Australian soap operas “Neighbors” and “Home and Away” have been credited with producing a long line of Hollywood stars from Russell Crowe and Naomi Watts to new generation A-listers Chris Hemsworth and Margot Robbie, but there may be a new kid on the block.
Teen drama “Dance Academy” lasted three seasons in Australia, from 2010-2013, but many of its young alums are now making waves in Hollywood.
This weekend will see the debut of Alycia Debnam-Carey as one of the leads on AMC’s highly anticipated spinoff series “Fear the Walking Dead,” which premieres Sunday night. On “Dance Academy,” Debnam-Carey appeared in the role of Mia on Season 1.
She’s not alone. Jordan Rodrigues, who starred as Christian throughout the show’s three seasons, is now recurring on ABC Family’s “The Fosters.” Keiynan Lonsdale, who played the role of Ollie on “Dance Academy’s” last two seasons, landed a sought-after role in Lionsgate’s “Divergent” franchise opposite Shailene Woodley, and recently was cast in The CW’s upcoming season of “The Flash” in the series regular role of Wally West. Georgina Haig, seen as Mistii on “Dance Academy,” broke out in the States when she played the live action version of Elsa on ABC’s “Once Upon a Time.”
Of the alums making it on the feature side, Luke Bracey, who appeared on the Aussie show as Aaron, has had a steady series of Hollywood bookings, the most high profile of which is coming up, when he takes over the Patrick Swayze role in the new “Point Break” remake. Hugo Johnstone-Burt, who played Nick, was the young male lead in this summer’s “San Andreas” opposite Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Alexandra Daddario.
The show, which followed young teenagers seeking to become elite dancers at Australia’s National Academy of Dance, may have had a head start in the game just by virtue of the sort of talent needed for the roles.
“‘Dance Academy’ was a challenge to cast because we were looking for young people who could not only act but also dance,” the show’s casting director Nathan Lloyd told TheWrap. “The level of discipline required to learn one of those skills to a high level, let alone both, required a very special kind of actor. We had to do an extensive search of dance schools, drama schools and acting agencies looking for young actors who might fit the bill.”
For someone like Lonsdale, it was the first big break that led to his success in Hollywood today. He started as a background extra on the show’s first season, before being brought back as a guest star in Season 2 and continuing on through Season 3.
“One of my friends, Jordan Rodrigues, worked on the show, and I was like ‘hey man, I need some money, can I get some extra work?'” Lonsdale recalled. “So I did that, and I got to work on the first episode and I went, you know, this show is pretty good. So I told my agent, whenever they do Season 2, I have to have an audition.”
Despite the fact that he was brand new to acting, Lonsdale and other greener actors were surrounded by veterans of the craft, allowing shows like “Dance Academy” and the aforementioned “Home & Away” and “Neighbors” to produce fresh talent, according to Lloyd.
“These shows combine a cast of fresh young newcomers with extremely experienced, well regarded senior cast members,” he said. “This means that first time performers are surrounded by incredible actors, who can act in a mentoring capacity, from their first day on set. I also think all three shows train actors to have a good work ethic.”
Discipline and hard work are two reasons so many Australian actors have been so successful in Hollywood, according to some of the actors themselves.
“Coming out here [to Hollywood] is a really bold move, so you have to be really prepared and passionate to do it,” Debnam-Carey said. “There’s no half-heartedness. It’s a really big jump. I think that’s part of what puts Australians in a great position. Our industry is quite small, it’s very good but over here is where all the opportunity is, and if you want to utilize that, you have to be ready. Every Australian I meet here is so hard-working, because you have to be.”
Lonsdale, who first came to the States after “Dance Academy” ended and roomed with several of his cast mates during the 2013 pilot season, echoed her sentiments.
“If you’re going to fly yourself halfway around the world, move there, you’ve got to be really determined,” said Lonsdale. “It’s really that motivation, you really want to make something happen and go for it.”
Once Australian actors arrive in Hollywood, it’s often for pilot season, with some coming for months at a time over several years. They are also aided by organizations like Australians in Film, which showcases and supports homegrown talent working in L.A., and which also gives out the Heath Ledger Scholarship, which enables promising young Australian actors to move to Hollywood to further pursue their careers.
“Hollywood can be a daunting place due to its sheer size. The opportunities offered in the U.S. may be greater, but so is the competition,” said said Matilda Comers, marketing director of Australians in Film . “Helping actors who are new to L.A. build a network of people they trust is important – it demystifies the city and helps them focus on what they came here to do.”
The longevity of the Hollywood careers of the new “Dance Academy” grads are a wait-and-see game, but that famous Australian work ethic and drive to succeed will be keeping most of them Stateside for the foreseeable future to work on just that.
“At the moment, my focus is to stay in Hollywood and see what I can keep building in terms of momentum,” said Lonsdale. “But I’d love to go back to Australia to work on some Australian productions.”