I was a profoundly shy child who spent most of her time drawing and making up stories; the people I drew were often princesses who would talk to each other…(I’d do the voices). I was heavily into make-believe, and then in grade 4 our class play was Oliver and I was given the role of Fagin, and all of a sudden this very shy little girl had a voice.
I don’t think I have ever been as good in a show as an adult as I was in Oliver! I was totally possessed by the character. I remember the play ending and I sort of came to, and had very little recollection of it. I think if I analyse it now, it was the first time in my life that I had a sense of my own power.
I think the first person who sort of championed me was my drama teacher in high school- Mrs Hetherington, and then I had a tutor at university, Sally Holmes, who believed in me- and cast in my most favourite role, at the age of 19- Hedda Gabler! I did no extracurricular acting type things…. it wasn’t until I was 24 that I could even fully admit to myself that I wanted to be an actor.
I thought it was only something other people could do- it took me that long to believe I had as much right as anyone else to go for it. But it was in high school with Mrs Hetherington that I got a sense of my ability and passion for the craft.
After school I went (in a bit of a daze) to Curtin University in Perth where I’m from, to do an English degree with a Theatre Arts major. I was not a great student. I was really only there to act and to write, to some extent, but those years, I don’t think I took myself seriously at all, or thought that this was something I could do for my JOB!!!
And then, after working professionally a teensy bit, and drifting a lot, I got really serious about it, and the idea of training, and becoming an actor, so I auditioned for WAAPA and NIDA, got into both, and chose to cut to the case, and move to Sydney. I was 24 in first year at NIDA.
‘What’s meant for you will not pass you by’ which is consoling when one misses out on something… A tutor at NIDA used to say ‘bad luck, you’re interesting’ which was really just to give us permission to believe that we were ENOUGH.
But I think more generally, what I have learned is that the actor I am, or the quality of my work is so connected to how I am feeling about myself, and a big part of the job is being disciplined about the way I live, how I treat my body and soul, having a practise that grounds me, feeling that I am living my life honestly! If I’m not feeling good about myself I am not going to want a bunch of people looking at me…
Getting paid to act feels like a career highlight! It was wonderfully affirming to get a job as soon as I left drama school with Bell Shakespeare. I think my favourite role was in a co-op play a few years ago- that means no money! But she was a wonderful character and a very happy experience in a really fun new Australian play called ‘Who wants to sleep with Tom Stoppard’ by Toby Schmidt.
I also love my character in Rake, Wendy Greene. Recently, I started teaching, and I joined the Home and Away team as a drama coach. I must say that has been wonderful too, I very much enjoy the process of inspiring others, and by extension reminding myself of the questions that must be asked when tackling a scene or a character.
Well, that is sensible because chances are they won’t have a secure career. That just goes with the territory, like learning lines. As what we do is in film, theatre or TV- all of these things take a certain amount of time to make, and then they end. And then there’s no money coming in, and we are adrift. The advice I would give is:
Make sure you are doing things in your life that make you feel strong, that make you feel connected, that make you feel like YOU, that are not acting. Then, when acting comes along, it’s the cherry on top.
Go to classes, if you can, it is your responsibility to inspire yourself, go to films, read plays, do yoga, meditate!
Cook, get in nature, be around animals, keep your heart open, keep a journal.
A large part of the work is making sure you are READY when the opportunities do come along, that you are in a good space. Having a source of income that is not acting is probably good advice too.
I have not always succeeded in staying motivated when it’s not going my way…. there is so much having to be philosophical about being constantly rejected, and the balancing act is staying thin skinned enough to be able to access a wide range of emotions when I am working, and being thick skinned enough to not take “we don’t want you’ personally!
When I am not working, well lately, I have been teaching, which is the most inspiring thing to do, as it very much connects with craft of acting, and reminds me that as artists we are in control of how deeply we investigate the words, the reality of our character- and that there is always room to go deeper….
When I am not working I have more time to read, I do a lot more yoga, I write, I go to films, I spend more time with my family. I have been quite fortunate the last few years, as I have often known that a job was on the horizon, so I have been able to enjoy time off more.
What I love about acting is being given the opportunity to breathe life into words on a page. The particular challenge of that, bringing my imagination, life experience, heart, hurts, and hopes, to words on a page and making them come alive as a believable, three-dimensional person. I relish the creative challenge of that.
I’d like to write and make my own work. I would love to direct, and I’d like to study Kundalini yoga, and bring that more into my teaching. It has been my experience, that acting works best when it is a co-creation with source, or when the instrument (i.e., me) is grounded, connected to something higher, and in a sense when I ‘hand it over’…I think there’s a lot of room to merge the craft with spiritual practise, as I do believe that acting is a calling, and a spiritual act and when we take the time to tune in and connect we make ourselves as vessels, more available to have inspiration through us.
If this is something that you can’t not do, then you must do it. I got to that point, at 24, like I could not deny any longer that there was nothing else I really wanted to do as much as I wanted to act; it was almost like coming out of the closet! Half the battle was embracing the actor within, and committing to her. If this is your choice, commit, and commit to the wonder and joy of it. When we are joyful about what we do, it finds us.
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Caroline has appeared in television shows such as Home and Away, Rake, and Packed to the Rafters