Abbie Cornish has played both tough and tender over the course of her career, but in the case of the new “RoboCop” remake the 31-year-old Australian actress is required to do a bit of both — and in limited screen time to boot. As Clara Murphy, the wife of Detroit police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), she must make the difficult decision, following his near-mortal wounding by a car bomb, to authorize the extraordinary life-saving measures which eventually turn him into the emotionally compromised title character. Clara must then live with the consequences, wondering if there’s ever a way to get her husband back. Action abounds, of course, and social and ethical questions to boot, but it’s Cornish who’s called upon to provide the film’s emotional backbone. At a recent Los Angeles press day for the movie, she talked some about this, as well as her high regard for director José Padilha. The conversation is excerpted below:
Question: This film has a special place in pop culture and cinema history. What were your initial thoughts when you first heard about it? Was there any second thought at all about taking a part in this?
Abbie Cornish: “RoboCop” for me was a very nostalgic film from my childhood. I grew up with brothers so we had it on VHS, and we watched that VHS until it shredded itself and it couldn’t be watched anymore. So when I heard that “RoboCop” was being remade, I instantly was interested. And then when I heard that José Padilha was directing it, I had a José Padilha movie marathon night, where I watched “Elite Squad,” “Elite Squad 2” and “Bus 174” and emailed [him] after that. It was an amazing night. I was still up when the sun came up [and] I thought this was an incredibly talented director who it would be an honor to work with. And then I heard that Gary Oldman, who I’ve respected and admired forever, was involved, and Michael Keaton, and then I heard that Joel Kinnaman was playing RoboCop, and I thought that was great casting. And Samuel L. Jackson, too. To be honest, this film for me is the most fun I’ve ever had on a film, and I’ve learned the most too. I was really lucky in regards to the fact that I had time off, because I sort of had to fly back and forth. There were moments on set where I’d wrap and rather than go back to the hotel, I would sit and stay on set. José was really lovely, letting me sit behind him, and I learned a lot watching him direct. And Gary and Michael Keaton were lovely, too — they let me hang around and watch them do a scene together too. To me it was a massive learning [experience], and it was really enjoyable. I think José has made an incredible film with “RoboCop.” It’s a great remake. I think it holds its own.
Question: The role of Clara Murphy was really expanded from the original movie — how involved were you in that evolution from the original film?
Abbie Cornish: Originally, when the film was pitched to me, there actually wasn’t a shooting script yet, so I took the role without even reading the script. It was pitched to me in that it was probably going to be around four to five scenes. I sent in an audition tape and Skyped with José, and got the role. And literally I jumped up and down and around the house, I called my mom and dad, all my brothers and sisters. It was a very exciting moment for me to be cast in this role. But what was lovely was as the film developed, Clara Murphy developed as well and the family dynamic, the family relationship, became an important element of the story. I think for José, he felt that it was important to surround Alex Murphy with a home, with a family, with a loving wife and a beautiful son — for that heart and soul and that drive and passion — so [the movie would] not only be… a journey not just about revenge, but also because of his heart and his soul and his pulse and the thing that drives us all, which is love. I kind of got really lucky in regards to the fact that the role grew as the project did.
Question: You share a lot of screen time as well with John Paul Ruttan, who plays your young son. What was that like, establishing that bond with a child actor?
Abbie Cornish: You know, what’s interesting is that as soon as J.P. walked into the room, I knew that he was the one, I just knew. I just looked at this kid and I just knew. Then he did the scene and he killed it. He’s an amazing actor. And [so] Joel and I walked him out to his mother (after the audition scene) and I kind of winked at his mom, and walked back in. I went to José and said, “He’s the one!”
Written by: Brent Simon