Actor Focus: Karlisha Hurley

Cinema Australia Original Content:

Australian star Karlisha Hurley already has a raft of short films and TV appearances under her belt. Now the teen is making her feature debut in Calen Coates’ coming-of-age drama Wrapped, which is currently in post-production. We caught up with the ambitious young talent for a chat.

Karlisha Hurley.

“I grew up believing I could do anything and be anything no matter what anyone else thought of me because of Rose in Titanic.”

Interview by Travis Johnson

Where did you grow up?
I was born in Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia where there were plenty of crocodiles, deadly box jellyfish in the waters and sometimes frogs in your toilet! It definitely wasn’t your typical childhood living in the outback, but it provided me with some awesome stories to tell people as I grew up: like when I watched my sister get knocked over by a kangaroo; or when my mother’s company borrowed a crocodile for a film shoot. When I turned six I moved to Melbourne and that’s where I spent most of my younger years. 

What was your childhood like?
My childhood was definitely unconventional. I had opportunities and experiences kids would only dream of! For instance, when I was about seven my mum took my sister Chelsea and I around the world. We experienced many different cultures at a very young age and I truly believe that was a major contribution to my maturity and my love for travel. Which evidently gave me the skills I needed to move to Los Angeles.

When did you first realise you wanted to act?
When I was a kid, I watched my very first memorable film and fell in love with it. It was Titanic with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, (corny, yes, I know). But it was one of those moments I will never forget. This girl, Rose had a chance to embark on an adventure within herself that the rest of the world was against; or fall in line and have no real feeling or purpose.
I grew up believing I could do anything and be anything no matter what anyone else thought of me because of Rose in Titanic. And of course, my mum, who knew even before I did that I would be an actor, and the rest of my family always encouraged me to follow my passion.
One day I want to inspire others in the same way Rose inspired me.

When did you begin formal training?
I first started training in singing, acting and dancing at about the age of five at Young Australian Broadway Chorus (YABC). I  went on to similarly train at a Melbourne theatre company called CenterStage. I studied with them for over three years but as I grew into my voice and started really thinking about what I wanted to be, I decided musical theatre wasn’t my passion. Singing, dancing and acting on extravagant stages with a live audience didn’t give me the same feeling that intimate acting in front of a camera did. So, my mum decided to take me to an acting studio that focused primarily on screen called Film and Television Studio International. That studio changed my life. It was exactly what I wanted – the pressure to push myself to the next level. I loved the idea of focusing on why people were the way they were, what made a situation real, and learning how to make my ‘acting’ as authentic as possible. This studio taught me all that.

Karlisha Hurley on the set of Wrapped.

Who are some of your acting heroes and what do you admire about them?
Heath Ledger was a major acting hero for me. Seeing him as an Australian actor, who went on the same acting journey that I dreamed of doing made him very inspirational to me. The kind of films he did, never wanting to conform to any particular type of acting and always wanting to explore new parts of himself in an acting sense was so beautiful to watch. I was in complete awe. When I was contemplating moving all the way to LA and leaving my entire life behind, I would look at Heath and all that he had accomplished by making the move, and it made me think: Oh hey, if he did it as an Australian, so could I! I hope one day that I inspire others in the same way.

Tell us about your role in Wrapped.
Wrapped is a coming of age film directed by Calen Coates and is about overcoming securities. I play the role of the protagonist, Abby, who learns to stand up for herself by stealing back a birthday present from the drug dealer who robbed her. The film seeks to prove that anyone can conquer their demons. The story straddles the lines between comedy and drama; Abby’s journey is both comedic and tragic; just like life.
The film was shot over a period of about 27 days including 10 days of overnight shooting from 6 pm to 6 am and I was on set every day. That alone was an amazing experience. My co-actors and the cast became like a family and I loved every minute of the shoot. I made so many good friends on set and I still hang out with some of them today.

How did you find working with director Calen Coates? What was your dynamic like?
Calen Coates is an amazing director to work with! He has a real grasp on figuring out how to combine his directing skills with the different ways that actors work. It definitely made me feel like I was working with him instead of for him. I loved our dynamic because he always let us put or individual mark on our characters but never let us stray from the kind of story he wanted to tell.  He likes to tell stories which simultaneously engage an audience and illustrate something about life. He’s already directed around 90 films – he admits many of them aren’t his very best work but has learnt from every one of them – and I believe he is going to make a big impression on Hollywood and how film is portrayed in the future.
He’s actually an awesome director – has a great eye; is clear about what he wants but patient and understanding of the challenges an actor is going through; and he’s very creative in his ideas. He’s also a very good screenplay writer – Wrapped is a great story and delivers an inspiring message. I can’t wait for the world to see it!

What was the biggest challenge for you on that project?
I would say the biggest challenge on Wrapped was working almost two weeks of night shoots, 12 hours a day from 6pm to 6am. That definitely takes a toll on both your mind and body because you’re basically changing your entire sleep cycle. Doing that while still keeping up the same stamina and energy for this high intensity film was a lot harder than I  thought it would be. But at the same time, it was one of the best parts of filming.
You really learn a lot about the people you’re working with when it’s 3am and your sleep deprived. The overnight shoots made us so much closer and supportive of one another, as we were all going through it together. I believe it will ultimately make the film better because our characters’ relationships where connected in a much more intimate way. For instance, the way my co-star Danny Irizarry and I portrayed our relationship on screen was exactly the same as the way we behaved towards each other off screen. Wrapped’s incredible producer Rachel Lin and other crew members also inspired us all with clever games to keep us awake when we weren’t on set. It was an amazing experience and I would not change it for the world.

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How did you find working with the other actors on Wrapped and what did you learn from them?
I spent a lot of time with Danny Irizarry who played Sawyer in the film, as the story was based around our two characters, and I’ve honestly never met a kinder human being. We had the most amount of days on set and I never heard him complain about anything! He was an insanely hard worker and I can’t believe I had the privilege of working with him and the other amazingly dedicated actors. That can easily change the whole dynamic of a film as if just one actor slacks off, it can affect the films entirety. That’s why it was so amazing to be a part of a cast where we all supported each other so much and stuck together and constantly pushed each other to the best of our abilities.

What’s up next for you?
Coming up, I have several films due for release in 2019 which will be very exciting.
I have just shot a feature film directed by Robert Malenfant, which will be announced soon. Robert previously directed Unnatural Causes starring Colm Meaney from Star Trek and Tara Reid of American Pie; Facing the Enemy starring Linden Ashby of Iron Man 3; and The Night Caller starring Tracy Nelson of Melrose Place, to name a few.
Bet the Demons Wins, which I co-wrote and star in, is also expected to be released in early 2019 and I will be busy promoting the feature film Wrapped when it comes out next year.
I am excitedly waiting for the release of the short film I had a role in with director William Boodell called Sister Mercy, which will be used as a promo for a feature film.
I’m also getting ready for pilot season which starts in January and I continue to get plenty of auditions. 2019 is already set to be a big year for me.
And if I ever have any spare time, I am co-writing a series on serial killers. 

This interview was submitted by Cinema Australia contributor Travis Johnson. If you have an article or interview you would like to submit for our consideration please contact us today.

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