Australian actor Tilda Cobham-Hervey to star lead role in The Dictionary Of Lost Words

Australian film star Tilda Cobham-Hervey is set to end a seven-year break from the stage, confident her role in an adaption of an international bestselling novel will wow audiences.

She was headhunted for the lead role in The Dictionary Of Lost Words, which will premiere in Adelaide, before moving to the Sydney Opera House in late October.

Performing live on stage every night is a challenge that has beaten the best of many actors, but the 29-year-old said she was ready for the challenge.

“I haven’t done stage for seven years so I’m quite intrigued myself as to how that’s going to go,” she said.

With her parents working in the industry, Cobham-Hervey grew up by the stage, before being discovered in the 2013 coming-of-age film 52 Tuesdays.

She performed in the acclaimed movie Hotel Mumbai alongside now real-life partner Dev Patel, and the biopic of feminist icon Helen Reddy in I Am Woman.

Splitting her time between Australia and overseas, she is revelling in returning to the stage in her home town.

“It is so different, I mean at the end of the day you’re still just trying to find the truth of the moment and be in it with the other people around you,” she said.

“The main big difference is you get to rehearse and it’s so amazing.”

The Dictionary Of Lost Words was the debut novel for Adelaide Hills-based author Pip Williams.

A woman smiles.

The Dictionary Of Lost Words was written by Australian author Pip Williams.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

It has now sold more than 500,000 copies, was a New York Times bestseller and was the first from Australia to be selected for actor and producer Reece Witherspoon’s popular book club.

The story centres around the creation of the first Oxford Dictionary and the role of a young woman to preserve “women’s words” that were neglected by the male lexicographers creating it.

Williams was not initially sure the book would work.

“My greatest fear was writing a novel about that idea and writing it badly which is partly why I didn’t tell many people really what I was doing, not even my publisher knew,” she admitted.

Adelaide shows nearly sold out

Now the whole world knows, and the success came despite being launched two days after Australia went into COVID lockdown in 2020.

It was not just book lovers who fell in love, but key figures at South Australia’s leading theatre company.

“When [artistic director] Mitchell Butel from the State Theatre rang I was just beside myself,” she said.

“He said can we have a chat over a coffee about adapting the book to stage, [and I thought] ‘oh sure yeah’.”

A woman sits on an armchair and smiles.

More than 500,000 copies of The Dictionary Of Lost Words have been sold.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

But finding the right person to play the lead role of Esme would be critical and that is where Tilda Cobham-Hervey came in.

“She has so many of the qualities of Esme that I had in my head when I was writing the book,” Williams said.

“When I saw Tilda I was struck by just, there’s just something about the way she holds her body, the way she moves her head that was familiar to me.”

Already the show is nearing a sellout in Adelaide and also proving popular for its Sydney Opera House season.

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