MISTLETOE RANCH

MERCY CORNWALL HITS THE BIG SCREEN

INTERVIEW
By Connor Dalton
13th November 2022

Queensland transformed into a winter wonderland earlier this year for the production of 'Mistletoe Ranch'. Despite the sweltering heat and thunderstorms galore, it became the unlikely place a little Christmas film was born. There, the story of Aimée Tremblay was told. She's a promising young photographer working all around the world, but upon hearing her family's annual Christmas celebrations have been cancelled, she races home for the holidays. Once back in the town of Snowy Oak, things only get more complicated. She discovers her family's property is in dire financial straits while also finding herself reconnecting with her former fiancé. As a result, Aimée must grapple with what she left behind and make a call on what lies ahead.

For Mercy Cornwall, the actress portraying Aimée, it couldn't be a more perfect role. Many have proclaimed Cornwall one of Australia's most exciting young talents. She was first introduced to audiences in the teen drama 'Dive Club', which became a tween sensation both domestically and abroad. Now, she's re-teaming with many of that series' key creatives for her first theatrical film and first leading role. Aimée, as a character, asks a lot of the person inhabiting her, but Cornwall is more than up to the task. As a matter of fact, when watching the film, you can see she is relishing the opportunity.

The morning after the film's premiere, Cornwall spoke with me about the challenges of taking on a leading role, shooting a Christmas film during an Australian summer, and how she feels about the current state of her career. This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

CONNOR DALTON: How did you end up at the Mistletoe Ranch?

MERCY CORNWALL: I think, like most of the projects that have come to me, through an email for an audition request. So I just put down a self-tape, then I got a callback, then I did a chemistry read with a few options for [the male lead character] James, and then [I] booked the role.

DALTON: This is a real 'Dive Club' reunion. Your director, screenwriter, and producer all have ties to Cape Mercy. What was it like to reunite with one another?

CORNWALL: It was absolutely wonderful. I think that was a big part of what drew me to this film was knowing that there was the potential to work with Rhiannon Vandenberg, our director, again, who I just adore. She's a wonderful filmmaker. She has an excellent way of not making me look terrible. Yeah, that was really, really exciting. I think even in the audition process, seeing those familiar faces in the room was really helpful and alleviated a lot of the stress.

DALTON: What excited you about playing the role of Aimée Tremblay?

CORNWALL: So I had three days between knowing I booked the role to actually having to move up to Queensland and film it. So I couldn't really delve into anything specific. I think the only tool I had was to be really instinctual and to play Aimée as close to me as possible, just [due to] that time frame. Like Aimée, I think Christmas for me was quite tainted with COVID. Being away from family - my family are in Western Australia, the borders were a little stricter there - I didn't get to spend Christmas with them for a couple of years. So that whole idea of homecoming and reuniting with loved ones was what really resonated with me, and that's what I got to play with [as] Aimée.

DALTON: Did playing this character offer many challenges for you as a performer?

CORNWALL: It did. I think this is my first ever lead role. In 'Dive Club', I got to really rely on the wonderful ensemble cast that I worked with. There were the five lead girls, and there were the boys around us as well, so a lot of the burden of being the lead was taken away because it was diluted by other people's lines and other people's commitments. But this was [predominantly] me and Jordi [Webber]. It was so many lines, [laughs] so much to learn. So that was probably my main challenge: wrapping my head around the weight of carrying the film. But also, there were some scenes where I had to get really emotional about love and loss and the idea that you're not connected to your home anymore and that things have changed. That was particularly challenging.

'MISTLETOE RANCH' TRAILER

DALTON: This film is the latest in a long line of romantic Christmas films. Were there any films you took inspiration from?

CORNWALL: I mean, my favourite Christmas film is 'Love Actually'. Is 'Die Hard' a Christmas film?

DALTON: That's up for debate.

CORNWALL: I think classic rom-coms is where I took my inspiration. Your Meg Ryans, your Kate Hudsons, that sort of energy. Also, 'The Notebook' was a big one - Rachel McAdams' performance in that. [This film] had the potential to be a bit of a sappy romance, but we really wanted to make it as genuine as possible and just play with the chemistry and the friendship between James and Aimée. I think Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling did that so well in 'The Notebook', so that was a big inspiration for us.

DALTON: It's certainly on the page. It has its moments of light and fun, but there are moments of real depth. When reading the script, did you see something you could really connect with?

CORNWALL: Absolutely. As I said before, I had to sort of play it as close to myself and my own experiences. There was this scene where Aimée's breaking down, she's crying, and really feeling that weight of being away from loved ones. [This] idea that she's been away from home for so long and missing her mum and all those sorts of things. My mum's alive [laughs], Aimée's has unfortunately passed away, but I still missed my mum so much. I hadn't seen her in such a long time because of COVID. So that was the time that I felt a strong connection to the character.

DALTON: The film can be classified as both a Christmas and romance film. Were these genres you've been hoping to work in?

CORNWALL: Yeah! I think rom-coms have really been the launchpad for the careers of so many people I look up to. So I felt really lucky to be in this genre.

DALTON: Watching the film, I thought it's probably the only time you'll see snow in Queensland. What was it like seeing the Sunshine State transform into this wintery American ranch?

CORNWALL: Movie magic is quite wonderful. I saw the film for the first time the other night, and I was really blown away by the special effects and the fake snow and the colour grading and all those elements that go into it to make it look like winter. All I remember was wearing a coat and overheating, and it's February, and the sun's out. So it's quite remarkable the effort that goes into making it an American Christmas.

DALTON: Chemistry can be so vital as to whether a film like this works or not. Did the chemistry between you and Jordi Webber come naturally or did the two of you do anything to help build your rapport?

CORNWALL: I can't stand him. It's all fake [laughs]. No, he's just the loveliest person. He is so grounded. He is so genuine. Straight away, we met up by the pool because we were filming in summer - we hung out by the pool during our Christmas winter movie. That was the first night, and we just got chatting. We chatted for hours just about life and family and friends, and it was just really effortless. He's still very much a good friend of mine. He just comes over unannounced now. He's ingratiated himself into my partner's life as well, so we're all really good friends with him.

DALTON: A major point of conflict in the film is Aimée having to choose between her home and her career. Did that resonate with you, given that your line of work can take you anywhere?

CORNWALL: Absolutely. I'm a very family-oriented person. I adore my family. They are the most important thing in my life. So I really struggle with the fact that I'm from Perth. There's not really a screen industry over there, and as soon as I decided to pursue this career, I had to swallow that bitter pill that I can't live there; I can't live with my family. That's super devastating. So I definitely saw those parallels between Aimée and myself.

DALTON: You've now appeared in a Netflix series and a theatrical film. How do you feel about where your career is at right now?

CORNWALL: Look, I'm excited [laughs]. I don't know. For me, I've just started. I'm super green still, and my career only really started during the pandemic as well. So I don't really know what it looks like in a post-pandemic environment. I'm just excited to hopefully get on a set again and meet great people and create cool characters. That's where I want to head.

DALTON: Last year, you were labelled one of the brightest up-and-coming stars in the country. How does it feel to receive that kind of praise this early in your career?

CORNWALL: Oh, massive imposter syndrome. As far as I'm concerned, I'm just the little awkward nerd from Perth who likes watching 'The Crown' and reading historical fiction. So it is really interesting when I hear comments like that because, as far as I'm concerned, I'm still at the beginning. I'm still trying to be where I want to end up in this career. So that's very humbling, but it's also very nice to hear those comments.

DALTON: For the time being, it must be nice to have the film coming out. How does it feel that audiences will now have a chance to see it?

CORNWALL: I'm really excited for audiences to see this film. I think it's got so much heart and so much warmth, and it has a really timeless feel to it as well. I think it reminds everyone of what we've been missing over the last few years during this pandemic environment of what Christmas really is, and that's cohesion, that's coming together. I hope they are reminded of that, and I hope it's something that they can watch Christmas after Christmas.

DALTON: What's next on the cards for you? Is there anything in the pipeline?

CORNWALL: Maybe!

DALTON: Nothing you can disclose right now?

CORNWALL: Nothing I can disclose. Look, there are a couple of pots bubbling away, but we'll see.

DALTON: Alright, we'll need to regroup in a year or so.

CORNWALL: [Laughs] Sounds great.

DALTON: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. Congratulations on the film.

CORNWALL: Thanks so much for having me. It was lovely to chat with you.

'Mistletoe Ranch' opens in Australian cinemas on the 17th of November.

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