If you’ve been following The Secret Circle, then you know it’s spent much of its first season solidifying into a pretty darn unique show. Despite all the minor (and major) changes that have happened during the series’ undeniably positive evolution, one rock-solid element has been firmly in place since the pilot: Phoebe Tonkin’s Faye Chamberlain. Faye’s various appeals are manifest: She’s a one-liner machine, she has well-defined wants (magic), she looks like Phoebe Tonkin. But Faye’s neuroses, bad decision-making, and inner emotional life also make her one of the realest teenagers on television. It’s to The Secret Circle’s immense credit that she’s never gone full villain and she’s also never completely trusted the heroine either (which has turned out to be a wise choice). In other words, Faye’s going her own way and that’s why fans love her.
I was lucky enough to steal some of Phoebe Tonkin’s time recently, and (1) she is an absolute blast, and (2) she told me all sorts of things: How similar she is to Faye; the difficulty in maintaining a “normal” American accent around co-workers (and native Southerners) Shelley Hennig and Britt Robertson; plus what exactly she’s listening to when she tweets about putting on Radiohead. Important journalism, basically!
I have to say, it’s so weird hearing you use your real accent. This is the first time I’ve really heard you speaking in your native tongue.
[Laughs] Really? And I’ve just been Skyping with my sister so I’m probably sounding really Australian. When I talk to my family my accent gets really thick.
When it comes to personality, how much of Phoebe Tonkin is in Faye Chamberlain and how much Faye Chamberlain is in Phoebe Tonkin?
I was actually thinking about this the other day. Some of the impulsive, giggly stuff is me. Like, I like to shock the rest of the cast. Sometimes I’ll just randomly start laughing at them, especially at Shelley’s character. I feel like that’s something that Faye would do, but it’s also something that Phoebe would do. I was never that kind of girl at school, but I definitely knew girls at school that were very poised and they spoke their minds whereas I’m a bit more quiet and awkward. So I incorporate parts of myself and parts of people that I knew at home and it all kind of ends up in this Faye Chamberlain situation. Also parts of other shows and movies, like Cruel Intentions and that kind of thing. I like to pool all my favorite teenage films and put them into this one character.
That makes sense, because as a character she’s kind of all over the place. She’s an antagonist, she’s a friend, she’s a crazy person, she’s a voice of reason, she’s the comic relief. Are you constantly just opening the script and finding yourself surprised by how she’s behaving each week?
Totally. I mean some of the lines that she says—In the most ridiculous situations, like life-threatening situations, she always has some little sarcastic comment. And I love that the other characters look at her like, “Why are you joking right now? We’re about to die.” But Faye’s like, “Wait, I’ve got one more chance for a smart-ass comment here before we die.”
You really cracked me up in last week’s episode. It seems like you have a real ease with comedy, but I’m seeing mostly drama on your resumé. Is comedy something you want to get into more?
I mean yeah, definitely. I have so much fun, as I said, doing more impulsive things. I’m so lucky I get to play a character that allows for that and maybe other stuff that isn’t necessarily written on the page, like twisting lines and things. But I love doing comedy and I love watching comedy… I’m more inclined to go watch a Seth Rogen film than a serious Oscar drama.
Confirm or deny: In Australia you’re so famous that you can’t leave the house.
Okay, DENY. You wrote that, and I was like, “A. That’s not true. B. You’re very sweet,” but no, it’s not true. At all. No one knows who I am in Australia. They don’t even know I AM Australian, because The Secret Circle is on in Australia and I’m sure everyone’s like, “Oh, she’s American. She’s from, like, North Carolina.” Like nobody knows me in Australia, I’m just telling you.
I don’t know if I believe that. I have this impression that H2O: Just Add Water is basically the Breaking Bad of Australia.
[Laughs] If you’re five years old, maybe. I mean, that show has a following with kids, but that’s kind of an old—We finished that three years ago, but it’s just that it keeps getting repeated. I started that when I was 15 and I’m 22 now. So I guess the following is a belated following.
What are some of the big differences between working in Australian productions and American ones?
With H2O I was lucky because it was still kind of a high production value show. I mean, I did a couple of soaps in Australia and there was definitely a difference between doing a soap and doing something like The Secret Circle. I guess just in terms of differences, it’s really like how many more cooks are there in the kitchen. Like in Australia you have your director, your producer, and maybe some of the investors who have a say in everything. Whereas on this show there’s a lot of people that have a say in things like what our characters wear, how they speak. I think that’s the biggest difference.
But in terms of the crew and stuff—especially because I’m in Canada, I think—It’s still a situation where everyone loves coming to work and everyone tries to make it fun, and everyone works really hard, but no one takes everything too seriously. Because we work really long hours and you have to make it enjoyable to work a 16-hour day. And that was the same kind of case in Australia too.
There isn’t A LOT of work in Australia. I think that’s why everyone comes over to America to find jobs and pilots and things, because there’s not enough work to justify staying there, unfortunately. Like, I wish there was. I would love to stay home and be working with my family around the corner, but the work just isn’t there.
My impression is that there’s only about 17 actors total in Australia and they ALL come over here and become A-List famous.
[Laughs] I think Americans are probably getting sick of us Australians trying to take their jobs.
No way. I love Australians. More, please. But that reminds me: When you landed the part on The Secret Circle, did you realize how annoying our accent would be to learn?
No, not really. I grew up watching your shows. I always joked that I had the Seth Cohen American accent because I’m a die-hard O.C. fan. And I watched so much American television at home, I even have tapes of me re-creating scenes from The O.C. So from a young age I was doing an American accent. But when I came over here it was more just honing it. But it’s hard because Shel and Brittany can go kind of Southern sometimes and I’ve also got a couple of other Southern friends. The hardest part is not going Southern. I can do a real good Southern, my other American is a little bit harder to do.
I definitely hear a little more Valley Girl than Southern, but that seems appropriate.
[Laughs] Really? Great, Valley Girl or Southern. If only I could do normal American.
The cast of The Secret Circle seems really tight-knit behind the scenes. Because Chris Zylka joined late, did you guys have to haze him?
[Laughs] Probably a little bit. No, actually, Chris came in very easily I think because he knew Thomas before. Plus it’s Chris. I think of him like a big labrador, I don’t know why. He just gets along with everyone somehow. But we’ve always got new people anyway, so it would just be a constant hazing if we did.
My last question is very important. What is your favorite Radiohead album and track?
I really, really like In Rainbows. But I also really like OK Computer as a sort of flipside to that. “Reckoner” is my favorite, just my favorite Radiohead song. That, “Idioteque,” and “Pyramid Song” are my top three.
Well, I’m impressed. I mean, I would’ve gone with “Let Down,” but we’re all unique snowflakes.
[Laughs] Everyone’s different!
Published March 22, 2012
by Price Peterson