There is no question that Australia is home to an army of talented actors and filmmakers, many of whom have enjoyed rousing success on local TV, and are slowly nudging their elbows into an ever-growing Australian film industry. But this country is hardly the place to be world-famous right now. At least not yet. The crowd isn’t big enough. The demand not cannibalistic enough. The creative and financial girths not flexible enough.
This might be why many of our local heroes find themselves shining instead in strange, exotic lands like the USA, where the film industry is so over-stuffed with Americans its solution is to build more blocks to accommodate foreigners. We’re not complaining. I personally think it’s wonderful to have exciting Australian talent wowing a global audience. The only problem is, most of this global audience have no idea they’re being wowed by Australians.
Sure, many of them have become household names – Hugh Jackman, Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman, the Hemsworth boys, to name but a small portion – but more and more unknowns seem to be emigrating across the Pacific. My only concern is that to make it big over there, you have to be able to speak like one of them.
There is hardly any room abroad for Australians to break out their natural-born accents; I can’t bring to mind a single Jackman or Hemsworth performance that doesn’t have them barking about like untamed cowboys.
So, on this Australia Day, I’m turning my attention to five relatively small-time Aussie performers who’ve not only mastered the American accent, but are also exploiting its benefits to quietly climb out of the Australian manhole onto the doorstep of Hollywood. They know how to play the game.
(Blue Heelers, The Great Gatsby, Zero Dark Thirty)
As with most Australian actors, Jason Clarke’s career developed from the meek success he found in sporadic television roles, including his multiple appearances as different characters in Blue Heelers, his role as Eddie Furlong in the medical drama All Saints, and his successful turn in the popular, innocuous soap opera, Home and Away.
In 2008, his face appeared before a wide American audience in the motor-killer bonanza, Death Race, which was so popular, in fact, it spawned two direct-to-video prequels. But no one knew who he was. At that point he was as famous as an apple in a supermarket.
In the last seven years he’s gone on to appear in several high-profile dramas, including Public Enemies (2009), Lawless (2012), Zero Dark Thirty (2012), The Great Gatsby (2013), and White House Down (2013), before achieving a more familiar fame with his respectable turn as Malcolm in 2014’s masterful political primate parable Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
He had a busy 2015, starring in Terrence Malick’s disappointing Knight of Cups, the even more disappointing Child 44, the abysmal Terminator Genisys, and the spectacularly mediocre Everest. But quality does not rely on quantity, and with his effervescent charm, he can look forward to another stocked year, filled, one can hope, with movies better suited to his manner.
(The Matrix, Girl With A Pearl Earring, Cloudstreet)
Sometimes all it takes to step out of the darkness is one role, and Essie Davis secured her claim to the light with her chilly exploration of a single mum battling not only the thankless task of raising an imaginative young boy, but also the deep domestic threat of a malicious spirit in 2014’s sleeper horror hit, The Babadook. It was a rather special performance, internalising a lot of the strife that came with the territory of such a peculiar situation.
Now, she’s slated to appear in the latest season of the HBO fantasy series, Game of Thrones. Whether her fate in the show will carry her past a single episode remains to be seen, considering the show’s infamous propensity for stabbing, beheading, and otherwise inconveniencing its cast in ways unimaginable, usually at moments unexpected. No matter. It’s a well-earned step up for a much underappreciated actress.
(Animal Kingdom, The Place Beyond The Pines, Black Sea)
In much the same way that Jason Clarke achieved recognisable fame late in his acting career, so too does Ben Mendelsohn find himself settling in to Hollywood’s Champs-Élysées, aged 46.
Remembered predominantly for his role as the venal John Daggett in Christopher Nolan’s epic Batman conclusion, The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Mendelsohn has recently branched out in more creative directions, playing an inept criminal in Killing Them Softly (2012), a cunning effete landowner in Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014), and a furred up gang leader in the melancholy western, Slow West (2015), which I personally considered one of the best films of last year, and boasted Mendelsohn’s most subdued, nuanced performance to date.
What’s coming up for him then? Nothing fancy. Just a modest role in a low-budget independent drama called Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which isn’t expected to draw in any kind of audience at all, except a small, clandestine bunch of renegades known affectionately as Star Wars fans. It’s hard to gain exposure with films like that, but my fingers are hopefully crossed.
(Romulus My Father, Let Me In, X-Men: Apocalypse)
Nothing does wonders for your acting career like starring as a down-trodden homeless boy in a threatening dystopian future, scavenging for food and protecting a life that has lost all meaning. 2009’s The Road put Adelaide-born Kodi Smit-McPhee on the map of up-and-coming stars and swung open all kinds of opportunistic doorways.
The role of his I admire the most came five years later with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, where he played Jason Clarke’s son and participated in the movie’s best moment: a quiet companionship with Maurice, the intellectual orangutan, poring over a novel that seemed to interest the ape more than the human.
It wasn’t till last year’s Slow West (alongside Ben Mendelsohn, another compatriot featured in this article) that he was cast out of the shadows and thrust into a semi-lead position, playing opposite Michael Fassbender as a love-stricken pilgrim, confident that the girl he met once and travelled the globe for will accept his marriage proposal. Now, with Hollywood firmly in his grasp, he’s about to enter the ubiquitous universe of superhero movies, playing the agile teleporting mutant, Nightcrawler in the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse.
(Grey’s Anatomy, Red Dog, Jessica Jones)
The Tasmanian Rachael Taylor has yet to erupt. Like an eager volcano stifled with a giant plug, her career has simmered on medium-heat for a number of years, forcing her to take on roles both here and in America to keep the wheels turning and the fires burning.
Her most memorable role, perhaps, was as Maggie in Michael Bay’s robot-fest, Transformers (2007), which was a decent enough movie on its own before its inevitable sequel afterbirth completely drove its merits into the ground. Now I’m afraid we’ll get more movies about Optimus Prime than we will about James Bond. Sadly, Taylor’s not scheduled to appear in any of them.
Just last year, however, Taylor impressed with her stellar performance as Trish in Marvel’s somewhat unsurprisingly brilliant psychological superhero thriller series, Jessica Jones, which showcased her feminine tenacity and underlined her warmer, more affable nature. It was a great performance in a great television drama. She is sure to return for future seasons, and might even make the transition to Marvel’s cinematic universe. If that materialises, she’d certainly be dormant no longer.
Other Australian actors gradually making waves overseas: Joel Edgerton, Melissa George, Ryan Kwanten, Isla Fisher, Abbie Cornish, Travis Fimmel, Emily Browning, Teresa Palmer, Brenton Thwaites… men and women of all ages – the list goes on!
Images courtesy of Roadshow Films, Twentieth Century Fox, Transmission Films, Umbrella Entertainment, Anchor Bay Entertainment Australia and Nine Network Australia