Boy Swallows Universe star Phoebe Tonkin has the world at her feet

"It's almost too good to be true!"
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There can be no doubt that after her standout performance in Boy Swallow Universe, actress Phoebe Tonkin’s star is set to rise. Praise has been coming thick and fast from all quarters for her performance in the Netflix adaptation of Trent Dalton’s beloved book of the same name. Anyone who has seen her as Frankie Bell, loving mum to the boy protagonists Eli and Gus, can see she has delivered something special, particularly during the several distressing scenes when her character battles drug addiction and violence.

WATCH: Boy Swallows Universe trailer. Article continues after video

But there can be no higher praise than that from Dalton himself. After all, the story of this family caught up in the criminal underworld in the outskirts of Brisbane in the 1980s is inspired by his own life, and Frankie is based on his own mum.

“Phoebe just gives everything in this thing,” Dalton tells WHO. “It’s as deep and as dark as an actor has ever gone. It’s harrowing watching that stuff. It’s very tough but it’s beautiful.” 

The cast of Boy Swallows Universe on the red carpet for Brisbane premiere.
Dalton with the cast at the premiere of Boy Swallows Universe (Credit: Getty Images)

Tonkin, 34, says that while she has played several mums in her acting career, none of them has been anything like Frankie. She describes the role as a “blessing” and tells WHO that the six-month shoot making the series was an “amazing experience”.

“It’s almost too good to be true when you have such a good experience and then the show turns out as beautiful as this has turned out,” she adds. “I feel so incredibly lucky – it’s a dream.”

Phoebe Tonkin as Frankie Bell in a car
Tonkin as Frankie Bell in a scene from Boy Swallows Universe (Credit: Netflix)

Working on such an intense project, unbreakable, family-like bonds were bound to form between the cast, particularly with the young stars Felix Cameron (Eli),  and Lee Tiger Halley (Gus). Reunited with her co-stars who played Frankie’s children while promoting the series, Tonkin rues how much they’ve grown since she last saw them.

“They became like my real kids,” she smiles. “I loved them so much, they gave me so much, it was such a great experience with them.”

With the likes of Simon Baker, Travis Fimmel and Bryan Brown also starring in the series, Tonkin was surrounded by a wealth of experience to draw on. “The calibre of actors on this was unbelievable … but we just all had the same intention,” she explains. “We wanted to tell the story right and we also wanted to make sure that it was a great experience. Six months is a long time for people to be away from their families. I’ve been on long jobs before and people really sacrifice a lot to do a show this long. Not only did we want to turn up on set, know our lines, do our jobs well, but we also wanted to create a really fun environment for everyone.”

Lyle Orlik and Frankie Bell in Boy Swallows Universe scene
Travis Fimmel stars as Frankie’s boyfriend Lyle Orlik (Credit: Netflix)

Tonkin first came to know Dalton’s story when her own mum gave her a copy of the book as a Christmas present in 2019. Reading it and then immersing herself in a character who is imperfect but whose love for her children is pure, changed her view on motherhood and what it means to be “a good mum”.

“When I spoke to Trent at the beginning, he said to me that his real mum … loved her children so much, so that was my objective throughout the show,” she explains. “She didn’t need anything elaborate for her family, she just wanted a level of ordinary.”

With an impressive résumé of film and TV credits behind her, including Babylon with Margot Robbie and perhaps her best known stint in The Vampire Diaries, a level of ordinary isn’t something in Tonkin’s immediate future.

Boy Swallows Universe is streaming now on Netflix

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