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Phoebe Tonkin is one of Australia’s most successful young acting exports. Beginning her career on the Aussie teen series H20: Just Add Water, she gained international fame (and a casual 4.8 million followers on Instagram) from her starring role on The Vampire Diaries and its-spin off, The Originals. Now, with her career in its peak, she has returned to Australia to take on the lead role of young Gwen (with her older self to be played by Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver) on Stan’s new original series, Bloom, premiering on January 1. Below, Phoebe chats all about Bloom, and what it means to be an actor in 2018.
POPSUGAR Australia: Tell us about the premise of Bloom.
Phoebe: The premise is if you have the opportunity to have your youth, energy and vitality back, with the knowledge of being in your sixties or seventies, what would you do differently? Are there any wrongs you would right, any big regrets you had in your life that you would try to make up for, if you had the chance?
PS: You play a character called Gwen – tell us about her!
Phoebe: When we meet Gwen we find out she’s been struggling with dementia for the past few years and so a lot of her memory has gone. But you realise there’s a man she loved once when she was much, much younger, as well as the man she’s still living with now, Ray. She went through some stuff when she was younger and was quite torn between two men she loved very much. You realise as we explore in the series that sometimes our memory is a little foggy and you can romanticise relationships. So, we’ll learn more about the relationship she had with Max and her husband Ray.
PS: What drew you to the character and the show?
Phoebe: I love working in Australia. I think Stan is doing a great job of being a strong competitor to big American cable shows. I thought the premise was really interesting and unique, and I thought the creatives involved – [director] John Curran is someone I’ve wanted to work with for a long time – and all the Australian actors are people I’ve always looked up to. But yeah, the premise was just really different, and I think it’s very bold for Australian drama.
Taking a break from filming new supernatural drama series Bloom, Phoebe Tonkin talks outgrowing fantasy roles, the positive power of social media and becoming a professional Cinderella.
Phoebe Tonkin is sipping a ghee coffee and nibbling a banana muffin at The Roadhouse, a rustic coffee shop in Byron Bay, when BAZAAR calls. “My dad lives here and I’m visiting,” the Los Angeles-based Australian actor says. “I’ve been in Melbourne the past couple of weeks and it’s not the greatest weather over there right now, so I wanted to come here to go swimming, enjoy some sun and just hang out.”
The relaxed, sunny vibe of Byron Bay’s hipster wholefoods scene is about as far away as you can get from the project Tonkin has been working on in Melbourne: a dark supernatural drama series called Bloom. The 29-year-old stars alongside two-time Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver, Bryan Brown and Ryan Corr (Holding the Man, Hacksaw Ridge) in the six-part Stan original. The story is set in a country town, one year after a devastating flood has killed five locals. Survivors have discovered five mysterious plants growing where their neighbours drowned, each producing berries that have the power to restore youth. But there’s a catch. The renewed vitality is fleeting, so the town must protect their supply at all costs. Tonkin is calling it “a grounded, dark fairytale”. “Even though there is an element that is not of this world, everything from the relationships to the characters feels very real and relatable,” she explains. “It’s still very Australian, but I think it’s something that will also do very well internationally.”
Helmed by acclaimed American director John Curran (Tracks, Chappaquiddick, Praise), Bloom taps into the global sci-fi zeitgeist — think series such as Stranger Things, Black Mirror, Incorporated, Dark and Altered Carbon — making it one of the most buzzed-about debuts of the year. “It poses really interesting questions about our desires and vitality: what are the costs? What would you sacrifice?” Tonkin continues. “It asks things we need to ask ourselves every day about the way we consume, the way we use social media, the people we look up to and whether it’s a very superficial world.”
Read more of the interview at Harper’s Bazaar Australia
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
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.