Freelance journalist Don Groves is a Deadline contributor based in Sydney
There’s a record number of Aussie actors and directors toiling in Hollywood — and more on deck. One of the reasons: US and Oz agents are networking more closely than ever. Often, untried talent is being nabbed on tips from agents Down Under. After she appeared in the Australian TV soap Home and Away, UTA signed Abbie Cornish’s 17-year-old sister Isabelle on the recommendation of her Sydney rep, United Management’s Natasha Harrison. WME nabbed Ben O’Toole and UTA secured Ross Langley after each had graduated from Oz drama schools.
“There is definite heat on Australia right now because so many films recently have had a strong, distinctive voice,” UTA literary agent Bec Smith, an Aussie who moved to Los Angeles in 2007, tells Deadline. Those films include Animal Kingdom, Snowtown, Red Dog, Sleeping Beauty and Wish You Were Here, all from first-time filmmakers. Meanwhile, the Weinstein Company recently picked up Cannes feel-good pic, The Sapphires, from debut feature director Wayne Blair, who acted in Wish You Were Here. “There’s a constant flow of talent into the U.S. studio system and that’s helped by the fluidity between U.S. and Australian agents”, says Smith. “We work with them all and see them as our partners.” Smith signed writer-director Ariel Kleiman after his short Young Love screened at Sundance. He’s now set to make his feature debut on Warp Films’ fable Partisan that’s being workshopped at the Sundance Lab.
The number of actors working in the U.S. has “grown enormously,” says Damon Herriman, who has lived in the States for half of each year since 2007 and is playing a member of the Cavendish gang in Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger. Oz native Josh Lawson, of Showtime’s House Of Lies, concurs: ”Australians do have an outstanding success rate here… I suspect there is a cultural influence involved… Our Aussie swagger is sometimes a breath of fresh air in those stuffy casting rooms.”
In 16 years in the business, Oz agent Mark Morrissey has never had as many of his actors working abroad. His clients include the brothers Chris and Liam Hemsworth, Jai Courtney (Jack Reacher, A Good Day To Die Hard) and Callan Mulvey (Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty).
Director David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom was not only a springboard for his own career, but it also gave bounce to actors like Joel Edgerton, Jacki Weaver, Sullivan Stapleton and James Frecheville. Among others who’ve stepped up are Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty), Isabel Lucas (Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups), Socratis Otto (I, Frankenstein), Jane Campion’s daughter Alice Englert (Beautiful Creatures), Alex Russell (the Carrie remake), and David Lyons (The Trials Of Cate McCullough).
Repped by UTA, Michôd is executive producing the Animal Kingdom TV series for Warner Bros and he directed an episode of HBO’s Enlightened. He’s heading home to shoot The Rover, a futuristic thriller starring Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson. Michôd may be an exception amongst helmers; directors whose first films achieve commercial and/or critical success often find it more tempting to accept offers from the U.S. or UK than wait for another gig at home. “Finding films in Australia that are ready to go is pretty unusual,” says Kate Richter of HLA, whose clients include Snowtown’s Justin Kurzel, Wish You Were Here’s Kieran Darcy-Smith and Red Dog’s Kriv Stenders. (Stenders and Weaver are repped by ICM Partners in the U.S.)
Kurzel had planned to move to the U.S. after signing with CAA but relocated to London after Richter introduced him to several UK producers. He’s preparing to shoot Our Kind Of Traitor, the saga of an English couple who become mixed up with a Russian businessman, based on a John Le Carré novel.