The faces may be slightly familiar, the names perhaps less so, but the dreams are big – and just one break could change all of that.
Every year, local actors pack up those dreams and their portfolios to try their luck in Los Angeles between January and April for American pilot season – when all the big US television studios cast for their new productions.
Russell Crowe reportedly went 13 times before he cracked the American market. The competition is that fierce.
Last year, Matchbox Pictures and the ABC decided to chart the journey of six Aussie hopefuls. Alycia Debnam- Carey, 19; Michael Clarke-Tokely, 22; Craig Anderson, 35; HaiHa Le, 29; Penelope Mitchell, 22 ( cousin of established Hollywood actor Radha Mitchell), and Luke Pegler, 30, took the bold decision to let the cameras follow their fortunes through pilot season. The result is Next Stop Hollywood. They are tracked through auditions, go-sees, triumph and disappointments over six weeks.
For Debnam- Carey, filming of the show marked the start of a year in which she put the study for her Higher School Certificate behind her and took a crashcourse in the struggle to make it in LA, but also learned a lot about life.
The youngest of the six, the Sydneysider has acted since the age of eight, with roles in ABC series Dance Academy and the much-loved McLeod’s Daughters to her credit, and had already been marked as one to watch when she was named a finalist for the Heath Ledger scholarship.
She heads to LA with a few weapons in her arsenal: she already has a Hollywood agent, and she has her “rock” – her mum – along for the ride. Although she admits her mum couldn’t help with some of the more physical obstacles of getting to auditions, given her reluctance to drive – American-style – on the righthand side of the road.
“We had to find a different solution because as a left-handed, dyslexic woman with absolutely no sense of direction, it was probably a bad idea for her and everyone else on the road,” says Debnam- Carey, laughing.
Given her confirmed auditions going in were for the lead in Sex And The City prequel The Carrie Diaries, it was important to get the transport right.
Suffice to say, without spoiling the journey for viewers, Debnam- Carey has had a little more time to sort out the
When you’re acting and have a camera in your face you’re playing somebody else … For this there was no mask to put on
vagaries of transport in LA since pilot season – without her mum.
In a Next Stop Hollywood success story, she returned to LA twice last year after scoring two roles in movies. “It’s been a total year of growth for me,” she says. “Not just acting-wise, but life-wise. It was my first time out of home.”
On her wish list for 2013 is a return to LA, and to pass her driving test.
“Driving has been a nightmare – I actually failed my test in LA,” she laughs.
“You vow you’re going to use public transport, but then it takes you three hours to get anywhere. I admitted defeat, and then I failed my driving test.
“What was worse was while I was waiting to take it, another girl did hers, hit a car, and still passed.”
Another of the hopefuls, Clarke-Tokely, is no stranger to the cameras thanks to his critically lauded role on hit series Tangle, but admits having them “in your face for six weeks for a documentary” was a different matter.
“When you’re acting and have a camera in your face you’re not yourself. You are playing somebody else, so it’s easier,” says Clarke-Tokely, who this year will appear in new ABC drama Dr Blake’s Murder Mysteries.
“For this, there was no mask to put on. It was a little difficult to tread that line between who am I now, and who do I need to be at the next audition. I was thinking about doing the whole thing in character, but I don’t think I could have lasted six weeks.”
Clarke-Tokely estimates he did three auditions a week during the pilot season process, polishing his audition performances with Hollywood hopeful Pegler, who has appearances in Neighbours, Rescue Special Ops, Packed To The Rafters and US series Spartacus to his credit. “Luke and I lived in the same apartment block for the show, and it was good to bounce ideas off each other, go out for beers together and shoot the breeze. It wasn’t as crazy, scary, daunting or intense as I thought it would be, but we’re all interested to see what the show makers have done with about 300 hours of footage.”
The experience hasn’t put Clarke-Tokely off pilot season – he’s already booked his ticket back to LA and will be auditioning again as Next Stop Hollywood plays out. “I know more about the animal now, and I want to see how far I can push this one up the hill,” he says. “There’s a fine line between ambition and stupidity. I want to be careful to tread in a mindful manner.”