Alison Benstead is a local girl destined for big things in the glamorous acting and modelling world. Since her move to Sydney in 2010, she’s achieved some amazing things – including a role in Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming production of The Great Gatsby …
Where did you grow up and go to school?
My family and I moved from Caringbah in Sydney, to Kew, when I was 9 years old. I finished primary school at St Joseph’s, Laurieton, before attending St Paul’s in Port Macquarie to Year 10, then onto Heritage Christian School, where I graduated from Year 12 in 2007.
How old were you when you decided you were interested in an acting and modelling career, and what inspired you?
I had taken ballet classes from when I was quite young, so I always had that love of performing. I’d been singing in choirs all through school, but hadn’t been quite confident enough to embrace Drama. I was dancing at Allstars Studio and as part of our eisteddfod routines, we would do a theatrical number. I found a connection with the character aspect of these dances and when I was 18 and had finished school, I started music theatre and acting classes with Kate Meager.
I found that I could actually do it, and more than that, I really loved it! I had so much support from Kate, who said that she saw something in my work and that I should be pursuing it.
While you were based in the Hastings area, what productions were you involved with?
I landed my first lead role in a short film titled Shortcut, written by Andrew Morrow and directed by Rod Petrie and Paul Collins. It was my first audition, and I was so happy to have my first proper role in a film, with a script and call sheets and everything! We filmed over a few days in Port Macquarie, and the next year it was selected as a finalist in the Short Sharp Film Festival in Coffs Harbour. Being on set, I learned so much about how a film is actually shot and the process behind it.
When did you decide to move to the big smoke (Sydney), and what prompted the move?
I decided that it was time to move in 2010. I had been approached for representation by Untitled Management, a Sydney-based agency, in June of that year, and I knew it wouldn’t be feasible to be travelling all the time for auditions. I relocated in September and was lucky enough to land a role in Underbelly: Razor, the following April. It really was perfect timing.
How has the move benefited your career so far?
Looking back at the last two years, I know that moving was the best decision I could have made. I am a country girl at heart and miss my friends and family at home very much, but the training and opportunities that I have access to in Sydney are invaluable. I’m currently studying at the Actors College of Theatre & Television part-time and have also been training classically and in music theatre with my singing teacher, Amanda Wagg. Sydney’s a great place to connect with creatively minded people as well.
You’ve been involved with some amazing productions lately. What were the music videos you worked on – and how much fun were these?
Late 2010 I worked on a music video for Fantine’s debut single, Rubberoom. I played the part of ‘Laundry Girl’, who crawls through a clothes dryer to find herself in a room made of rubber, where everyone is literally bouncing around and having a great time. The song is about finding that place where great inspiration and ideas go when you are sleeping. The whole experience was so much fun, and one that I would gladly relive any day!
You’ve also been involved with The Great Gatsby – a film directed by Baz Luhrmann and slated for release in 2013. What role did you play?
The Great Gatsby has been the most incredibly rewarding experience. I played Anita Loos, a writer best known for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, a series of short sketches she wrote for Harper’s Bazaar magazine back in the 1920s. I loved playing her, as I got to explore what upper class New York was like in that time.
We filmed primarily at Fox Studios in Sydney, and I remember walking onto set for the first time and being absolutely blown away by the world that had been created. Having the opportunity to work with Baz and be around actors like Leonardo DiCaprio and Joel Edgerton, whom I personally admire, was an experience I continually pinch myself over. Baz is a true creative master and someone whom I hope to one day be able to work with again.
How much modelling work have you been involved with in the past year, and would you consider modelling or acting your first love?
Modelling’s great, but I would definitely consider acting to be my first love. I am incredibly lucky that I have had the opportunity to work with a very talented upcoming Sydney-based photographer, Alana Sykes, and we have a lot of fun collaborating on concept ideas and producing some great shots. However, I couldn’t imagine not acting.
We often hear stories about some of the funny things that can happen on set. What’s an acting experience you’ve had along these lines?
Most of the time, the funniest things happen when the cameras aren’t rolling. You know … a group of actors on set, because when we’re waiting around, we generally start practising our accents. It’s pretty hilarious. I love bloopers though, but once I get the giggles, it’s really hard to stop! One day on Shortcut, there was a scene where Justin and I were facing each other in the woods, and it’s the first time the audience sees the monster, which is meant to dart across the track behind us in a blurry, shadowy whoosh. It’s meant to be a very serious, intense scene. In one of the takes, Rod, dressed head to toe in black with a scream mask, went flying down the hill to cross the track, and tripped. We had to try and hold it together for the take, but just couldn’t. He was okay, but it was very hard after that to keep a straight face.
If you could do anything in the next 12 months – what would it be?
My dream is to be acting full-time. I want to be able to walk onto a film set or into a theatre every day and say, “This is my office”. I want to play roles that are challenging and that enable me to experience things that perhaps I would never otherwise have the opportunity to experience in my normal life. If I could do anything in the next 12 months, I would have to say that I would love to land an ongoing role in a big production, whether it’s on screen or in a musical. To really be able to take the time to embody a character – to know their strengths, weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and be able to connect with and communicate them to my audience, that’s my dream!
Interview by Jo Atkins.
Photos courtesy of Alana Sykes.