As we traipse down actor Tilda Cobham-Hervey’s driveway, she makes every effort to greet us at the gate. Her dog – a year-old whippet named Ziggy – beats her to it.
We pull up a stool at the bench. Ziggy settles on the couch. Her open-plan family home in Adelaide's inner east is a charmingly restored former scout hall. It’s taken a few different forms since Cobham-Hervey moved in as a three-year-old.
When asked where she’s based at the moment: “I don’t even know what that word – ‘based’ – means right now,” says the 23-year-old. “I’ve been moving around a lot for work lately.”
It’s (a permanent) home to her dad, a lighting designer and production manager; her mum, a dance and performance artist, who now has a more organisational role in the industry; and her 13-year-old brother, who isn’t as arts-inclined. “We’re hoping he’s ‘gonna get a real job,” she says, laughing. “[My parents] were trying with me but it didn’t happen. It was quite hard to not be in the arts.”
Youth circus school Cirkidz was her starting point, at which time a trapeze was her living room’s statement piece. Naturally. She went on to co-found Gravity & Other Myths – a contemporary circus company – in 2009.
“Circus isn’t something that comes with a script or certain rules like other art forms,” Cobham-Hervey says. “It taught me a lot about how to make work.”
She stumbled completely inadvertently upon her film debut. Tagging along with a few friends to an open audition for Sophie Hyde’s 52 Tuesdays, a 16-year-old Cobham-Hervey was cast in a key role. Last month she featured in Hyde’s six-part series Fucking Adelaide.
Her latest role is in the State Theatre Company’s production of Vale, written by playwright Nicki Bloom and directed by the company’s artistic director (and Bloom’s husband) Geordie Brookman. Geoff Cobham – Cobham-Hervey’s dad – is the lighting designer.
Cobham-Hervey worked with Brookman on State Theatre production Things I Know to Be True in 2016. This was a no-brainer. “As soon as I heard [Brookman and Bloom] were doing this I was very eager to audition … Reading the script felt like reading a book.” And a page-turner at that.
It’s New Year’s Eve. Self-made hotelier Joseph Vale (played by Mark Saturno) is celebrating with his family in a penthouse suite. Fresh out of law school, his “entitled” daughter Isla (Cobham-Hervey’s character) brings her boyfriend Angus to meet the parents. An unexpected guest turns the night on its head.
The dark comedy sparks “a really challenging conversation about men and women, and about power,” says Cobham-Hervey. “It feels quite relevant. People will read into it in their own way, particularly at this time in the world with Trump and Harvey Weinstein.
“The script is so different to anything I’ve done,” she continues. “Great drama comes out of families ‘cause there’s a lot of truth wrapped up in there.”
It’s a side step from the “quiet, strange-girl” roles she’s accustomed to. “This feels very much the opposite: bolshie, energetic and takes-no-prisoners.”
When we visit Cobham-Hervey it’s the afternoon before Vale rehearsals move into the theatre. Coming off a few consecutive film projects, it’s a welcome return to the stage. “You’re so much more involved in the ‘making’ process [in theatre],” she says.
“Film you do in very small chunks, out of order, and it’s all about being very internal and truthful about each tiny moment, rather than the whole. You never feel like you’ve told the whole story. It’s only in the edit you find those things.”
Next year she’ll hit the screen in Hotel Mumbai. Directed by Adelaide-born Anthony Maras and starring Dev Patel, it spotlights the 2008 terrorist attacks in India. “It’s based on real peoples’ lives,” Cobham-Hervey says. “It was a harrowing experience to try and understand the people who had been through this because you really want to do them justice.”
Moving behind the camera, Cobham-Hervey recently made her directorial debut with A Field Guide to Being a Twelve-Year-Old Girl. Instead of “writing a love letter to [her] 12-year-old self” she cast 12 12-year-old girls. Their experiences shaped the script. “They all hang out every Sunday now,” she says, with a beaming smile. The ABC-commissioned short film is available to stream on iview.
“‘Perfectionist’ would be a word that describes me,” admits Cobham-Hervey, who’s still adjusting to the film industry’s unpredictability. “I love planning. Every morning I’ll write a to-do list even if it’s just ‘eat breakfast’. ‘Tick’.”
She leads us outside to a corrugated-iron-roofed former canoe shed. The “granny flat” is her bedroom first and her dad’s office second. Usually. A shelf of in-a-row teacups contrasts a wall plastered with anatomical diagrams that you may recognise from Fucking Adelaide.
“Being exposed to so many different art forms [as a child] … I think it’s made me really excited to not stick to a particular one,” she says. “I definitely want to keep trying to make my own work in some way – whether that’s visual art or film or writing.”
So what’s next? “I think I’ll be in America for quite a bit of next year,” she says. “But I’ve said that a few times and excellent work comes up in Adelaide and I end up coming back.”
See Cobham-Hervey in Vale from November 17 to December 3 at the Dunstan Playhouse. Mix with the cast and other theatregoers at the Off-Stage Party on Friday November 24 at a secret CBD location. Tickets are available online.