Australian actress Nicole Chamoun says playing Zahra, the grieving Iraqi refugee mother in the SBS mini-series Safe Harbour, will always have a special place in her heart.
“I gave everything I have to that character. I felt such a responsibility to play it from a place of truth because I know women like her exist in this world and what they have actually gone through is heartbreaking,” she told SBS Life.
Chamoun, whose own parents fled Lebanon for Australia during the breakout of the country’s civil war in the late 1970’s, made her screen debut as the defiant Layla in SBS’s 2007 drama series Kick.
Audiences may have wondered what happened to the striking actress in the decade in between. Chamoun, who studied acting and drama at both Deakin and Victoria university in Melbourne, continued to train and work on her craft, but struggled to find roles.
“I’m happy that my journey has been how it has been,” Chamoun said.
“The success did not come straightaway. I did Kick and did nothing for a really long time and it forced me to get real about why I had chosen this career and find my passion in the craft.”
The Arab-Australian actress said her advice to actors in the industry was to persevere.
“If you have a dream or you have a passion for something you should pursue it regardless of what people tell you or what you see. You have to be the change.”
“If you start out thinking this is not going to happen, there’s no room in the industry for me, for people who look like me - that’s what will continue. You’ll just perpetuate that cycle.”
“Believe in yourself and do the thing that makes you happy and that you love and you’re good at, and the universe will provide. I’ve always felt that way.”
Chamoun’s rise in the industry comes at an opportune time with conversations around representation and diversity in the spotlight as television and film seek to borrow stories ripped straight from the headlines – on Muslim migration, multiculturalism and the refugee crisis.
In Romper Stomper, Chamoun plays a young Muslim law student Laila, who like Zahra, is caught in the fractures of Australia’s racial anxieties.
Chamoun said while both Zahra, the immigrant mother and Laila, the savvy second generation student who could be her daughter, are different - they both grapple with similar issues.
As women they bear the brunt of a heightened politicised climate that add an extra layer to their personal challenges.
Chamoun said she felt an extra burden of responsibility to play Zahra and was grateful to work with teams committed to creating multi-dimensional and ‘fleshed out’ characters.
“Storytelling is really important. It’s the way we connect as humans. That’s what I love about both these stories. It’s giving people a perspective into a world they perhaps would not have known or thought much about or had preconceived ideas of what these people would be, like, say, talk and do.”
Chamoun said ‘it means the world to her’ to have young Australian Muslim women reaching out to tell her how much it means to be portrayed in a positive, strong and empowered way on Australian television.
Chamoun is grateful for her success, but she is conscious of the need to increase the quality of representation across the entertainment and arts industry.
“The only time I've experienced or felt different or separate to other Australians is within the industry - and the type of the work I was doing and being approached to do and was seeing being reflected on our screens,” Chamoun said.
“I just want to represent what I see on the streets and I think slowly we are getting there which is good.”
Thriller Safe Harbour airs over four weeks, exploring issues facing asylum seekers once they settle in Australia. All episodes will be available after broadcast anytime, anywhere, for free via SBS On Demand. Join the conversation with #SafeHarbour. Watch Safe Harbour at 8:30pm tonight or catch online :