Today we are very excited to welcome actress Tilda Cobham Hervey to the site in order to talk about one of our favourite films of 2015. 52 Tuesdays tells the story of a teenager who one day returns home to discover that her mother Jane has chosen to gender transition to male. Chartering the next year by recording them live once a week for a year the film is both a ground-breaking experiment in film and also a moving look at gender, relationships and above all family. Here’s our interview…
Firstly could you tell our readers a little about the film and your role within it?
52 Tuesdays is filmed across fifty-two Tuesdays for a year and it’s about a parent and a child and the changes in their relationship over that year. It’s about them trying to work out what it is to live an authentic life.
Billie is the character I play in the film who is a girl going from 16 – 17 trying to work out her identity in the greater world, I think it’s about the question ‘how does she want to live?’.
How was it that you first came to the role, as I understand it 52 Tuesdays was your first film role?
Yeah, I started on this. I went to an open audition in Adelaide, my parents are in the theatre world so I knew how these auditions worked and Adelaide is small with everyone knowing everyone. I went along because my friends were going and I was intrigued by the process of shooting only every Tuesday over a year. That was intriguing but I had read the script and the character was nothing like me, a sixteen year old who was really bold and sexually aware and I had never been in a film before so I didn’t think anything was going to happen. But then I met Soph and… I don’t know what she was thinking but I then ended up in it!
Given that you received only a portion of the script a week how did you sit down and initially prepare to play your character? It must have been daunting…
I don’t think we did think about it too much, and I think that was the best thing, that you were only able to work from what you got given that week. We were so invested in it that year that it didn’t feel like you had your script and were playing your part but instead was more like simply talking to your mum at dinner! We had the luxury of time, we could do a lot of takes and rehearsed during the week so it never felt like you were suddenly on and had to do your performance. I think over that year I did come in and out of that character as I grew and developed.
One of the things which the film is primarily concerned with is the observation of and performance of gender. With your role did you do much research into gender or was that not a priority considering that she doesn’t gender transition?
I made the decision early on that it would be best if I learnt things when Billie did. I would research aspects of the transition when it was right for Billie to reach that point. But what I admire about the character though is that she is very up for that, that her Mum is changing because… it’s still your Mum, who is trying to be real with you. And I think that’s pretty amazing. Also we were talking about gender all the time (on set) and challenging each other on it, but I think the research came through in how that affects us and our lives, rather than by me studying someone else’s journey.
You’ve been promoting the film for quite some time now, through all of those interview and audience discussions has your understanding of your character changed and developed?
Yes, hugely. I was saying this morning that it is very weird and amazing to come back to the film. I have only seen the film a couple of times and so I’m very removed from it now. The further I am away from it though the easier it is to be articulate about it. Looking back on that time with space is very interesting, it does change. And I think because I was so tied up with my character that at first when talking about her it was difficult to separate the two of us.
Do you think that Billie’s decision to film her experience was in some way directly inspired by James filming his? And to what degree were the characters mimicking each other in general?
I think that we film things all the time now and I think that it is a very real thing… a great thing and one which is also cause for concern. I think that as a society we are only just beginning to recognise what that means, what responsibilities come with that. I think that Billie definitely would have been influenced by James’ transition, but also it felt very much like a way for Billie to privately work things out but without being directly involved – approaching sexuality like a scientist would, with curiosity.
I understand that you have a background in circus performing…
Yeah, I did circus when I was nine and then when I was fourteen I founded a company with others where we did a show, we would do that every four days after school. I think I thought I would be doing that for the rest of my love, but I’m not exactly well coordinated and I was far more interested in the theatrical side, in how to tell a story to people, rather than in watching somebody dress up.
Absolutely! I think I was so used to working in a collaborative way where you are always asking questions. And I was not at all worried about what would happen to me at the end of the film, the rules of shooting every Tuesday made sense to me and I think that those rules allowed you to practice the art of letting go. A performance could go a million different ways but within those rules you move on to the next bit.
Also the physical theatre I’ve done very much enabled me to use physicality and understand that you don’t always have to do a huge amount but instead simply feel that which is required.
Do you think physical theatre is something you will revisit over the years?
Yeah I’m always doing little bits of it. I think it’s the way I figure out the world really. I’m always working on little bits and pieces and visual arts pieces too. I want to work in many different mediums… that’s what is most exciting for me.
52 Tuesdays is released on DVD from 28th September. You can purchase from Amazon, HMV and all good retailers.