Professional Cinderella. This is how Phoebe Tonkin, a long, sublime girl from Australia, defines herself. You have to see her pose this July morning on the sidewalk in front of Le Tango, legendary gay club in Paris. Tonkin, all smiles, plays with the decor. “You can be sure that I will come and dance there one evening! I love all these typically Parisian places. Yesterday, we celebrated Margot Robbie’s birthday on the roof top of the Meurice. I then proposed to go to Crazy Horse. Don’t roll your eyes! I realize it’s very touristy, but I love it.”
If her name doesn’t mean anything to you, you’ve probably seen her face, like millions of viewers around the world watching Vampire Diaries and The Originals from 2012 to 2018, but also at the forefront of Chanel fashion shows, of which she became ambassador in 2018. A story with the French luxury house which starts, like all good stories, around a bottle of Red wine.
Four years ago, she dined with a stylist friend who put on a Chanel sweatshirt; a photo session is improvised and, a few days later, the images appear on the blog of the photographer who took the pictures. It did not take long for the French house to fall under the spell of Phoebe and invite her to attend the Paris-Salzburg fine arts show in New York in March 2015. The young woman always pinches herself to believe: “Each event looks like a summer camp, I see familiar faces: Lily-Rose, Margot …Margot and I have known each other since we were 18 years old. It’s crazy to find themselves sitting side by side in the front row of such a prestigious show. Who would have thought?” The French luxury house was not mistaken.
Star in her country accustomed to glossy covers and selected this year from the list of ’30 under 30 who count’ by Forbes magazine, Phoebe Tonkin is perhaps not the best known actress outside her island-continent. But she has the physical appearance of an almost mythological character, a face as if sculpted with a knife, prominent cheekbones, almond-shaped green eyes and piercing gaze, a greedy mouth just waiting to be painted, a ballerina’s body with telescopic legs. As a testament to her good taste, she also lends her incredible physique to the American label Frame and to that of beachwear Matteau, created by her friend Ilona Hamer, for which she walked last May, in Sydney.
On the way to Hollywood
It was there that she was born, thirty years ago. A typical Australian childhood, where she spent most of her time in the great outdoors, never far from the ocean, growing up with her younger sister, near the Taronga Zoo in Mosman, the chic suburb of Sydney. His parents are travel agents and the Tonkins crisscross Asia and Europe: “This is what made me want to do a job that allows me to jump from one plane to another…And this is probably why I can’t settle for more than a few months in the same place!” Escape is also on the big screen. Every Thursday, the Tonkins go to the movies and then debate the evening film on the way back. A ritual that Phoebe loves, funny and shy but already in love with adventures. If her high school years were like the Hartley series, heart and soul (beach morning and evening, flirting with the good and bad boys of her class), she quickly occupied her free time with acting lessons. The opportunity to create a community of its own, safe from friends of the school to succeed in asserting themselves. So, when she landed her very first role at 16, that of a mermaid in the cult cult series for teens H20 (available on Netflix), Phoebe was in heaven.
This first adventure lasted three years and also allowed her to take her first steps in modeling. When the series ended, Phoebe worked in a pub to make ends meet. But we have to believe that the great leap to America tempts all Australian actresses, from Cate Blanchett to Nicole Kidman or Rose Byrne . In turn, Phoebe Tonkin continues the tradition and takes a one-way trip to Hollywood. “I wanted to for a long time, and I knew that there were more possibilities in Los Angeles than in Australia. I already lived alone, my parents taught me independence and supported me. I I was lucky, I quickly found an agent, I observed the environment.” And the studios want to exploit the vein of the fantastic. Here is Tonkin the Australian mermaid who alternately plays a witch in the series The Secret Circle, then a werewolf in Vampire Diaries and his spin-off, The Originals. The character of Hayley Marshall revealed her to the American public, making her live many twists and turns (she dies, she returns, she gives birth to a vampire) and six years of filming in Atlanta which make her grow. But like all the girls who try sometimes Phoebe Tonkin felt frustrated at having to give up projects because she was bound by a contract to a series over several seasons.
More serious roles
Two years ago, she even wondered if this job was finally made for her. How, then, to get out of the niche of the teen series? “A strange coincidence.” True to form, Phoebe finds the answer in a movie theater: Olivia Wilde’s performance in Meadowland, where she plays a mother whose child has been kidnapped, upsets the Australian. She now knows that, she has to turn into “something with a social conscience, in touch with reality and current issues”. Then comes the script for the Safe Harbor mini-series,the story of rich and handsome boaters who come across a boat of refugees adrift…Should we help them at the risk of putting themselves in danger? An ambiguous fable very well put together on the responsibility of the first world to the third.
“When I received the script for Safe Harbor, I knew right away that I had to do it. The actors involved, the characters, the high-rated director in Australia Glendyn Ivin…” She films herself and sends the video of her hearing before flying to Paris, where she has to go to a Chanel show. Two days later, at 5 am with jet lag, she receives a call from her agent: she’s gotten the role! The series finally opens up more serious roles for her. “This project allowed the industry to see me differently and changed my perspective on the profession. It reminded me of why I loved this so much and why I was happy to do it. It was a small budget, we didn’t have caravans, we were just there to create something special, to tell a story that happens every day. We put our hearts into it.” In the process, she landed another series, Bloom, with star Jacki Weaver, which she has just started filming in season 2.
The pitch: a mysterious plant allows the inhabitants of a small town to rejuvenate. A makeover that stirs all the lusts until murder…A return to the fantastic for Phoebe Tonkin, but this time in an adult version. “It’s much more satisfying to not just accept a job for the money, but to do something that you really believe in. I like to be part of the creative process. And I’ve been on enough sets to know what environment I want to work in now.” In May, the actress made a short film in Australia, Furlough, the story of two girls who go on a road trip with a bag of stolen money. “I hope I will make a feature film someday. But I’m still learning.” For the moment she writes short stories on her phone, and still can’t believe that people she admires have taken the time to read it and give her advice, such as the director of Safe Harbor, Glendyn Ivin, or Shawn Christensen, screenwriter and Oscar-winning director for his short film Curfew in 2013, who became her friend after filming Cul-de-sac in 2016.
In short, Phoebe has a place on Instagram, where 5.3 million people follow her daily life. Between two glamorous photo sessions, Phoebe Tonkin mobilizes her community on issues such as gun control, #Me Too and #blacklivesmatter. “If I can make a 15 year old girl ready to fight for a love story between two vampires put this same passion in favor of the fight against police excesses in the United States, then I would have succeeded.” Her engagement doesn’t stop there; at the start of the year, she met actress Carson Meyer at a charity gala for the Defense Council for American Natural Resources. The young women have led a serious lobbying campaign with Californian elected officials to ban a neurotoxic pesticide.
Result: chlorpyrifos is now banned from local cultures. “This is how I can inspire people, much more than taking a selfie with a smoothie.” Phoebe knows how to break away from the sexist injunctions specific to the entertainment industry. “When I shot my Furlough movie, I didn’t wash my hair for ten days, I was wearing a hoodie, jogging pants and sneakers. And today, I’m on this photo set wearing outfits Chanel sublime. This duplicity is liberating.” At 30, she leads the life she dared not dream of. “It could all stop, and it wouldn’t be that bad. I have enough wonderful stories and memories to tell my grandchildren. And then, I served beers once, I can always do it again!” Almost a story of Cinderella.
Published November 10, 2019
by Perrine Sabbat
translated/edited by Phoebe Tonkin Web