Somersault : Casting and Character

Casting and Character

Before shooting there was a fortnight dedicated to rehearsal. The importance of the rehearsal period was that it provided the opportunity for director and actors to find the necessary character definition.

Shortland: “If there is an awkwardness on set then hopefully it’s an awkwardness that the characters are feeling. It doesn’t matter what happens because they are going to play it as Joe and Heidi. That was the rationale in rehearsals that every scene that they play there is some kind of truth rather than having to act it. Rehearsals were really about finding the characters and then we made choices about how we were going to play the scene. It was exciting because nothing was locked down. I think that shows on the screen because there is such a freshness to the performances”

Heidi - Abbie Cornish

The casting of the main role of Heidi was surprisingly straightforward, as the first person to audition was Abbie Cornish. Shortland: “She thoroughly embodies the essence of Heidi, especially the fragility and toughness of her. She allows the audience to experience her beauty and pain. Abbie really nailed the character as soon as she walked in the door. During rehearsal it was about getting the confidence. Heidi is such an interior character, so Abbie had to really feel who Heidi was.”

Anderson: “Abbie had that ability to convey the inner life of an emotionally articulate girl. We needed someone who could portray youth and innocence, but also the complexity that the role requires, particularly around sexuality and her survival instincts. And we needed someone that audiences would care for, to go on a journey with.” The character of Heidi is a character outside of the normal realm of what you'd expect a 16-year-old girl to be. For this reason, Abbie Cornish found that Heidi was potentially a difficult character to play.

Cornish: “I think every character needs to be workshopped, needs to be explored, but her even more so because you can't just put her on the outside, you can't just try and act her from face value. So much of Heidi comes from right deep inside her gut, so you've got to find her from right deep inside your gut and then you act from that place. Heidi doesn't make normal choices. If someone yells at her she's not the sort of girl that will instantly yell back or that will instantly cry or that will instantly run away, she's the sort of girl to extremely internalise and maybe even become happy in order to deal with things.”

The background that both Cate and Abbie developed for Heidi was that her mother was possibly involved in drugs and her father left when Heidi was very young. Cornish: “Because her mother was young as well, Heidi was pulled along through all those things and so she probably saw a lot of things that kids really shouldn't see, or most of the time don't see. I think that's the first thing that sets her outside from a lot of other kids.”

At first Cornish believed that she might make simple choices with Heidi, portray her as unknowing or draw her as damaged or closed off from the world. “The more I rehearsed, the more she became a part of the world and the more she was a happy girl; it's just that she had really bad things happen to her. What I found most beautiful about Heidi is that she doesn't sit and dwell on anything, she just powers on, she just keeps charging on and she has this really beautiful, happy outer shell.

“I think SOMERSAULT is a journey of self discovery within a strange girl's world. I think it's like a bridge, it's Heidi getting from one side of the bridge to the other side without even knowing how to get there or why she's started walking across the bridge anyway. It's just a fluke that she gets to the other side and all this stuff is probably going to influence her life in a really amazing way.”

Joe - Sam Worthington

Casting Joe was much harder. On paper, the role of Joe seemed less complicated that Heidi. Anderson: “In the end the chemistry between Sam Worthington and Abbie Cornish was what sealed it for us. But we were also very cautious because we had not seen Sam Worthington give on screen the complexity and the depth of emotion he does in this film. It was a real punt and Cate had a strong instinct that Sam would be right for Joe. As it turned out, Sam Worthington has given us a Joe that is much more complex and is much more interesting than what was on the page.”

Shortland: “Sam made Joe his own character, he embodied him beautifully and with such venom. There is a real passion about the character. He was quite intimidating to Abbie, which was really good. I remember when he left the room after they had done their final casting together Abbie was quite emotional, she looked at me and said “That’s Joe.” Sam was closed off and had a darkness to him that was quite scary, and that was exactly what I was looking for. Sam came in a few times because he hasn’t really played emotionally vulnerable people before. We had to be sure that he was willing to expose his emotions. And he has; he’s done such an amazing job.”

In the film Joe works on his parents’ farming property. Worthington: “His family is very wealthy, he's essentially a character who's neither good nor bad. He has many faults, but essentially he uses charm to disarm people until he falls in love with Heidi. What you discover is that even though this guy is perceived to have everything, when Heidi comes into play, he realises just how lost he really is. She opens up questions about where his life is going.”

Worthington: “Joe doesn’t really know where he fits in this world and it’s just through the love of someone else he realises his responsibilities and this gives him a direction, hopefully. It’s just like the script; it offers no answers, just like life. Here was a chance to play a character who didn’t have all the answers and wasn’t in control. It opened up some things in me, so hopefully I’ve done it some justice.”

The character of Joe was developed more strongly through the rehearsal process. “Cate threw curve balls in rehearsals to keep it fresh and alive. It worked; I believe in rehearsing all the way even up to when you roll on film. I discovered Joe day by day. There's deepness and darkness in my character that we were trying to bring out and counterbalance with unbelievable charm and a likeable roguishness. We explored it thoroughly, as it's something quite different to me; it's a more emotional part than I’ve ever played before.”

Another aspect of rehearsal was the use of a choreographer. Worthington: “Abbie and I had to get used to each others bodies by just rolling around. It not only gives you a sense of self but it makes you relax with the other person, you have fun with them. So when you’re on set it’s never awkward, even if you don’t have your clothes on.”

Worthington: “The reason I signed on was because of Cate. She wrote a beautiful script that was not overly written, which is normally the case. It had a lot of beautiful images and really she’s made a poem. It’s a different Australian movie where we’re not necessarily saying these are your Australian archetypes as you follow us on this journey. It’s about humanity, about love and about sacrifice and the responsibility that love gives to every character, not just Heidi and Joe.”