Love My Way: articles

Damon Herriman

Damon Herriman and others have enjoyed success in the US.

Home and LA

Lack of work at home is forcing a growing number of Australian actors to try their luck in Tinseltown, writes Emily Carr.

RECENTLY in Los Angeles, a constellation of emerging Australian stars joined Hugh Jackman for a screening of his new film, The Prestige. Tim Draxl (Supernova), Kate Beahan (The Wicker Man, Flightplan), Maya Stange (Young Lions, Garage Days), Damon Gameau (Love My Way) and Damon Herriman (Love My Way) were among the attendees who call LA home for at least part of the year.

That number will grow until January, the official start of "pilot season", when the US networks cast their new shows and hundreds of acting jobs are up for grabs. "For anyone who hasn't yet done pilot season over here, it's madness," says former All Saints star Jenni Baird, who booked her first pilot in 2001 and has since done two more.

Baird was paid handsomely for her work but none of the three pilots was picked up by the networks. Her prime-time debut in the US was not until September this year, with a guest role in the new Jerry Bruckheimer legal drama Justice.

"For my first pilot season I was auditioning every day," she says. "I did something like 40 auditions. When I got the pilot, they flew me to San Francisco. I had never experienced anything like having my own trailer and having my own stand-in; getting people to bring you cookies -whatever you needed. I was going to be a series regular in an (US network) ABC show. It was a big deal."

Baird, now living in LA, had a different experience this year when she was cast in the guest role on Justice. "As a guest actor, you're the least important person on set; I had three hours' notice before my first wardrobe fitting and was shooting the next day."

Baird says she made many mistakes in her first couple of years in LA, mostly the result of not understanding the machinations of the US studio and network systems, the casting process and agents and managers.

"My first mistake after shooting that first pilot," she says, "was to go straight back to Australia rather than capitalising on what I'd done - meeting managers, agents and casting directors over here. In the end, it was great because I got to do three years of All Saints before coming back to Los Angeles."

Talk to any Australian actor in LA about why they're there and you hear the same story. "I felt like the whole industry in Australia was just in this black hole," says Draxl, who moved to LA in July but will return to Australia next year for the third season of Supernova. "It was depressing seeing all these people - a lot of them my friends who are much better actors than me - who couldn't get a job."

Herriman, nearing the end of a two-month stint in LA, says he's not ready to make the move permanently. "I like living in Australia too much," he says. "I figure if you're here from January to March and September to November, you're getting the best of both worlds."

He first went to LA six years ago after winning a green card in the US Government lottery. "I had the quintessential bad LA experience. I didn't know a soul, I didn't get an agent and I was in love with a girl in Sydney. I intended to stay for a year but left after 10 weeks, planning never to return. I only came back because I had a role in an American horror film shot in Australia (House of Wax). I'd heard how much a difference it can make here having an American credit. I did end up getting represented and have been over a couple of times a year since."

Why does he keep going back? "I'm buying regret insurance," he says. "I don't want to get to 70 and wonder why I didn't do it when the opportunity was there."

During his latest stint, Herriman scored a guest role on The Unit, playing a tough-talking army sergeant.

"The show was created by David Mamet and although he doesn't write or direct most episodes, in this case he did both," Herriman says. "I was pretty stoked. That one job alone made the trip worthwhile."

For actors with a profile in Australia, the transition to Hollywood is usually made easier by talent agents and managers hoping to find the next Cate Blanchett or Russell Crowe. Draxl's agency has three agents covering film roles for him and one agent for television. This is along with his Sydney agent and another in London. "In Australia it would be excessive but here in LA it's great, it feels productive."

For those moving to LA without a profile in Australia, it can be much harder. David Newham spent 11 years in the NSW Police before making the jump to acting. He began a course at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in LA in 2004.

Halfway through his second year, Newham landed the lead role of feature film Isolated. More recently he won a role for the TV miniseries Pandemic.

"It's a really tough business to be in but I love the pace and the energy of America," he says. "There's no tall poppy syndrome here."

By Emily Carr
December 14, 2006
The Age