Young Perth actress Nichola Balestri gives a standout performance in Ben Elton’s new comedy, Three Summers which even impressed her co-star and Australian acting legend, Michael Caton. Here, Nichola fills us in on her journey so far and her ambitions going forward.
Interview by Matthew Eeles
When did you first become interested in acting?
I’ve been in love with acting since I was around three years old. I’ve done a lot of stage acting as well as singing and dancing. I’ve had a lot of training and I’ve been involved in quite a few projects throughout my life. I was mainly interested in dance when I was younger and I found my passion for acting as I got a little older. I started acting on screen when I was around ten with my first little short film and I’ve loved it ever since.
Tell us about the short film.
It was called Restoring Faith and it was a Murdoch University student film. It’s about a little girl whose mother passed away after a car accident. My character’s name was Hope and her mother’s name was Faith, so it was about Hope being able to cope with Faith’s death. There was a symbolic balloon which took her around to places her and her mother used to go and it kind of restored her faith.
In Three Summers you play Ruby. Tell us a bit about this character.
Ruby is your typical teenager. She starts off really sweet and innocent and then during the second summer in the film she comes back as a complete goth because of her mother’s lack of affection and attention. She may be a little misunderstood but she really is just your typical teenager going through puberty and going through her angry stage. I really loved playing her because she wasn’t your average one dimensional teenage girl character. She was very three dimensional and she was very politically aware and aware of the society around her and her grandfather’s prejudicial issues. She’s very instrumental in her journey to become a better person.
It was almost like you got to play three different characters in the one film, wasn’t it?
Exactly. This character develops just as much as any of the others and it was really fun to do that because you get to explore all these realms of this one personality.
Most actors start their careers with a low budget indie or a TV soap, but you’ve launched your career with a big budget film directed by one of the most respected comedians on the planet. How did this come about?
[Laughs]. Because I’m still in school I rarely get the chance to audition. My mum came into my room one day and said, “Nichola, you’ve had a requested audition for Ben Elton’s new film.” I knew the name Ben Elton and it clicked that his kids went to the same school as me. I was super busy but I was ready to get back into auditioning and I thought there was no harm in trying. I auditioned and got the role straight away. It was great timing for me because they really loved me and you don’t get that at every audition. I went into the audition thinking it would help me get back into the swing of things and a year later here I am.
Can you share a story with us about working with Ben on Three Summers.
Ben is such an incredible director. Working with Ben is like being around a 24/7 comedy show. He’s renowned for his comedy and that’s what it was like working with him in real life. He’s constantly telling jokes. [Laughs]. At one point we had 1000 extras working in this circus tent we were filming in and Ben was cracking jokes and at the end of each shot he’d say, “That’s a T.O.B.” which meant ‘that was a thing of beauty’, or if something was really good he would say, “That’s a T.O.F’ing. B.” [Laughs].
I’ve spent a bit of time with Ben and one thing I’ve noticed is that when he speaks everyone listens. Is that what he was like on set?
It was. And it’s something you really need to have on set because of the amount of extras we had. It’s such a hard job to be an extra and I think they’re taken advantage of sometimes. They’re waiting around for hours and hours for a five second shot and Ben was really good at keeping them entertained between shots and he made sure everyone was well looked after.
There was a cultural advisor on set named Koodah. The produce, Sue Taylor, said having a cultural advisor on set doesn’t happen enough in Australian films. What was it like to have someone like Koodah around?
Koodah was incredible. He was a friend to everyone. I was really thankful because now that I know Koodah he’s so warm and welcoming everytime I see him. He has a connection with everyone and he’s such a good friend to everyone he meets. Having Koodah on set got everyone together and it connected the cast and crew together in ways we never imagined.
You share most of your screen time with Michael Caton. Can you tell us about working with Michael?
He is hilarious. [Laughs]. I love and adore Michael. He was probably one of the most encouraging people to me on set. He was constantly telling me I must pursue acting and continue with this craft. He really inspired me. For someone like Michael to say to me, “I think you really have something as an actor,” was really, really meaningful to me. In Melbourne he introduced me to his agent and his family and he was really talking me up. He’s a very special person and someone I now hold close to my heart.
Over the course of the three summers, your character goes through a few changes. Which one of Ruby’s various character traits would you say you relate to the most.
I think definitely the first Ruby you see on screen. When I was that age I think I was very naive and innocent and I had a lot of fun playing around with that again and taking myself back into that mindset and injecting some of the younger Nichola into Ruby as a character. I was able to relate to her because I know what it’s like to be a teenager going through changes. I went from a private Catholic school to a public art school at the same age as Ruby so I completely understand the changes she goes through in the film.
Now that you’ve had your first feature film experience is this a profession you want to continue with going forward.
I’ve done a lot of stage and now that I’ve been introduced to screen I prefer screen. When I was younger I did an episode of Prank Patrol which was directed by Ben Young who directed Hounds of Love. Working with Ben really encouraged me to continue doing screen. With screen you get to share your stories with such a large, diverse audience which I think you miss out on with stage. I still adore stage and I always will, but screen is something I want to pursue going forward.
What kind of roles interest you the most?
I’m happy with any character as long as they’re an all-rounded, three dimensional character who isn’t just there as a prop because I think it’s really important as a woman in the industry to maintain the hard work being done by female actors around the world to portray strong, powerful and significant women on screen.
Who are some of those actors who inspire you the most and which of their roles have stood out for you?
Emma Booth in Hounds of Love. Emma and her performance in that film inspired me so much. It’s one of the most incredible performances I’ve seen in a long time and such a strong, hard-hitting performance. If I could work with Ben again and be like Emma Booth one day, and be able to portray such an deep character I’d be very happy.
Three Summers is in cinemas now.