Annette and Actress Tilda Cobham-Hervey Chat About Her New Psychodrama BURN!


You gotta love when its the sweet, naive character of a story that put the “psycho” in psychological thriller. In the just-released shocker BURN, Josh Hutcherson (THE HUNGER GAMES movies) starts as a man in dire straits who robs a convenience store at gunpoint. As an antidote to her lonesome life the store’s attendant Melinda, played by Tilda Cobham-Hervey (HOTEL MUMBAI), twists the event into a chance to break from her ho-hum norm. The feature directorial debut from Mike Gan also features Suki Waterhouse (INSURGENT), Shiloh Fernandez (EVIL DEAD), and Harry Shum Jr. (CRAZY RICH ASIANS). Just ahead of the film’s 8/23 release, I got a chance to talk with lead actress Tilda Cobham-Hervey about the challenge and satisfaction in playing the oddball Melinda. I hope you enjoy!

 

Annette Kellerman:
Hi Tilda. Thank you so much for chatting with me today. I really appreciate it.

Tilda Cobham-Hervey :
Thanks for having me.

Kellerman:
BURN is such a crazy story. It’s completely my kind of story, and I was wondering what you thought when you read the script. Are you into offbeat stuff like this or were you surprised? 

Cobham-Hervey :
Absolutely. I mean I think I’m always looking for films and stories that show different kinds of characters. I think this film is definitely one of them. I was really intrigued by the character of Melinda. So I think those two things together… I mean it was like… I feel very passionate about representing stories and people that you don’t get to see on screen a lot. And this was definitely a different look at the way of telling a story about a woman. So I was really interested in that. And it was just very different from anything I’ve read and when I spoke to the director, Mike, I was so sure that his vision was very clear for the project. And it seems like so much fun, and it was.

Kellerman:
The character is extremely nuanced. I was wondering, was most of that on the page, or was it more a collaboration? Did you have any input? Because she’s such a deliciously complex character. Can you just talk a little bit about the development there.

Cobham-Hervey :
Yeah, it was definitely a bit of both. I mean, Mike’s a great writer. And secondly, a lot of it came from… I really love collaborating and being able to capture what’s true to story, and he is a really collaborative director. Unlike many films we actually got a few days together before we started filming, to really talk through the script. And what was really important to me was to make sure that she had many layers, and I think because the story’s told through her perspective it was really important that I really understood the reasoning behind every single thing she does. And she does a lot obscure…literally obscure things in the film, and has unusual reactions. It was really important for both of us to ground it in truth as much as possible, and to find ways to empathize and be with her in the story for ourselves and for the audience so that you really stay with her on this journey throughout this wild night. So it was really a mix of both things. Yeah, we spent a lot of time talking.

Kellerman:
That’s so cool. I really love hearing that it was a collaboration. It seems like it came through in your performance. Did you do any kind of research into perhaps character or personality traits that people like Melinda have, or even Stockholm syndrome type of stuff? 

Cobham-Hervey :
Definitely, I mean I read a lot of different things and looked at a whole lot of different references for this role, cause I really felt like… I mean as actors I think we’re always searching for authenticity and truth. And I think this character is a tricky one to unravel cause there’s so many pieces to her. So I did a lot of writing backstory for her and trying to work out what had happened to her before that maybe led to some of these quirks in her. I think the thing that really fascinated me mostly was that she’s a character that’s constantly seeking connection and love and validation, which I think is something we can really all relate to. And she’s so positive and naive and idealistic. She’s a dreamer that is just wanting a fairytale. That’s how I sort of saw her in the end. And I think there’s something really interesting in exploring and leaning into the aspect of her that was just desperately seeking… approval and love and watching someone desperately try for connection, but it’s never quite working in the way that it should or she wants it to. So I think a lot of it came down to that. But we all… me and Mike did a lot of talking about what causes… particular traits in people for sure.

Kellerman:
I love single location films like this, especially whenever you use a lot of ingenuity, of course to save money in a lot of cases, but its great. Is it-

Cobham-Hervey :
Yeah.

Kellerman:
How is it from your side of things, having basically a single location? Does it inform your performance? Or does it help you feel more free?

Cobham-Hervey :
That’s a great question. I mean I’d never done a film in one location before. It was… you know we shot in 14 days, so it was very quick. And having one location really helps give time to a performance. It was also a very quick shoot in terms of we didn’t get many takes of anything. So having one location was kind of essential for us in that respect. It sort of felt like for, the shop was a really important character in the film- the gas station- and I think it felt to me more like what it is to do theater. And I really enjoy that it became a real part of how we blocked things and that definitely defines you performance and the mannerisms or places that the character inhabits became really interesting to me.

 

Kellerman:
Yeah, and I guess there’s like, many locations within the one location. So you do shift around to different areas and such and…  not to be to spoilery but you get quite physical in this film…

Cobham-Hervey :
Yeah.

Kellerman:
And there’s also, there’s other elements… there’s some blood, and even some gun toting. So, can you talk a little bit about that aspect of shooting?

Cobham-Hervey :
Yeah, we didn’t have a lot of rehearsal time, so I mean a lot of that was just collaborating in the moment and making sure everyone felt really safe. I hadn’t really done a lot of that stuff before. I’ve been in one film, HOTEL MUMBAI, that had a lot of scenes like that. And I guess, it’s always a strange thing when you get to do that stuff because, you don’t often get a lot of time to do those moments, because there’s often a lot of resetting in between them. It is a really fun challenge, and I find it quite exciting having those days on set to… explore the ways that you can make those very fake moments feel very real on screen.

Kellerman:
And, I guess… Mike, he’s directed some short films and stuff, but this was his first feature, is that correct?

Cobham-Hervey :
Yes. That’s correct.

Kellerman:
What was it like working with sort of, I mean not a first time director, but a first feature director. I mean is there a different dynamic? Are you giving advice? Is it truly collaborative? Is he like owning the whole thing? Can you talk about that a little bit?

Cobham-Hervey :
Yeah. I mean I really, really respect Mike as a director. He was so great to work with and really collaborative. I think it’s funny on every film, no matter what it’s doing, any moment strikes a different process, that’s what I really love about film. That no matter how many films that you’re on, they’re always different. But, I think Mike and I really had a similar way we like to work. Which is being very collaborative and talking everything through, and really being in it together and was very much in the whirl of it all with us as actors, which was really lovely. And, he wrote it and he’s just so passionate, and that passion is really infectious and that was really lovely to be around. And, I’m sure he will go on and make a lot of other things now. He was great to work with.

Kellerman:
At any point did you see yourself in the role of your co-worker? Gosh, now I forget the characters name, but it’s Suki Waterouse’s character.

Cobham-Hervey :
Sheila?

Kellerman:
Yes! Sheila. How could I forget? Yeah, did you ever see yourself as Sheila, or were you always just 100% Melinda?

Cobham-Hervey :
Oh I was definitely Melinda. I was just so in love with Melinda, and kind of like taken by her strangeness, and I’m kind of obsessed with working her out. She’s such a puzzle. I was so drawn to the quirks of her. I think I’ve always sort of been drawn to those kind of outsider unusual roles. But I think they’re the ones I’m always drawn because it gives us so much space for interrogation. Yeah, it’s just kind of really fascinating and was exciting to try and figure out why she did everything.

Kellerman:
I know.

Cobham-Hervey :
The reasoning –

Kellerman:
That was actually one of my questions, too. Do you think Melinda is truly dark, or seriously just naïve?

Cobham-Hervey :
I think she’s a bit of both. I’ve gotten to really think while we were making it looking at like a coming of age story. And… it sort of really helped a lot of it. I sort of feel like she is beautifully naïve and innocent and kind of strange and desperate for direction, but I think desperation and loneliness can push people to do unusual, sometimes terrible things. I think that was just the way, in that moment, she just hit her limit. Um… yeah. Because by the second it all got worse and worse, and I don’t think it was until she was just halfway through all of it that she realized what she’d quite done.

Kellerman:
Yeah, yeah.

Cobham-Hervey :
But I have to love Melinda, I have to believe.

Kellerman:
She’s not a total psychopath, not a total psychopath. Do you have a favorite genre of film, or is there a genre that you still want to work in, that you haven’t? 

Cobham-Hervey :
Oh, that’s really interesting. I mean I think I’m inspired by so many different genres. I always liked films that make me think or push me outside of my own experience. I really love yoga, Yorgos Lanthinmos. He made DOGTOOTH and THE LOBSTER and THE FAVOURITE. I love his films because they put you in a really unusual position to work. Like, they set up different rules for society and I find that really interesting. they show up in such beautiful moments. I love Roy Andersson films for the same reason- they show vignettes of beautiful moments that sort of allows everyone to come up with their own version of the experience. I think I’ve always loved films about young people, like stories about coming of age. I think that time in people’s lives is so full of change. I love LADYBIRD so I guess, it’s more of unusual indie films, I guess is more what I’m drawn to.

Kellerman:
You’ve written and directed yourself. Are there any… features in your future behind the camera? 

Cobham-Hervey :
Yeah, definitely. I’ve been writing a few things at the moment, and some of them are in development. I came from a design and theater backround originally. But I think making and devising and being part of the creative processes, that really excites me, and it would be hard not to do a little bit of that as well as acting. I’m always working on that side of it.

 

Kellerman:
Absolutely, I guess in your case they definitely go hand in hand. And they’re I guess they’re asking me to go ahead and wrap it up! Tilda, thank you so much for chatting with me. I really enjoyed it.

Cobham-Hervey :
Yeah. Me too. Thanks for chatting. Lovely to talk.

 

 

What a lovely chat about a delightfully messed up little movie! BURN is now in theaters, on digitial, and On Demand! Check it out!

 

Rebecca Elliott

aka Annette Kellerman

 



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