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A moment with... Abbie Cornish

Abbie Cornish wraps herself in Keats' poetic awareness.

December 02, 2009|By Christy Grosz
  • Abbie Cornish says that while filming “Bright Star,” her appreciation of beauty was sharpened.
Abbie Cornish says that while filming “Bright Star,”… (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles…)

Abbie Cornish might not have been familiar with the work of 19th century poet John Keats or his muse Fanny Brawne when she first read the script for director Jane Campion's "Bright Star," but she says she immediately fell in love with the couple.

Instantly connecting with their story informed her performance in the film, in which she plays Brawne, a spirited woman who carries on a brief and doomed relationship with Keats soon before he loses his life to tuberculosis.

"There were so many different facets to [Fanny] that I thought would be so much fun to bring to life and inject into different scenes. Yeah, I was really taken with her," she says.

But the actress says that Brawne's fervent embrace of life could often be exhausting yet somehow exhilarating.

"She's such a strong character. I always had to be switched on, no matter how tired I was or if I was hungry -- it didn't matter. It's nice to be that focused," she says.

Cornish, a native Australian, starred alongside Heath Ledger as a heroin addict in 2006's "Candy" and has had small roles in "A Good Year," "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" and " Stop-Loss." "Bright Star" has shown that she's among the most expressive actresses in her generation and has garnered plenty of lead actress Oscar talk.

In researching for this career-changing part, Cornish says she gravitated in particular to the poem from which the film takes its name and that was written for Brawne. "It's so rich -- that mixture of light and dark and life and death and love and pain," Cornish says. "Even though [Keats] wrote it in 1818, you can read it today and everything makes sense."

In fact, Cornish says she was so affected by Keats' words that she found them seeping into her everyday life.

"I noticed when I was outside of the rehearsal room, my senses were really heightened. Keats' poetry is so focused on the beauty of a flower just as much as it is on the beauty of love or the night sky," she says. "I found myself being appreciative of all those sorts of things. Things can become so mundane that we forget to notice the beauty within everything."

Getting the inflection of the poet's language just right became a priority for Cornish, who worked with dialect coach Gerry Grennell.

"I felt so much pressure on myself to do [Keats'] words justice and execute them with the same intention as he had," she says. "His words on paper have so much gravity that when they came out of my mouth I wanted to make sure they had the same weight."

If her performance conveys an intensity, it stems from her desire to throw herself fully into her work.

"I really enjoy the sporadic nature of [acting] and the concentration over that [limited time]," she says. "I can go from sleeping in and lazing about playing guitar to all of a sudden it's 5 a.m., 16-hour days, five days a week."

Her next project, Zack Snyder's "Sucker Punch," represents a decided departure from the poetry and flowers of "Bright Star." The trippy story blurs the lines of reality as it follows five girls confined to an asylum who band together to escape.

"I can't wait until I can see it cut together," Cornish says. "Even though the story is linear, there's so many moments where you just have to let go of reality. It's almost like you're seeing it from one of the character's heads."

That surreality might come into play again for her when the Golden Globe nominations are announced later this month and then the Oscar noms in February, but for now she's happy to see the film praised. "To make something that comes from your heart and soul, and for people to feel the same way about it . . . is the best."

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