Careers Talk AUS | Ian Bliss | Careers Talk AUS
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Category
acting

IAN BLISS

Interview

What inspired you to want to become an actor?

My family were my inspiration. My mother was a dancer, my father a singer. Although they had since left the industry when I came along, our extended family and friends were still involved and we were always attending shows and going to gatherings where entertainers were present.

An acting career, whilst not necessarily a conscious choice in my youth seems in hindsight to have been an inevitability.

What performing arts related activities did you participate in whilst you were at school to build your career?

My school wasn’t one that offered performing arts classes or activities. I had to pursue my passion outside of school. This opportunity was afforded me through a family friend who was involved with an amateur theatre company. They were mounting a production that needed a child actor and asked me if I’d be interested.

I continued to work with this theatre company over my school years and was able to explore all aspects of the theatre arts. The nature of most amateur companies is that everyone pitches in – in all capacities. I performed in shows but also had the opportunity to work in other areas such as, stage management, set building, lighting and sound design and was even given the opportunity to direct productions.

It was the best place to learn about all aspects of theatre working with some truly inspiring people and was essentially the early training of my career.

Once you completed school, what were the steps you took to pursue your profession (e.g., further study, volunteering, internships, signed with an agent)?

My high school only went up to Year 11. Most students were expected to get work, follow on to an apprenticeship or change schools to do Year 12. I chose to do my Year 12 at a TAFE, which offered a Tertiary Orientation Program, a Higher School Certificate equivalent. At high school I had predominantly studied the sciences, at TAFE I specialised in Humanities, Language and Literature, with additional classes in Sociology and Psychology to further enhance my understanding of the human condition all as a springboard into pursuing study in acting.

After Year 12 I went straight to university. I studied Drama, Dance and Psychology for a Bachelor of Education degree. I considered the teaching aspect as a useful fall-back measure but my focus was always to be an actor.

At the end of the course I secured an agent and started to get professional acting jobs. After a couple of years my personal circumstances changed and I felt it was appropriate for me to pursue further study. I had been told for years that I should audition for NIDA. Then, NIDA was considered the premier acting school in Australia (as it is by many now).

At the time though, I was under the impression that the intake into the acting course was restricted to applicants of a certain age (21 was the figure I had heard). I auditioned when I was 23 and was accepted into the acting course on my first attempt. In hindsight the perceived age restriction was a falsehood but I still feel my maturity was a positive when going through the rigours of NIDA.

On graduation I secured representation with one of the top acting agents in the country and from that point my career took off on a very different trajectory.

What was the best piece of advice you received to encourage you to pursue your career goals?

It wasn’t so much a specific piece of advice but rather the support I felt I had from family and friends to back me in my pursuit of an acting career. Something I was told early on however was that “I could do whatever I put my mind to”, which is certainly good advice for the acting business.

There is great variety to be had in acting work whether it’s the type of work (in theatre or film or TV), the type of roles that you get to play or techniques and styles required for a performance. Versatility and flexibility are valuable assets.

What have been some of the highlights of your career journey so far?

I’ve been very fortunate to have many highlights throughout my career. Getting to work on blockbuster Hollywood films has certainly been a highlight, especially playing the villainous Bane in The Matrix trilogy. Working at some of the country’s top theatre companies on such productions as Shakespeare’s Richard III, the stage adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest and new Australian works Savage River and Jasper Jones.

Recurring and guest roles on some of Australia’s best TV shows has also been a highlight as has providing character voices for TV animation (probably one of the most fun jobs in the industry).

Some young people who are passionate about performing arts don’t pursue a career after school in acting, as they are concerned they won’t have a secure career. What advice can you offer young people who are thinking about pursing a career in the performing arts industry?

There’s no avoiding the reality that for a great many performers an acting career can be a tough ask. Most notably you hear about high unemployment rates and competition amongst actors for a limited number of roles. But this should by no means put anyone who is passionate about the arts off pursuing a career in this field.

A stable, rewarding and secure career as an actor is an achievable thing. My parents, without putting any pressure on me at all, gave me the best advice, which I would wholeheartedly endorse and that is; always have something to fall back on.

I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve never had to rely on anything other than acting to make a living, but having various alternative skill sets acquired through my school years (trades at High School, a teaching degree at university) has meant that I’ve felt a certain sense of security in my acting career.

There are a great many insecurities in working in an industry such as the arts but having other employment options available to you can give an artist peace of mind.

There is a saying that ‘if you find a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life’. What do you find to be personally fulfilling about your career in acting and how have you kept motivated to pursue your dreams when you haven’t secured roles you’ve auditioned for.

I have to agree with that saying. It’s certainly been the case for me given my circumstances. For me personally my fulfilment is from seeing what other people get out of what I do. We’re in the entertainment business but we’re also in a business that can educate people, move people, change people and inspire people. It’s feedback from an audience that gives great job satisfaction.

Occasionally, acting can be a tough profession and as much as it can hurt to not get certain roles there are always other roles, other opportunities if you persist. A willingness to embrace the variety offered by this profession is also a great motivation to continue in this career.

Keeping in mind that careers are constructed over your lifetime, what are your career goals and plans for the future?

I’ve managed to tick a lot of boxes on my bucket list through acting in terms of who I’ve got to work with, where I’ve got to work and what projects I’ve got to work on (I still have a few to go of course). Saying that, I do have an inkling that I will diversify in future.

Acting is a job that you can potentially keep doing for your whole life and I hope that’s the case for me but I think I will try my hand at writing and perhaps directing a bit more in the future. It’s something that people have suggested I do but I feel a little more learning about those fields is required before delving into them.

Any other comments or advice you can offer young people considering a career in performing arts?

If you are truly passionate about a career in the performing arts never give up on it. Persistence is a very valuable trait in this industry. A somewhat cruel saying about this profession is, “when one door closes, another one slams in your face!” That’s taking things to an extreme, but it can feel like that sometimes.

Persistence and a belief in yourself combined with solid training, whether at an institution or on the job, can counter this. It can often be a case of “where preparation meets opportunity”. Some other advice I was given once (and decided was quite useful) was never to want anything too much.

I know that sounds counter-intuitive but it allows you to be free to all opportunities that come your way allowing many other doors to open to experiences you may never have thought you would experience.

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