Ayanna Berkshire grew up in Washington State, near Forks, and started acting at age three. After a stint working in the fashion industry in France at age eighteen, she returned to the U.S. and pursued acting again. Her film acting credits include her role as Cora in The Twilight Saga: Twilight, based on the best selling books by Stephenie Meyer and directed by Catherine Hardwicke. 2010′s Extraordinary Measures by director Tom Vaughan, starring Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser, Kelly Reichardt’s, Wendy and Lucy starring Michelle Williams (2008), The Dust Factory starring Ryan Kelley, Hayden Panettiere and Armin Mueller-Stahl. Her television roles have included “Leverage”, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, and “Grimm”.
Here is a highlights clip of Ayanna Berkshire’s scenes from The Twilight Saga: Twilight, courtesy of Summit Entertainment:
We interviewed her recently about her experience working in the first Twilight movie, and what life has been like since her Twilight experience all those years ago.
Ayanna Berkshire: I was working in Portland, Oregon as an actress at the time. When Twilight was looking to cast their roles for supporting characters, they looked to local Oregon talent first.
From my recollection, the role of Cora was originally written as a middle aged “Flo” type character, the typical small town diner waitress. They were not looking to cast anyone like me, but I had just finished working on Kelly Reichardt’s independent film, Wendy and Lucy with Michelle Williams and since the casting director, Lana Veenker and her assistant Lori knew my work, they felt confident that I could pull off the role of Cora if given the chance. They brought me in for the first audition, simply as an opportunity for LA casting to see if they’d like to bring me back for a second audition- they did!
My second audition was with Catherine Hardwicke where we role-played, i.e. Catherine playing both Bella AND Charlie with myself playing Cora. I left that audition convinced that I’d blown my chance and lost the role, because we’d spent the entire audition laughing. Catherine kept throwing in these hilarious scenarios like, my line would be, “Say Chief, Did you find anything down by Queets River today?” And she’d say something like, “Yep, Looks like ol’ Waylon was eaten by a Vampire.” I’d have to respond with “Wow, really?? Shoot Chief, that really sucks. More Berry Cobbler?”. It was one of the most fun auditions I’ve ever had.
I found out about a week and a half later that I’d landed the role of Cora!
PP: The scene between you and Kristen and Billy is pretty long. What was it like filming with Kristen? Were you aware of her as an actress before this movie?
AB: I was aware of Kristen from Panic Room and she’d been working since such a young age, it was great to talk with her about filmmakers, acting and our mutual acting influences while we were between shots.
It was really interesting filming with Kristen, because she was such a quiet and thoughtful actress. She was very aware of what was happening around her on set, but then she could seamlessly drop into the scene and be fully engaged. She cares a great deal about what she’s creating as an artist and that was really cool to see in her. At the time, she was still 17 (she turned 18 on set, a big deal because it meant that she could work full days and not have to end early due to child labor laws) and she had been around for a long time already. I was impressed because she came across as a very seasoned and extremely professional actress.
PP: Twilight author Stephenie Meyer makes a cameo in the movie as a customer that you serve in the diner. Had you read the books before auditioning for the role and what was it like to meet and have a scene with her in the movie?
AB: It was awesome working with Stephenie! Are you kidding? By the time we started shooting, I’d read Twilight, New Moon and Eclipse (Breaking Dawn didn’t come out until after we’d finished shooting Twilight). One of the cool things Stephenie did after Twilight had been published, was to visit Forks, WA where she met the local residence and hung out, just taking the place in. She kept a blog of her time there on her website, posting photos of the town, the police chief, the local grocery and the people. When I was prepping for Cora, I read and reread her blog and imagined myself as one of those Forks residence. I imagined what it might be like to live with all of these people as my neighbors and even, what it would be like to have a secret crush on the police chief. (If he’s reading this: Well, there you go. I bet you didn’t know someone was imagining having a secret crush on you. Now the secret’s out.)
When the character of Cora was originally written into the screenplay, she was designed to be both the “face” of Forks and a love interest for Charlie.
As a side note, I do have to admit that I got a little nerdy and weird around Stephenie and asked her to autograph a book for myself and one for my sister. I also asked her to do me a solid… write into the final chapter of Breaking Dawn that Charlie and Cora lived happily ever after. She let out a little uncomfortable laugh and let me know that I shouldn’t hold my breath. I know now that she had other plans for Charlie.
PP: Your scene in the movie did not involve Robert Pattinson, but did you see him on set at all during the filming of the movie? Were you familiar with him before this movie?
AB: I was aware of Robert from Harry Potter: Goblet of Fire and from a small role in Vanity Fair. I met him on set at lunch one day, because he was shooting another scene right after us and we all ended up having lunch together. He was funny, charming and incredibly friendly, really very normal, which comes as no surprise.
Inside story: Two days after that lunch I was back to work at my part time job, I worked in an eyeglass shop in Portland named Visage Eyewear. While I was there, an absolutely adorable British couple came in. We INSTANTLY bonded and I ended up talking with them for close to two hours. About an hour in, I finally asked what brought them to Portland and they told me that they were visiting their son, who was working in town. I asked them what he did for work and they told me he was an actor! “REALLY”, I said. (I get really excited for fellow actors, especially since I know every last one in town), “I’m an actor too!! What’s his name? Is he working on anything at the moment?” That’s when they both got a little quiet, “Oh, he’s working on a movie here…” I took a look at both of them again, took in their accents and it suddenly dawned on me. “Is your son Rob?” I asked. They both got this wide-eyed look on their face like they weren’t sure if they should say yes or no. “I JUST worked with him two days ago!” I said, “I loved him, what a great guy!” They both seemed completely relieved that they could tell their secret without having to say anything. After that, we had an even better time and if I remember correctly, they even brought me ice cream from the ice cream shop across the street. For the record, Robert Pattinson has awesome parents!
During the Wrap party for Twilight, a friend of mine (he played one of the frat boys), Rob and I were all standing around talking. I wanted to do an impromptu photo shoot, where either I was about to bite Rob, or vice versa… it ended in a total fail as neither one of us knew who was supposed to bite who. I hope I’ll be forgiven for sharing this less than flattering pic.*
PP: Did you have any idea, being in the first of a five movie series, that Twilight would become so big and that Robert Pattinson would go on to become as famous as he did?
AB: I think that the success of the movies came as a surprise to everyone. I’d had an idea that they were going to be huge just because EVERYONE seemed to be reading the books!
I think that anyone who played the role of Edward was going to experience mega fandom. Edward, of all the characters was the most untouchable, the most mysterious and the sexiest. To watch that type of character brought to real life by an actor (especially an actor like Robert who is fun, approachable and handsome, but who was still sort of a mystery himself), it becomes this instant gratification. The character was written with such passion that as a reader, you want that passion for yourself. It also didn’t hurt that Robert was coming from Harry Potter and had a built in audience who were already excited to see him in something new.
PP: You have gone on to do other movies and television since then. What place does your Twilight experience have in your acting career?
AB: Twilight was the first major feature film I’d been featured in significantly. It has given me a name in the acting world and has definitely given me a little boost up the acting ladder. Twilight allowed me to play in one of my favorite genres, Fantasy, which I continue to do in shows like “Grimm”. It’s also exposed me to new experiences that I’d only dreamt about like meeting so many awesome fans through celebrity events, film festivals and online. Also, working with other actors to help them find their path and follow their dreams and having the opportunity to share my stories in interviews like this one for Pattinson Post have been great! Even though it’s a smaller role, I think Cora is identifiable and sweet. She leaves a lasting impression and I was so lucky to get to play her. I call Twilight- “The gift that keeps on giving”.
PP: Do you keep in touch with any of the Twilight actors and have you followed the movie franchise since the first movie?
AB: Sure have! The local Twilight cast from Oregon has stayed pretty tight since we all knew one another before. A number of the cast has moved on to work on fun projects and it’s great to be able to support them and to have their support in return. I’ve also played around with a few of the cast members at various fan events which has been really fun… and, of course there’s always Twitter.
Other than that, I feel like the Twilight Franchise has created a family that the actors and fans alike support. I’ve been lucky enough to participate in a Twilight Saga premiere event for each one of the movies so far and it’s a really nice feeling to belong to something that so many people love.
PP: Last question, we found you through Twitter. How has social media impacted your life and how long have you been on Twitter?
AB: I love all social media. One could say that I am a social networking junky. Just fifteen minutes ago I was taking pictures of every stage of making dinner for myself to post on Facebook so all my buddies could see what a great time I am having… (Wow, my sister just hijacked my interview and wrote that “I was probably off photographing dinner” – Oysters Rockefeller, who can blame me!?). She’s mostly right though, so I’m keeping it. Ha!)
I’m pretty addicted when it comes to social media and I’m trying to cut back, because even I annoy myself at times. I just love that I can be a storyteller in so many ways, through photos, status updates, media sharing etc. I think the world, for the performer is just beginning on sites like Twitter and Facebook. Plus, you can see immediately whether or not you’re as funny, smart, quirky as you think you are.
I also love that social media sites expose me to people I wasn’t aware of before and that I can share these new discoveries with other people. We’re all growing and learning and need support, plus it fuels my need to be a matchmaker. Social sites are a way to keep a fresh perspective on the world around us as it evolves; it reminds us all that we have so much to share and so much in common and reminds us that we’re not alone.
Thank you SO much Pattinson Post for your awesome interview and for following me on Twitter. I hope you all enjoy my inside look at Twilight!
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