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Tasia Zalar has held her own opposite some of Australia’s best actors in film and television roles including Mystery Road, Wentworth, Wrong Kind of Black, and anthology horror, Dark Place.
If you’re not already familiar with Zalar’s work, you’re about to be.
The Cairns-born Gunggandji, Kaurareg, Gugu Thaypan, Mualgal, Gumulgal, Wuthathi woman stars in two soon-to-be-released Australian films: Tyson Wade Johnston’s phenomenal swim drama Streamline; and the Roache-Turner brothers’ highly anticipated Wyrmwood sequel, Wyrmwood: Apocalypse.
We caught up with Zalar to discuss all of the above, and much more.
“When I meet a filmmaker, I’ll know from their energy whether we will connect and if we can aspire to something great.”
Interview by Matthew Eeles
Streamline is set in the world of professional swimming, and it got me wondering, do you play any sports?
Yeah. I grew up playing AFL, Mangrook, and that was by my own accord. I think Auskick came to school and I just loved it. I joined a team, North Cairns Tigers. I grew up playing that and I was the only girl playing in a boys team until I couldn’t play with the boys anymore, which I think was when I was 14. So I did that and a bit of boxing as well, just training, because you just can’t go in the ring. I’m not that skilled. [Laughs]. Sport is great. I love it.
The Olympic Games are on at the moment and Australia is dripping in swimming medals. So it couldn’t be a better time for Streamline to be released.
It really is great timing. I mean, I was watching some Olympics late at night and then the Streamline trailer came on and I was like, “Oh my Gosh.” I was flipping out. I was so excited. I was like, “Wow, I never expected that.” So yeah, it’s amazing.
You’ve been acting for just over 10 years now, but you’ve got this screen aura of someone who’s been in the business for much, much longer. Can you tell us where your acting journey began?
It began in high school, doing drama in high school and film and television and it just grew from there. I did a short film when I was in high school when I was 15 for ABC, called Nia’s Melancholy. And from there I realised that this is actually a profession. I can actually get paid to do this. This can be a career. And I really saw the door open and it exposed me to that, this world, this acting world. And I was just hooked from then on.
Tell us about Nia’s Melancholy.
It was in 2009, so my memory is a little hazy, but it’s basically about suicide. It was quite dark and deep. It’s actually quite a dark short film, a drama. I loved the challenge, I guess, the challenge of the character. I remember they were looking for actors around the Mosman and Cairns area, and I just went in and auditioned for it and I got the role. We had a video camera when I was growing up and I used to muck around with it and make comedy skits with my friends, and take the skits to school and make the class watch it.
That’s interesting that you mentioned comedy, because your filmography is quite heavy and you’ve mostly acted in drama. Would you like to do more comedy?
Oh yeah, definitely. I think I’ve done enough crying and dramas and stuff like that. [Laughs]. Yeah, I’d love to do a lot more comedy work and lighthearted projects. Definitely. I think you have to know more comedians perhaps to get into that world of comedy and maybe I don’t know enough funny people.
Every character in Streamline is so well performed, all the way down to Hunter Page-Lochard who plays a small role as your brother. Did you get the chance to spend much time together as a group prior to the shoot or during the shoot?
I didn’t unfortunately, but I knew Hunter from working with him on a short film that he directed and wrote called Closed Doors. So it was cool to actually work with him, actor to actor, finally. I was waiting for something that brought us together. So I was excited to work with Hunter. I think Levi was staying with the director Tyson during the shoot. So they got to really bond. And I think the brothers did too, Jake and Sam Parsons with Levi. They all got to create that family energy.
Tell us about working with Levi, who, like yourself, is one of the most exciting actors working in Australia today.
I was really looking forward to working with Levi. He was the main reason I wanted to do this project, because I saw him in Jasper Jones and I just loved his acting. And I was like, “Man, I wish I could do something with this young actor.” The opportunity came along, and it was just amazing because he’s just got this purity about him. I’d work with Levi again in a heartbeat.
I think Tyson has knocked it out of the park here. How does he compare to working with a filmmaker as established as Warwick Thornton?
I try not to choose projects based on what the director has done before. When I meet a filmmaker, I’ll know from their energy whether we will connect and whether we’ll be able to understand each other. And I go from there. I don’t really look at, “Oh, what have they done?” If they meet me on my level, then we can grow and we can aspire to something great. That’s where I come from.
Speaking of Warwick Thornton, before Streamline, you were shooting Mystery Road. That series has a serious energy about it that stays with you. And I think that’s got a lot to do with the creative talent involved like Rachel Perkins and Warwick Thornton and Wayne Blair. Is Shevorne a character you’d like to return to, because I feel like she didn’t get much closure in that second season?
As much as I loved playing that character, I don’t really know if she has much more to say. I guess it depends where the writers are going to go. There’s room for anything. There’s infinite possibilities. So I guess, yeah, if it continues on, I’m all for it and if it doesn’t, it’s all good.
I wouldn’t be doing my job here if I didn’t ask you about Wyrmwood: Apocalypse. The original Wyrmwood is a genuine cult classic. Was the pressure of living up to that original felt on set, and were you aware of the original prior to shooting?
I was aware of it, and I was aware of how much effort Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner put into it. I just gave my all because I know how passionate they are about it. Their passion seeps into me and makes me passionate. It’s the kind of world that any artist dreams of being a part of. You can be as creative as you like, and that’s what I got to do when I was on Wyrmwood: Apocalypse. I got to just really immerse myself in that zombie world, and I loved it. I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say about my character so I better leave it there.
Have you seen any Australian films lately that have stood out for you?
The last Australian film I watched was the David Gulpilil documentary, My Name is Gulpilil. I cried a lot. I love David. It was very emotional watching his documentary, but very insightful. All credit to him. I wouldn’t even be talking to you right now if it wasn’t for him. He’s done so much for indigenous culture and film, and he’s so prolific and legendary in my eyes. He has a legacy that will live on for a long time.