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It was New Year’s Day last year, when actress Phoebe Tonkin set herself a very specific career goal. “I wanted to work in Australia on a project with a social conscience, and with extreme beauty maestro [director] Glendyn Ivin.”

Just a few months later, at 5am in Paris, a very jet-lagged Phoebe answered the phone to hear she’d booked a lead role in Safe Harbour, the new SBS drama about asylum seekers directed by Ivin. It was a job that “perfectly encompassed” that New Year ambition. “Manifest away my friends, and don’t be ashamed to dream, there’s still some witch left in all of us,” the 28-year-old told her 4½ million Instagram followers.

A psychological thriller, Safe Harbour couldn’t be more different from The Originals, the American vampire series Phoebe has spent the last five years filming in Atlanta. And it’s a world away from H20: Just Add Water, the Channel Ten kids show that first brought Phoebe to the attention of audiences – and for which she’s probably still best known here.

Phoebe is now counting on Safe Harbour to transform perceptions of her, so she can break out of her fantasy-character niche and firmly establish herself as a serious actor at home and abroad. “I have high hopes that this show will reintroduce me, especially into the Australian industry, as a different actress than maybe I was expected to be,” she tells me, curled up in jeans and a black cardigan in an inner-Sydney studio, her hair still damp and her face free of make-up. “I’ve been really dying to work in Australia for a very long time.”

Safe Harbour is an expression of Phoebe’s deeper, political self – yet on the surface she appears very much an It Girl. She grew up in Mosman, on Sydney’s lower north shore, and attended exclusive all girls’ school Queenwood, swimming at Balmoral Beach across the road every morning. Her mother ran the local toy store and her dad has his own travel business. Her younger sister, Abby, works in finance and lives in New York.

While Phoebe says the Tonkin family are “brainy and nerdy” rather than creative types, they are serious movie buffs. A childhood ritual was heading to the cinema together every Thursday night to see the latest release. “I grew up feeling like the cinema was a really special experience [but] I was kind of like the black sheep, the fact that I actually went into the industry,” she says.

Capitalising on her super-fine bone structure, pronounced pout and leggy gait, Phoebe has a well-developed side hustle as a model: she’s an ambassador for Chanel, and has starred in advertising campaigns for the likes of Aussie swimwear brand Matteau and LA denim label Frame. Yet she confesses she was self-conscious growing up. “I was shy, I was always just a little aw-w-w-kward,” she says slowly, drawing out the adjective. “I’m probably still awkward.”

She found a respite from these feelings in acting, joining Australian Theatre for Young People at 12, where she met a bunch of like-minded teens. “Acting felt like something that was my own, it was like this secret community of other quirky kids that I could spend time with over the holidays and after school. It was this really nice escape for me.”

Someone suggested to Phoebe’s mother that she get an agent, which quickly led to an audition for Home and Away. Phoebe missed out on that part, but landed the next – playing Cleo, a teenage girl who turns into a mermaid, on H20. “I didn’t have too long to decide what I was going to do for the rest of my life,” she laughs.

Phoebe had just turned 16 when she she got the role and within a week she had quit school and was on set on the Gold Coast. Three seasons of H20 led to her film debut in the screen adaptation of John Marsden’s young adult novel Tomorrow, When the War Began. Phoebe then moved to LA in her early 20s to chance her luck at pilot season, and quickly scored a role in The Secret Circle, playing a young witch. She was hailed the breakout star of the show, and subsequently cast as a secret werewolf in The Vampire Diaries, before taking a lead part in its spin-off, The Originals.

The young Aussie relishes the chance to step away from fantasy TV and star in something ripped from the headlines.

Phoebe Tonkin is relishing the chance to play normal. The 28-year-old Aussie has spent the past seven years acting in US supernatural dramas The Secret Circle, The Vampire Diaries, and most notably, The Originals.

Safe Harbour couldn’t be more different – no spells, no fangs, no green screen, no special effects.

“Safe Harbour is much more grounded than my other recent shows and that means the style of acting is really naturalistic,” Tonkin says.

“It is a completely different world to The Originals, which is very heightened. That is a fantasy and a big beast. We have done five seasons. You get to a point where everyone knows what they are doing and it is a well-oiled machine.”

Safe Harbour could have been ripped from the headlines. Ryan and Bree Gallagher (Ewen Leslie and Leeanna Walsman) have bought a second-hand yacht in Darwin and invited a group of friends, including Ryan’s sister Olivia (Tonkin) and boyfriend Damien (Joel Jackson) as well as friend Helen (Jacqueline McKenzie) for a boating holiday. After less than a day’s sailing, a broken down and leaking fishing boat appears on the horizon and the group realizes that is overloaded with asylum-seekers.

Do they help or not? After a heated discussion, Ryan decides to tow the beleaguered boat towards Indonesia but by next morning, after a severe storm, the boat is missing.

It isn’t until five years later, when Ryan steps into a taxi driven by one of the refugees, Ismail Al-Bayati (Hazem Shammas) that the truth behind the disappearance is revealed – someone cut the rope, but who? Tragically, some of the refugees drowned.

It is a set-up that will remind some viewers of The Slap when Harry (Alex Dimitriades) hits another couple’s young child and the relationship between the characters is forever changed.

“It is the rippled effect of something (cutting the rope) that is almost a split-second decision – how big an impact that can have on your life and even strangers’ lives,” Tonkin says. “That is what I think is so interesting about the series. It asks a lot of questions of the audience. All of the characters represent a different point of view and a different perspective.”

Olivia and Damien’s relationship has disintegrated in the five years since the asylum-seeker incident but now they are forced to confront the ramifications of what happened that night.

“Olivia undergoes the biggest difference (during the five years) of any of the characters,” Tonkin says. “When we see her on the yacht she is very light-hearted. She is in love. She relies heavily on her boyfriend and her brother. She grew up without parents so really her family is the people on the boat.”

“When you find her five years down the track you realise she is harbouring a lot of guilt and anger and there is a of ugliness in her. There is resentment about how drastically her life has changed because of what happened on the boat. The consequences really affected Olivia and her emotional state.”

“There are scenes with Joel where we are very close and love each other dearly and then we have to play against that when we see each other (after five years).”

Producer Stephen Corvini is thrilled Tonkin returned home to be part of Safe Harbour.

“I wanted to get a diverse cast that didn’t really know each other,” Corvini says. “It was important for them not to be too friendly in a show like this. It was also great to give opportunities to Arabic Australian actors (Shammas as well as Nicole Chamoun who plays Ismail’s wife Zhara, Yazeed Daher as the couple’s son Asad and Robert Rabiah as brother Bilal) who typically get roles that are thugs or terrorists.”

The Originals comes to an end this season but Tonkin has already booked herself a guest role on acclaimed US drama The Affair. But if Tonkin gets her way she will be doing more work in Australia as well.

“(Success in Hollywood) has definitely required patience and perseverance,” Tonkin says. “There have been lulls (between jobs) but I’ve been luckier than most because I’ve worked pretty solidly the whole time I’ve been there.”

“I’ve just take take opportunities as they have come and doing a job like this (Safe Harbour) reignites the excitement.”

“What we are exploring is very real and very current. I did a lot of research on the refugee crisis. This has been a passion project for everyone and it has been really exciting to be part of that.”

Source: Herald Sun

She reveals her grand plans to take her career in a new direction.

While most actors struggle to catch a break in Hollywood, Aussie actress Phoebe Tonkin has never been short of work.

After making the move to Los Angeles, the 28-year-old won a role in fantasy series The Vampire Diaries. Phoebe’s character was then upgraded to a series regular in the spin-off drama The Originals.

But five years on, the Sydneysider is ready to make a change. And it all starts with Safe Harbour.

The actress plays Olivia in the SBS series about five Aussies whose yacht encounters a boat of asylum-seekers.

“I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time,” Phoebe tells TV WEEK.

“I don’t want to become complacent. I love The Originals, but a long-running series can feel tedious.”

Instead of vampires and werewolves, Phoebe says Safe Harbour is a snapshot of “real human issues”.

“It’s a real gear-switch for me,” she explains.

Meanwhile, the star’s next project sees her join the cast of Golden Globe-winning drama The Affair.

“I gravitate to darker, realistic material,” she reveals. “These are the kind of shows I watch at home. I don’t watch superhero shows.”

But for now, Phoebe is enjoying being back in Australia and being able to sink her teeth into Safe Harbour.

The talented Aussie is also hoping to stretch her skills by joining the growing trend of streaming TV series.

“I’d love to work on a show for HBO or Netflix,” she says. “That would be a great opportunity. But the stories in Australia are really interesting. Hopefully, I can flit back and forth.”

Until then, Phoebe is happy to be in a drama as complex as Safe Harbour.

“It’s been an amazing crash-course in acting, and being back home is a bonus,” she says.

“Considering how dark the subject matter is, we’ve had so much fun on set. I’m lucky.”


Tonkin jumped at the chance to come back to Australia to work on a grounded drama after spending years on the heightened-reality milieu of The Originals and The Vampire Diaries. The actor relished tackling her character’s arc from being a hopeful, happy young woman to someone who, five years later, harbours a lot of anger, guilt and sadness.

Working for the first time with veterans McKenzie, Leslie and Walsman, Tonkin says she was a bit intimidated initially but felt comfortable after the first day and enjoyed the collaborative effort. “It was incredibly inspiring to work with all those actors; I probably learned more than I did in the past 10 years,” she says.

Ivin notes: “[Tonkin] proved herself to be a much greater actor than we had been aware of. I think people will see her differently from now on because she delivers a stellar performance.”

Similarly, McKenzie marvelled at Tonkin’s temperament and technique as she persevered filming a scene in dying light after a camera malfunction, observing: “Phoebe is at the top of her game in the US and it was lovely to see her back in Australia doing a fabulously dramatic role that she could get her teeth into.”

Read more about the filming of Safe Harbour at the source.

The four-part psychological thriller, which was screened a week ago as part of the Berlin International Film Festival’s drama program, is about a group of Australians — played by Phoebe Tonkin, Joel Jackson, Ewen Leslie, Leeanna Walsman and Jacqueline McKenzie — enjoying a picturesque sailing holiday in the waters to this country’s north.

But when they encounter a broken-down fishing boat of asylum-seekers trying to reach Australia, life-and-death decisions are required. After initially offering help, the ­Australians find a tow rope is furtively cut in the night, leading to an immediate tragedy for one Iraqi family as well as a persistent mystery that affects all their futures.

“We worked hard to overcome the distance between audiences and this scenario,’’ says Ivin. “It’s easy to think: ‘If I was in that situation, I would act nobly.’ But when you are confronted in the open water and you can’t turn away — or change the channel — we would all probably act differently to how we imagine.”

Ivin, whose directorial work in recent years includes Seven Types of Ambiguity, Gallipoli and Puberty Blues, says the metaphorical significance­ of the yacht was mirrored in the Brisbane filming location.

“If we think of the Aussies’ yacht as Australia, they have food, water and space in abundance, surrounded by water, in contrast to the asylum-seekers’ boat,” he says. “I hadn’t shot or even spent a lot of time in Brisbane before, but when I started really looking, it was clear that this is what Australia looks like to the outside world — a place where, if you work hard, you can have a good life.”

For Tonkin, 28, best known for playing a mermaid in the long-running children’s series H20: Just Add Water, it marks a return­ to acting in Australia after almost a decade in Los Angeles. Ivin says he saw the dramatic depth in the actress, who has been starring in The Vampire Diaries spin-off The Originals for the past five years.

“Phoebe sent this screen test from LA and I just had tears in my eyes,” he says.

“She could just see her character Olivia on the page. There was so much emotion and honesty. I don’t think ­people have seen Phoebe that way.”

For her part, Tonkin says playing a “pure dramatic contemporary role” rather than the “heightened” world of fantasy, was a long-held ambition. “I have been very fortunate in working solidly for 10 years in LA, but have frankly felt typecast and limited in the type of opportunities I’ve been offered,” she says.

“I always knew I was capable of doing work that was more grounded and serious. Olivia has a very distinct character arc, going from a very vibrant and excited person to being ­profoundly affected by what happens on the boat, and its aftermath. It’s like the light in her has been dimmed.”

You can read the rest of the article at the source.

Phoebe Tonkin is one of Australia’s biggest acting success stories.

In 2012, she got her big break landing a role on the successful US supernatural TV series The Vampire Diaries, and went on to star in the spin-off series, The Originals, which has been running for five seasons.

In a saturated TV market, to star in a show that airs for so long on a major television network, The CW, is very impressive and Tonkin does count her blessings, along with her 4.5 million Instagram followers.

Last year, the Sydney girl returned to Australia for a role on new SBS drama Safe Harbour, a psychological thriller dealing with social and political issues.

“I’ve been trying to find an Australian project for ages and this was kind of the perfect one,” Tonkin told AAP on set in Brisbane.

The actress relished this acting opportunity. The original and honest storytelling offered her something different to sink her teeth into, compared to the shows she has been working on overseas.

“I guess the show I’m on (in the US) is very stylised so it’s a very specific set. There’s a lot of big set-ups and a lot of action sequences which is so not what this (Safe Harbour) is, but neither is better than the other. I’ve just really loved this more grounded intimate experience than the kind of bigger budget TV show experience,” she said.

The whole experience on this show was something Tonkin had been craving for a long time.

“If I had my way, I probably would have been doing more low-key things like this over the last few years because that’s the kind of thing I like to watch, that’s the kind of movie and film that I gravitate towards,” she said.

“It’s been so challenging, this job, in the most amazing fun way but it is really nice to be challenged.”

Playing the complex Olivia on Safe Harbour was a welcome break from playing a werewolf hybrid in the supernatural series, The Originals.

“There’s a side of me that relates to these characters a little more than, say, the sexy ass-kicking girl that unfortunately a lot of material sometimes does head towards,” she said.

“That’s not a bad thing either but I do think there’s both a place for bad-ass girl who is strong and there’s also a place for the complicated more complex female characters.”

The fifth season of The Originals will be the series last, leaving Tonkin free to perhaps pursue some more projects on home soil.

“I would love to keep working here,” she said.

“I think the roles are really interesting in Australian projects. I think they’re really grounded and the writing’s always really good.”

*Safe Harbour premieres on SBS on Wednesday, March 7 at 8.30pm (AEDT)