Airhead or ingenue?
Former Home and Away star Isabel Lucas has cracked Hollywood. Ed Gibbs finds her at odds with her ditzy reputation.
Her big break in the US may have been stymied by a film studio in free-fall but former soap star and notorious environmental activist Isabel Lucas now appears set for well-earned breakout success in 2011.
Having survived the collapse of MGM (best known as the long-time home to James Bond’s 007 licence), Lucas’s follow-up to 2009’s big-screen debut, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, is Red Dawn , which is firmly back on track for its blockbuster release. And, as if to make up for lost time, there’s a second major film due out as well.
In addition to the long-delayed remake of the 1980s cult hit – in which Lucas stars opposite fellow Melburnian Chris Hemsworth – audiences will also see the starlet alongside A-listers Mickey Rourke, Stephen Dorff and John Hurt in the Greek mythology drama Immortals. The two films are polar opposites for the 26-year-old, who was famously plucked from acting college when she was 17 and groomed for her Australian soap debut in 2002.
“I’ve heard it’s amazing but I haven’t seen the finished product yet,” she says of Red Dawn. “We were doing boot camps and martial-arts training, learning to use different weaponry in the cold Detroit winter. It’s classic action. When you’re an actor, when opportunities come up, you go with the flow. You jump.”
Jump she most certainly has. But while her two big studio films should finally see her star rising high worldwide, all the fuss and bother isn’t so far removed for the girl formerly known as Tasha Andrews in Home and Away.
Lucas grew up on the move (her father is an Aussie pilot, her mother a Swiss teacher) and learnt to call Europe and Australia home. As a result, she’s fluent in French and German and has a seemingly unquenchable thirst for travel, coupled with a robust work ethic and an ongoing, vocal concern for the environment and wildlife.
“I can talk about this until the cows come home,” she says when the subject of her eco exploits rears its head. “Broome is in the midst of gas and oil explorations on sacred Aboriginal land. It’s also the main migration path for whales. It’s unbelievable what’s happening there.”
Lucas’s commitment to environmentalism is not just about words. In 2007, she was one of several people nearly arrested in Japan when they attempted to block a dolphin hunt in Taiji, Wakayama. More recently, she scaled Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro (Jessica Biel was among the star-studded group) to raise awareness about the world’s clean water crisis, dubbed Summit on the Summit.
Right now, though, she’s focused on her current Australian release: the feature debut of award-winning West End and Broadway director Gale Edwards’s A Heartbeat Away. The film was shot more than a year ago, near her parents’ Queensland farm, and centres on a quiet coastal town set to be overrun by greedy developers. Lucas plays Mandy, the music-loving daughter of the town’s dastardly mayor (Colin Friels). A star-crossed romance soon blossoms with the son of Edwin Flack (William Zappa), her father’s arch nemesis. The son is the leader of the town’s last bastion of hope: its brass band.
“What attracted me was working with someone like Gale Edwards,” Lucas says. “She’s got so much amazing experience. I was intrigued … It’s a classic generational tale of love, really. There’s not many of those around.”
A Heartbeat Away is Lucas’s third Australian film in 12 months – on screen, at least – following Claire McCarthy’s The Waiting City and Amanda Jane’s The Wedding Party. And while its family-friendly, small-town charm may be more akin to her days on Home and Away (the film has been roundly dismissed by critics and took a hammering at last weekend’s box office), Lucas’s current day-to-day life is a whirlwind of airports, film sets and culture shocks.
Lucas is just back from a solo trip to India, in fact (“It was wonderful,” she says) and has barely had time to unpack. “I’m not in LA that much,” she says. “I’ve been in Morocco and Switzerland, filming in different locations – and India, of course. I’m in and out a lot.”
When she is in town she prefers a low-key existence and is rarely found in celebrity hangouts. “I’m relatively reserved,” she says. “I don’t go out partying. I stay quite separate from the buzz of that world. I keep my focuses on my work. I’m aware that I’ve been really fortunate – or I’ve got lucky stars. This is an opportunity. I have my close friends.”
Indeed, one briefly interrupts our interview (“a lot of my friends are not in the industry,” she points out, before politely waving them off), before I inquire on her now-public romance with Australian music star Angus Stone (from Angus & Julia Stone). The pair went public at the ARIA Awards in Sydney last year following a string of rumoured Hollywood hook-ups that was said to include Jake Gyllenhaal, Jared Leto and Entourage’s Adrian Grenier.
How does she maintain a relationship across the pond, while constantly on the move? “You could ask anyone in a long-distance relationship,” she says. “Ask any actress. There’s a lot of travelling involved. I’m not very good talking about relationships but, yes, we are very much together.” So much so, in fact, they have discussed working together, although she’s reluctant to elaborate yet.
For someone who is commonly branded as naive and ditzy, Lucas appears surprisingly savvy. These days, she finds herself stalked by the paparazzi – just days before our interview, she’s snapped picking up her dry-cleaning – and while she accepts it comes with the territory, she is dismissive of interest in her day-to-day life. “It’s odd,” she says of the laundry trip. “But I hope to deal with it gracefully.”
Before we see her again on Australian shores (“I hope to be back mid year,” she says), this world-wise star has plenty left to achieve while in the US (her base since 2008). Among her goals are working with key big-name actors and directors and, one day, becoming a filmmaker herself. For the cause, that is.
“I’d love to work with Daniel Day-Lewis – and [French director] Michel Gondry [who recently made The Green Hornet],” she says. “I think they’re both extraordinary. And a long-term dream of mine is to make documentaries. It’s a wonderful way to get awareness out there.”
As for that infamous so-called ”ban” from ever re-entering Japan, Lucas insists the misunderstanding has been cleared up. She is ready to return for further eco-friendly work, if required. “I have returned to Japan since,” she says of her dolphin-hunting protest. “We did a press junket for Transformers there. And I am thinking about going back again. It wasn’t a guilt trip on the Japanese – or an insult to their culture. There’s a lot of pressure on them to stop the dolphin hunting, the whaling. And most of the population is opposed to what’s going on. I’ve got something planned – something very different – so we’ll see.”
A Heartbeat Away is in cinemas now. Red Dawn and Immortals are both due out later in the year.