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Actress Tonya Cornelisse talks upcoming film projects, theater performance

Tonya Cornelisse
(Photo: Bobby Quillard)

Actress Tonya Cornelisse is on the verge of a breakout year! With a series of film roles and other projects being releasing within the next five months, her star power will only continue to rise!

First up is the film “Yellow” – a dramedy centered around a young woman with a drug habit along with a myriad of other problems. Cornelisse plays the role of Starla; a sassy, foul-mouthed, single-mother and survivor. “Yellow” stars Melanie Griffith, Ray Liotta, Sienna Miller and Gena Rowlands and premieres Aug 29th in major markets with a more wider release to follow.

Cornelisse also appears in the upcoming sci-fi/horror film, Lost Time [set for VOD release on Sept 19]. The film is based on the post-traumatic, psychological effects of close encounters. Cornelisse plays Gillian, a clairvoyant who is placed in a psychiatric ward with other “lost timers”.

In addition to her exciting film career, Cornelisse is the voice of Lexus commercials and will soon appear in a revival of Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, Buried Child. I had the pleasure of speaking with her about “Yellow” and a few of her other upcoming projects.

How did your role in “Yellow” come about?

It was such a gratifying experience that came about the old-fashioned way. Matt Berry is a casting director who’s good friends with Nick Cassavetes [director]. Matt casts all of Nick’s projects and knew me from a show that did in New York. Matt was the one who suggested that Nick and I should meet me, so I went in and had a meeting with Nick. It was one of those projects where I read the script and instantly fell in love with it. It was everything I love about independent filmmaking: a strong, interesting role and a really dark, raw original film.

How would you describe the story of “Yellow”?

It’s a dark, messed-up family drama that crosses all genres. It’s one of those films that will take on an instant cult status. There’s musical numbers in it as well as an interesting dinner scene I’m in with Melanie Griffith and Gena Rowlands.

What can you tell me about your character?

Starla is a really strong, foul-mouthed, hard living single mom who’s pretty fearless and scrappy. She’s a survivor.

Let’s discuss another one of your upcoming films, ‘Lost Time’.

I love the way it was shot. We filmed in this old, shutdown mental institution in downtown LA. They do a lot of filming there for creepy things [laughs]. It’s the story about a group of “lost timers” who have been taken away and have no concept of where they went or how long they’ve been gone. There was a huge blackout and they were physically taken to a different reality. They’ve since reemerged but are now really messed up and aren’t able to function in normal society. Each of them have ailments that they suffer from. My character, Gillian hears voices in her head and is convinced that she has little creatures living inside of her. The leader of the group is a doctor played by Robert Davi (The Goonies). We’re all staying at his facility/institution where everything is monitored. It’s about the search to find answers to what’s happened to us.

What attracts you to a role or gets you excited about a script?

The ones that I love to jump into are the ones that are deep and take me out of my realm. I love roles that are challenging and off beat. Ones that I can really dive in and sink my teeth into. I love the kind of roles that make you feel uncomfortable or make you itch!

Growing up, did you always know you wanted to become an actress?

The story-telling aspect was something that was always huge for me. I’ve always liked being able to tell stories. When I was a little, I would make up my own stories and put on puppet shows. I always had a captive audience of adults around who would watch my shows. I danced ballet as a child but once I turned eleven, I started getting more into acting.

What other projects are you currently working on?

I’m doing the 35th anniversary of Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, Buried Child at the Whitefire Theater here in LA. He’s one of the great American playwrights and writes really strong female characters. It’s a three-act, epic American play. It’s super challenging and opens Sept 5. I also have a new screen play that we’re hoping to start filming around Christmas time.

Do you have a piece of advice you can offer to up and coming actors?

Always remember why you’re doing this and keep that inner child close to the surface and in your pocket. If you go back to the guts of why you got into creating this expression of art you really can’t go wrong. Stay true to what’s inside and then, do your thing.

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