Interview with Australian actress Belinda Jombwe

Belinda Jombwe studied at NIDA and is known for her outstanding theatre work in Black Jesus (Bakehouse Theatre) as Eunice Ncube, Beth in Samson (Belvoir) and Winnie in My Wonderful Day (Ensemble Theatre Co) and many more. She’s working in an upcoming Australian feature film, The Casting Game.

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Qu.1. How did you start your acting career?

I have always had a love for the arts, particularly acting. From a young age I was heavily involved in drama classes inside and outside of school. When I graduated from year 12 I moved to Sydney on a whim to pursue acting as a career. I studied performance at Sydney Uni, and was involved in a lot of fringe theatre at the Australian Theatre for Young People and New theatre. What started my professional career was the opportunity I had at Ensemble theatre in ‘My Wonderful Day’ to play Winnie. The ball kind of got rolling from there. To this day it’s one of the most memorable ensembles and productions I have ever been in.

Qu.2. Who were your role models on TV/Film when you were growing up and why?

There are many actors who I found inspirational growing up and continue to find inspirational. Actors like Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep and Denzel Washington to name a few. I find their dedication to their craft and their ability to transform into other worlds while maintaining an uncompromising sense of self quite amazing.

My ‘role models’ have been influential more in my adult years. Women like Viola Davis and Kerry Washington I look up to. Through their career progression and outspokenness in the industry, they have profoundly shaped the perspective I have of myself as an actor. They are strong, black women, and they inspire me to challenge myself and stereotypes, and it’s refreshing to see them play roles that are complex and not dependant on the way they look.  I think naturally we find role models in people who we strongly identify with. In people who motivate us to be better people.

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Qu.3. Do you think there are enough diverse roles for people of colour in Australian TV / Film?

Haha, No. I think there will be enough diverse roles for people of colour (and all other minority groups) in Australian TV/Film when diversity isn’t even a thing. When TV and film reflects our unique and multifaceted society and where diversity on TV/film becomes just a way of life. We have a long way to go, but I’m happy that we are going in the right direction. I think it’s everyone’s collective responsibility to continually improve this. Every person has a way in which they can make diversity more mainstream. Casting agents, writers, networks, producers, actors and audiences can all contribute to making diversity more mainstream by the choices they make and what they choose to accept.

Qu.4. What would your ideal role be and why?

I always have trouble answering this question. I don’t  have an ideal role in terms of the ‘type’ of person I would like to play. As ultimately, I believe all characters I play reveal a unique aspect of myself. Any role in which I get to explore, play and have a positive impact is ideal.

Qu.5. What’s your next exciting project?

The Casting Game. A film written by Joy Hopwood and directed by Pearl Tan. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s hilarious, and there is a great team behind it.

Qu.6. Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?

Passionate about life, family and friends. Ambitious to learn and grow.

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The Casting Game will be premiering on Sept 10th at Hoyts Mandarin Centre, closing the annual Joy House Film Festival.

Level 3, 65 Albert Ave, Chatswood NSW 2067

 

Interview with Australian actor & martial artist Maria Tran

Maria Tran is an Australian-Vietnamese. Her recent works includes short films such as “Enter The Dojo”, “Gaffa”, “Hit Girls” as well as Hollywood legend, Roger Corman’s upcoming mix martial arts movie playing killer assassin Zhen. Tran also starred as Yoshiko in the Chinese action film “Death Mist” in 2014 starring Bruce Leung (Kung Fu Hustle). In 2008 she acted in “Downtown Rumble” Kung Fu action micro-series on JTV-ABC TV and her short film “Gaffa; another action comedy, won Hoyts People’s Choice Award for the Joy House Film Festival in 2013.

Maria Tran won a “Breakout Action Actress” award at the 2013 Action on Film International Festival for her portrayal of the character Charlie Vu in the female assassin comedy, “Hit Girls”. She also played supporting character “Mai Le” in Logie award-winning children’s ABC TV series “My Place”, stunt double for the character “Petal” in ABC’s TV series Maximum Choppage – Australia’s first Kung Fu comedy and acted in her first theatre production called “It’s War!” directed by Alex Lykos.

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What made you want to do martial arts & acting as a career?

I recall growing up and being bullied quite often in school. I was called “Ching Chong” or “Gook” at times and the bullying became physical in an incident where I got slapped in the face, my hair pulled and I was shoved around a group of girls. The moment left me shocked, frustrated and confused why I was subjected to such treatment and it left me angry. My parents must of picked it up and suggested that I try martial arts to learn self defence to protect myself from those cases.

In 1998 I enrolled in Tae Kwon Do in a local school based in Cabramatta and become quite invested in it. Martial arts allowed me to let go of my external inhibitions, become stronger, with more focus and discipline. I performed my craft during school show and tells, spoke extensively about it, and I noticed that I carried myself differently; with a strong air of confidence and since that moment, no one ever confronted me again.

Acting came around in 2007 during a local project I produced called “Maximum Choppage”. It was an independent movie made by predominately Asian-Australians from Western Sydney. It was during this time that my acting bug was ignited and only several years later did I publicly embrace my passion in this, as prior I was unsure about my abilities and being Asian sometime means you have to make choices that also make your parents proud.

What were the challenges you found when you started?

I love martial arts but loathe begin boxed into this. After a string of martial arts short films and movies made in China and Vietnam, I was beginning to be labelled as the “kung fu girl” and nothing else. I was pigeon holed as a “stuntie” which I had no accreditation for, which in turned infuriated the stunt community as well. I wanted to be seen as an actor but didn’t have enough dramatic credits to show for as well as not formally trained. The challenges can be felt immensely when you are doing things the less conventional sense and going against the grain. I found that I had to gear myself psychological for the fight; the fight and rebuttal against all the subtle forms of racism that people often questioned if it was real or imagined.

Who were your role models growing and why?

My roles models stemmed from the martial arts action cinema of the 80s and 90s in Hong Kong. I grew up huddling around the TV during family gatherings to watch VHS tape of Jackie Chan’s latest flick or get excited seeing female fatale onscreen action queens such as Cynthia Khan, Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock. Film and television at that time was super white; a Country Practice, Neigbours and Home and Away with storytelling that just doesn’t gel with who I am. But Hong Kong cinema allowed me to think of the possibilities and the relief that Asian faces were heroes and heroines in their lives and adventure in other places in the world despite the dire lack in Australia.

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What has been your career highlight/ highlights?

My career highlight would have to be being invited to work with my long-term idol; Jackie Chan on the movie “Bleeding Steel” as it was shot in Sydney in mid 2016. Screen NSW gave me the call to take part as a stunt attachment and be around on set and learn the ropes. It was an insightful experience to see the difference between the Chinese way of filmmaking; which is fast pace and intuitive in comparison to the Australian way; which was much more structured and formal. Both had its pros and cons and seeing how cultural differences also affect how people relate to each other. Regardless, Jackie Chan is perhaps one of the most humbling person I’ve ever met. He takes on multi roles, works very hard, pushes himself and people and makes it a duty to look after everyone. It’s a reminder to me that if everyone took the time to implement what the value in human beings, the world would be a better place and things like “racism” just won’t exist.

What do you think about Colourblind casting in Australia? Are we getting better?

I think the Australian film industry have always been veered towards their Anglo-saxon audiences for decades, hence there’s always been an inequality between white and diverse actors. In addition, there are moments in the casting system that allows for ethnic roles to be taken away in favour for those who are privileged enough to enter prestige acting schools and can afford to focus on this craft for several years. From my experience, I’ve had several instances where I would see roles made for a particular culture casted to those from another ethnicity, quite possibly because “All Asians looks the same” mentality and if the majority of the Australian audiences can’t pick out the differences, then that’s fine. The truth stand that it is not, and I think there is a movement happening in Australia from the Asian demographics that with time, will lead to change.

What do you think about the diversity issue in Australian television / Film / Theatre?

It’s still an issue that affects all Asian actors as well as stories from this demographic. The issue is multifacet as well as still unexplored. I feel like sometimes when us Asians mention the word “diversity” we are perceived as attention seekers in the media eye. But this is what we want, and why is it such an issue when we raise our voices? Is it possibly because mainstream prefer to stereotype Asians as submissive, nerdy, quiet types? If this is so, I think we still need to continue the movement for change, inspire and activate more people in understanding the issues and find our own ways of representation.

Where do you see yourself in five years time? (What more do you want to achieve in your career?)

In the next 5 years I see myself internationally in China and Vietnam in both acting and filmmaking roles in their movie system. In 2015 I worked on Vietnamese blockbuster “Tracer” and this movie got released all over Vietnam as well as across Australian cinemas and it just shows that maybe to bring more diversity on Australian screens is to think laterally and work internationally. I still see Sydney, Australia as an anchor for my career and possibly delving in more TV series and movies roles as well. Of course there’s also the big smoke of Hollywood that I will venture off to; with broad imaginations that one-day I can also play a super hero of some sort.

Interview with Remy Hii (Marco Polo, Better Man, Neighbours)

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Remy Hii is an Australian actor. He attended the National Institute of Dramatic Art for three years and appeared in various theatre productions before being cast in television. Hii starred as Van Tuong Nguyen in the miniseries Better Man and was cast as Hudson Walsh in the soap opera Neighbours in 2013 and currently starring in Marco Polo. Hii was born to a Chinese-Malaysian father and an English mother. His early theatre work was with The Emerge Project an arm of Switchboard Arts. There he performed in a number of original productions in Brisbane by local playwrights between 2005 and 2007. From 2009 to 2011 he attended the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in Sydney where he graduated in 2011. I was lucky to interview Remy who’s currently filming for Marco Polo.

1) When you were growing up who were your role models on Australian TV &    Film?

I actually grew up as a young kid in Papua New Guinea; we didn’t have television reception out there so my grandparents in Sydney would send out the TV guides from back home, and I’d highlight the shows I wanted to be taped, and they would mail back VHS tapes for us to watch. Gary Sweet in Police Rescue was a pretty big part of my life back then. Sadly looking back to my younger years, I don’t recall there being many faces of colour on our screens to look up to.

2) What made you want to break into Australian TV / Film?

I’ve always been motivated to succeed in this industry, as an artist, to be able to tell stories that excite me and in turn excite others. To get people passionate about Australian stories again. My friends and I always bemoan the often heard line “It was good… for an Australian film”. Somewhere along the line our storytelling stopped connecting with the audience: it stopped reflecting the country that many of us are living in; and yet there is a strong push now for new voices to be heard and that is something I want to be a part of.

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3) How did you get started in your career?

A fantastic co-op theatre company in Brisbane run by Dr. Errol Bray allowed me to hone my craft as a young actor and recognise the importance of new writing in Australia. It was through performing there that I was asked to audition for a new play at the Queensland Theatre Company – The Estimatorwritten by David Brown. It won the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award in 2006 and I was playing the title role to sold out shows for an extended season. It was a wonderful induction into the industry, and cemented for me the idea that perhaps there was a place for me as an actor in Australia.

Coming from theatre in Brisbane, Film and Television seemed like this unattainable and mysterious thing. I found myself being sent for roles like Asian Gambler in East West 101, Asian Nerd in The Strip, and Asian Ladyboy in SeaPatrol. It wasn’t until I graduated from NIDA that other options started opening up for me, and chances to play interesting characters who were more than their skin colour or racial stereotype started to present themselves. Looking back, I’m kind of glad I never got the part(s).

4) Do you see a positive change to colour blind casting in Australian TV / Film and Theatre?

This is a really tough question to answer, as I can only speak from personal experience and sometimes it seems like we’ve really made it and sometimes it feels like we’re back living in the 50’s. I think we are making baby steps towards a place that  reflects the wonderful variety that is our nation. It’s slow, and there’s a long way to go but television is no longer the same as when I was young and diversity on our screens meant the other variations of white like Greek and Italian.

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5) What changes would you like to see in the TV & Film industry?

More risks. Some of our countries greatest runaway hits have come from projects that the commercial networks would recoil from. Shows like The Slap, Please Like Me and Redfern Now have all found success and audiences here and overseas, and they refused to be safe – from casting to themes and subject matter. Rather than being afraid of what makes us different, we should be embracing it.

6) What more do you want to achieve in the future?

I feel like I’ve barely even begun! I’ve been working for the last few months on the second season of Netflix’s Marco Polo. It’s a very big budget, action heavy production requiring hundreds of actors and extras, hours and hours of physical training, fight choreography and punishing hours on set. It’s an incredibly rewarding process, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it, but I’m looking forward to coming back home and getting back to the theatre. Just a stage and that magic connection between the actor and the audience.

Photos courtesy of Remy Hii and Australians in Film 

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