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Tilda Cobham-Harvey channels Helen Reddy in 'I Am Woman'

Tilda Cobham-Harvey plays singer-songwriter Helen Reddy in the new film, I Am Woman, in theaters and on video-on-demand platforms Friday. File Photo by Lisa Tomasetti/Quiver Distribution
Tilda Cobham-Harvey plays singer-songwriter Helen Reddy in the new film, "I Am Woman," in theaters and on video-on-demand platforms Friday. File Photo by Lisa Tomasetti/Quiver Distribution

NEW YORK, Sept. 11 (UPI) -- When actress Tilda Cobham-Harvey received the screenplay for the Helen Reddy biopic, I Am Woman, she was shocked to realize she didn't know more about her fellow Aussie -- a singer, songwriter and feminist icon of the 1960s and '70s.

"I read the script and was just so taken by her and her story," Cobham-Harvey told UPI in a recent phone interview. "I went down the rabbit hole of looking up every single performance she did and all of her interviews -- [I] stayed up until 3 a.m."

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She immediately hit it off with director Unjoo Moon when they met to discuss the role.

"We sat down for what was meant to be about an hour and we ended up fan-girling over Helen for about four or five hours," Cobham-Harvey laughed. "The rest is history, I guess."

Written by Emma Jensen, I Am Woman is set for theatrical and video-on-demand release Friday.

The film co-stars American Horror Story actor Evan Peters as Reddy's husband, talent manager Jeff Wald and Danielle Macdonald from Unbelievable and Dumplin,' who plays Helen's best friend, rock journalist Lillian Roxon.

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Cobham-Harvey thinks this story of a single mom struggling to launch a career in a male-dominated industry was best told by a female writer and director.

"It's really important for more women to be at the helm of writing stories and telling stories -- whether it's about another woman or their own experience," the actress said. "It's really great and exciting to see more female writers and directors. I think we need to keep fighting for that."

It was important to Cobham-Harvey, whose credits include Hotel Mumbai and 52 Tuesdays, to embody Reddy's spirit -- not do an impression of the artist and women's rights activist -- in I Am Woman.

"Me and Helen are very similar in some ways, but we are also incredibly different," she said, adding she studied closely Reddy's voice and mannerisms, so they would be recognizable.

"By the time I found out I got the role, I was 22. We shot when I was 23. I am playing a woman who ages from 24 to 48, has two children, is a super-famous '70s pop star and feminist icon, so it was incredibly daunting, stepping into this role."

Cobham-Harvey felt inspired by Reddy's confidence in her wholesome image and her uplifting work.

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Even during a time when the record charts were packed with edgier fare, Reddy knew her music would find an audience if she was just given a chance.

"I am so in awe of her for that -- the way that she managed to keep so true to herself and so authentic to herself. It's very hard to do that in an industry like this," Cobham-Harvey said.

Moon also was too young to be a fan during Reddy's heyday, but she set out to unravel what was so special about the singer-songwriter after meeting her at an awards ceremony several years ago.

"I wasn't old enough then to have been to a Helen Reddy concert or bought an album, but I remember very clearly the way that her music used to affect my mother and her friends," Moon recalled in a separate phone chat with UPI.

"I'd be sitting in the back of the station wagon and one of her songs would come on and [the women in the car] would wind down the windows and let their hair out in the breeze and sing along really loudly. I remember clearly how they used to become stronger and bolder through this music."

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Best known for her 1971 anthem, "I Am Woman," Reddy had a string of other hit songs such as "I Believe in Music" and "I Don't Know How to Love Him." She also acted in films like Pete's Dragon and Airport 1975, and hosted the variety show, Midnight Special.

Her journey to becoming a treasured celebrity was not an easy one, though.

Moon pointed to a scene in the film in which Helen talks to a boardroom filled with male music executives who can't seem to imagine an audience for her songs.

Moon had a similar experience, decades later, when she and her collaborators tried to raise interest in and money for the female-centric film.

"Sometimes, we would be the only women sitting at a table, and there would be these young, male executives sitting there, who would basically say: 'Hmmm. Helen Reddy? Why would anybody want to watch this movie?'" Moon said.

The filmmaker said she finds it incredible that, in this day and age, some powerful men still discount the opinions of half the world's population, particularly since women frequently make the decisions of where to go, what to buy or what to see for entertainment.

"Quite often, really great stories, inspiring stories about women are told by women because these are the movies that we want to see," Moon said, noting Reddy, 78, has seen the film and was very supportive of it.



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