It is not about the way you look or your fashion sense and it is certainly not about ego – it is about being authentic to your own self and bringing that to your work – Screenwise Tutor, Anna Lee.
Screenwise sat down with Anna Lee, our star tutor for our series of Screen Acting Beginners Short Courses to learn more about her acting journey under our Tutor Spotlight series. Anna Lee famously studied under Hayes Gordon for three years at the Ensemble Studios in Sydney. She has also performed with theatre companies across the country with some of her credits including: National tour of Agnes of God and Calendar Girls for John Frost Organisation, Private Lives, Hey Fever for Peter and Ellen Williams, Zastrozzi at the Nimrod and many more.
Q: When did you decide acting was for you?
I come from a family who love to tell stories and swap songs around the table. When I was eight my brother Mark Lee (‘Gallipoli’, ‘A Place to Call Home’) was in the cast of ‘Oliver’ for JC Williams at the old Tivoli theatre. I was totally captivated by Toni Lamond and her truthful, heart-wrenching rendition of ‘As Long as He Needs Me’. The emotion she generated rippled throughout the auditorium and was electrifying. As young as I was, I wanted to be able to do that. Mark went on to do Ibsen’s ‘An Enemy of the People’ at the Ensemble Theatre and after seeing many rehearsals and performances I knew that was what I wanted to do. As soon as I turned seventeen I enrolled to study with Hayes Gordon at the Ensemble Studios.
Q: Who are your top 1 – 3 favourite actors and why?
I love to see good actors work and I truly don’t have a favourite. I believe that truth, empathy, emotional intelligence and a sense of humour combine to make riveting performers. Among my favourites would be Christian Bale, Judi Dench, Christopher Walken, Brendan Gleeson, Frances McDormand, Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, Idris Elba.
Q: What do you enjoy most about teaching young and emerging actors?
There are so many misconceptions about what it is to become an actor. It is not about the way you look or your fashion sense and it is certainly not about ego – it is about being authentic to your own self and bringing that to your work. It really isn’t about the destination – fame, money or celebrity status but much more to do with the journey – loving the process itself. I love seeing the penny drop. The classroom is a very safe place for actors to explore their craft and take risks and it is so exciting to see the students develop their craft.
Q: What roles from Theatre, Film or Television have inspired you the most as an actor and why?
I have most enjoyed projects that are challenging with a director who will take you from your comfort zone and inspire you to lift the text from the page and take risks. Among my favourite roles is Agnes in ‘Agnes of God’, a young nun accused of murdering her new-born. The role required the construction of a detailed back-story and producing a range of truthful, strong emotion. It took many months to prepare for the role both physically and intellectually.
I adored playing the silent film star Louise Lovely in the play ‘Lovely Louise’. She was one of our first exports to Hollywood in the early 1900s. The play followed her life from eight to seventy-eight years so there were many challenges to do with the age span and various historical events. It took many weeks of research to bring Louise to life as a multi- dimensional character and bring her extraordinary story to our audiences.
Q: What advice would you give to a developing actor that is trying to take the next step in his or her acting career?
I always stress that training is essential to gather the skills and tools necessary to tackle any role systematically and with authority. Hayes Gordon used to stress that intuition can take an actor so far, but intuition can fail you- usually at the worst possible moment so it is best to have some technique behind you. An actor should constantly hone their skills – work on vocal production, maintain physical fitness and continue to meet up with other actors to read scenes.
On completion of training, they should seek out a good agent with whom they can develop good rapport. If there are long spells where no work comes along, they should look to generate their own work, do the odd independent production or audition for short films for student directors.
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