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:: Spotlight :: Interview with Australian actress Michela Carattini

By: Carmine Pascuzzi

I had the recent pleasure of an interview with Sydney-based actress Michela Carattini. She is fresh from a starring role in the film “54 Days”, a sci-fi thriller about five people trapped in a bomb shelter who have to make unthinkable choices.

There is much more to this talented actress however. Michela is a dual citizen of the US and Australia, having graduated from AMDA in New York City and living through the World Trade Centre attacks on September 11, 2001. Her diverse skills include speaking several languages, singing, dancing, choreographing, writing, casting, directing, experience in social work, legal work, counselling, being a mother and much more.

“54 Days” has already snared some notable achievements - it received a Special Jury Prize at the 30 Dies Festival de Cinema Fant√†stic in Andorra, plus Official Selections of the Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema in California in January 2015, and the recent Sydney Sci-Fi Film Festival.

Michela was therefore happy to discuss her career to date and her role in 54 Days.

Q. Tell us about your development as an actress from the earlier stage productions to scoring this role in 54 Days and in The 33rd Wedding? Has it been a very hard road with bumps and grinds along the way?

MC. My path as an actress has been a surprisingly winding one. I apparently told my kindergarten teacher I was going to be an actress, and was definitely one of those people who knew from a young age what they wanted to do. My parents were supportive, and at 14, I was featured in a huge international stage & television movie production of Street Scene. From then on, it was only musicals for me! I worked hard, got up early, did my homework on the train, went to school, and went straight to performances, rehearsals or classes after school, often getting home very late. But I loved it. When I finished high school, I moved to New York City and studied at AMDA and did musicals for several more years, including an off-Broadway production of Cabaret (Helga) and US tours of Cinderella (Wicked Stepmother) and Alice in Wonderland (Alice). But something wasn’t feeling right in me. I was feeling empty, and that I wasn't stretching myself intellectually. Believe it or not, I craved a maths class. I decided to apply to uni - just part time - and was shocked to be accepted into Columbia University. This changed the course of my life. On September 11, 2001 I watched the second plane fly into the second tower through my window and I wanted to understand why it happened. I went to Columbia and took those maths classes, but I majored in psychology. I did a semester at Sydney University when my grandfather passed away and met my husband there. By this time, I had become passionate about trying to stop slave labour and forced prostitution, and I moved to Prague to work with the international anti-human-trafficking NGO, La Strada. My husband and I moved back to Sydney, where I did my Masters in Criminology and specialised as a social worker and counsellor in the area of ‘Violence Against Women’. We got married and had a son. I stayed home with my son for just under two years, and wasn't sure what would happen next, because I didn’t feel social work left me emotionally available for my son or anyone else. I missed acting, but didn’t think it was an option - I thought I was too old and too out of shape, in every way. But I did a few small bits, just ‘for fun’ and things started to snowball. I got an agent, and was offered some of the most fulfilling theatre roles of my career including Goodbye Charlie (Charlie) and Maria Stuart (Maria Stuart). I realised that
being an actor was still my calling, and that I was more valuable now - with some incredible life experiences to draw from - than I was in my twenties. I made the decision to not do musicals any more, and only do straight theatre and film, work that nourished me intellectually and spiritually. A lead film role that seemed to be written just for me in The 33rd Wedding (Sam) was advertised through NAFA, and I got the role. The director said to me she felt finding me was “serendipity”. It was serendipity— and a lifetime’s preparation!

Q. How did the role in 54 Days come about and what was your immediate thoughts on the script?

MC. The writer/director Tim Lea and I knew each other through two Sydney meet-up groups: Crash Test Drama and NAFA, but we had never worked together before. He wanted to put together a short film for the WD Sci-Fi project (one of those time-limited, create a short film from scratch within certain parameters competitions). I had just wrapped The 33rd Wedding, and had a week before I was flying overseas for Christmas, so I thought “Why Not?” I’m not what you’d call a sci-fi geek, but I was interested in the psychological elements of the script. On the day of filming I thought, you know, I don’t have an English accent on my showreel, and asked Tim if I could try my character in an English accent. That’s how ‘Michelle’ ended up being
from London. In the New Year, I had an email from Tim saying that they were turning it into a feature film, and wanted to retain most of the original cast. When I read the feature script, it wasn’t finished and there followed months of collaboration including feedback, discussions and improvisations, which was wonderful of Tim and allowed us to be very invested in our characters. To be honest, even though there was an official ‘locked off script’ before we started filming, collaborative changes were still happening on set!

Q. Have you found it beneficial to settle down in Sydney, when you could have easily based yourself in Europe or America?

MC. Absolutely. I’m actually surprised that there seems to be almost universal agreement here that if an actor is worth their salt, they need to leave Australia. Maybe once that was true, but I see Sydney as a smaller, thriving industry market just like Chicago, Toronto, Paris, and Berlin, and there are a lot of international productions filming here these days. I also see technology changing the way industry works, especially in the U.S. Skype and self-taped auditions are an accepted and common part of the system now. I have a Canadian friend here who got the lead in a Hollywood film through Skype. And an Australian friend who is acting in a Canadian film opposite a big star through a self-taped audition. Yes, you have to be willing to hop on a plane when the need arises, but that’s true even if you live in L.A. I have come to see that the most important thing in this business is building relationships and dissolving your own self-limiting beliefs. Making sure the people you want to work with know you are there, know what you do well, and know how to reach you when the right role comes along. So for me, it makes sense to keep my home base where I can have the best living conditions possible. The beautiful weather, clean air, healthy food, comparative financial security and public medical coverage affect my physical and mental health and longevity, my ability to invest money in my business (my career), my ability to invest time in my craft, my ability to look younger or attractive, my emotional and social support systems, and my ability to achieve work-life harmony. These things make me more competitive than I would
otherwise be. It also means a great quality of life for my children, living in a house I love and being near to my family. For others, it means being better positioned financially and to get work visas when that breakthrough role does come along. Building an international career in several markets is something I’ve been discussing a lot lately with other actors around the world— and four of us (in Sydney, New York, London and LA) have decided to start blogging about in a new blog called ‘Actor’s Gone Global’.

Q. Tell us about 54 Days - the cast and crew, and how challenging your role was?

MC. 54 Days is an Australian independent film of the survival/psychological thriller genre about five people trapped together in a bomb shelter without enough food and water after Sydney and other major cities have been nuclear bombed. The cast all had solid acting chomps which made for exciting interplay, and we had a particularly awesome crew. Our DoP Nat Jackson impressed me with his sheer creativity. He gave me a new understanding of how the cinematographer can be every bit as important as the director, actor, and editor in the story-telling process. I was lucky enough to sing and collaborate on one of the songs with the film’s composer, Dimitri Menthos, who is just a master at what he does and a lovely human being. I could go on! This role was a real challenge for me because of the complexity of layers I needed to achieve. My character ‘Michelle’ experiences dramatic moment after dramatic moment, and it was important to me that these were differentiated, but still real. She also has a lot of explosive secrets she can’t reveal, so she has to restrain much of what she is really thinking and feeling, while still vying for her survival among the group and communicating her turmoil to the audience. I did a lot of research and preparation, but I particularly drew on Monica Bellucci in the film ‘Malena’, who in my opinion quite masterfully communicates the drama and pain she is experiencing without saying a word through most of the film. And then there was the accent: London-born (I went for well-educated, contemporary Surrey-Hampshire border), but having lived in Australia for about a decade. My natural accent is mixed, but mostly American. I only had one one-hour session with a dialect coach, and after that, Billie Piper in ‘Secret Diaries of a London Call Girl’ became my best friend.

Q. You must be pleased that it received a Special Jury Prize at the Andorra Cinema Festival…

MC. Yes, thrilled! The 30 Dies Festival de Cinema Fantastic had only six official selections, so it was a real honour even to be selected. The award is extra! I attended the world-premiere in Andorra and it was a wonderful experience hearing the authentic and spontaneous reactions of a real audience being drawn into the story. I thought, ok, if they’re reacting like that, even with subtitles, we’ve done our job. And we received such a warm response from the sold-out crowd at the Sydney Sci-Fi Film Fest too. We’ve also been getting such positive reviews from the critics, are currently a Distrify Staff Pick, and have just been made an official selection of the Idyllwild International Film Festival in Los Angeles! It’s very exciting.

Q. What projects have you been working on since, and other plans for the near future? - will you consider any stage and TV roles, or are you concentrating on films?

MC. After 54 Days, I jumped into a couple of projects that challenged me in a different way. I took the lead in an Arthouse Terrence Malick-style film, Le Matinal (Lauren), where a French backpacker who falls in love with an Australian guy, I had to speak French and English with a French accent. The director Gavin Guan blew me away with his talent, and he said to me after my first audition “I know you are my Lauren.” I also played the female lead in a very ambitious live-animation mix short called Papa’s Sonata in which we had to wear morph suits and interact with a completely imaginary world, because it would all be drawn in later. As for theatre, I have a rule that I do at least one theatre production per year, because it is such a different skill and I need to keep in shape! I am definitely open to TV too - it is the role and the team that guide my decision, not the medium.

Q. Do you have any long-term ambitions?

MC. Yes - to be able to say, “Why does everyone keep trying to hold my Oscar?” In the meantime, I want to earn a decent living off my work and be able to choose from interesting and challenging roles that will impact the world psyche. I would love to follow in the footsteps of people who are known as actors first - Juliette Binoche, Julianne Moore, Forrest Whitaker and Cate Blanchett are great examples of careers I would love to emulate.

Q. Do you have any thoughts on the Australian Film Industry? It hasn't been a great box-office year.

MC. Yes, I know it can be disheartening and I’ve heard a lot of mutterings lately. I think it’s a shame Australians don’t give themselves more credit. I know that we are talented and competitive on an international scale, but we need government, businesses and consumers in Australia to believe it too, and to invest and take pride in the industry. We invented the feature film you know! When we do, the rest of the world will too. I also think we need not be afraid of international co-productions, and not worry so much about a production being 100% Australian. I realise I’m biased, being an Australian-American co-production myself, but so is Cate Blanchett (of an Australian mother and American father) - and I believe the most successful independent film ever made - Crocodile Dundee - was also an Australian-American co-production! Diversity is a proven factor in success, both for evolution and business.

54 Days is available to be viewed worldwide via rental or digital download to own - just go to its Home Page and just follow the arrows!

You can find more about Michela Carattini at her official website here

Michela Carattini in 54 Days