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SYD2030 star, and commercial favourite Alistair Cooke, on his leading career in Australian TV

Alistair Cooke has become used to dealing with the pressures of a busy acting career. Originally from Perth, Australia, this home-grown successful thesp sits down with us to reflect on his critical role in the award-winning online series, “Syd2030”.

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Alistair Cooke, photographed and styled for our story about his impressive career.

Alistair prefaces the conversation with a declaration on why he does what he does.

“At the end of the day, I believe in story-telling and that’s my main purpose,” he clarifies with the wisdom of someone three times his age.

When asked to elaborate, Alistair points to what he hopes to do with his acting in general.

“I’m an actor focused of sharing the experiences of characters and giving audiences the opportunity to learn and experience things they wouldn’t in their day to day life.”

We begin our discussion with a reflection the hit drama, “Syd2030.” When asked about his contribution to the show, Alistair speaks with an authoritative confidence.

“My character “Avery” in “Syd2030” was a necessity to the show. He brought the comedic relief in what was a drama heavy production.”

Indeed, watching the show it’s very clear Alistair brings an inviting humour into every scene in which he appears, but balances that out with a extremely strong grip on the dramatic tension. Proof of the exceptional acting talent he has come to be known as.

“Syd2030” was acclaimed as Australia’s answer to “Gossip Girl’ meets “Suits” – a fictional inside look into the lives of ambitious law students. This meant that some episodes were laced with heavy topics, include drug use and depression. The role of Avery, as played by Alistair, therefore became a fan favourite for the way he offered comedic punctuations to every scene in which he appeared. This balance in tonality clearly struck a chord with industry peers, as it helped the propel the show to critical acclaim and win Best Drama Webseries at the highly regarded Webby Awards.

“Syd2030 was an enjoyable production to be a part of and I loved every minute of it,” Alistair says with a smile.

Adding to the specialness of the project was the fact the show’s season, and the many episodes in which Alistair’s work appeared, premiered at an exclusive venue in Bondi in Westfield Bondi, one of Australia’s biggest event centres.

“It was really fun, I took Giselle Van Der Weil, from Channel Seven’s “Manhunt,” as my date…once seeing my character’s comedic relief in the show on the big screen, it all made sense.  My role helped keep things light and relatable for an audience when the scene was in a dark or emotionally turbulent place.”

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Alistair with fellow famous Aussie actor, Giselle Van Der Weil, on the red carpet for SYD2030, in which he played the compelling character, Avery.  

When viewing the series, it’s clear that Alistair’s acting allowed an audience a conduit through which they could connect with the character’s storylines, because of the unique humanity he brought to the character of Avery. Producers of SYD2030 attribute the jump in viewers – estimated to be 3 million across Australia alone – to Alistair’s involvement.

Aside from the inextricable function Alistair played in the second season’s plotline about upper-class law students at Australia’s best law school, Alistair’s casting in the show is equally impressive.

“I was actually contacted by producers who had seen my work in the past and asked if I would be interested in the role,” when asked whether he auditioned for the job.

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Alistair in action playing ‘Avery’ for the award-winning series, SYD2030.

It’s clear that, such is the excellent reputation Alistair has built for himself, he is frequently in demand.

For example, Alistair shot his key role in internationally-syndicated “Behind Mansion Walls”, which airs on Investigation Discovery in the US, in between various stage shows in Sydney.

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Alistair in character for the hugely popular show “Behind Mansion Walls,” in which he played the twisted character, Marc Shrueder.

Alistair’s eyes light up when recalling that shooting experience.

 

“Behind Mansion Walls” was actually my first experience on set with a fire arm. I played Marc Schrueder, a young man who killed his grandfather with a gun.”

The menacing nature of the character meant that Alistair was the subject of the show’s storyline, and without his committed performance of playing a real-life person, the story simply would not have worked.

“It was a very interesting experience,” Alistair continues, “learning how to use the weapon and how to use it safely was an eye opening experience that helped me sink into the worldview of the character more accurately. “

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Alistair, mid-scene in “Behind Mansion Walls,” had to learn how to use a firearm in preparation for this chilling scene.

The significance of Alistair’s performance in “Behind Mansion Walls” aside, it’s apparent that Alistair is particularly adept at lighting up the screen with his distinct portrayal of joyous characters.

It’s this casting niche that has meant he has also experienced a lengthy record of success in Australian TV commercials, meaning audiences have become used to associating Alistair with household brands.

“Commercials are definitely a fun part of the job,” Alistair smiles, who also appeared as a lead in the TV series “Wicca” with “Innuendo” actress Naomi Lisner that same year he was the face of a campaign for Crown Resorts, Australia’s largest entertainment, resort and and gaming conglomerate.

“Working with famous AFL footballer “Nic Naitanui” was a commercial highlight. It was advertising “Crown Resorts”, we were in a sports bar watching the footy together.”

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Alistair (left), in the hugely popular Crown Resorts campaign featuring famous AFL footballer, Nic Natanui 

Indeed, Alistair was a central part of the campaign, as the story centred around him watching the big game with his friends, when they bump into AFL football star Natanui who then joins Alistair’s character for a drink to watch the game. The premise of the commercial was that is “you’ll never know who you will meet at Crown Resorts.”

When we followed up with Alistair about the TV campaign, Alistair’s representatives were quick to boast: “this commercial had a very large budget, so over 80 people auditioned for this role!”

Aside from this budget, Crown Resorts is one of Australia’s leading companies, generating 4.71 billion dollars in revenue in 2015 alone – the same year Alistair’s campaign originally aired. Alistair’s connection to the glowing success of the company is ultimately undeniable, and has been very lucrative for the dedicated thespian who originally started his career determined ironically to live as a ‘starving artist’ to benefit his craft.

Commercials have also resulted in Alistair building on the prominence of his working relationships, as his leading role as the face of KFC gave him the opportunity to work with American director Ken Lambert.

Sounding like the health-conscious actor he is, Alistair added “However…I was certainly looking forward to salad by the end of the shoot.”

And on that note, Alistair tells he needs to get back to set. He adds with a smile, “they’ve got really healthy catering on this one though!”

Australian Star Emily Gruhl: Truth on Screen at Home and Abroad

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Emily Gruhl continues to push the boundaries of acting truthfully with her groundbreaking performances.

Australian actress Emily Gruhl quickly became an audience favourite upon entering the industry, winning roles in a range of highly-esteemed projects that have helped her carve out a place at the top of what is frequently perceived as an incredibly competitive field.

A graduate of the prestigious QUT acting programme – the same school through with “Pirates of the Caribbean” star Brenton Thwaites trained – Emily hasn’t let a busy filming schedule get in the way of balancing work with artistry. She sat down with us to discuss her views on acting, and how it has helped her traverse a relatively calm journey in a notoriously difficult career.

Upon listening to her reflect about her authoritative approach to her craft, it’s not surprising to learn that Emily has enjoyed more leading roles in a range of film and television projects than some actors more than twice her age, such is the depth of her experience and the degree to which she is respected in the Australian entertainment industry.

Emily explains, “I believe the best actors strive to achieve the highest level of truth in performance possible. This is certainly something that is of the utmost importance to me. I feel a responsibility to my characters when I play them and do everything in my power to achieve this.”

In Hobby Shop, Emily delivered a leading performance in the character of Mary. Produced by the highly regarded team at Like a Phonton Creative in partnership with Screen Queensland, that film concerned a hobby shop owner who kidnaps Mary while in grief over the loss of his daughter. In a creepy twist, Mary is forced to be displayed in the shop as if she is a puppet. Without Mary, and therefore Emily’s scene-stealing acting, the film simply would not have any drama and it wouldn’t make its creepy turn into the horror genre.

The film’s directors, Stephanie Liquorish and Isabel Stanfield, elaborated on how Emily’s performance was inextricably tied to the film’s success. “Emily had a remarkable character transformation…She had developed a different gait and speech pattern. It was incredible character work…you could really feel the desperation and intense need of her character for salvation. This was all due to Emily’s wonderful screen craft and her inventiveness in the presentation of Mary.”

“Hobby Shop,” along with Emily’s masterful work, was showcased at the prestigious Chinese Theatre in Hollywood at the Screamfest Horror Film Festival – the largest and longest running horror film festival in the United States. In addition, it recently won the Gold Award at the Australian Cinematographer’s Society Awards.

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Emily Gruhl on set for “Hobby Shop” with the award-winning cinematographer, Lucas Tomoana.

The successful project is another example of how Emily has become a leading lady in the style of Golden Age Hollywood – a true thespian who can work like a character actress and appear in different genres, but also present herself as a true movie-star.

This is because accessing truth for Emily is more important than fame. “Last Cab to Darwin” star Mark Coles Smith offered our editors unfiltered praise when asked what sets Emily apart from other actors. ““It is not often you have a deep sense of the talent and focus of a particular artist until you get to know them, however, Emily’s unprecedented excellence was apparent from my first meeting with her.”

Such compliments are unsurprising considering her experience in theatre, well-known for providing a necessary training ground for thespians who build long-lasting careers. Emily shared the stage with Golden-Globe nominee Katherine Langford (“13 Reasons Why”) under the direction of revered coach-to-the-stars, Larry Moss. She has also worked with  star AACTA award-nominated Andrew Ryan in the Queensland NRL program, in which she had to deliver a heartfelt and challenging monologue.

“Every time I did the monologue the men were extremely affected and I really do believe we affected change during the time we were there.”

Mark Coles-Smith, who also appeared as the lead role in the SyFy series “Hunters,” elaborates even further in his praise. “It was an absolute pleasure working with Emily. She is so giving with her time and energy, which is the hallmark of a world class actor with an assured future of success. She is an incredible performer, a truly exceptional actor and gracious and giving human being.”

Ultimately, from “Hobby Shop,” to “Picnic at Hanging Rock”, and now feature film “Angel of Mine” with “Dracula” star Luke Evans, Emily has indeed proved herself more than capable from being just another actor. Emily Gruhl is truly unique.

She eloquently adds, “The character of Courtney in “Angel of Mine” is extremely different to me as a person. [Director] Kim Farrant knows me very well personally after working together so much and so she very clearly knew that I am very different to the character of Courtney.”

Extending on her comment regarding truth in performance, “Kim’s work is very personal and she kindly demands a lot from her actors to the point where she believes that putting yourself back together emotionally as an actor is as important as getting to those intense emotional places.”

Emily offers an even more specific viewpoint. “The kind of acting Kim excels at directing and enjoys the most is performances that have incredible emotional dexterity, complexity and nuance to them. This is also the style of acting I most enjoy doing and this usually requires incredible emotional depth from the actors.”

Another project that demanded Emily’s attention, and ability to be truthful, is “A Suburban Love Story.” In the key role of Molly, Emily worked opposite “The Mummy’s” Luke Ford and “Secret City” actor Vanessa Moltzen. Director Stephen Wallace, who has also directed Oscar-winner Russell Crowe, explained that Emily “worked extremely hard in some very difficult circumstances, never giving less than her best. She is a true professional whom I would recommend to anyone.” Extending upon his exploration for why Emily is truly a one-of-a-kind actor, Stephen added: “She is also photogenic and can produce deeply emotional performances when called on. That’s rare.”

While Emily spoke about her craft fondly, she was simply too humble to offer an assessment for why she is considered a true star. Instead, to carve out the truth about Emily’s uniquness it only made sense to seek out the opinion of one of Australia’s leading casting directors, Faith Martin (responsible for casting “Peter Pan” and “Evil Dead”). Martin notably cast Emily in her critical role in “A Suburban Love Story”

“Combined with her naturalness, her beauty and her commitment,” Faith explains, “Emily Gruhl is a force to be reckoned with.”

 

Leading Australian Actor Joel Hogan: Leading On All Platforms

Award-winning Australian actor Joel Hogan is used to getting attention; he’s played leading roles in huge films that have screened right across the world.

Sitting down with him though, it’s clear that he hasn’t let the attention get to his head. When we meet, Joel is as down-to-earth as his parents described him when he was in school – a true Aussie larrikin who simply was grateful for what he had.

“I like to think my mum and dad raised me right – they’ve always said, no matter how famous or successful I became, that I should remain humble, with a firm grounding within my family and friends with whom I grew up with.”

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Amongst the many topics we touch on when talking with Joel is his lead role in Lionsgate’s “Open Water 3: Cage Dive”

Joel is certainly known for being famous and successful these days, and an indie favourite who’s been working with the same roster of impressive production companies in the same way that Oscar-winner Brie Larson and, A-lister Ryan Gosling, have created partnerships with a select list of directors and filmmakers.

“The benefit of working with the same production company multiple times is that we all trust each other – so I feel very grateful that I’ve been given these opportunities.”

One of the production companies with whom Joel has played an immeasurably significant role is Forte Pictures, an American outfit well-known in the incredibly competitive film industry for producing the award-winning “Actor for Hire”, a 2015 comedy-romance distributed by Gravitas Pictures in which Joel played a leading role. The Australian hunk, who’s been compared to James Dean by several top-industry insiders, enjoyed being profiled in The Hollywood Reporter and Deadline Hollywood. “It’s nice to know that the film, production company and my role got attention, but what’s most important to me is whether I’ve played the character authentically.”

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The undisputed nature of Joel’s significance to Forte Pictures and the fact he has played a essential role in the success of the company is further confirmed in how he stars as Patrick, the central figure, in the upcoming crime-thriller “Chameleon”. “That film is very different from “Actor for Hire”, but it still feels like a distinctively Forte film because Marcus is involved and the desire to create the most entertaining project was the core value while we were shooting.” The film also notably stars Alicia Leigh Willis, widely known for her roles in the “National Treasure” franchise opposite Oscar-winner Nicholas Cage, and the long-running hit show, “General Hospital”.

In true fashion reminiscent of how Leonardo Dicaprio repeatedly collaborates with Martin Scorcese, and Jennifer Lawrence has with David O. Russell, Joel not only enjoys a collaborative partnership with Marcus but also Gerald Rascionato, Australian auteur filmmaker best known for helming the Lionsgate feature film, “Open Water 3: Cage Dive”. Gerald’s production company, Just One More Productions, is inextricably tied with Joel’s talents as an actor because he is the leading man behind its most impressive productions.

“Gerald is an auteur,” Joel explains, “because he’s focused on the specific moments, second-by-second, with how it looks and how it could make an audience feel, as much as he is by the way a mainstream audience will view it.”

“Open Water 3”, distributed in cinemas around the world by studio powerhouse Lionsgate, was the first of what Gerald says will be many collaborations with Joel Hogan under his production banner. “I already have Joel signed onto my next feature, and we’re full-steam ahead for production in mid-2018. That film revolves around the life of famous aviator and film producer Merian C. Cooper who was the creator and producer of classic films such as King Kong, Mighty Joe Young & The Searchers, starring John Wayne. Joel will fittingly play the lead role of Merian himself.”

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Joel (left) on the cover for the recently released DVD of “Open Water 3: Cage Dive”, which enjoyed box office success at the cinema last year.

Gerald also claims to like that Joel brings the backing of the Australian film industry, the multi-talented performer – who has also performed in theatre productions like “High School Musical” and on TV shows like “Home and Away” and “Unverified” many times over – is a member of the highly reputable AACTA and MEAA organisations in Australia. “Like production companies, having relationships with organisations like AACTA and MEAA are very important because they ensure I maintain my standing within the industry and keep connected to new material, while also giving me an opportunity to be aware of how I can give back to an industry which has given me so much.”

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Joel enjoying a laugh on the red carpet last year – keeping it positive as part of his ultimate plan to give back to an industry that has “given [him] so much.”

Saif Al-Sobaihi: A Cinematographer with an Eye for Story and Success

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Cinematographer Saif Al-Sobaihi

Cinematographers are instrumental figures in the filmmaking process. In the past it was the actors, and occasionally their director, whose names were remembered by the public; but there is a growing list of creative cinematography auteurs who are are finally receiving their due praise for their contributions to the film industry.

Cinematographers need to possess the ability to blend technical practicality with specific artistry. They both employ and manipulate lighting, shot angles, close-ups, color and have to guide camera operators and gaffers to create moving pictures that present the visual story to an audience in such a way that goes beyond simply ‘looking impressive.’ Cinematographers create images that drive emotional responses from audiences and ensure a film takes a place in the cultural framework.

Saif Al-Sobaihi is one such example of a cinematographer whose crucial role in the construction of films like “El Circo” and “Pinwheel” has helped create striking visual sequences, and he’s built an excellent reputation amongst his peers as a consequence. Indeed, the foreign filmmaker received praise and an Emmy Southeast Award for his cinematography work with “El Circo,” while “Pinwheel” gave Saif an opportunity to showcase themes around true love.

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Film Poster for “El Circo”

When discussing “El Circo,” Saif recounts how it “was pitched to me by…the Salvadorian director Jose Pablo Ramirez. I really enjoyed reading the script and the values Pablo wanted to capture. It was certainly one of the most joyful sets I’ve worked on.”

“El Circo” director Jose Pablo Ramirez is a renowned filmmaker who’s also known for his work on “The Astronaut’s Son” which starred Megan Mazzoccone, who’s known for the TV series “The Buzz.”

“El Circo” concerns a circus clown, Charles, who invites three audience members on stage to assist him with his final act. Invoking the spirit of his predecessor, Charles tries to teach his audience a thing or two about one’s self, family and the power of laughter. Saif recounts how he used his expertise to showcase the character’s dual personalities – Charles, the good side, and Stupidus, the evil side.

An actor might do that with shifts in mannerisms, a costume designer might do that with different wardrobe pieces – but Saif discusses how he achieved this goal with “subtle changes in camera compositions.” He elaborates, “For Charles I chose angles that were predominantly eye level, and for Stupidus I chose to use slightly tighter shots. The emotional impact that I wanted to achieve with Charles is that his personality is still in the comfort zone of the audience.”

“For Stupidos, I chose to shoot some intimidating angles like I mentioned ‘in your face.’ I chose lower angles and close ups to ECU shots. Stupidos breaks the 4th wall in some of the shots and look straight into the viewer’s eyes. His personality is confusing and unclear, so I encouraged my focus puller to intentionally miss his focus marks on some of Stupidos shots. That way we were visually showing the audience that he is [abnormal] and doesn’t follow the rules.”

Such a detailed explanation proves Saif’s specific understanding of shot composition and his expert-level cinematographic skills being crucial to the development of the story in “El Circo.”

Saif’s expert level knowledge is also evident when discussing “Pinwheel” and how he shot the project. “We shot ‘Pinwheel’ with the Arri Alexa SXT (camera) [and] Cooke S4/i Primes (lenses)… There were a lot of camera and dolly movements; my camera operator Ryan Hance and the hardworking dolly grips were on the same page all of the time, and that made everything so much smoother.”

That project was directed by Francesca Crichton, well known for her project “Jamil Houston: Make it Last,” which starred Sebastian Condor (“When I was Younger”).

Saif’s down-to-earth attitude has clearly also been a crucial factor in developing his distinguished career. Unlike actors, who build their reputations through associating their face with big studios or other famous actors, a cinematographer like Saif has crafted his career through working with top-level companies like Sony, Viacom and PopSugar.

In addition, Saif also has enjoyed spending time on set with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Zac Efron while working on blockbuster films like “Baywatch” for Paramount Pictures.

All of these accomplishments are not surprising, but Saif is very humble about the strong start he had in the industry. These auspicious beginnings were obviously a sign of a distinguished career to come.  

“My first ‘real’ gig as a cinematographer was for the Swedish singer Peg Parnevik for her music video ‘We Are,’ which we shot in Florida. It was later picked up by Sony Music. I was nervous, of course, and wanted to meet so many expectations. My crew and I made some mistakes, but we learned from them and had so much fun shooting this project.”