Alyssa McClelland – Giving It Everything
During the month The Beast caught up with local actress, up-and-coming director and face of Flickerfest 2012, Alyssa McClelland…
Where are you originally from?
I’m from Picnic Point, which is in Sydney’s south west. It’s a suburb of Bankstown, and it also borders the Hurstville area.
So does that mean that you’re a Doggies’ fan?
No, but I’m not not a fan. I’m neutral.
Where are you living these days?
I’m in Bondi at the moment.
What do you love about the Eastern Suburbs?
The geography. I think that Sydney has really won the geographic lotto, as I call it. It’s got harbour, it’s got beach and then it’s got the CBD ten minutes within all of that. It’s got beautiful bushland and parkland too. I lived in New York for a short time and then LA for quite a while and you just sort of realise how lucky we are in Australia in that there’s lots of escapes from the urban lifestyle. There’s beaches everywhere, there’s bush walks everywhere, and in Sydney, that outdoor lifestyle is integrated with the city living. We’re super lucky. Recently I was going for a walk around like Redleaf Beach I took a photo of it and sent it to a friend in the States and he wrote back and said “Is that a little fishing village?”
Is there anything you don’t like about the east?
In summer on a beautiful day in Bondi trying to get a park can be problematic. And I hate being able to see your apartment and then having to lap it five times to get a park, especially late at night when you’re really tired and you just want to come home. But apart from that I feel very lucky because I have lived everywhere and I’ve grown up in Sydney so I have a great awareness of the broader Sydney.
How did you get a started in the acting game?
There was this hippy couple and they came to Picnic Point and taught drama lessons out of a scout hall down by the river. It was just an hour a week after school and it was like how you might do netball or gymnastics or athletics. We went because two kids from school went and my cousins went. We’d do shows at the Starlight Foundation for the sick kids, which I really loved doing, and then we’d do end of year performances that our parents would come to. I did that for a few years and then the hippies packed up and left, went to the Northern Territory, and I realised how much I was going to miss it. So then I started going to the Australian Theatre For Young People because my interest went to being this all consuming passion. I remember in school thinking I just wanted the day to end so I could go to ATYP down in The Rocks. I’d do as many lessons as I could and I just lived for them.
You ended up changing schools to go to a drama school, didn’t you?
Yeah, I changed to a performing arts high school. The school I went to before was one of those selective high schools and it was really academic. Kids would like be sobbing if they got an A-minus and I just realised that wasn’t for me. I hated that environment and I seriously would not have even passed my HSC if I stayed there.
But instead you were dux of your high school…
When I went to Newtown I just fell in love with school again because I only really did creative subjects that I loved. Newtown’s an amazing school; it’s really creative and open-minded and I think because I fell in love with school again that’s why I did well. I never set out to be dux or get a high UAI but I just had high expectations of myself and I thought what’s the point in doing it if I’m not going to give it everything.
Do you reckon you’re Australia’s smartest actress?
No, because there’s book smart and then there’s life smart, you know. I’m quite vague and I’m prone to daydreaming and stuff so I’m not always that street start. I always forget PIN numbers and which key goes in the front door but I will remember that your cousin’s friend twice removed had his big toe cut off when he was two. I remember the most random stuff but I don’t always have the best street smarts.
Is it a glamorous life or a tough life being an actress in Australia?
It’s a ‘rich’ life in that you might not always have financial wealth being an actor in Australia but because it is so small and because it is such a tight knit community you have a very heart rich life. There’s a really beautiful support system among Australian actors and filmmakers and creatives. The day to day reality is really hard though. Your friends almost become your family because you all know what you’re going through and you’re all walking through the coals together. There’s always a couch to crash on when you run out of money and there’s always a meal to be had and there’s a great sense of sharing. And I really find that people take great joy in other people’s successes too because it is hard.
Can you clear the air about your time on Home and Away because I do believe that IMDb, which is the premier database for movie ad television people, makes out that you’ve been one of the longest running ‘Home and Away’ cast members ever…
According to IMDb I’m pretty much Sally Fletcher. I would like to clear the record once and for all that I’ve been on Home and Away for a grand total of about 10 weeks, it’s just that those 10 weeks that have taken place over 12 years, in the realm of four completely different characters.
Do you know of anyone else who has played more different characters on ‘Home and Away’?
I don’t. I mean I’d like to put it out there. I want someone to write in and say, “Actually I’ve played five different characters on Home and Away”. When I was 17 I played a fragile little thing who was in prison and kept getting beaten up by the toughest girl in the prison and then one of the regulars, I can’t remember which character it was, protected me. Then I was a Christian, spreading the good word of the Lord; that was in my early 20s. The third time I was about 25 and I was with Chris Hemsworth’s ex girlfriend and I came back to Summer Bay with a baby and I’m like “Hey, remember that time we hooked up? Well I actually got pregnant and then you left and now I’m here I I need child support.” But really it wasn’t his baby and I was taking him for a ride and she was kicked out of Summer Bay. I actually thought after that I’d never be invited back. Then this year I got a phone call asking me to come back again as another character, which has been great as Home and Away is one of the loveliest jobs to work on. The cast and crew are just all so lovely.
You’re on Home and Away at the moment, aren’t you?
Yeah, but I think my spot just finished. It was on air recently and they just wrote my character back in so I’ve got another little journey to go on.
So we’ll see more of you in the New Year?
Yeah, in the New Year just for about another month, I think. It’s great fun and I’ve got a really good story line.
Have you ever had the pleasure of acing alongside Ryan ‘Whippet’ Clark, a.k.a. Sam Marshall from Summer Bay?
No. Who the f**k is Ryan Clark?
Haven’t you seen Bondi Rescue?
No, I haven’t. I’ve seen them filming down there but I’ve never watched it. I’ve never heard of Ryan Clark.
You’ve been focussing on doing more writing, producing and directing rather acting lately; when did you turn your attention to the other side of the camera?
It was always there. I think I always set out to be a director first. For my HSC major work I did directing and I got full marks and from high school I went to UTS and did Media Arts and Production and I was always thinking that I’d be a film maker. So a couple of years ago, as soon as I got the opportunity to finally make my first short film and I had a good amount of time on my hands to get it done I just did it. I’ve been doing a bunch of commercials and a music video that I shot in Paris and now a web series, so it’s been very busy.
How many short films have you made?
I’ve written and directed three and then I’ve produced and acted in two others. I feel like there’s always a short film on the backburner. I’m in pre on one at the moment. We’re just raising the funds, which is really exciting because I’ve got a wonderful producer on board and he’s a hustler.
What does it cost to make your average short film?
All of mine have been self funded and they’ve cost from $0 to $2,000. I’m really excited about the next transition to my film making which is to have budgets. Good film making, it’s a technology based art form and so the more dollars you have the better it can look and the more access to technology and equipment you have the better. You just need money; it’s a reality. I don’t want to make another film without a budget.
What do you think it is that attracts people to short film?
I think that short films are more courageous, in some ways, than feature films because you don’t have to sustain an audience’s attention for an hour and a half over a linear narrative, or any kind of narrative. You can be quite bold and quite creative and you can be out of the box. You can really be wild in your execution. I just feel like there are less limitations on shorts and especially nowadays, because there is a great saturation in the market and people do have short attention spans.
You had a film that was selected as a finalist in Tropfest in 2010; can you call us a bit about that?
It was called ‘Nic and Shauna’ and it was made specifically for Tropfest. It was with Ryan Johnson and Pia Miranda, who are great friends of mine, and we had a lot of fun making it. We basically just had a cameraman, a sound person and just one other person to kind of help me out. It was really minimal. It was a kind of improvisation piece really and that was pretty wild because in the end I just let the actors do whatever they wanted. I had about five hours of footage to cut into a 7 minute. Kerri Anne Kennerley did a cameo and she was such a trooper. Wes Carr did a cameo, Abe Forsyth did a cameo. Diana Glenn from The Slap did a cameo that was in the longer version but we couldn’t squeeze her into the Tropfest version, so we had all these beautiful people and it was really fun.
Flickerfest is coming to Bondi again in January; can you tell us a bit about your role with Flickerfest?
I’m on the poster and in the trailer, which was fun and super exciting for me because I got to collaborate with Alethea Jones, who directed ‘When the Wind Changes’ – a short film that was awarded Most Popular Film in last year’s Flickerfest – and Rick Davies who acted in and produced ‘When the Wind Changes’. It was awesome. And I’m also on the jury for FlickerUp, which is the kids’ section of Flickerfest.
What do you think it is about Flickerfest that makes it stand out from the other short film festivals apart from it obviously being Academy Award accredited?
I think in Australia it stands out as a festival because it’s on at a perfect time of year. It’s summer, most people are still on holidays from work, it gets sexy down at Bondi – you know it’s just that beachy, balmy time of year and you sit in the Pavilion at twilight hearing cicadas, and as I was saying before, short films are really such fun. And I think Bronwyn chooses great films. I’ve always seen the films on at Flickerfest as being of a very high calibre and I’ve always thought she chooses really good films. I know I’ll never be disappointed when I go to Flickerfest so I’ve always seen it as one of the primo festivals.
Do you know how many entries they have this year?
I think they had over 2000 entries, from which they selected just over 100 for the final program. It’s amazing. And Bronwyn really has impeccable taste, I think.
Have you always wanted to be in film and television and in the entertainment industry? Did you ever have a phase where you wanted to be a doctor or a fireman?
I wanted to be an architect and I used to draw houses obsessively. In my head I was like, “If I want to be an architect I have to get real good at drawing houses”. I’ll show you books of houses and they’re weird little houses like boxes. And I wanted to be a journalist. Clearly I remember the phases because it was a big thing in my head. When I sort of fell in with ATYP I didn’t know if I could be an actor. I thought it would be really cool to be an actor but no one in my family did that sort of thing.
What do your folks do?
My dad is an industrial chemist and my mum is an office manager. But dad’s really artistic and he had started doing an arts degree but back in the day but his dad was like, “Where’s an arts degree going to get you and how are you going to raise a family?” So he dropped out.
Have you got any exciting projects coming up in the near future?
I do. I have a web series that will have been out for a while when this comes out but it will live on forever. It will be online so people can watch it and it’s called ‘One Step Closer to Home’. You go to onestepclosertohome.tv or we have a YouTube channel, which is called One Step Closer to Home. It’s an 11 episode series that I made with Ryan Johnson, who was in my Tropfest film. We wrote and produced it together and I directed it and we’ve done it entirely on our own. We haven’t had any funding or any producers or help from anyone. It’s been a like a little handcrafted project and we had a great crew of people working with us and it’s about the nesting phase, about that kind of kit home world when two people get married, they buy a house in the suburbs and then they’re kind of like, “What next?” It’s a very dry comedy.
You’ve lived over in LA a bit in the past few years; do you have any plans to head back over and chase fame and fortune?
I don’t know about chasing fame and fortune but I’d definitely love to go back and see all my friends because I’ve got some really close connections with people there. I would love to go over there as a director too, and do more projects in LA. If an opportunity arose to be a part of anything over there I’d totally want it.
Who is most famous person you’ve worked with?
When I was 19 I worked with Aaliyah on ‘Queen of the Damned’ and at the time and even now I was pretty stoked about that because I was a massive fan of her music and then tragedy unfortunately ensued. I’m pretty happy I got to work with her.
What about Ray Meagher?
Ray Meagher, who’s Ray Meagher?
What do you mean who’s Ray Meagher? Alf Stewart. Are you kidding?
I’m vague, I told you.
You flaming galah!
I told you I’m vague.
Do you have a career highlight thus far?
I think it would be watching my short film Emilia Eckle when it played opening night at the Palm Springs Film Festival. The characters of Tom and Emilia, it’s almost like they’re elderly and a great proportion of the audience at Palm Springs that night were older people and they just loved the film so much. I couldn’t believe it. They laughed right on into a good chunk of the next film and it gave me goosebumps. For me I remember thinking “I will never forget this moment “.
Do you support any charities?
I do, I support Witchery White Shirt Day, which supports the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation. My mum’s had ovarian cancer this year so that’s really important to me.
Do you any advice for youngsters looking to get into film and television?
You need a lot of courage and persistence and stick by your vision, stick by your personality and all the things that make you unique, even if you feel like a lot of them make you an outsider or make you unpopular. Stick by that stuff because that’s going to lead to really unique viewpoints and I think that’s what is really interesting about film making. Your individuality, I guess, is always what’s going to stand you apart, so try to foster that.
In an ideal world what does the future hold for Alyssa McClelland?
Well I’m in pre-production on a short film right now so I want to get that done and then that leads to a feature that I’m going to direct, which I have the idea for and I have to write. I’d love to act in a period film – there’s that romantic girl inside me that still wants to have her Mr Darcy. I would love to act in a comedy. I’d love to have the lead role in a show like ‘Arrested Development’. That would be a dream.