24-year-old Australian actress Tilda Cobham-Hervey has made a big name for herself in a super short period of time after debuting in independent movie 52 Tuesdays in 2014.
Tilda sat down with Empire to talk through appearing in gripping new drama Hotel Mumbai (about the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks), playing host in her hometown of 'Radelaide' to co-stars Dev Patel (her partner in real life) and Armie Hammer and her biggest role to date in the upcoming Helen Reddy biopic I Am Woman…
Empire: How did you get involved with Hotel Mumbai? How did it get on your radar?
Tilda: I just got sent an audition for it. I was actually in New York at the time. I grew up in Adelaide which is where the director Anthony [Maras] is from and I had met him at a film festival years before.
Adelaide is a very small place as I'm sure you know, so everyone in our community kind of knows each other. I was aware of his work and as soon as I watched his short film The Palace.
I'd read the script and it's such an intense film. It's a really hard-hitting story so I was nervous, but as soon as I saw his The Palace, I was like 'If anyone's gonna tell this story, this guy is gonna do it in the way it should be told.'
He doesn't hold back, he just goes for truth and he did exactly that, so I sent in an audition. I actually auditioned for another role and then got the part of Sally so I was just lucky I guess.
Empire: Recalling your role of Sally, you've got a lot of scenes with a baby in it as well, so did that prove difficult? The fact that you had to work with a very, very young child in some really intense scenes?
Tilda: Yes, I had a six month old baby in my arms the entire shoot!
Empire: Oh my God.
Tilda: Yeah, it was wild! And I think that was actually the bit that excited me the most though. It was challenging but it forces you to just be in the moment.
I mean you can't control what they're gonna do and I think in a film setting and as an actor you know, actually a great gift is to let go of control and to just be in the moment, and that's exactly what these kids sort of made you do.
I mean it was really challenging too because of course we're dealing with really tricky material and Anthony did like doing really long takes, and it was very incredibly tense and stressful scenes, so I felt a huge responsibility to the children as well, but it was a beautiful experience to have them part of it, and I think really important that we had that character of that baby in the film.
I mean I think they're such a symbol of the whole film. You'd just be this little bundle of innocence caught up in the madness and I think talking about that is really, really important. But working with the babies was a beautiful experience.
Empire: Well that's good.
Tilda: Even though I had to do such terrible things with them, it was such a beautiful thing to have them on set.
Empire: Did you get roped into things like nappy-changing duty or that wasn't part of your job?
Tilda: I didn't, I didn't. I probably should have. I did get very into it, like I fell in love with a lot of them. We had quite a FEW obviously children on set because we were doing very long days and a lot of those scenes – I don't want to give too much away
Empire: Yeah.Tilda: A lot time spent in the cupboard and you know we had to keep giving them a break because Anthony also used this technique where he would sort of have speakers around the set and to keep the tension up in the room he would play sounds of gunshots and bombs going off so obviously you can't have a child in that space for too long without them feeling upset.
Empire: No, no.
Tilda: Although you know, hilariously of course all the times I was crying they were laughing and the other way around. Always a gamble.
Empire: Oh God, just to add a little bit of extra complications to your job!
Tilda: It was, yeah, but beautiful too.
Empire: Of course we hear about terrorism on the news quite often. Did filming this give you a different perspective on terrorism and how it can affect people?
Tilda: It did. I mean… unfortunately this is an event that happened in 2008 but I do think it's a story that's still incredibly relevant, perhaps even more relevant in the world we live in now.
And I think what I was really excited by with this film is that I do come out feeling empathy for every character and it really forces us all to question our place in the world. Like I don't think you can watch that film or be a part of being in that film and not question what you would do in that situation.
You know I hope I could be as brave as what Sally was, and I hope that people would come together in that way and sort of protect and help each other in the amazing way that they did in this attack.
We're lucky because we're actors so you're in the space and it's so intense for twelve hours on set and like I was saying Anthony really tried to create an environment on set that felt very real and really kept us in that in that tension.
So it was quite emotionally full on to be in that space everyday but you know we were so lucky you could call cut and go home to your family and give them a big hug.
Just playing that out of course gives you such empathy for anyone that's been through anything like that. The one thing that I hoped for is that it shines some light, pays some tribute to the victims and survivors of that devastating attack and any attack like that.
I can't even imagine what it would be like to be really in that situation. It made me think a lot. It made me feel very lucky.
Empire: Talking about having very emotionally intense days, was it hard to let go and relax at the end of the day? I imagine it would be tough.
Tilda: It was, but so important too. What I think what was so beautiful about this cast, and it's rare I think in film, is that we all still chat a lot and hang out a lot.
We really had to build a little community and we would make sure we would do things like go out and have dinner afterwards, or find ways to make sure we would be decompressing not just going back to our hotel rooms by ourselves, you know?
To make sure that there was this sense of support, and that was really really special and really important on this film. I think it would have been very hard without that.
Empire: Yeah absolutely. With the film being shot in your hometown of Adelaide, were you a bit of a guide? Did you act like a bit of a local guide for the rest of the cast?
Tilda: Yes! I'm already very much an adventure planner so as soon as everyone arrived I would definitely have an itinerary for everyone, I'd be like "You need to go and do this" or "Here's all the foods you need to eat".
That was a lot of fun. It was quite hilarious because I got this role and I'd never worked out of Australia before this film and I'd finally got the role and I was so excited.
I was like I get to go to India for a couple of months! And then we were actually shooting in Adelaide at the Adelaide studios, which is like a one minute walk from my house.
It was literally quicker for me to walk to work than get in my car, so that was quite funny.
Empire: Oh that's hilarious.
Tilda: But no it was really lovely to show a whole lot of people around my hometown. I really love Adelaide and I think it's an amazing place to work and it's got such a great creative community there, so it was a real treat to be able to introduce a whole lot of people to that space.
Empire: That's so cool. I interviewed Dev [Patel] and Armie [Hammer] when they were doing the press tour and they mentioned that they enjoyed going to the wineries and they knew the lingo and knew to call it "Radelaide" as well.
Tilda: I think that's where you see that everyone made sure they did their time to decompress. Everyone made sure they got out.
Empire: I did want to ask you about the Helen Reddy biopic I Am Woman as well, which you have been shooting. Can you tell me about playing Helen Reddy and that experience? That must have been a pretty amazing role as well.
Tilda: Extraordinary experience. It was an extraordinary experience. So we wrapped earlier this year. It was definitely the most immersed I've ever been in a project.
I think playing a person like her, and I've fallen so in love with her and her story.
It was such an honour to get to play out her extraordinary life. I am completely in awe of her and she's done so much for me as a person and as a woman.
Regardless of whatever happens next she's taught me just so much about the woman I want to become, and I am forever grateful for that.
It was an amazing thing to live in another era as well. The seventies are such an incredible era to play in, and her songs are so beautiful and getting to play out some of her famous concerts and explore that world was so special.
Watch Empire's interview with Dev Patel and Armie Hammer below. Interview continues after the video.
Empire: It will be great to see her story be given a much larger audience because it's so incredible. And I'm sure that a lot of people are not really aware of her amazing achievements as a singer and feminist icon.
Tilda: It is strange a lot people don't know about her.
They all know the song 'I Am Woman' but a lot of people don't know she sung it or don't know a lot about her life, and it's a real treat.
I can't wait to show people more about her because she's a fascinating woman and she did so much for my generation and the generations that followed her.
The things she fought for and changed it's very, very inspiring, so I'm heaps excited about sharing that.
Empire: In your youth you were right into circus skills. Are you hoping that those skills might get used in a future role? I'm imagining with all these superhero films going around you could probably utilise those skills in one of those big superhero films or something like that.
Tilda: Well if anyone's looking for a hula hooper or a trapeze artist I'm right here! Acting was a little bit of an accident.
I was really sure I was going to be in the circus. That was gonna be my job. I did it from the age of nine to nineteen and we started a company when I was fourteen called 'Gravity and Other Myths' and basically I was just down there and it was amazing and they're travelling all over the place now.
Even after doing my first two films I felt so sure that they were just two things that happened but circus was exactly what I was going to keep doing. I think as I went on I'd always been really interested in performance and live performance. I loved circus but the circus we were making was more like circus theatre and I think I was always much more drawn to "Okay I'm hula-hooping but maybe I can talk at the same time?" and I started to realise II was probably more interested in story and how to create characters.
So it's kind of a natural fit I think to move more into the acting part of it. I do still love that creative process though, that's why it was so lovely to direct something [short film A Field Guide to Being a 12-Year-Old Girl] and to be able to play and create again in that space.
Hotel Mumbai is out now on digital, Blu-ray and DVD.
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