If you Google Markella Kavenagh’s date of birth, many results will tell you that she was born in 1990. Considering her long list of acting credits, it seems to add up. But when the fresh-faced actor sits down for an interview with Sunday life, it is clear that she is much younger than the 32 years that various websites claim that she has. “I’m only 21,” she laughs. “I was born in 2000.”
This fix makes the work Markella has done in a few years even more impressive – and shows why you shouldn’t trust everything you read online.
A self-proclaimed ‘theatre kid’, Markella was in high school at Wesley College in Melbourne when she landed her first role, in Foxtel’s 2018 series Picnic at the hanging rock. This was quickly followed that year by a gig on Stan’s Trample Romper (“I came to school with a shaved haircut,” she recalled), and the acclaimed BBC drama The Scream. Next is the 2019 film The True Story of the Kelly Gangdirected by Justin Kurzel, then another series Stan, The Glowingin 2020.
Markella was still a teenager, fresh out of school and working at fashion retailer Sportsgirl, when she got the call that would change her life.
“I remember being in the back room and locked in for the night,” she says. “Then I got this call from my agent about an audition. It was so surreal. I just thought, ‘Well, you know what, I’m going to do the audition and that’s where it will probably end. And I’m so grateful to be able to do this and to be in the room. But I got a call a few weeks later…”
That call was to tell her she had been cast as Elanor “Nori” Brandyfoot in the massively hyped Amazon Prime Video series, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. It’s due to air next month and Markella is fully on the publicity trail ahead of the launch, including today’s photoshoot and interview with Sunday life.
Since Amazon bought the TV rights to The Lord of the Rings for $250 million in November 2017, diehard fantasy fans picked up any little bit of information about the series. It’s no surprise, then, that online forums went frenzied when Markella was the first cast to be announced, along with an image of her character.
As Nori, Markella has curly ash brown hair and elf ears. Her cheeks are round and rosy, and her expression is wide and innocent. We are far from the look she adopts for the shoot and the interview today: a vamp goddess in a sequined dress, cherry red lips and long jet black hair. “It was initially to test hair colors for a role,” she says of her raven mane, “and I really liked it.”
The series is based in the world created by JRR Tolkien in The Lord
rings and its annexes. Set in the Second Age of Middle-earth, thousands of years before The Hobbit and The Lord of the Ringsit follows a cast of familiar and new characters as they face the threat of evil returning to Middle-earth.
Those familiar with Tolkien’s work may identify Nori’s character as one of the “new” variety. “She’s not specifically a canon character,” Markella explains. “But obviously there are Harfoots in the Legendarium.”
Harfoots? Legendary? Those not familiar with Tolkien’s work might be scratching their heads. First of all, the Legendary is the body of writing that forms the background of The Lord of the Rings.
When it comes to explaining Harfoots, Markella does it better. “Harfoots are sort of the ancestors of Hobbits – they look a lot alike,” she says. “They both have feet, they both have ears. But the main difference is their location.
“So the Hobbits that we saw in the books and later in the Fellowship, they have the Shire, they have their home. Whereas the Harfoots are still finding that sense of a solid and safe place.
What else can Markella tell fans hungry for facts about Nori in particular? “Nori is a very determined and curious Harfoot. She kind of pushes the envelope and she really wants to subvert tradition and expectations of what a Harfoot looks like. She sort of goes with the idea that the fear of risk can be greater than the risk itself, so why not just go out there and take it and see what you can do.
“I never thought I would end up in fantasy,” she confesses. “I fell in love with cinema through minimalist and neorealist films like Bicycle Thieves and Shoplifters.”
The way Markella talks about her character and Tolkien’s world, she comes across as a dedicated fantasy fan. But it turns out she wasn’t always up to date with Harfoots and Hobbits.
“I never thought I would find myself in the fantasy,” she admits. “I fell in love with cinema through minimalist and neorealist films like Bicycle thieves and Shoplifters. These are the films that I like, because they focus on the space between people in relationships and in our real life. There are no fancy cuts and visuals.
“I knew and appreciated that there was a place for fantasy through comfort and escape. But it’s been so liberating to see that you can take those same themes, and that same truth, and the same approach, and focus on true stories and portray specific storylines and character arcs, just against a fantasy backdrop.
Given the feverish fascination with Tolkien’s work, is Markella ready for the fame that will become her reality when the series airs? “I’m just kind of just staying open and seeing what happens,” she says, either completely unfazed or maybe oblivious to what lies ahead.
A quick look at Markella’s Instagram profile shows she has a modest 12,000 followers. No doubt it will explode with his growing stardom. “I have so many thoughts on social media,” she says. “For me, social media is something I’m constantly browsing. If I wake up in the morning and the first app I check is my Instagram and I see something that was posted five hours ago, I I’m already starting my day in the past.When I personally may struggle to be fully present, I want to focus on investing as much as possible in my interests and in the issues that are close to my heart.
“So it’s making sure I’m investing in my real life and in the people I love. Because otherwise, I feel like you can get stuck. You can get stuck in scrolling, stuck in comparing.
It can be a bit of a vicious circle and I don’t want to contribute to an echo chamber. I really want to make sure that I take the time to think about how I would like my online presence to be.
For many breakthrough actors, a move to Hollywood is the obvious next step. But Markella isn’t so sure. “There’s a quote from Aldous Huxley that says, ‘There’s quicksand all around you, sucking your feet, trying to suck you into fear, self-pity and despair. It’ is why you have to walk so lightly. Lightly my dear.
“I think sometimes that’s easier said than done. But I really try to stick to it. Not letting any outside noise or expectation affect what I decide to do and the choices I make. I’ve thought about moving to Los Angeles, but I just want to see where I naturally gravitate.
With her poise on fame and social media, her love of neorealist films, and her ability to casually slip a quote from Huxley into a conversation, Markella displays a degree of maturity far beyond her years. Maybe the date of birth on Google is correct after all?
“My friends always make fun of me because sometimes I listen to a song and I’m like, ‘You know what, I have 90s nostalgia’,” she laughs. “But I wasn’t even born then!”
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power premieres on Prime Video on September 2.
Styling by Penny McCarthy and Emerson Conrad; Hairstyle by Daren Borthwick with Oribe; Makeup by Linda Jefferyes with Liqlips by Linda Jefferyes. Filmed on location at the Bob Hawke Beer & Leisure Centre.
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