By Ben Quinn
The Newcastle Herald
January 28, 2006
RHIANA Griffith must be the only English-speaking actress alive who sees Hollywood as something other than a portal to fame and fortune, a fabled frontier that must be conquered at all costs.
Griffith flies out tomorrow for a three-month journey of self-discovery and self-promotion through Europe and the United States.
The 20-year-old will spend at least five weeks attending auditions and meeting powerful movie types in Los Angeles.
Though excited at the prospect of cracking the big time, she won't be overly shattered should the Hollywood heavies blink and miss her.
She declares there will be none of the customary compromises of the casting couch.
"You know, I'm not aspiring to take over the wild world that is Hollywood," Griffith giggles over a few lazy drinks in the sun-drenched courtyard at Wickham's Lass O'Gowrie Hotel.
"If I can't make it on my own steam . . . well, I can live without it."
This unusual beauty sips a vodka and slips on a pair of brown and turquoise shades. She is decked out in smart black and white: classic model's taste carried off with the effortless savoir faire of the urban hip.
One is reminded of a Hal Hartley heroine with a devilish smile on her blood-red lips and a loaded Colt .45 in her Fendi handbag.
"I've never had that desire to be famous, to have a huge profile," she continues.
"I'd be happy to do independent films, work with quality people and earn respect with my performances."
Griffith is at once disarmingly cute and potentially dangerous: kind of Nabokov's Lolita meets Juliette Lewis in Natural Born Killers.
You better believe she looks younger than the age on her driver's licence.
And those dreamy teardrop eyes . . .
"Chloe Sevigny, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Charlize Theron, Hilary Swank, Juliette Lewis they're the kind of actresses I really admire," she says.
"I like the quirky ones. Not fragile but strong. Something a bit left of centre, a bit interesting."
Spend a few hours in this young woman's company and you are put at ease by a grounded soul seemingly in possession of the humility needed to negotiate the trapdoors of a blossoming career in showbiz.
Griffith was born and raised in Mulbring, the heart of the Lower Hunter coalfields, and has retained her working-class charm as her star has continued to rise.
She entered modelling competitions from a young age and landed her first acting role as a burns victim on the ABC drama Children's Hospital, which also launched the career of Lochinvar's Abbie Cornish.
"Abbie and I are old mates. We grew up doing modelling competitions together and both started out on the same television show, so there's a strong connection there," Griffith says.
"She's living in Melbourne and I'm still running around between here and Sydney. We haven't caught up for a while, but hopefully we'll see each other when we're not so busy.
"She's an inspiration, for sure."
Cornish has just finished filming A Good Year opposite Russell Crowe in France, which will give her a deserved crack at Hollywood.
The silver-screen gurus, already buzzing over her award-winning performance as a confused, sexually adventurous teen in Somersault, are doing backflips over her role as a heroin addict prostitute in Candy, which will be released in Australian cinemas in May.
"Abbie has shown what you can do without going to Hollywood first," Griffith says.
"This trip will hopefully be the first of many for me. It would be awesome if something big comes off, but I'm not putting all my eggs in one basket.
"It's unrealistic to think it will all go bang in five weeks . . . but at the same time I'm really positive about it. I've got an introduction and some decent work behind me, which is more than most people have."
The introduction comes from Vin Diesel, a close friend who has a string of Hollywood blockbusters under his belt, including Saving Private Ryan, The Fast and The Furious and A Man Apart.
Griffith was 13 when she worked alongside Diesel in Pitch Black, a surprise sci-fi hit about a group of marooned space travellers who struggle for survival on a seemingly lifeless sun-scorched planet.
"I did my first feature film, 15 Amore, just before I turned 13. It was an Australian independent gem made by Maurice Murphy, who mortgaged his house to get it off the ground," she says.
"It was a really close-knit film. I met some wonderful people. Tara Jakszewicz really inspired and encouraged the creativity in me. Also Steve Bastoni and Lisa Hensley; there's some serious talent there.
"A few months later I was doing Pitch Black. We had four weeks in Coober Pedy and the rest at Warner Brothers Studios on the Gold Coast.
"Working on a film with such a big budget was certainly an experience. I had a brilliant apartment and was getting lots of little treats."
Griffith will hook up with Diesel and his production partner, George Zakk, at a mutual friend's wedding in Spain next week.
After bumming around Europe for a month or two she will roll the dice and head for Hollywood.
"Vin has always said that when I get to LA there'll be friends waiting for me, but he's also warned me not to expect the world straight away," she says.
"I went to LA in 2003 to audition for Chronicles of Riddick, the sequel to Pitch Black. Vin sent me shopping and I spent his money on these massive kick-ass boots. Got myself looking all hot on his credit card.
"A panel of producers and directors watched me do this scene with Vin. A few of them actually told me how excited they were to be introducing Rhiana Griffith. When I walked out of that room [at Universal Studios] I thought it was in the bag, but in the end I missed the part.
"That was one of my first insights into how the industry works. You might have a director, leading actor and bunch of producers who love you, but that means nothing if the studio financing the whole thing wants someone else [French actress Alexa Davalos].
"That experience was a real learning curve on that score."
When she returns from her overseas sojourn Griffith hopes to star in Volunteer, a full-length version of the short film Wrong Answer, which recently cleaned up at the Frankly Film Festival in Ohio.
"We actually got the letter of finance yesterday," she enthuses.
"One of the biggest hurdles with Australian independent films is getting the money. I've been cast in films that have so much merit but can't raise the money to get off the ground.
"Wrong Answer has given me an insight into how it all works because I've actually called on some of my contacts from Pitch Black to try and get things rolling.
"That should serve as a good warm-up for the States, where you have to sell your idea, really nail it, in a five-minute pitch."
Griffith has plenty of other strings to her bow if the acting gig doesn't work out.
When she's not busy acting you can usually find her working on a new abstract painting.
She has held two successful solo exhibitions at Tighes Hill Gallery and worked with a number of other artists, including one collaboration with a high-profile musician that could be revealed in the coming weeks.
"My art is something that helps me stay relaxed, so I might have to take a canvas or two over with me," she says.
"Acting is a great profession a truly exciting profession but life goes on outside it.
"I love hanging out with my boyfriend, hanging out with friends and family, having a few drinks, relaxing over some good tucker.
"I might give it six or seven years to establish myself [as a bankable actress]. If it's not happening by then I'll have to sit down and think about it, but it won't be the end of the world."