Meet the Finalists for AACTA Pitch: ACTION!

Our first acting competition, AACTA Pitch: ACTION! asked Australians in isolation to try out their acting skills by submitting a screen-test style audition, based on an AACTA provided script, inspired by current circumstances.

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From the wide range of quality submissions, 10 finalists were shortlisted to be assessed by our esteemed judging panel, including accomplished actor, writer, producer, presenter, director and AACTA Award winner Noni Hazlehurst AM, Kirsty McGregor of McGregor Casting and Aran Michael of talent agency AMM.

Below we meet our top 10 AACTA Pitch: Action! finalists in more detail.

 

ALEX COOKE

Location: Melbourne

Training: Various workshops at Brave Studios, including with Ana Kokkinos and Damian Walshe-Howling and at 16th Street Actor’s Studio with Larry Moss and Ian Rickson.

Favourite Australian productions: It’s a tie between MAD MAX: FURY ROAD and THESE FINAL HOURS.

How did you approach the text? I approached the text the same way I try to work any piece of writing, picking through the scene to understand the given circumstances and the conflict within it. My aim is always to be as natural and honest as I can be and then just see where it takes me.

What drew you to this competition? With the arts industry being as competitive as it is, I'm always looking for ways to improve myself and my work. This competition was perfect for that as it provided a chance to be seen by some of the most respected names in the Australian arts industry whilst allowing me do what I love.

What is your ideal role? Something gritty and raw. That said, any role that gives me the feeling I might not be able to pull it off is always exciting to me. Well-written characters that push me and allow me to explore new things about myself are the reason I couldn't imagine doing anything else.

 

Chanika Desilva

Location: Vancouver/Sydney

Training: Bachelors in Music and Theatre (Performance) UOW, Ivana Chubbuck Studios (LA/SYD), Sydney Actors Collective, Haven Studios (Vancouver).

Favourite Australian productions? 'LAKA,' by Curious Works. A new Australian screenwriter and director I was fortunate enough to work with and play a small part in the film that explores, a young indigenous woman who goes back to her Yolngu roots to give birth. This film represents the ever evolving Australian industry and inspires me to keep telling my story, and gives me hope for the possibility of finding my voice within this industry and being the change I want to see in the world.

How did you approach the text? I approached the text through character, relationship and objective. I wanted to explore the comedic in my first take and then the dramatic by flipping the scene, raising the stakes and exploring substitutions from my own life in my second submission.

What drew you to this competition? I was drawn to the pitch because I am always excited to learn, push myself creatively, perform and grateful to have more opportunities that showcase Australian talent so wanted to support the cause.

What is your ideal role? Starring as Malala in her bio pic to bring her story to the world and new audiences and a series regular, in a long running hit comedy like FRIENDS and BROOKLYN 99, to have to time of my life, and make people laugh.

 

MARK FANTASIA

Location: Los Angeles

Training: Flinders University Drama Centre BCA Drama.

Favourite Australian productions? THE MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER.

How did you approach the text? I basically imagined how my uncle Mick would have had that conversation with his twin sister Vera (my mum).

What drew you to this competition? Having a lot of free time on my hands I thought what a great chance to practice taping some scenes, and I saw the AACTA comp on an Instagram feed.

What is your ideal role? Ideal role would be something along the lines of Eric Bana as CHOPPER or anything Daniel Day Lewis has ever done. Oh, and being cast as the Moon Knight for Marvel!

 

OLIVIA FILDES

Location: Melbourne

Training: Full Time Program at 16th Street Actors Studio.

Favourite Australian productions? The first time I watched the first season of Stan’s original series BLOOM I was amazing by the all-round high standard of the production. I know firsthand that we have extraordinarily talented creatives in the industry here but I had never seen an Australian series that impacted me like this before. The story was original and captivating, the performances were as heart-warming as they were heartbreaking, the visuals and cinematography were beautiful and it kept you invested till the very end. It inspires me to make more Australian screen work like this.

How did you approach the text? After reading the text a few times, I came up with a back story and before moment for the scene. The premise for me was, two best friends had been living together and were now moving elsewhere separately. Seeing as I had my sister read for me I used our relationship to play off and when filming just made sure to stay present in the circumstances. I also learnt the lines rote which helps me to avoid falling into a habit of saying the lines the same each time. Keep it fresh!

What drew you to this competition? I saw a few posts about the competition on Instagram and wasn’t really sure what it was until the last entry date. I clicked on a link to the competition page and saw all the fantastic prizes and immediately jumped into action! A lot of the prizes are completely invaluable and I knew I’d just kick myself if I didn’t have a go. I also love a bit of friendly competition!

What is your ideal role? Any character that challenges me. I like to take on roles that are a far cry from my own life. That’s the most interesting part of acting to me. Becoming someone else for whatever period of time, speaking how they speak, reacting how they would react and being in situation’s you may not normally be in. That being said I’ve always wanted to play a really badass character like James Bond or maybe even a Bond villain. (I binge watched the Daniel Craig one’s recently).

 

JOEL PHILLIPS

Location: Sydney

Favourite Australian productions? THE BANK

How did you approach the text? I liked the idea of two housemates packing their beloved residence (thanks Rona)... And perhaps emotions run so high we touch on some repressed frustration?

What drew you to this competition? I love challenges & deadlines (well it's a love/hate relationship) so I couldn't resist this. Grateful for the excuse to create, explore & act. What is your ideal role? I definitely have fun with roles that are a little more ridiculous than 'lifelike' - but that said, more and more I want to continue to explore subtlety & nuance.

What is your ideal role? I definitely have fun with roles that are a little more ridiculous than 'lifelike' - but that said, more and more I want to continue to explore subtlety & nuance.

 

SUSANNA QIAN

Location: Melbourne

Training: Trinity College London

Favourite Australian productions? Too hard to pick one! TWO HANDS & LOOKING FOR ALIBRANDI - these films had a huge impact on me growing up, LION, DOCTOR DOCTOR - I love a good binge and this one ticks all the boxes!

How did you approach the text? The challenge was supplying context to what is essentially an open script. I worked on what the history was between these two characters, what their current relationship was and what had brought them to this moment. From there I asked myself what my character wanted from this situation and from the other character? What are the clues in the script? And what can I, as an actor, read between the lines to make the tape my own work.

What drew you to this competition? The opportunity to challenge myself (especially during Covid19) was a gift, and the potential for mentoring really drew me in. I’m keen to keep learning and growing every chance I get, and to be able to get feedback from trusted industry professionals would be priceless. It can be a bit of a minefield out there with conflicting opinions and career coaches, so knowing that respected industry professionals would be viewing my work meant I could approach this with trust.

I loved that the competition was open to various levels of experience, and that the script was also open ended as a piece itself. It wasn’t like a usual brief where you’ve been asked to audition because you might fit the “type”… literally anyone could audition for this, and I just couldn’t resist trying my hand at it and seeing what I could offer.

What is your ideal role? I always get a bit stumped when asked this question because I don’t think I ever have just one answer; I love to tell stories. I think every actor would agree. There has been such a huge shift towards diversity and representation in our local stories lately, and I would love to be a part of that change. Further, I would love to tell stories that impact people’s lives and move them: to be able to play a character who is strong, but more importantly, recognisable to an audience as a real living human being that they can see themselves reflected in…whatever the genre or background of the character!

 

ALEX STAMELL

Location: Coogee

Training: Currently in my 3rd year at NIDA.

Favourite Australian productions? THE BABADOOK is a favourite of mine. I love a good psychological thriller and Jennifer Kent’s exploration of the need to face the darkness within ourselves, coupled with Essie Davis' kick ass performance was unnerving in all the right places. Another recent standout for me was Alena Lodkina’s Strange Colours; it was unconventional, unpredictable, perfectly calm, patient in it’s story telling and beautifully shot. All the performances have a raw, powerful vulnerability and Kate Cheel's performance (who I am always inspired by) was so subtle and engaging. Renee Petropolulos’ Tangles and Knots and Thomas Wilson-White’s St Augustine were both stunning, complex, thought-provoking recent shorts, and I find something new in them every time I watch them.

How did you approach the text? I like to work on back-story, so I started there, thinking about the relationship between the characters. Then I played around with some ideas with my friend Jerome Meyer (one of my favourite people to work with) who helped me put down the tape.

What drew you to this competition? My friend Nadia Zwecker (legend & beautiful actor) told me about the competition. I have a lot of respect for the work that AACTA does in supporting emerging creatives, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to apply.

What is your ideal role? This is a hard one. I want to work with good people on good projects. I love dark material and complex, layered characters, so something in the world of psychological thriller is exciting. But ultimately I can’t really limit it to one type of role or genre; I enjoy working with like-minded people who inspire me on projects that are creatively ambitious and have something to say.

 

JOSE TALITE

Location: Kogarah - Sydney NSW

Training: Currently training with Billy Millionis at The Actors Pulse, Matt Zeremes’ Actor GAGA and Greg Apps.

Favourite Australian screen works? I LOVED LION, Dev Patel is KING! It is one of my all-time favourite films, had me and my mates crying "Guuuddduuuu" & "Saarrrrroooooo" to each other for the next few months. Stories & films like that, that hit you on this deep level, that inspires and compels you in your life to take action, like call your brother and tell him how much you love him; that's the sort of I work I aspire to do.

How did you approach the text? I approached this scene a little differently from how I normally do, I trusted that all the script analysis training I’d done at school would come out instinctively without having to spend too much time focusing on it.I approached the text more from a character perspective and how could I create a character that would play to my strengths in comedy (Thank you Greg!). I allowed my imagination to flow in the text and created a character that was a hybrid of George Costanza, Monica Geller & Ross Geller.

What drew you to this competition? I thought it was a great opportunity to get in front of the camera, have some fun, give my version of a scene that could have been done a thousand different ways, and possibly have my work seen by some great people in the Australian industry. I also think for Actors who are blessed to have their own self tape set up, we should be taking opportunities like these competitions to work on our craft more than ever before during these tough times, especially if we're not working our "regular jobs" or on set.

What is your ideal role? Jake Peralta - BROOKLYN 99.

 

DOMINIQUE VINEY

Location: Sydney

Training: WAAPA Screen Acting Diploma, On Going Series at the Actors Station, TAFTA Short courses.

Favourite Australian productions? What a tricky question, Baz Luhrmann has always been a huge inspiration to me, the way he creates and portrays his vision on screen is magnificent. STRICTLY BALLROOM and MOULIN ROUGE are particular favourites of mine especially having a musical theatre background and love of singing and dance I could watch those incredible performers all day.

On the other hand I also admire the recently released TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG on Stan. The great Justin Kurzel displayed such a raw and immensely powerful series based on Peter Carey's novel recounting the infamous bushranger, Ned Kelly's life and dealings with authorities. George Mackay's performance was sensational and an actor I am going to keep my eye out for.

How did you approach the text? I approached this text from a place of comedic truth. Whilst we're all coping through such a confusing, difficult time I wanted to explore my character with a unique and authentic perspective. Having witnessed someone at the grocery store putting sanitiser on their gloves... it sparked amusing inspiration that I incorporated into my character and her response to this strange new way of life.

What drew you to this competition? The incredibly reputable judging panel drew me to this competition. Just to be seen in front of these amazing industry professionals is such a great opportunity. I am a passionate actor taking every chance I can to practice my craft and staying focused on progressing my career especially during this isolation period. It also allowed me to work alongside my fabulous acting peers, using AACTA Pitch: Action project to maintain support and continue encouraging each other.

What is your ideal role? An ideal role would be as a comedic but truthfully authentic character who viewers enjoy, resonate with and can relate to on screen. Inspired by great Aussie women who can score a laugh such as Rebel Wilson, Isla Fisher, and Rose Byrne who create such hilarious, likeable characters and who also have an immense support for women in this industry. Working on my own webseries project at the moment, I would love to be apart of the creative process, workshopping and developing my character.

 

SUNNY S. WALIA

Location: Melbourne

Training: Fulltime Program at TAFTA, several courses at Brave Studios with Damian Walshe-Howling, Daniela Farinacci, Tyler Coppin, Penny McDonald and more, Accent training with Jenny Kent, and a billion casting director workshops with amazing casting directors.

Favourite Australian productions? ANIMAL KINGDOM, DANGER CLOSE, CROCODILE DUNDEE (first Australian film I saw), STATELESS, NO ACTIVITY.

How did you approach the text? Well…I hit print on my laptop, walked to my printer. Read the scene and put it away until the day it was due. Then picked it up that morning, learnt my lines and thought “how would everyone else do it?” Then went to the bathroom and it was here I came up with the idea, where I come up with all ideas to take over the world. And so, the scene is set in the bathroom…and a shortage of toilet paper.

What drew you to this competition? I’d been participating in the weekly 48 hour film challenge for the past few weeks and also started Greg Apps Creating Compelling Characters course, so had been shooting scenes and tapes already and I’m following isolation rules so stuck in isolation, then this competition popped up and the high calibre of the judging panel stood out. Also, if I’m honest, just the opportunity to shoot more scenes and have fun and PLAY!

What is your ideal role? My ideal role would be a lead cop, detective or doctor on a show, someone with authority who leads a team. Roles like Chris O’Donnell’s from NCIS L.A, Alex O’Loughlin’s in HAWAII FIVE O or Ryan Eggold’s role in NEW AMSTERDAM to name a few. I would love to be constantly working as an actor (who wouldn't) and have a thriving career like Michael Peña who is always working in a variety of different roles and absolutely killing it! Have you seen End of Watch? Oh, also I should mention, Jake Gyllenhaal! NIGHTCRAWLER?! SOUTHPAW, every performance of his! Inspiring!

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