National search to unearth fresh teen acting talent

Australia’s most promising teen actors have a chance to strut their stuff in front of a Hollywood casting director, thanks to a national talent search.

The inaugural AACTA Young Stars: National Youth Casting Call is being run by the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts, the Casting Guild of Australia and company Casting Networks.

Teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 are invited to submit a video showing off their acting chops, with the finalists travelling to the Gold Coast for a series of workshops.

One winner will receive a trip to Hollywood for acting classes and a meeting with an international casting director.

Child actors don’t need to know how to sing and dance, or spend years in drama school, according to competition judge, casting director Thea McLeod.

“You’ve got to have that natural instinct, it’s that magic you can see when you’re in the casting room with them,” she told AAP.

McLeod is the president of the Casting Guild of Australia and has been the resident casting director on Neighbours for the past 15 years, launching the careers of dozens of child actors.

McLeod has even cast toddlers for roles on Ramsay St, with those tiny actors growing up on the show, and still appearing on Neighbours at the age of 16.

What she’s looking for is authenticity, and an ability to pick up a script and take direction.

Unlike the stereotype, child actors need to be mature and down to earth, and able to juggle their part with schoolwork and other activities, she said.

Casting directors Anousha Zarkesh (The New Boy, Mystery Road), Liz Mullane (Lord of the Rings, King Kong) and Nikki Barrett (Elvis, Mad Max: Fury Road) are also on the judging panel with actors Claudia Karvan and Mark Coles Smith, who both launched their careers as teenagers.

Coles Smith’s acting debut came when he was 14 in the children’s TV show Ocean Star, and more recently he won an AACTA for his role in Mystery Road: Origin.

He said the talent search is a great opportunity.

“I feel incredibly privileged to contribute to a casting initiative that opens doors and provides opportunities for young, diverse talent, particularly those who may not have previously had access to the incredible tools on offer,” he said.

Landing a part at a young age can be a good stepping stone into a life of showbiz but many child actors decide their ambitions lie elsewhere, says McLeod, who believes most people don’t realise the demands of the job.

The casting director feels a responsibility to the actors she picks out, and says while they have great experiences working on set, they also need time to just be kids.

“You want to protect them in that world, because sometimes they can grow up a little bit too quick,” she said.

McLeod acknowledges there’s a grain of truth in the stereotype of child actors being pushed by their parents, but she makes sure parents understand the realities of life on set.

A television set should be a nurturing environment for young actors, she said, with Neighbours having on-set tutors so teens can finish their year 12 exams.

Even if child actors have to juggle learning their lines with their next chemistry exam, for those who harbour showbiz ambitions, the talent search is an amazing opportunity, McLeod said.

It’s a way to get in front of the country’s top casting directors, even for those who don’t make the final cut, she said.

Entries are open via with submissions closing November 6.


Liz Hobday
(Australian Associated Press)


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