The Aussie actress hopped on a boat, put on her J12, and talked about life after 30.
Phoebe Tonkin has been acting for half of her life, starting with a teen show in her native Australia. The now-30-year-old has built up an impressive acting CV since then and is also known to her 5.2 million followers as an especially beautiful Instagram influencer. Tonkin can also add Chanel ambassador to her list of titles. The Parisian house staged a French seaside takeover on Shelter Island in the Hamptons this past weekend to fete its popular J12 watch. BAZAAR.com took this picturesque opportunity to shoot the New York-based Australian on a Chanel-branded sailboat and to ask Tonkin some questions about social media, her career, and what else when we’re all here for a watch? Time.
Harper’s BAZAAR: Let’s get right into you. When did you start acting? What do you love about it?
Phoebe Tonkin: I started acting when I was about 15. I was taking all the drama classes and acting courses. I auditioned for Home and Away—I don’t know if Americans know about Home and Away—and didn’t get it. And the second thing I auditioned for was a kid show called H2O. And that took me away from my kind of normal childhood, teenage adolescence for three years to shoot three seasons of it in the Gold Coast—I was Sydney based. And then from there, I kind of … I don’t know if I fell in love with acting so much as I fell in love with the world of what making film and TV was and is. I just love being on set. I feel like, I mean, I’m 30 now, the first set I was on, I was 15. So half of my life I’ve been on a set, and it’s so familiar to me. I feel so comfortable. I think I fell in love with the world of telling stories.
What do you think is the project that put you out into the world the most?
H20 was quite popular in Australia and then got bought by Netflix over here. But in terms of what I feel like changed my own kind of trajectory in terms of just personally how I felt about working, it was a show called Safe Harbour that’s on Hulu. I shot it about two years ago and it just … I don’t know, I think it just rejuvenated my passion for telling stories again, and why I love doing it, and the impulsivity, and the just passion. It was a very small budget, with just some of the most incredible talents and creative in Australia all involved in it. It was just so inspiring to me, and every day was such a treat to be on set, even when I wasn’t working, I just absorbed everything I saw. Yeah. Safe Harbour was the one, at least as an adult, that really kind of reshaped where I wanted to go with my career.
How did you become involved as a Chanel ambassador?
I met Ilona Hamer [who styled this shoot] about nine years ago at a Chanel event in Australia that I was invited to—Ilona helped style me for it. And then a few years later, she was shooting something for Chanel and she had all of these samples in her apartment. Our friend Adrian [Mesko] was a photographer and we’d all had a glass of wine or something, and Ilona said, “Why don’t we shoot Phoebe in some of these samples and Adrian can shoot it?” It was just the three of us sitting at her apartment, and she took the photos, put them on her blog, and sent them to Chanel in Australia. And that was sort of how I got properly introduced. And then from then, I shot a few covers and editorials, and went to a few shows. But I became an ambassador last year.
What does Chanel as a brand and an idea represent to you?
I think there’s something really kind of timeless and classic and elegant, but still sort of strong and a little rebellious about the Chanel woman. And I like being part of a brand that really wants you to feel and look like yourself, while still sort of being a face, or a representation of the house. That you can style the clothes in a way that you would wear them, as opposed to being put in full head-to-toe looks. And even today, this shoot is exactly how I would probably be going on a boat—except with more Chanel.
Instagram has become such a love-hate place, but you are active on it and have a very dedicated following. Tell me about your relationship with it.
It’s totally a love. Personally, I think that there should be no likes, because I think that’s where the trouble is. I think maybe not for people in the public eye, but for young people. I just can’t imagine being 13 and my friends are all getting, like, 49 likes, and I’m getting 14 likes. It’s just horrible. You’re gauging how popular you are, quite literally, by a number. But for me, I try to use it like as a scrapbook, and I feel really lucky. I get to do a lot of really fun things, and I get to share that with people. And I always say to people not to take it too seriously. Like, my life doesn’t look like what it looks like on Instagram, obviously. I think no one really shows that true, true life. Otherwise, it would be a pretty miserable place. Or maybe I’m being really cynical.
I think take it with a grain of salt. I think Instagram should be looked at like a magazine—like you’re looking at an editorial version of someone’s life. And obviously, there are aspects of it that are true, and then there are aspects of it that are shinier, and aspects of people that are trying to prove something. But I think if you can find a healthy relationship with it, which is what I try to find, like I have a cap on it that I can only use it for a certain amount of time. All because it’s such time wasted. You’re scrolling and you’re like, “This is my teacher’s dog’s Instagram influencer’s auntie, someone.” I can just get on these tangent holes and have no idea of how I got there. I think as long as you look at it for what it is and not take it like comparing your life to someone else’s, I think it can be good.
I liked your modified Bottle Cap Challenge, 1.9 million people viewed it.
Right? I really challenged a lot of people. See? That’s where I find, for me, Instagram is really tricky, because I don’t think some people realize the power of their influence. And it’s so fine to have fun and to do silly things, and no one’s perfect in any way. But I do think if you do have that reach, why not try and inspire someone to do something really, really positive? So, you know, if those things take off, and you’ve got kids trying to mimic and replicate that, what an amazing opportunity to take that on and turn it on its head and be like, “Hey, you know what’s super cool? Saving the environment. That’s so cool.” I nearly lost my robe during that video. But that was fun.
So Chanel brought all of these beautiful people to the Hamptons for the J12 watch, so I want to ask you some questions about time. What has been the most inspiring time in your life?
I’m going to say the last year has been pretty inspiring for me, just in terms of—now I’m going to get very hippy-dippy—what the universe is able to show you, given patience and being open to letting things go and change and be. If I could look back over the last 12, 18 months, as sort of this little map to where I am right now, there’s nothing I would change, even though there were some very hard experiences. I think when you look at time as this sort of journey, I think that’s a really beautiful way to see that there’s no regrets in life and everything happens for a reason.
Love that. And, what’s the time you felt that your life was going the fastest?
I was on a show for a long time, and I spent a lot of time in Atlanta, and I knew I was going to be in Atlanta for a long time. And that period felt, now when I look back, quite quick. Like, I felt that I closed my eyes and I was 22, and then suddenly I was, like, 27. That whole time was very quick, I think.
And when did it feel like your life was going the slowest?
I mean, any, like, line at the DMV maybe. I don’t know. Probably I feel like this year hasn’t gone slow, but I definitely have been really taking my time to enjoy it.
What’s the happiest time in your life?
I think right now is the happiest time. I think 30 is the best. I mean, I’ve been 30 for a week. I was really excited to turn 30. I think even though it’s just a number, there’s just something kind of, I don’t know, momentous about a new decade in your life. And I really think this is going to be a good one for me.
When is a time that you just feel your best?
I think when I feel my best, it’s when I feel creatively fulfilled and satisfied, and challenged. I feel loved and respected by the people in my life, whether that’s boyfriends or friends. And when I feel like I’m, in turn, being loving and kind and grateful and also being healthy. Getting a lot of ocean swims in a day.
And what’s a time you feel most loved?
I have to say this past weekend when all my girlfriends, well, most of my girlfriends, were able to come to New York and spend the weekend with me. I felt very loved. Everyone’s sort of busy and got their own lives, and we were all able to just, I don’t know, be together. And you realize that girlfriends, no matter what age, no matter what happens, they are always consistent in your life. It’s such a good reminder when you go through breakups or through anything in your life … they’re always there. And it was just really nice to be surrounded by so many of them.
When is the time you feel most beautiful?
I would say a consistent compliment is when I’m in the ocean. That’s when a boyfriend would be like, “Wow, you look so pretty,” if I’m just jumping around in the sea. Maybe it’s because I’m happy then.
Published July 25, 2019
by Kerry Pieri