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:: Spotlight :: Hating Alison Ashley - Saskia Burmeister Interview

By: Catherine Naghten

It has a been busy couple of years for emerging Australian actor Saskia Burmeister, but the down-to-earth 20-year-old is just glad to be doing what she loves. I spoke to her about her first starring role as Erica Yurken in the new teen comedy, Hating Alison Ashley.

You saw the film for the first time at it’s premiere in Melbourne, what was that like?

Oh, I’d seen rough cuts before, like Delta. But we both saw each other before we walked down the red carpet and we gave each other a cuddle because we hadn’t seen each other since the filming. But she said, “have you seen it?” and I said “no” and she said “neither have I” and we were just like “breathe, breathe”.

Is it different seeing it up on the big screen?

Huge difference. I mean, it’s just so much more absorbing to when I saw it on the small screen.

Had you read the book?

No, I think I was the only one that missed it. Everybody says “I read that book” and I happened to miss it. I read the script first and loved it, then went away and read the book straight away. I’ve since read it again.

How long have you been acting?

Forever and ever and ever. I started in the photographic industry, which I hate saying, but it was just because my father’s a photographer for advertising and still life. So I started with him when I was five and my mother’s a producer and just gradually…
I remember watching a film with Meryl Streep in it. I just went, “that’s what I’m going to do - acting. What is acting?” It was a name for something that I already knew I was going to be doing. Then I went to a performing arts high school and I just got roles. You know, from here it would lead me to the guest on a TV show, and then you might get a small role in a film, then find a larger role, then you get a TV series, and so that was me.

Did you have much in common with Erica Yurken at her age?

I write and I want to direct as well, at some point in my career, but I wasn’t struggling with the same issues of wanting to be famous like Erica. That’s something that’s not important to me. But I think the reason I wanted to play Erica, was that to me she represents that ‘every’ person, that all teenagers will be able to relate to in some way or another, even more so than the Alison Ashley character. It’s a very realistic portrayal of teen angst because most of the teen films that come out just have this blond, beautiful lead as the heroine.

It’s a bit unattainable?

Yeah, and you sort of go “I am Erica, and my friends at school are Erica's” in the sense that the issues that she goes through are so real to teenagers, like the need for acceptance. It’s very real, and that’s why I wanted to play her.

Have you ever had stage fright like Erica does?

No. I tend to get over-excited, which has a negative effect as well. I’d be beside the stage and whoever was with me would just be going, “calm down, what are you doing? Save it for the stage”. Then adrenalin would kick in and I’d run on the stage. But no, it was always just over-excitement to get out there.

Was it a very demanding schedule?

Yeah, most films are like that and because we had a smaller budget, it made it faster. We were sometimes starting at four or five in the morning, then going until about nine o’clock at night. Having such a fantastic supporting cast around made the set so welcoming, and the crew were just so dedicated to the project, that it made every hour worthwhile.

Did you and Delta become friends during filming?

It’s very strange. Being on a project where your producer and director go: “You know each other’s names and that? Excellent. Well, you’re going to be living in each other’s pockets for the next two months so… bond.” And we’re like, right…“hi”.
We became good friends very quickly and it was a new experience for both of us. It was her first feature, my first lead, and we held each other’s hand through it. She was a great point of reference for me to have on the set, in the sense that she’d give me a big hug in the morning and just go “how are you?” and she’s just really sweet. We were really close friends on that set.

And what about the rest of the cast? It was such a young cast and I imagine Jean Kittson and Craig McLachlan would be a lot of fun…

Yeah, a lot of young cast members and the thing that is great about having Jean and Craig on set was that they are both comedians - just absolutely hilarious. They would make the set really light, really fun, and just be entertaining us. You know, we’d be feeding off them and they’d be feeding off our energy. Yeah, it was just wonderful, they’re so great.
I’ve had the opportunity of working with some wonderful actors and the cast of Hating Alison Ashley are some at the top of my list. I mean Richard Carter is just amazing, Tracy Mann, of course Jean, and new comers, Alexander Cappelli playing Barry Hollis, you know, just fantastic characters.

The kids in 9C seemed very natural…

Well other than the speaking roles, they didn’t have characters. They developed their own characters throughout the production and the rehearsal period. That to me was so fantastic. They just fell into this. They were all actors, they didn’t cast extras for that class. It makes up the background of the whole scene and if you’ve got people not knowing what they’re doing then people will notice it and feel they’re watching a film rather than actually being involved in that world. But they all did an amazing job.

Do you get much opportunity for improvisation in this sort of thing?

Particularly with Geoff Bennet, this director, absolutely.

Can you tell me about Ned Kelly?

Ned Kelly was a huge point in my career, where I had to make a big decision because I was offered the role two months before I would have finished my HSC, which means I had to leave school. Look, you wait for the industry, the industry doesn’t wait for you. In six months time when I’d calmed down from my HSC, I couldn’t turn around to Gregor Jordan, Heath Ledger and Orlando, and go “hi, I’m ready to do the film now, remember me?” They would’ve been like, “what’s your name, who are you?”

So I just decided I have to do this film. It's so amazing. If not for the fact that it’s a great move for my career, but also in the sense that it’s a story that I really want to tell. That Ned Kelly story, playing a character that lived. Research and books about it show the names, and I’m playing that girl.

I learnt all my work ethics; the way that I approach the set and the way that I approach my characters from meeting Geoffrey Rush and seeing his dedication. We have the same agent, so I bump into him often. If there’s anybody I’m star-struck by, it's Geoffrey Rush because he’s just so amazing. It's funny because he’s an actor/non-movie-starish star and I see him most often, yet still…

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Kalang, which is a really lush valley outside of Bellingen in NSW. It’s quite a famous town now because it’s where they shot Danny Deckchair and now Eucalyptus. It’s a beautiful town. So then I moved to Sydney when I was 10 and I’ve lived there ever since.

Can you still walk down the street without being mobbed?

Oh yeah! It seems a bit weird to me, that whole side of the industry. Even though I may have done films with these fantastic actors, that are very well known, I have managed to go under the radar. I’m not expecting anything to be honest. I’m not thinking about it.

What’s coming up next? Will that be Jewboy?

Yeah, that’s an amazing project that I did at the end of last year. I was coming out of Erica Yurken and wanted to do something really arty, really nitty gritty and independent. It came up in an SBS film that was a very small budget and was about the Hasidic Jewish community in Sydney. It’s about a young man losing his faith and I play his love interest. It’s a supporting role, she’s very strong, she’s very religious and has a South African accent. Really beautiful film. That’s around in festivals at the moment and at this stage it should be airing on SBS in August.

Hating Alison Ashley is currently showing in selected cinemas around Australia.