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Emma Lung… Living The Dream

By Em Allen on January 3, 2014 in

Picture: Jeremy Greive

Picture: Jeremy Greive

During the month The Beast caught up with dual Bondi-New York resident and the star of Channel Ten’s drama series ‘Wonderland’, Emma Lung.

Where are you originally from?
I’m from Sydney. We lived all over the place when I was growing up but I guess for the bulk of it, when I went to high school, my parents were in Drummoyne. We lived in Tokyo before that and then before that we were in Cooma.

In Cooma?
Yes. My mum’s from Cooma and my brother was born there.

Where are you living these days?
The Lower East Side in New York, on Orchard Street, is where our apartment is, but we’ve just come back to Sydney for the last seven months to shoot the Channel Ten drama series ‘Wonderland’ and I’ve been living on Roscoe Street in Bondi. I’ve spent a fair bit of time living around these parts in the past though.

When did you first move to the Eastern Suburbs?
I moved to the Eastern Suburbs somewhere after I turned 18. I’ve kind of lived between America and Sydney ever since then.

What do you love about living in the Eastern Suburbs?
The Bondi to Bronte coastal walk would be a highlight, as are the clean air and beautiful beaches, and most of my friends live within close proximity to me when I’m living around the Eastern Suburbs. I figure if we’re going to live in New York for half the year then we want to be close to the beach for the other half.

Is there anything you don’t like about living in the Eastern Suburbs?
You’re a little bit more insular, I suppose, if you’re living in Bondi. You tend not to leave Bondi. When I was living in Surry Hills I ventured out a lot more, because it’s more central. But there’s not much reason to leave Bondi, especially on the weekends, because you have everything you need there.

How did you get started in acting?
It’s something that I always wanted to do from a very early age. At eleven years old I auditioned for Newtown School of Performing Arts and got accepted, then when I was fifteen I went over to New York to do an acting course for the last term of Year 10. After that I sent a video audition into a performing arts school over in Manhattan, got accepted, went there on a scholarship and finished off my final year of high school there.

Did you get acting work straight after graduating?
Yeah, I came back to Sydney and did a play with the Sydney Theatre Company when I was 18, so I pretty much started working straight away.

You seem to pop up on our television and movie screens quite frequently; have you spent any extended periods out of work?
Not a great deal. I’ve been very lucky. The longest has probably been about a year, which was the worst year of my life. In an ideal world I’d work eleven months of the twelve, but that’s not so realistic for actors.

What acting projects are you working on at the moment?
I’ve just finished shooting ‘Wonderland’ and now I’m not sure. I’m about to head back to New York. There is something there that I may be doing but I can’t really talk about it just yet because nothing’s been confirmed.

Has Channel Ten commissioned another series of ‘Wonderland’?
We’re still waiting to hear what’s happening there. We’ll know in the next month.

Has the feedback about the show been pretty good so far?
It has been, yeah. It’s looking really positive but I never like to hold my breath in this industry.

If another series does get commission will you be back here living in Bondi for another seven months again?
Yep. That’s the plan. In an ideal world it would be great if I could go back to New York, work there, come back here, do the Wonderland series here and then head back over. That would be perfect really.

It must be pretty good working so close to home with ‘Wonderland’ being shot around the Eastern Suburbs?
Oh, it’s incredible. I’ve never had that opportunity before where you’re shooting where you’re living, essentially. Even the studio is only in Redfern, so it was all an extremely short distance. Often when you’re shooting you have to travel quite far.

Does that mean you get to sleep in every morning?
No. They’re early shoots, but still it’s nice that you don’t have to get up at 3:30 in the morning. You get to sleep in until 4:30am instead.

‘Wonderland’ is meant to be set in Tamarama, but the apartment in which everyone lives in the show is actually in Coogee and the ‘local’ café (which is meant to be right near the apartment) is actually in Maroubra. I know this gets on the nerves of a few local people because they find it hard to follow. I mean obviously it’s meant to be a fictional place, but has anyone ever mentioned to you before that they get frustrated because the show jumps from suburb to suburb?
No, you’re the first. I guess ‘Wonderland’ isn’t actually based on Wonderland Avenue in Tamarama; it’s just a fictional place. It’s a made up world. The name ‘Wonderland’ worked well because it was it’s in the Eastern Suburbs, it’s catchy and obviously one of the writers knew about it. We don’t really mention Bondi Beach, Clovelly, Coogee or Bronte or any of those areas in the show because it’s supposed to be a fictional place.

You were selected to appear in the official Flickerfest trailer this year; what does the festival mean to you?
I’m a massive fan of the festival. It’s the only short film festival in Australia that’s recognised by the Oscars. I’ve been a massive fan of the festival since I can remember. The films are always of such high quality and the location of being outdoors in the amphitheatre at the Bondi Pavilion is pretty spectacular. You can’t really beat watching short films under the stars with the waves crashing behind you, so it was a bit of a no brainer when they asked me if I wanted to be involved.

Have you ever been in a film that’s made it into the Flickerfest final selection?
My husband and I have just made a film called ‘Submerged’ and it has actually made it in to this year’s festival. That’s the first time of been in a Flickerfest film. We’re both pretty excited about the whole thing.

What’s it the film about?
I’m not very good at the tag line sort of thing. I’m terrible at describing the synopsis. I’ll have to call Henry and get him to give you the description. Just watch it and love it!

Do you do any writing or directing, or do you just stick to acting?
I’ve directed a couple of things. I’ve done a little fashion film for Scanlon & Theodore and then I did the Homebake festival trailer last year. I really enjoy directing. It’s something that I never imagined I’d be interested in until a few years ago. I’m halfway through writing a feature film that was born in my mind about five years ago and I always said that if I was still thinking about it after a long time then I’d start writing it. It hasn’t been able to leave my head since and about a year ago it just started to write itself. I’d be on the subway and more scenes would just be evolving in my head, so that’s where I’m at with that.

What do you think it is about short films that makes them so appealing to both filmmakers and audiences?
I guess with the smart phone age people’s attention span is a lot shorter than it used to be, so a short film is great. It still tells a tale but you don’t have to concentrate for an hour and a half. It’s also a great way of showcasing what a director or writer or actors can do in a brief package and without the overheads of a feature length film. It doesn’t have to cost you a million dollars.

Why should people buy tickets to Flickerfest?
Because I think it is the best short film festival in Australia and because it’s at Bondi Beach – what more could you want? Maybe a better question would be: why not buy tickets to Flickerfest?

You’ve worked over in Hollywood before; do you have any plans to head back there or is New York the place for you these days?
New York is the place for me. I lived in Los Angeles for four years and it really is not my city. I never would have moved there if it wasn’t for having an agent over there and them really wanting me to be in the city. I don’t like spending as much time in the car as you do in Los Angeles. The beaches are sub par compared to the beaches of Sydney. I feel completely spoilt saying that, but that’s my attitude. I think LA lacks culturally and I’d just way rather be in a city like New York if I have to be in America.

Have you ever been star struck on set? Who is the biggest name you’ve worked with?
I guess the biggest moment was when I was working on the television show ‘Entourage’ and Leonardo DiCaprio came down with his entourage because he’s best mates with Kevin Connolly (who plays sidekick-turned-manager Eric ‘E’ Murphy). He watched us shoot for the entire day. That was a pretty insane moment. At the end of the day he sort of came up to say hey and I was so flabbergasted and star struck that I just turned around and walked in the opposite direction to my trailer. I was going to have a full blown panic attack from the shock of it all.

If acting wasn’t paying the bills what do you think you would be doing for work?
My dear friend and long time flatmate Peter Stefanovic is a journalist and the stories that he has under his belt are like nothing I’ve ever heard from anybody that I’ve ever known, and I think I have a lot of interesting friends. I guess if I could do it all over again I’d probably like to do a degree in journalism, because I just think that he runs the gamut from one end of the spectrum to the other, from covering stories in Libya and Haiti to the red carpet at the Oscars. It’s such a dynamic and interesting life that he leads and I envy it.

Is he as much of a clown I person as his older brother, Karl?
Yep, he’s one of best blokes you will ever know.

Do you get recognised in the street very often around the Eastern Suburbs or have you managed to stay relatively anonymous?
I’m getting recognised more since ‘Wonderland’ has been aired, especially in the Eastern Suburbs. I think a lot of the people who live in the Eastern Suburbs are watching ‘Wonderland’ because they can relate to the locations where the show is shot. People are always pleasant though. I’ve never had anyone come up to tell me to tell me how shit I am. So that’s nice.

You mentioned your husband earlier; what’s his story?
Henry Zalapa is his name and he’s a director/writer. He’s just finished a feature film that he’s been working on for a while and he’s just started working on what is without a doubt the best horror premise I’ve ever heard of in my life.

Better than ‘House of Wax’?
Better than ‘House of Wax’ by a long shot. And we started a production company together last year called Cornerhouse and we’ve made a bunch of things for that, which is great. We’re so lucky to be able to have a collaborative working relationship as well as a loving relationship. We get a bit snappy at each other at times but that’s good, it means we’re being honest.

Do you have a career highlight thus far?
I don’t really have a career highlight. I’m hoping that that’s around the corner.

You’ve won a Logie and an AFI Award though; that’s a pretty big deal don’t you think?
I guess so. I actually won Best Actress at the Shanghai Television and Film Festival, which was an insane story and is maybe a career low rather than a high. I had no expectations of winning whatsoever and the whole thing was being broadcast to the entire country and was in a theatre with about 2,000 people watching. The cameras were craning all around for people that won awards and it got towards the end of the night and they were doing the best actor and best actress awards and the host said in Mandarin, “Yada, yada, yada, Emma Lung” and then the translator said, “And the winner is Emma Lung”. I couldn’t believe that my name had been called. I had nothing prepared and the camera’s craned over right up close and I just sort of sat there sat there stunned. I was wearing a very long, beautiful, tight Scanlon & Theodore gown and it was tight all the way down to my ankles. I stood up and all the cameras moved closer in my direction, but when I stood up my chair flipped up and for some reason I decided to try to sit back down again and my legs went flailing into the air and I went arse over tit. I had Emily Browning, who was sitting next to me, and the producer both trying to pull me up as I clambered over the seat and then for whatever reason I just sat down. I guess I was so humiliated that 2,000 people were all clapping, expecting me to do something far more appropriate. So then the chaperone was like, “No, no, you have to get up on stage and receive the award,” so I sort of shuffled through all of the people, went up on to the stage and because I’m a moron and hopeless in situations of public speaking, I stood on the stage, received the flowers, received the award, put the flowers down and just flapped my hands around in front of my face and kept repeating over and over again, “xie xie, xie xie”, which is thank you in Mandarin. I mean there was a translator there to translate my English to Mandarin, but I just couldn’t speak. Because I looked so utterly ridiculous the hosts had to come over from their dark corner of the stage and ask me questions to fill the time that they’d allocated for the acceptance speech. They asked me what the process was like for me working on the film ‘Stranded’, which was the film I’d won the award for, to which I replied “Organic”. My brain just stopped working. Anyway, the next day I had lunch with the brothers of a dear friend of mine, who had I had never met before mind you, and they came along to lunch with a copy of the ‘Shanghai Daily’ and there was a photo taking up the whole page on the front cover with me and my blurred, flapping hand, this stunned mullet look on my face and an award in my other hand. There must be a video of that somewhere. I really would love to see it.

You’ve actually got Chinese heritage, don’t you?
Yes. My grandfather is Chinese. I’m a quarter Chinese from my dad’s side of the family. My mum’s from Australia. Her heritage is a mix of things, so I’m a complete walking mutt.

But you don’t speak any Mandarin?
No, I don’t speak a word of Chinese, particularly mandarin. My grandfather was from Beijing so if anything it would be Cantonese that I’d speak, but even my dad doesn’t speak any Chinese.

Do you support any charities?
The Chris O’Brien Foundation is probably one that’s dear to my heart because my brother and I went to school with his children, his son Adam and daughter Juliet. Juliet was in my brother’s year, Adam was in mine and our parents knew each other. Chris couldn’t have been a better human being and I feel like his foundation is really worth supporting. The Cambodian Children’s Fund is also something a dear friend of mine is right behind, so that’s another charity that I have been somewhat involved with. I’m not the face of anything though. I could probably get more involved, actually, but it’s hard when I’m spending so much time in New York.

Do you have any role models in the industry?
As boring as it sounds, I’d have to say Cate Blanchett. She’s just the most intelligent actress I’ve ever watched. I’ve heard her and Andrew Upton speak at the Sydney Theatre Company several times and they are annoyingly charismatic, intelligent, witty, funny, smart – they’re just frustratingly fantastic. I reckon pretty much every actress under the sun says Cate Blanchett as their role model but she’s a cliché for a good reason.

In an ideal world what does the future hold for Emma Lung?
Hopefully a lot more work, particularly more films. I’d love to finish off this film that I’m writing, I’d love for Henry and I to do more things together and I’d love to work more with your Michel Gondrys and your David Finchers and the like. And maybe some babies one day, but not for a while.