally, her world completely revolved around the security she had in God’s hands.
Would you say you identify with your character on a personal level, or is she completely different to you?
To an extent. I mean I’m currently agnostic so I can’t draw the religious parallel nor can I say I’m as assured in many of my beliefs of morality as she is. I admire her so greatly for that! But any of my family will tell you – and often, much to their frustration – that when I’m passionate about something or if I’ve finally come to a decision about a situation (usually after much internal deliberation!) then there’s not much point trying to get in my way.
What was it like working with Stuart Beattie? He’s known for ‘Pirates Of The Caribbean’…
I love Stuart like he was my own second dad! He was so supportive throughout filming both on and off set but he’s also an extremely talented writer, director and overall artist really. You would never guess it was his first time making the film because he brought a very special clarity and calmness to the set. He knew everyone’s names and that kindness made everyone perform to the very best of their ability. It permeates through the film and his energy has and will continue to reach out to audiences when they see TWTWB because it’s his heart and soul right there in the form of a film.
What was it like working with your co-stars? You spend quite a lot of time around Caitlin Stasey in the movie…
We had the besssst time. Our on-screen camaraderie was very much reflective of the one off-set because we literally spent 24 hours a day with each other for over 3 months. Caitlin’s a huge inspiration to me – she’s definitely one of my role models in terms of both her acting abilities and her personality. They’re all my role models for different reasons and, because they’re a fair bit older than me, they’re like mentors as well. I miss them all incredibly but luckily we’ll soon be re-uniting for the sequel!
If your hometown got invaded by a military power, what would you personally do? Hide or fight?
That’s a question I’ve done my head in thinking about. It’s just so hard to know for sure unless you’re immersed in that circumstance. I dislike violence and weapons intensely – yet I would like to think that I’d stand up against anything I didn’t believe in – I just don’t know how. I really can’t imagine myself fighting violence with violence, like Robyn. I know I’d experience extreme moral dilemmas – especially if I could empathise with the foreign force and their reasons for their unrest (not that I agree with invasion/violence as a solution!). However, on a greater scale, that’s an issue many governments face. If there was a happy medium, then I guess nobody would have difficulty facing that decision and the public wouldn’t be so divided over it. That’s the great thing about the film though – it allows people to reassess their opinions and find an emotional relationship to such situations that are very real and present in our world today.
Let’s talk a bit about you Ashleigh. What made you want to get into acting in the first place?
Well I was very serious about pursuing ballet until age 14. I’d studied at the wonderful Brent Street Studios in Sydney and they encourage their students to become triple threats (being able to act, dance and sing). I used to think I was just drawn to it ineffably but the more I do it, the more I realise that there are very solid reasons for the attraction – for example, the ability to grow through the experiences as an actor and character. However I think the biggest magnetizer is the unity that acting brings. Regardless of context, people generally share the universal dialogue of fundamental human emotion and thought. For me, acting speaks that language in its most raw and naked form. It connects and informs people by sharing those human stories across the globe whilst hopefully impacting on people positively. As an audience member, I know how much film/acting has influenced my own development of a character so I just pray that I might be able to do the same. That sounds a little flimsy and incorporeal haha – but I find it to be very real.
What kind of roles interest you as an actor?
I love the emotionally complex and meaty roles. I also really like characters – or the stories attached to them – that are in sync with the ideas I mentioned above of impacting, informing and uniting audiences.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue an acting career?
I’ve found – as have many, many others – that it’s passion, persistence and hard-work that leads to success. As an actor you can face a lot of rejection but you have to learn to be centred within yourself, have thick skin and – as the saying goes – get back on the horse because wallowing on the ground doesn’t achieve anything. You have to be self-conscious and learn to separate yourself from the criticism in order to take it on board. You also really have to observe and experiment in the world – grab all the experiences you can. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start with acting. If you’re in that situation, then I’d suggest starting acting classes and be very aware of yourself as an actor. Techniques are so specific to the individual – some work, some quash natural instincts. Keep experimenting until you’ve found what works for you and then pursue that unabated.
We should also point out in 2007, you helped create a film called ‘Green Fire Envy’for the Participate Film Academy. Is directing / producing something that you wish to continue in the future, or will you focus more on acting?
I’m not sure about producing as yet but directing is a possibility. At the moment, I’m more focused upon acting and writing but who knows? Passions and interests have the ability to change so abruptly.
What else is coming up for you in 2011?
I’ve been working on a few Australian television shows, but we’re starting pre-production for the second film in the ‘Tomorrow’ series in August so stay tuned!
Thanks very much for the interview!