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TV star Zara Michales on the Past, Present and Future

TV star Zara Michales has been a staple on Aussie screens for nearly a decade.

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Acclaimed actress Zara Michales, as photographed by Marnya Rothe

“I feel incredibly lucky to have been given the opportunities I’ve had,” she says with a humble smile.

Most recently in the acclaimed fan-favourite Doctor Doctor, Zara made a huge impact in the developments of the season’s storyline, and managed to perfectly balance the comedic-drama tone for which the show has become known to Australian, European and US audiences via Amazon.

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Zara made yet another appearance on Aussie TV recently, this time on Channel Nine hit drama, Doctor Doctor. 

“With the role of Thomasina I was allowed to do what I wanted, character-wise, which was great because my character wasn’t your typical lawyer stereotype,” Zara offered.

Despite the fact she made only an appearance in one episode, Zara made quite the impact.

Indeed, Zara guides one of the leads Ajax (played by Matt Castley in the series) to change the course of his fate and ultimately help his family for the greater good.

Zara’s biting appearance in Doctor Doctor is just one TV appearance in a career of many.

The down-to-earth attitude with which she speaks to our editors would have any reader surprised that she’s a fan favourite amongst loyal Australian TV watchers, notorious for being reticent to embrace new talent.

Zara’s captivating screen presence however, most notably captured in her gripping performance as Steph Green on the hugely popular Home and Away, was undeniable to the fickle Australian public, and she’s been working on different genres ever since.

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Zara attracted mainstream attention for her role as antagonist ‘Steph Green’ in the award-winning favourite, Home and Away.

The character I played on Home and Away was a very controversial one that audiences did not forget.”

Zara played the very mischievous and rebellious nurse, Steph Green, who pushed boundaries in the world of ‘Summer Bay’ (where the show is set) and for the award-winning series itself.

During her time on the iconic series, Zara’s character befriended Dex and got up to no good with him at the hospital. After beginning as friends, bond turned into a volatile relationship that escalated into a series a dramatic plot-lines for which Home and Away has become best known.

“My character broke a couple of rules at the hospital – eventually she was confronted to clean up her behaviour and Dex broke up with because of it. She then spirals out of control and pushes boundaries to a breaking point which eventually sees her getting fired from Summer Bay Hospital and fleeing Summer Bay itself.”

Clearly, Zara’s time on the show was indispensably linked to the ups-and-downs of the town in which the show takes place, and without her characters’ antagonistic nature, the series wouldn’t have been forgiven by the audience. It goes without saying that, were it not for Zara, Home and Away would’ve been pretty boring.

“I just feel lucky I got to make such a fondly remembered contribution to Australia’s most loved show,” Zara adds.

No doubt Zara’s time on set was made even more memorable given she got to work alongside Matrix: Revolutions actor, and star of Oscar-winner Russell Crowe’s movie The Water Diviner, Robert Mammone.

“Robert is such an experienced actor was wonderful to work with – because of the fights our characters got in, you get really heated and worked up and invested in the scenes. So it goes without saying my experience on set was pretty miserable – in the best way possible!”

Of her many roles on Australian TV though, Zara’s quick to attest to the machine-like professionalism of Home and Away and how well everything worked together.

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Home and Away is well-known for capturing Australia’s beautiful scenery and iconic Australian citizens. Zara’s edgy performances and Greek heritage was therefore all the more noticeable and helped change the show’s tone for the better, which audiences have been relishing more than ever in the years since her appearance.

“Working on Home and Away was like being in a whole different world completely. The cast and crew worked like a family. Ray who plays Alf (who the longest running character in Home and Away) is an absolute gentleman.”

The other iconic Australian series in which Zara has also played an indisputably important character is Underbelly, the famed series chronicling the criminal life of Australian history. 

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Zara was featured front-and-centre as a part of the marketing and billboard campaign promoting Underbelly: Badness, further cementing her relationship with Channel Nine and her high-profile in Australia.

During her time on set, Zara shared screentime with Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow actor, Matt Nable.

“Matt Nable was very focused and committed actor on set,” Zara is quick to proclaim.

“I enjoy working with people like that who are focused and passionate. It just makes my job easy.”

What was perhaps less easy was the pressure Zara faced in playing such an important role in a high-profile show.

Indeed, the series hinged on Zara, who played Pippa, and Aaron Jeffery, who played her partner Frank, as Frank was the only person the police had to connect them to the killer at the centre of the season.

 

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Zara and her on-screen husband, played by Aaron Jeffery in a still from Underbelly.

Though reluctant at first to help the police, the safety of Pippa’s family is put first and Frank sides with the police.

Across a series of gripping and award-winning episodes, Zara’s performance and scenes with her family brought much of the humour and lightness to the show, as well as its emotional heart. One only has to watch a few key scenes to chuckle at the realistic portrayal Zara and Aaron brought to their characters’ marriage and how they’d bicker but love each other at the same time.

The acclaimed finale, which was written in last minute, closed in on the family Pippa and Frank always wanted in the pursuit of escaping the crime world.

In Zara’s words, it was a very memorable and beautiful closing scene with which to end the season, further cementing her place at the centre of Aussie TV.

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Zara, shown here at the premiere for Thor: Ragnarok, has been cast in a project shooting in the US. Readers will have to stay tuned for details. Photo: Getty Images.

So what’s the future to hold for this character actress-turned-household name? Zara’s tight-lipped, but was able to reveal she’s been cast in a US feature, to be shot in America.

“I’m very excited – stay tuned.”

Casey Wright: Australia’s Best Known (Anonymous) Performer

You’ve seen him a million times before but you may not even know it. Here, Casey Wright gives insight into being Australia’s hardest working anonymous performer, as mascot for the big leagues and stunt double to the stars.

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You can’t make out his face, but what’s important to a stunt actor and mascot performer like Casey is that you’re focusing on the action, not him specifically. Pictured: an explosion at the Stunt Academy on the Gold Coast, at which Casey contributed to a number of advanced level courses.

Stunt doubles and mascot performers occupy an interesting space in the entertainment industry. Rarely known unlike their acting colleagues, but oftentimes working more consistently, a performer like Casey Wright has had his fair share of set-time with A-listers than any Oscar-winner, but a regular movie goer or sport lover couldn’t be faulted for not knowing his name.

And that’s just the way Casey likes it. As he claims, he didn’t get into this business to become famous, but instead always wanted to make sincere contributions to an industry that he loved.

“I always loved movies growing up, and now more than ever I enjoy the creative process – I have found though that I love spending time on set and having conversations with stunt coordinators, directors and producers about that process.”

The result of his steadfast pursuit for the past decade in his field as a performer who dabbles in many areas of film and live event work, is a fascinating study of how someone can be working at the top of their field and yet walk down the street without someone knowing their name.

“I ultimately just really love helping make a film or TV production the best that it can be – it’s so fun to be on set, and to speak with everyone who’s a part of the creative process, but not to have to shoulder the marketing spin like regular actors do.”

Nothing is perhaps more obvious a high-profile but anonymous gig on Casey’s resume than his work on the most recent Pirates of the Caribbean film. In that production, Wright had to shoulder the safety responsibilities of stunt actors during a particularly tense filming sequence, while also completing stunt acting in a believable way so as to allow the audience to suspend their disbelief.

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Casey beams with pride when asked about his experience on Pirates of the Caribbean 5.

“On Pirates, roles like mine were essential to the production. During the big scenes, there were sometimes over 250 extras running around on set. That meant then when action was called, it was mayhem. It was up to the stunties to position ourselves closer to the action, and shield the extras from danger.”

Casey’s frequent mention of safety regulations reveal a key aspect of his character clear to anyone who meets him – he’s willing to sacrifice his ego for the benefit of the whole project, a clear reasoning for why he was drawn to the more anonymous but equally challenging work as a stunt and mascot performer than a screen actor.

“If you saw a sword-fight in the film, with people running closer to the swinging blades, that was myself and other stunt performers working as blockers to keep the production safe.

It was also essential to showcase the enormity of the action on screen.”

Casey elaborates.

“[H]earing the call of “Action!”, and then watching a team of men on horseback drag a building through the streets does make you wonder how the hell you ended up here. I love that part of the job.”

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Behind the scenes on the set of Pirates of the Caribbean 5, on which Casey played an incredibly important role in the execution of a number of stunts surrounded by hundreds of extras (pictured). Credit: Paul Cameron.

Casey’s excitement about the filming process isn’t complete without an expression of his gratitude, as he discusses how well the stunt performers were treated.

“Dressing gowns and hand warmers when it was cold, freshly made juices when we wanted, access to food whenever we were hungry – boy, were we spoilt!”

When watching the movie on a second viewing, the impressive significance of Casey’s contributions are clear. In one scene, a giant building rumbling through the street needed people diving out of the way to create an exciting visual, and Casey was one of the few stunt performers who helped create that visual that became a cornerstone to the film’s marketing and social media campaign around the world, an impressive real-action sequence that did not rely on CGI and helped the movie attract a franchise best of critical appraisal.

For instance, one review referred to the opening sequence and how “visually interesting it was”, and that “even the brief slapstick elements [are] far more creative than they have any right to be. The first sequence, in which Jack and his crew attempt to steal a bank vault, is an absolute delight.” (Denofgeek) –

Of course, a discussion about Pirates can’t be had without mention of its leading man, Johnny Depp, for whom Casey worked beside his stunt doubles.

“…when Depp came in for his scene, it was was awesome. From the moment he stepped on set, he was Captain Jack Sparrow. Even when the scene was finished, he walked back to his trailer, chatting with the extras and stunt performers, still in character.”

Casey’s meaningful experience with A-listers is not limited however, as his role on action blockbuster disaster movie San Andreas with Oscar-nominee Paul Giamatti and movie-star Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson showcases.

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Casey with Oscar-nominee Paul Giamatti on the set of Dwayne Johnson $110 million blockbuster San Andreas, on which Casey was Paul’s stunt double.

Paul, Casey says “was an incredibly nice guy, and willing to get in and get his hands dirty too, which is not something you see from a lot of actors of his level.”

“[My role on that movie involved] performing challenging actions in character. Stepping outside of that would break the suspension of disbelief from the audience, and once that happens, it’s hard to get back into it. If you see a boom mike in the middle of a Gladiator movie, you’re taken out of it. It’s the same thing with [San Andreas].”

Casey also had to ensure not only his safety, but the safety of another performer – not another stunt performer, but a nine year old actress, with no prior stunt training.

“We had a good chat with the young actress, explaining all the risks involved. She was 100% fine with everything – asking questions, making sure we all had her covered. I know performers that don’t ask as many questions as she did.” Casey added with a grin.

When seeing the movie, any viewer would be entertained by the marvel of the overall story. But after having spoken with Casey and rewatching the particular scenes he was involved with, the great extent of how dangerous his job is and how important his contributions are to the movie are very apparent.

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A blockbuster disaster epic like San Andreas (poster above) required a number of stunts to deliver the story in a believable way, thus ensuring an incredible audience turnout and huge box office returns. Casey without a doubt played an important role as he was stunt double to Oscar-nominee Paul Giamatti, one of the lead actors in the movie.

The actress was suspended on wires, and thrown towards Casey, who had to catch her and then safely cradle her to the concrete floor below. Being able to rise to the challenges put in front of Casey, and executing it successfully, helped ensure the actress stayed safe, and the expensive shoot was not disrupted.

“We put safety pads on her, and rehearsed the sequence several times. Just before we shot it, I gave her a big hug and told her that I’ve got her. She looked me right in the eyes and said, “I know”.

It was incredibly intense, but we were able to get through it safely. “

And it’s details like that for why Casey’s effortless but hardworking contributions have earned him a glowing reputation within the industry, not outside of it.

“I’d rather just my colleagues know me as a great stunt actor or mascot performer.”

Casey adds with a laugh: “I compare stunts to magic . You have much more fun if you don’t think about how the rabbit got in the hat.”

 

Daniel Berini on “Promised”

It’s a rainy morning but Daniel Berini has brightened up our press room, charming every assistant and journalist with his warmth and self-deprecating sense of humour.

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Daniel Berini never fails to charm an audience.

The young actor is here to discuss his latest feature film, Promised, a new Australian work which boasts a standout cast. In the lead role of Robert is Daniel himself, another addition to a long list of projects which have consistently showcased the Perth-native’s gripping screen talent, among them, film projects like Madhouse and Terminal 1. When talking about Promised however, it’s clear that Daniel hasn’t developed an ego that would otherwise be expected from a young leading man.

“We were nearing the end of the shoot, on location, in the middle of nowhere and it was ridiculously hot. All I had to do, on this particular day, was pretend to play a game of cricket, and then notice someone back at the house and walk off. But for the life of me I just could not swing the bat…”

Daniel continues the story with a laugh. “…I’ve never been a cricket fan, but I’ve certainly watched a game or two and get the general gist. But, no matter how hard I tried to look cool swinging this bat (and I was supposed to be pretty good at it) I just made it look so wrong. What should have been a quick scene became a half day ordeal, with nearly every member of the crew stepping in at one point to show me how it’s done. It must have been the heat but the more I tried the more I laughed uncontrollably, and so on it went. They ended up cutting that part of the scene I think.”

Despite funny anecdotes such as this, Daniel’s latest role in Promised reinforces the trend of him being a remarkably capable film actor, as many in the Australian industry will attest.

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Daniel Berini and Aquaman actress Sophia Forrest on the red carpet for the premiere of Oscar-winner Russell Crowe’s movie, The Water Diviner.

“Daniel has always shown a great emotional capacity within his work. His ability to connect with a character in an honest and authentic way is extremely compelling, a skill that has resonated with audiences,” said prominent Australian casting director Micaeley Gibson when contacted to comment.

Daniel’s performance in Promised combines sensitivity with an ardent understanding of Australian masculinity as it was in the 1970s, fuelling his portrayal of Robert to be more than just another representation of a ‘coming-of-age’ saga. Indeed, the storyline about a young couple’s arranged marriage called for a more demanding understanding of love that would generally be beyond the reach of someone as young as Daniel, but it’s clear his refined understanding of craft – coupled with that aforementioned wit and sense of humour – came in handy during the filming process.

“I found it easy to identify with Robert. He’s the oldest son in a traditional Italian family living in a place that has inherently changed them but also allowed them to thrive. He loves his family, family is everything to him, but he is also driven by his own ambitions and desire to make something of his own… It was quite refreshing to read a script that celebrated Italian culture in Australia but didn’t make fun of it. This is a story that follows two people from two Italian families in Melbourne, but it doesn’t feature Italian cliches that are so often presented in film.”

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Daniel in a still from Promised, with co-star Antoinette Iesue

Daniel also experienced the bonus of working with entertainment legend, Tina Arena.

“Working with [her] was an absolute treat. She plays my mother in law, Rosalba, and despite this being her maiden foray into film, Tina’s 40-plus year career in the entertainment industry brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to the set. She has such a playful quality, her personality shines through Rosalba, it’s wonderful to watch.”

In scenes opposite his The Good Place co-star Antoinette Iesue, Daniel’s performance evokes genuine selfless involvement with a measured subtlety, allowing an audience to follow his character with ease. This is in stark contrast with the tense grit that has become the norm in so many other actors’ performances in recent pedigree films that have been born out of the current socio-political discourse of anxiety.

The WAAPA-graduate’s understanding of how to build character in film has been sharpened over many years and projects. Daniel is credited with Home and Away actress Felicity McKay in Jennifer’s Coming Home, in which he’s listed as one of the cult members in the home belonging to the titular character’s mother. The reveal of the cult is the dramatic climax of the story, and represented a dark story that stands in strong juxtaposition to a feature film like Promised.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have not been typecast into any particular category, and constantly find myself playing a variety of characters.”

In the 2015 project Madhouse, Daniel is credited alongside Secret City actor Aleks Mikic, himself known for his turn opposite Oscar-nominee Virginia Madsen in Safe Neighbourhood.

Daniel is listed as the character of Silvio, who tries to break into Max’s new ‘bachelor pad’ where all the action unfolds.

The role allowed Daniel to show off an understanding of action and comedy, something which he hopes to do more of in the near future.

“They’re obviously good fun.”

And nothing was perhaps more surprising than Daniel’s refreshing turn in How to Beat A Spell, a musical-comedy shot in its entirety in one full day within the backstreets of Perth city, his hometown capital. Daniel played the humorously named ‘garbage guy’ who intercepts the protagonist Will and sends him on a different path in search for his love, the Music Lady. By directly intervening in Will’s trajectory, Daniel’s character represented something of an antagonist which is in the vein of another archetype he’s interested in pursuing further.

“Actors like Ben Mendehlson have grown into playing antagonistic characters later in their career as they’re so interesting and so much fun, so I’m looking forward to actively chasing those types of characters and stories in the future.”

With Promised making waves, it would be surprising that those artistic challenges don’t come any day now.

“As challenging as this industry can be at times, I can think of no other job that would bring me greater satisfaction. I’ve never met harder working, more passionate, creative and brilliant people in my life, and it feels like a huge privilege to be able to do what I do. I get to explore characters so different to myself, and be apart of stories so different to my own. It is such a ride at times, and I absolutely love it. I can’t wait for what’s next!”

Karlisha Wrapped Up in Success in More Ways Than One

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Karlisha Hurley, starring in the new feature film Wrapped, at the G’Day USA Gala in Los Angeles – representing another Aussie success story in Hollywood.

While award-winning actress Karlisha is still young, as she sits down to discuss some of her latest projects with us, it’s clear this Australian is no naive ingenue. In fact, Karlisha is well-known amongst industry insiders for her wise-beyond-her-years quality that has propelled her to the top of casting directors and producers’ lists when it comes to casting young screen talent.

“I had to grow up quickly as one of two siblings of a separated parent. I hadn’t even started school when my mother took us on a world trip to ensure I grew up with an understanding that the world was vast and full of opportunities and I could go anywhere and do what I wanted.”

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Karlisha in a promotional shot for Wrapped.

In many ways Karlisha, currently appearing in feature films Wrapped and a new Rob Malenfant film still being kept under wraps, has forged a place in the select few of edgy, young actresses once occupied by stars like Dakota Fanning and Amanda Seyfried. Comparisons aside, Karlisha’s Australian heritage (she’s originally from the small city of Darwin near where Crocodile Dundee was spawned) and gripping talent has meant she’s quickly built a reputation that belies her less-than-two-decades on Earth.

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Karlisha with fellow Aussie A-lister, Margot Robbie

“As a kid, I was inspired by Rose from Titanic. I grew up believing I could do anything and be anything no matter what anyone else thought of me because of Rose, who had a chance to embark on an adventure within herself that the rest of the world was against, or fall in line and have no real feeling of purpose. I feel really blessed to have the career I’ve had.”

Perhaps best-known for her acclaimed role in the gripping film project Karlisha & Morgan, for which she won Best Actress awards at the Accolade Global Film Competition and the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival, Karlisha had already been acting in Australia for 8 years prior to moving to the United States. A childhood comprised of auditions, acting classes and taking days off school, soon jettisoned into film shoots, rehearsals and eventually, accent lessons.

“Once you start working in Australia at a young age and travel to LA for training which I did each year since I was 11, agents in the US become interested in you. I was very lucky that the transition to the US was so smooth.”

After booking roles with Ventura Court Productions and the web series Sharing is Caring, Karlisha solidified her place as a vital component of that production company, as she also joined the cast of Hostages Don’t Take Another Step and The Safe Zone. She has also been cast in the company’s series, ‘How to Identify a Serial Killer’ which begins shooting in March. While booking any acting job is an accomplishment, building creative partnerships is often the hallmark of an indie film star. Once those actors partner with either a director or producer early in their career, the track record of other stars suggests that those creatives usually grow together. One only need look to the collaborations of Martin Scorsese and Leonardo Dicaprio, and more recently Ryan Coogler and Michael B Jordan (from Fruitvale Station to Black Panther) to understand how lucrative such professional relationships can be.

The critical nature of Karlisha’s role in Kristine May’s career is mirrored by the importance of Karlisha’s position in David Raynor’s company Bad Hat Films, as she has also worked with him on numerous occasions. These projects include Hello Tom Sullivan, Dark Angels, The Birthday Party and Karlisha and Morgan.

In this regard, Karlisha marks her position at the top of casting agents’ wish-lists.

Karlisha’s upcoming lead role in the series, How to Identify a Serial Killer, follows the path of a paranoid teenager Alice who struggles to distinguish the difference between reality and her imagination in a world full of serial killers and murderers, particularly while living with her best friend and crime reporter Jemma – played by star of 1, Kylie Riddle.   

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Karlisha on set filming one of her many projects.

Adding to her filmography, Karlisha’s preeminence as one of the brightest stars in independent film has recently been confirmed in her appointment as Program Director of the Port Stephens International Film Festival, a position which calls for her to judge numerous films with a focus on bullying and the acting performances of her contemporaries.

“The festival topic of bullying is something I experienced and I used acting to deal with it. I now draw on that pain; it empowers me; it gives me something to connect to; and it allows me to take my acting to a completely different level. It’s timely with the Me Too and Time’s Up movements making ground and I hope the festival will give strength to other victims and make them stronger, too.”

The Port Stephens International Film Festival is partnered with the Singapore Film Festival and winning films are screened internationally at the festival of its UK partner, Out of the Can Film Festival in England.

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Karlisha is not only a regular attendee of film festivals around the world via her leading roles; she’s also judging at the Port Stephens International Film Festival as an Artistic Director.

Festival Director Guy Perrine: “We were excited to bring Karlisha on board for this role. Her international award-winning success as an actor and experience in filmmaking for both the Australian and American film industry, writing and producing, as well as her contribution to AusPol Media as a Junior Producer and regular attendance at festivals and director Q and A sessions, have made her an enormous asset to the Port Stephens International Film Festival in her role heading up the judging of our program dealing with bullying.

Professional resume builders aside, at the core of Karlisha’s success is an imitable craft that continues to reveal an understanding of humanity that only true artists demonstrate. Much like a young Natalie Portman in the Al Pacino film Heat, Karlisha’s natural instincts on camera consistently demonstrates a creative fierceness that’s balanced with a deep understanding of technique.

This is clearly demonstrated in a scene in one of her upcoming films, Sister Mercy, in which Karlisha plays a street waif abandoned by her mother and abused by her father, Phoenix. Phoenix, ran away from her grandmother and is looking for a family and someone to trust when she dates a man who tries to get her addicted to drugs so he can prostitute her. The scene where Phoenix later sees her friend Mercy again for the first time – played by actress Dominika Van Santen – is an emotionally difficult one because of the depth Karlisha has to go within the character to make her reactions real; she is disorientated, frightened, hopeful and determined. Karlisha’s skilled use of technique balanced with natural instinct is masterfully portrayed through the look in her eyes – seeing a friendly face amidst all this doubt and chaos – and  draws in the audience to connect with her character in a way that has everyone willing her to succeed.

As we sit and discuss Sister Mercy, directed by the editor of Sharknado, William Boodell, Karlisha draws on a quote from Annette Bening who once said ‘acting is not about being famous, it’s about exploring the human soul’ and she says that is what she tried to do here.

This comment leads us on to a discussion about filming her most recent project Wrapped, which has already attracted media attention and interviews with Noah Wilson from iHollywood TV.

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Karlisha post-interview with iHollywood TV host, Noah Wilson.

Wrapped, directed by Calen Coates, is a coming of age film that explores the journey of an ordinary girl in an extraordinary position, who comes to terms with the value of overcoming her insecurities, despite the people who tell her otherwise.”

Karlisha continues: “I play the lead role of Abby, a young teenager who learns to stand up for herself by taking back the one item her now deceased mother had given to her, from a drug dealer. I’m a teenager dealing with many demons in my closet – as well as a victim of abuse – but I manage to find both mental and physical ways to not only fight back against the perpetrators but also to combat my own mental health issues. I also believe the film tackles the theme of grief. This present is the last thing Abby has of her mother. By fighting to get it back, we see what a teenager is willing to deal with in order to find a sense of closure. The journey I take – which is full of emotion, car chases, guns and fighting – is  both funny and tragic; just like life itself.”

Karlisha’s proven track record would suggest her future is even brighter. She has lots of projects coming out in 2019 – in which she mostly plays female empowering, gritty roles – including Bet the Demon wins, now in post-production, and Stitched Up  and she will appear in a regular role in the co-host series 2 of the web TV show #Me4TV. Karlisha is also in discussion with other US and Australian producers and directors. Wrapping up our chat (no pun intended), she says she can’t wait to share more about other upcoming projects and is excited about the busy year ahead.

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Karlisha Hurley: focused and ready for the busy year ahead.

“Underbelly” actress Ayeshah Rose at the forefront of the Female Wave

Ever since Ayeshah Rose played the ongoing role of Natalie in the acclaimed and award-winning Australian TV series, “Underbelly”, the Australian actress and now filmmaker has maintained a steadfast belief in portraying characters which help promote a positive narrative around female empowerment while highlighting the universal strength of the human spirit.

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Ayeshah Rose, as shot by Kristian Taylor-Wood

“Underbelly” maintains a stellar reputation as a darling of Australian television, a show which changed the way local audiences perceived its own history and wanted it represented on screen. Ayeshah retains a sense of gratitude for her opportunity to take part in the Logie and AACTA-award winning show that also boasted a top cast like “X-Men Origins” actor Aaron Jeffery, “Wentworth” and “Rake” star Danielle Cormack, and “Once Upon A Time’s” Emma Booth.

Ayeshah’s involvement in the series, which told true stories about Australia’s criminal history in the 1970s and 80s, formed a strong bedrock upon which the rest of her exciting career has continued to build. In many ways, by breathing life into the role of Natalie at the time, Ayeshah proved her chops as someone who would go on to adopt a marginally significant role in elevating the industry’s consciousness around females on screen. In the hands of any other actor, the character of Natalie may have been relegated to a relatively trivialised character seen more for sexualised purposes than anything else.

Ayeshah’s strengths as a screen actor, and capacity to bring a sense of dynamism to any scene in which she appeared and grab an audience’s attention, meant that she delivered a truly memorable performance which did not go unnoticed.

Indeed, Ayeshah attests to how her time on set gave her an opportunity to forge a strong creative partnership with award-winning film and TV director, Shawn Seet (filmmaker behind the upcoming “Storm Boy” with Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush).

“The director absolutely remembers my role, because it was the only intimate scene in that series that was more loving rather than vulgar or explicit.”

One particular scene Natalie discusses is opposite award-winning Australian household name, Peter O’Brien, also known for his role in “X-Men Origins.”

Natalie’s scenes, as she proclaims, “required bravery at such a young age, and a huge imagination.”

The character of Natalie was also crucial to the show’s narrative because she had an affair with lead character, George Freeman. After Natalie leaves her abusive uncle, who was tasked with actually taking care of her while her husband fled to America, Ayeshah had to convincingly fall for Peter O’Brien’s character and deal with the emotional fallout after her husband returns.

The varying levels of emotions called for an actor who could bring equal amounts of intensity and vulnerability, a skill that Ayeshah has been heralded as having in spades.

That bravery demonstrated during filming of “Underbelly” set the tone for many of Ayeshahs other career highlights, including most recently with “Me Too,” an award-winning film project Ayeshah also wrote, directed and produced.

Ayeshah speaks articulately when asked about the film’s storyline.

“A young vibrant, aspiring artist, who thrives on chance, puts her absolute all into auditioning to a panel of producers and a casting director for a rare opportunity for a part in a film. A moment in time to fight for this job, to prove she is talented, attractive and good enough to be noticed.”

Tension however rises when it’s clear that maybe the character’s talent isn’t enough, as Ayeshah goes on to explain.

“Amongst the situational tension, it seems her dramatic and genuine depth of a performance may not be enough to stand out in hope of securing a role. She knows what she must do. She understands what is expected of her.”

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Ayeshah Rose on set for “Me Too.”

The question the film therefore asks is what extremes must women go to for an opportunity to have an opportunity? In this regard, Ayeshah’s craft as an actor and storyteller has made valuable headway in using the medium of film to probe challenging and important social questions to its audience.

The added bonus was that Ayeshah was honoured with a Best Actress mention at the Independent Shorts Awards.

“I felt grateful that an audience could see the [depths] I went to as an actor. I also really valued having the message being understood…I put so much into that project both directing and acting. It required so much focus and vulnerability as well as being prepared for the potential ridicule by a larger audience.”  

Ultimately, Ayeshah is looking even more forward to the future, more so than she is proud of her already impressive contributions to the landscape of females in film.

“I’m proud of the work I’ve done and am really looking forward to make more contributions to the world of film, and work alongside as well as support other driven female creatives along the way.”

I am in a good place with my work as I’ve now done work that has helped communicate particular and current issues as well as support artists to continue to strive for those characters that are OUTSIDE of their type cast. There are many incentives for authentic traits and blood lines of actors to play certain roles, but I hope to continue doing what I believe true artists should be exercising, which is unlimited imagination.

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The poster for Ayeshah’s award-winning and critically acclaimed film, “Me Too.”

Female Filmmaker to Watch: Eliza Brownlie

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Movie poster for “The After Party”

 

Canadian filmmaker Eliza Brownlie has firmly made her mark as a director in Hollywood. A breath of fresh air in the contentious filmmaking landscape, Brownlie has solidified her reputation as a director who tells stories with a unique aesthetic style while exploring social constructs and the human experience of modern life.

Her 2016 surrealist horror film The After Party earned praise from coast to coast in the U.S. garnering a hugely successful festival run with exclusive “invitation-only” screenings at the Sacramento Horror Film Festival in California and the Williamsburg Independent Film Festival in New York.

Directed and written by Brownlie, The After Party follows an aspiring starlet who hopes to break into the Hollywood scene by attending a mysterious, late night party where she quickly discovers a darkness the lurks beneath the glitz and glamour.

With captivating visuals and an intriguing story that leaves audiences wanting more, The After Party is rendered even more interesting thanks to the distinct female lens through which it is filtered.

“I knew I wanted to make something within the horror/thriller genre and set in Hollywood. I had been living there and was interested in the idea of how this beautiful dream world could resemble more of a nightmare when you examine it a little closer,” explains Brownlie.

“I needed a context, so I thought, what more appropriate setting for a surrealist horror film than a private party in the hills. I also needed a protagonist who was naïve to this world and desperate to be a part of it, so, naturally, I decided to make the lead an aspiring starlet. The rest of the story and the characters expanded from there.”

 

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Still of actress Tarryn Lagana in Eliza Brownlie’s film “The After Party”

 

The film’s star Tarryn Lagana, who’s represented by Luber Roklin Entertainment, the same talent agency that represents Disney superstar Dove Cameron and the late Oscar-nominated actor Burt Reynolds, shines on screen. Lagana was also recently signed to Abrams Artists Agency, which represents Finn Wolfhard from the Netflix series Stranger Things.

“Working with Eliza is an incredibly open experience. She loves to communicate with her actors and give them freedom to explore within the scene. Which was great for ‘The After Party’ because it gave me a chance to create the character Simone and ultimately deliver a strong performance,” says Lagana.

“Eliza is a one of a kind director… She has a very specific voice and vision that makes her stand out as one of the greatest filmmakers of her generation… She is what the industry needs right now.”

 

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Cinematographer Ari Bre Bre (left), Director Eliza Brownlie (center), and producer Jessica Kelley (right) on set of a commercial for Cast + Combed

 

Well versed in directing projects across various mediums, Brownlie’s resume showcases her impressive flexibility and includes commercial, fashion films, music videos and narrative films, with her collective body of work revealing a highly stylized and dreamy nature that has reinforced her reputation as an auteur. Over the years she has directed numerous captivating and edgy commercials for an impressive list of clients including Dove, Top Expert and Canon.

In the fashion film she directed for Top Expert featuring model Breanna Box, she captures her subject with slow camera movements, creating a sultry, relaxed vibe that makes us want to dress ourselves in all of the company’s luxury basics. Brownlie effortlessly pulls us into the ethereal worlds she paints in many of her fashion films with a unique style that is simply unforgettable.

A dynamic director, another powerful aspect of her directorial prowess that has set her apart and led her to become a sought after director for more human-interest style commercial pieces is her talent for eliciting raw and vulnerable emotions from her subjects and revealing them with a rare form of elegance. As the director of the docu-style commercial series ‘Imperfectionists’ for Dove’s Self-Esteem Project, and Canon’s Female Hero series, Brownlie captures the women on screen in a way that is captivating, relatable and empowering.

“I like projects that challenge or engage the viewer in an interesting way. Something in the material needs to resonate with me. There’s nothing more painful than working on something you don’t have any passion for,” says Brownlie.

From the extensive repertoire of work that she has released to date it is clear that Brownlie is passionate about her subjects. She is definitely one contemporary female filmmaker that has made a powerful mark in both Hollywood and on a global scale, and she’s one that we will continue to look towards for inspiration.  

Writer and Director ADRIAN PROSPERO: Getting the Job Done

Recognized as an influential storyteller with tremendous success in the festival circuit, acclaimed Writer and Director Adrian Prospero can be described as a young Ridley Scott; a filmmaker whose sole focus is on his craft and in getting the job done- and done right. This preeminent Australian director has made himself indispensable to the industry by crafting films that are uniquely his.

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Celebrated Australian filmmaker Adrian Prospero, who writes, directs, edits and produces various projects, on set for an upcoming production. 

2018 has been a defining year for Prospero, having received glowing recognitions from festivals all around the globe including the Los Angeles Film Awards and the Berlin Flash Film Festival.

Adrian Prospero received great acclaim in his film “The Hunt” about an absentee son attempting to reconnect with his father by going on a hunt for a beast that no one believe exists. Prospero showcased his capabilities in building suspense in this drama that leaves the audience at the edge of their seats. The film earned the Best Australian Film Award at the prestigious Canadian World International Film Festival which recognizes the very best of world cinema with submissions from over 90 countries around the world.

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CANADIAN WORLD INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL OFFICIAL WINNER - Best Australian Film - THE HUNT

“The Hunt” was also recognized by the Accolade Film Festival, a festival celebrated by Movie Maker Magazine as one of the Top 25 Festivals in its category, and was a finalist at the New York Film Awards. For his screenwriting, Adrian was recently a finalist at the Ojai Film Festival in recognition of his compelling script for “The Marketplace,” a highly anticipated project which will continue to build Adrian’s impressive reputation.

Prospero’s dedication to his craft can be seen through his investment in himself as a filmmaker, having qualifications in Film Production, Marketing and Accounting. This explains his great ability in keeping productions within budget, and being able to excel in the festival circuit due to his deep understanding of what sells to an audience. In addition to that, as an esteemed member of the DGA, Prospero has also invested in various Masterclasses and have taken several short courses in directing, screenwriting and photography in order to become a well-rounded filmmaker.

The distinguished writer and director admits “I see great value in investing in yourself in order to become a better version of what you currently are. You are your greatest asset and you should always seek to improve yourself”.

Prospero also takes pride in his multitasking abilities which allows him to take on several projects at any one time. He explains “multitasking allows me to explore my creativity in various platforms. I can be directing a narrative film that demands creative storytelling while also direct a commercial that utilizes creative problem solving. It provides me a balance in my work while harnessing all facets of my abilities and also keeps me on my toes.”

The Australian native began his career in directing television commercials, and have since worked with successful Australian service industry companies like RAC, Novotel, and the multi-billion dollar company CBH Group which is Australia’s leading and largest exporter of grain in which he travelled through the West Australian Wheatbelt for two weeks, capturing stories of the communities and their community service projects.

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An eye-catching still from one of the many impressive commercials Adrian has produced as writer and director. This one was promoting the alternative energy company, Elan Energy. 

It is noteworthy to mention Prospero’s directing style in commercials that leaves fellow directors in awe as he is able to engage an audience with excellent use of motion and fluidity in his shots whether through the blocking of actors or camera work, or a combination of the two.

When asked about his recent work, Prospero was ecstatic to talk about his directorial work on the Australian workplace comedy mini-series “Unrealty” in which he directed all seven episodes. “It was a really rewarding experience directing for a comedy series as it demands a different kind of skill set and challenges you as a director to trust your actors and your gut, and to really just dive into it”.

“Unrealty” is an excellent example of Prospero’s attention to detail in regards to using colours to his advantage. The use of primary colours in the show emphasizes the series’ fictitious and comedic elements, and serves to distinguish characters from one another. The use of symmetry and dutch angle shots are also unique and serves the story well.

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A still from the hilarious comedy series Adrian directed, “Unrealty.”

Prospero’s ability to tell a wide range of stories is impressive, ranging from horror to comedy, and more documentary oriented stories of human nature and experience. Shifting between genres can be challenging, but seems to be second nature to this seasoned storyteller who has been in the industry for over a decade.

Often the director of the films that he writes, Prospero focuses on each film’s particular needs and has the advantage of understanding the film to its core. “Being a writer and director of a film allows me a creative independence in what I want to convey to the audience. It is a wonderfully surreal intimacy which grounds me in keeping an honest conversation”.

His tenacity in the film industry goes beyond writing and directing as Prospero also plays a critical role in the company Stareable, a platform that seeks to connect web series creators with their audience. Stareable currently holds the title of the largest community of web series creators.

Adding to his already impressive CV, Prospero has also been held to high esteem by becoming a judge in film festivals such as the International Hollywood Short Film Festival in Los Angeles, California and the Jackson Hole Film Festival in Wyoming, USA. “It is an honour to be a judge in these festivals. There are so many great stories out there, and to have the opportunity to watch all these incredible films and judge them- it truly is a gratifying experience, one that I do not take lightly.”

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Adrian recently served as a juror for the International Hollywood Short Film Festival, reflecting the high-regard with which many in the industry hold Adrian

Prospero further acknowledges that being a judge for these films can be a very educational experience as it forces you to break films down into various components and to analyze each aspect individually like story, cinematography, sound, and editing in addition to viewing it as a whole.

Being compared to Ridley Scott is most certainly daunting, but Adrian Prospero is definitely up to the challenge. His work demands attention, and he has definitely been successful thus far. He is thrilled to continue living his passion as a writer and director and we are excited to see what’s next for this notable Australian filmmaker.

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An arresting still from “Ambience,” one of many gripping film projects directed by Adrian Prospero.

 

 

Netflix Actor Millie Samuels on working for the streaming giant, and more

While well-known actress Millie Samuels will strike anyone with whom she comes in contact as a truly down-to-Earth Australian, this young thespian has most certainly reached the level of international player after more than a decade in the film industry.

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Millie Samuels, as shot by renowned photographer Marnya Rothe.

Millie, who honed her craft at Oscar-nominee William H. Macy’s Atlantic Acting School, has forged her place in entertainment by way of playing a wide range of characters in numerous successful productions. The topic we’ve sat down to discuss with the leading lady on this occasion though is specifically her successful partnership with streaming giant Netflix. That association has seen her leverage critically acclaimed Australian TV show “The Gods of Wheat Street” to international audiences. In turn, fans around the world have become familiar with the Sydney-local, who has also had projects screen in prestigious film festivals in New York and Los Angeles. Online series Girt by Fear, directed by Hyde & Seek’s Yianni Andrikidis, screened at the NYC Webfest in 2017, while film Three Hearts notably screened at the TCL Chinese Theatres in LA for the Dances with Films Festival in 2015. In both projects, Millie played the lead role – adding to her impressive roster of diverse screen performances.

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Millie trained at Oscar-nominated actor William H. Macy’s Atlantic Acting School in New York City, alongside “Pirates of the Carribbean” actor, Travis Jeffery.

Regarding Netflix and Gods of Wheat Street, Millie enthusiastically outlines her character Anastasia Hamilton. “[She] was integral to the plot as I had the romantic storyline. Viewers enjoyed watching this romance grow with every episode and to see Anastasia’s morals outgrow her bigoted father and eventually convinced her mother to abandon him too. Although not initially apart of the Freeburn clan, it was her heroic heart that would do anything for love that eventually lead her to be accepted.”

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Millie has enjoyed playing leading roles on shows which have been popular with Netflix subscribers.

Millie adds with a smile, “Everybody loves a good romantic storyline and the relationship between Tristian and Anastia surely gave audiences that…it was so well received that Netflix bought the streaming rights.”

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Millie Samuels with SyFy Hunters star Mark Coles-Smith in a scene from Gods of Wheat Street, a show that’s been a hit for ABC and Netflix globally. 

This awareness of how her characters fit into the storylines of each project in which she has been cast has allowed Millie to develop an excellent reputation amongst filmmakers, a testament to the notion that being a hard-working team-player – especially with companies like Netflix and ABC – never goes unnoticed. When assessing her body of work, it’s clear Millie is an top-tier actor because she understand that she’s one part in a bigger machine, yet still gives 150%. This is a testament to a unique and strong combination of self-belief when it comes to her craft, but no ego when it comes to her status.

She further explains, “Now that Netflix has picked it up the show, the viewers only get larger as word travels and they are able to watch the series in its entirety. To have this touching series be given another chance to win over audience’s hearts was definitely a highlight for me.”

Undoubtedly, Millie’s ability as an actor to simultaneously tap into strength and vulnerability helped propel the story forward. Were it not for her gripping performance and chemistry she created with Tristan – played by SyFy Hunters star Mark Coles Smith – the evolution of each character would not have happened. As Millie clarifies, “It is the love and connection between these two characters that helps to break down the racial tension in the town… She brings hope and resilience to the story, she is determined to prove to the Freeburn’s that she is nothing like her father…inspir[ing] Anastasia’s mother to leave her abusive marriage.”

Undoubtedly, the crucial role her characters plays in the series, and how successful the show has been for Netflix, goes to prove that Millie is firmly a part of the Netflix family.

On the other end of the spectrum is Millie’s portfolio of film work. Compelling stories which have called for Millie’s craft include film The Passenger, which screened at the prestigious Chauvel Cinema in Sydney’s Paddington, and Flow, which drew packed crowds to the biggest independent cinema in the southern hemisphere, the Cinema Nova Carlton Melbourne. The diversity of the showcases in which Millie’s work has appeared ensure that she has a reach in different pockets of the industry, leading to her appointment as a judge for the highly regarded Monthly Film Festival, and various roles in production at companies like Network 7 and most recently for a film with a Disney star who boasts an enormous social media following.

“Judging [the Monthly] is an honour…the panel love my input as I have such a broad experience within the industry…even working with Disney star Sofia Riley, who has 1 million followers on Instagram, gives me a comprehensive understanding of how everything works at an international level.” She adds with a laugh, “I can’t believe Instagram is a thing now!”.

Of course, while this reputation might lead someone to develop an ego, as we stated in the beginning of this article, Millie is first and foremost down-to-earth. Her type of relatable personality, combined with her success, has meant she was selected to be the face of Arnotts, Australia’s most iconic maker of biscuits which retains its Aussie charm in spite of the fact it boasted a gob-smacking revenue of $1.09 billion in 2015.

“I was the face of the new line of shapes and was exciting to see the ad played nationally for one of Australia’s largest food companies in the Asia Pacific region” Millie states.

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Millie looking glorious in a shot from her Arnott’s campaign.

Arnott’s exports continue to grow, with the company’s Australian-made biscuits now being shipped to more than 40 countries around the world including Japan, the USA, Canada, United Kingdom, Indonesia, Tahiti and New Zealand.

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Millie in another shot from her Arnott’s campaign for ‘Shapes’ biscuits, an Australian icon.

Millie elaborates that “having that kind of…exposure for such an iconic company like Arnott’s was surreal, shapes have been in my life ever since my first lunch box in first grade.”

The continuing evolution of Millie’s body of work ensures that roles in projects for a company like Netflix, independent films, or international brands, will undoubtedly continue. “I’ve been very lucky,” Millie gleefully exclaims.

Audience Favourite Cooper van Grootel on his dominance of Australian film and TV

When asked about his growth as an actor over the years, Cooper van Grootel is confident but still unassuming. “I am extremely proud of my development as an actor and to see how far I have come over many years.”

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Aussie star Cooper van Grootel on the red carpet for the Revelation Film Festival, one of Perth’s most highly regarded film festivals.

Indeed, Cooper has forged a path in the industry that’s unheard of; switching between film and TV projects at a rapid-fire pace, and he’s still only the tender age of 17. Such is the degree to which Cooper is in demand in the film industry, this interview had to be scheduled in between takes on set where he is filming a yet-to-be-announced project.

Previous performances Cooper has delivered to critical acclaim include Brayden in the highly regarded mini-series Mystery Road, the second time Cooper had been hired by Rachel Perkins after the two had already worked together on award-winning feature film, Jasper Jones. A second casting by an acclaimed director like Rachel is a rare occurrence in the industry, and serves as proof for how Cooper is held in high-esteem within the industry.

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Cooper as ‘Brayden’ in the acclaimed ABC series, Mystery Road co-starring Oscar-nominee Judy Davis.  

Notably, Cooper’s time on both sets was spent being antagonistic towards main characters, reinforcing the view that Cooper’s journey to the top is unconventional. Most teen actors are typecast as the boy-next-door, but Cooper brings an authority and intensity to his screen performances that ensure he always stands out.

“I really like playing the bad guy,” Cooper exclaims. “It’s a lot of fun,” he adds with a laugh.

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Cooper van Grootel, in another scene from Mystery Road, which was shot in the outback of Australia.

Adding to that, Cooper showered praise on his director.

“Working with Rachel Perkins was an honour and one of the highlights of my career so far.”

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Award-winning director Rachel Perkins and her company Blackfella Films, are huge fans of Cooper’s and have hired him on multiple occasions to appear in their acclaimed projects. Photo by Meg White. 

Jasper Jones received positive notices from around the world, including a review from Trespass which described it as “well scripted, shot, and acted…it streamlines a story without sacrificing complexity, and it is both entertaining and thoughtful while it’s at it.”

 

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Jasper Jones also featured The Matrix and Lord of the Rings star, Hugo Weaving.

While on set, Cooper had to be racist towards a Vietnamese character, played by Jeffrey Lu, giving way to revelations around racial tension concerning one of the film’s leading characters.

“It can sometimes be hard to relate to characters with derogatory attitudes like the guy I played in Jasper Jones.”

He elaborates. “Moments like that in films though make a valuable point about characters being lonely and misunderstood in Australia.”

What’s unique about Cooper is his ability to simultaneously retain his position at the top of young Australian actors and an affable quality that guarantees audiences always fall in love with him.

In the film project Resonance, Cooper played a key role under the direction of inspiring filmmaker Jade Chamberlain.

When asked about Cooper’s screen presence and ability to take direction, Jade beamed. “I would recommend him to anyone as he is a great actor.”

Cooper also received extremely positive notices from industry professionals for his role in the chilling mini-series Monday Night Menace, co-starring fellow teen star Shannon Berry who recently starred in the #1 Sci-Fi movie on Amazon, Alpha Gateway and the big-budget SyFy show, Hunters. She was recently announced as part of the cast for Amazon’s The Wilds. 

“Shannon Berry is a creative, strong-willed and a brilliant young actress who brings so much realism and energy to the screen,” Cooper generously and enthusiastically said, when asked about his co-star. Cooper’s humility is clear when he recognises how, even when he might be considered at the top of his field, he points to the creative lessons he continues to learn from his A-list co-stars.

“Shannon helped me push the boundaries, in very difficult scenes, and from this I learnt some much about myself as an actor.”

Monday Night Menace also gave Cooper the opportunity to work with innovative filmmaker Blake Hay.

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Cooper played the leading role of Daniel in Monday Night Menace. 

“Blake Hay made us push boundaries with our acting,” Cooper quickly asserts.

Of course, Cooper is used to pushing himself as an actor. The blue-eyed youngster’s ability to continually stretch himself and push for a higher-standard in his abilities was reflected when Showcast, Australia’s leading casting network, awarding him the 2017 and 2016 awards for Outstanding Achievement in Acting.

“Winning the award from Showcast was a very humbling and delightful experience,” Cooper eloquently stated, adding that he was also especially grateful to CAA-represented producer Lauren Elliott and Mazair Lahooti for judging his work and making a decision about the prize.

“I can’t thank Showcast enough for giving me the award for my work,” Cooper reiterates.

There’s no doubt this gratitude will see Cooper continue to grow and jump between projects. In the meantime, he tells us he needs to get back to set.

“I’ve gotta go run lines!” he laughs.