Two drama school graduates are poised to shine on the world stage.
Elizabeth Debicki and Elizabeth Blackmore: remember the names, because my hunch is we’ll be seeing plenty of both actresses in the coming years.
Both are drama school graduates who had a solid grounding in the theatre. Both have landed high profile roles; Debicki as Jordan Baker in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, Blackmore as one of five friends who are possessed by demons in the remake of Sam Raimi’s 1981 classic The Evil Dead.
Both are represented by Shanahan Management in Australia and they seem poised to embark on Hollywood careers, steered by a high-powered US agent and talent manager.
The similarities don’t end there: neither really became hooked on acting until she started at drama school. “I don't have a story about an epiphany in which I suddenly realised I wanted to be an actor,” the 22-year-old Debicki, who graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts in 2010, told SBS Film.
“It was a much more a case of the idea dawning on me gradually. I was a dancer from a young age. My parents were dancers; we were taken to a lot of ballet as children. It occurred to me that what I liked more than dancing the steps was acting the story of whatever particular performance I was taking part in.
“I went through high school and studied everything other than acting, but when I finished I found myself auditioning for drama schools anyway. My first real taste of how powerful text and character and story could be was through my training at VCA. My early training was like a light bulb going off. I came to understand the effect that theatre and film can potentially make.”
Blackmore, who’s 26, graduated from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) in 2008. “As a kid I was always a bit uncomfortable in my own skin,” she said from Auckland where she’s shooting Sony’s Evil Dead remake, co-starring Jessica Lucas, Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez and Lou Taylor Pucci.
“I spent a lot of time reading, anything and everything, and a lot of time imagining I was someone else. I guess it began there, though I don’t think I ever knew for sure acting was what I wanted to do until I went to drama school. I went to WAAPA and I have never made a better decision in my life. Thank God they let me in. I learnt everything there, and not just about acting. I really grew up in that place and meet some of the most important people in my life today.”
After a supporting role in Stephan Elliott’s comedy A Few Best Men, Debicki relished the opportunity of working with Tobey Maguire (who plays her character’s love interest Nick Carraway), Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan in Gatsby. “I would describe working on this film as the best acting lesson possible,” she said. “I was very new to working in front of the camera when I started shooting Gatsby, so I set myself the mission of gleaning as much information as possible out of the much more experienced actors. The cast was astoundingly talented. Baz is a creative force to be reckoned with. He's very inspiring.”
As for the intricacies of shooting in 3D, she observed that it “made very little difference to me as an actor, in terms of what I would do in a scene. There was perhaps more physical awareness needed to understand and be in control of how movements and action might be viewed in 3D, but I think it’s much more complicated behind the camera than it is in front of it.”
Debicki is in Los Angeles, presumably for meetings and perhaps screen tests arranged by her US agent, CAA’s Hylda Queally, whose clients include Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne and Abbie Cornish.
Blackmore is represented by her US manager Yoni Ovadia at Trademark Talent. Asked how she feels being part of the latest wave of Aussies who are carving out international careers, she said, “It’s incredibly exciting to be working on such a great project at the moment. As far as being part of a ‘wave,’ I’m not so sure. I’m just happy to be working and hope to keep on working, whether it be home in Australia or overseas.”
Blackmore credits the drama schools plus the opportunities of working in the theatre and in local films, TV series and miniseries with nurturing an abundance of talent. “Young actors are lucky to have a rich environment to work in away from the harsh eyes of international critics,” she said. “The Australian industry, however, is small so you have to fight to work. This tends to produce actors, directors etc who are incredibly hard-working, dedicated and humble. You simply won’t get the work if you’re not. There’s no room for ego. No actor I know is chasing celebrity or fame; they’re just chasing the work.”