Check out our interview with writer and “Hitmen” actress Tonya Cornelisse.
From acting in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf on Broadway, to winning the audience award for her writing at Sundance, to working along such notable talent as Philip Seymour Hoffman, Nick Cassavettes, Riley Keough, and Kelly AuCoin, Cornelisse has worked in over 40 films big and small. The award-winning actress can now be seen in NBC Peacock’s new comedy series “Hitmen” (SKY ONE) alongside the British comedy duo Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins (“The Great British Breaking Show”) which the New York Times has just included in their “Watching” newsletter as a must-see. She also co-stars in the 2020 Sundance FF feature film MOPE, currently streaming on VOD and is also set to co-star alongside Juliette Lewis and Christina Ricci in the upcoming Showtime series “Yellowjackets”.
“Hitman” is the latest comedy series that NBC’s Peacock has acquired from oversees, and the UK dark comedy mixes pitch-black humor with rapid, dry banter between the all-star duo of Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins who star as professional hitmen ‘Jaime’ and ‘Fran’ respectively. Cornelisse stars as the gravel-voiced, ultra-intense American rival ‘Liz’ whom lesbian ‘Fran’ is smitten with. ‘Liz’ occasionally drops by the duo in her hitman-esque black SUV to keep their beef going and to fluster ‘Fran’.
Follow Tonya @tonya_cornelisse
How did you get started into acting and writing?
Both around the same time actually…about age 11 I was encouraged to audition for semi-professional theatre and booked a role in Wind & The Willows (I played a weasel, a Stout actually, which is the correct term for a female weasel), and that same year I won a Young Authors Award for my first book (which I recently read and it was really a play) – called “The Funny Farm” - – about animals trying to escape in really obnoxious ways! Ha. Before that I started dance at age 2 and was quite serious about it for a little human.
How has this changed your life?
I never looked back. It was just a seamless deal to me, as in, yep! This is what you are going to do. I know it’s cheesy but if I were a nun I would definitely call it “my calling” – I love theatre forever and am happiest deep in rehearsals in a dark theatre.
What is the best and worst part of being an actress/writer?
Actor: The best is doing what I love and the creative aspect of community is very much a large part of acting. Worst: on top the next job – always! You do have to love it.
Writer: the opposite the solitude of diving deep in our own mind – it’s completely provocative to me – I don’t have issue with being alone. For me, I need that solitude to restore and evolve creatively from time to time, it’s proves really necessary. Worst: Writing is F’ing hard!
Tell us about your work in NBC Peacock’s new comedy series “Hitmen?”
This show! It was great! My co-starts, director, writers, the whole team was just fantastic to work for. We shot in London, as it is a British TV show originally produced by Tiger Aspect / Sky TV. I play “LIZ” and she is a boss!! She’s tough as nails on the outside and uses crude little kid playground insults to protect herself from what is no-doubt some crippling insecurities. It was really important to me to make sure just enough of that vulnerability showed up.
But the filming of HITMEN was brilliant! All round ~ and it just got renewed for season two!
And about your work on Sundance FF feature film “MOPE?”
MOPE is based on a wild true story that you wouldn’t believe unless, well, it was actually true! I play TAMPA – she is a woman that is on the street, has lost her children, addicted to meth and just taking it moment to moment, but she is still so full of strength and constantly searching for ways of self-improvement and education. She has a heart of gold and despite the situations she is constantly confronted with she holds to a strong moral code that might be low but it is thick. I am really proud of everyone’s work in this film, it wasn’t the easiest of material to dive into and the level of commitment was set high. To say nothing else it is original and raw filmmaking. Give it a go – you’ll definitely learn something!
What other projects you have been part of?
Oh, geez. I come from the theatre and do it whenever I can. I’m part of a few Equity Theatre companies that I am constantly active in, it’s harder for theatre in LA than New York or London, but covid has put a pin in all that sadly. It will return and it will triumph – live performance (art) is so important to the soul. Zoom reading are just not the same!
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
The storytelling aspect. Being given the opportunity to connect people, making them feel less alone, inspired, life is a shared experience. It’s important. Especially, now, I don’t care if it’s comedy or drama or horror or whatever…when you connect to someone else’s experience (story) – it’s a beautiful thing. Getting the opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes and share that with others – I find it incredibly powerful.
What kind of roles do you like or would like to play and why?
If the story is there and I feel like I have something to give – I’m in!
What is your favorite healthy food?
Right now, I love particularly Tomatoes, Figs & Watermelon. I also drink apple cider vinegar but it is not amazing…& Natural Wine! A new hobby. No sulfates.
And your favorite cheat food?
I love candy – 4eva! Marshmallows – I love gross kid-candy like Peeps & Circus Peanuts. Also, an Ice Cream cone. There has never been a time where I have a heard an Ice Cream Truck coming round the corner and felt compelled to run after it.
How would you explain your fashion style?
I can lean towards rock-n-roll or bohemian. I also love a great costume – McQueen & Bowie in all glory – but that is not an everyday lewk! I love a pair of leather boots & a leather jacket end of day. My mother was in fashion – I love fashion.
How would your best friend describe you?
A damn good time! Passionate. Creative. Loyal.
What’s next for Tonya Cornelisse in the last months of 2020?
Hosting the return of SNL (this is not true, but soon!)
I have a few projects in the air as 2020 proves to a bit of an unpredictable shit-show. My web-series I created with my great friends called “SISTERS” will premiere on AMAZON PRIME, it’s really fast & fun! My sketch show (I’ve always done a lot of improv my entire life (UCB, io West, Alan Arkin) – called The Homemade Sketch Show will premiere on TUBI next month with a 15-episode season one!! And my writing partner and I have 2 animation shows in the works – 2020!!
What is your own definition of happiness?
The Seaside with a big dog, loved ones and a suitcase to keep on traveling on… Bliss.
How is a normal day in your life?
It varies…it varies so much – But! I usually do some sort of physical activity – dance, yoga and some meditation. Creative work. I’m trying to get back in the habit of reading for pleasure. Trying to do my part as a responsible citizen and help justice be served in anyway I can. Connecting with my community (friends, family). Ending with a beautiful glass of wine and some tomatoes!
What is your idea of a perfect Sunday?
Sundays are special. Sundays remind me of my Grandparents that I was very close with them. I honor them somehow. Also, I mentor kids on Sundays when I have the opportunity. Sundays is GIVE BACK DAY! Then, have some sort of a movie / game / Sunday lunch with great friends!
What book should every entrepreneur read?
The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey (more of a book on mastering focus)
What is your favorite song to belt out in the car/for karaoke?
Bang! Bang! By Nancy Sinatra.
What would be a deal breaker on a first date?
Being rude to your waiter / bartender / any person in the service industry.
If you could meet someone living or dead, who would it be and why?
David Bowie. He’s just an epic king of creative genius. That was really hard! Don’t think twice!!
Best advice ever given?
Give everything, Expect Nothing. And, Always leave a piece of your soul up there!
Do you support any charity?
Yes! A few. I love Charity Water and The Loveland Foundation. I’m very active with under-privileged youth – I work with Crossroads & The Usual Suspects in LA and mentor at-risk kids through the power of the arts. If these kids do not have a somewhere to go after school or a place to be on Sunday morning the only alternative is hanging in the streets, they need and deserve more opportunity.
Name 3 things you can’t live without?
Laughter. Leather Boots. Music.
Where do you see yourself and your career in 5 years from now?
As stated above, I want that SNL gig!! On stage in London or NYC. Filming a great new show or film. Working with Mike Leigh or Martin McDonagh, Greta Gerwig, Scorsese… Having roles in a Palm D’Or film or two.
Favorite song? Why?
Life On Mars (Bowie). Here Comes the Sun (Beetles).
What music do you like?
Any thing that makes me want to move with inspiration – I adore jazz – but-from Rap, Classical, R&B, rock-n-roll. I have been listening to a lot of Spanish Guitar, Cuban & Brazilian music lately.
What do you think of Social Media?
I mean, it connects people. I like it for movements of justice and equality. It has been a powerful tool in how we organize to defund the police and get that clown out of the office. Keep Protesting!!!! Personally, I could live with or without it – it has made me more aware of local companies owned by Women and POC that I try and support at all times.
Where we can follow you?
Instagram is best: @tonya_cornelisse
Quote: “The best way to predict your future is to create it”
Favorite Singer/Artist: David Bowie has become my anthem in the interview!
Movie: Cassavetes is a hero of mind – Gena Rowlands is my muse – A Woman Under the Influence (I’m a cinephile so…that has loads of answers)
Travel Destination: I have been around but €“ Paris. Tuscany. I have not been €“ The Greek Isles. Croatia.
Sports Team: I’m a New Yorker and I got to say Yankees!! Also, I like the Lakers (old school)! I’m a big World Cup – Futball fan!!! Soccer is my sport ~
Tv Show: Curb Your Enthusiasm. (Larry David find meeeeee…)
Book: Harold Bloom “Being Human” – I’m a big fan od all Roald Dahl (adult stories are incredible).