22 April 2021
1. Regarding your aspiration to become an actress, people have probably asked you “what’s your plan B?” How did you feel when you hear this, and what’s your response?
Ah yes, the dreaded “What’s you back up plan?” question. I think it’s become a bit of a jest to ask that when someone says they’re an artist of any sort and it may be a little harsh of me to say but I believe that responsive question is down to small-mindedness as well as a touch of possible lack of culture, lack of person creativity and even a tinge of being threatened by someone chasing their dreams. It’s definitely not always as intricate as that but the baby boomers generation was conditioned to get a “good job”, marry young, buy a house, have children, retire; being that after World War 2 nations were strongly encouraged and conditioned to repopulate their loses but as it always does, the times have changed and the age of dreamers is encouraged due to the expansion of their horizons (all thanks to those who fought for such a future in the world wars).
In short, it’s not a nice thing to hear, a.) because it’s almost always said by someone who most likely never had the chance to even entertain the idea of a dream that was anything but what was put upon them and b.) because it suggests that daring to dream is a shortcoming or mental defect, we know the odds are stacked against us, we’ve seen Hollywood breakdowns due to the pressures of a career in the arts, we know all the cliches that go with the entertainment industry, we don’t need yet another person telling us we’ll most likely fail and it is unintelligent to assume that if you’ve just met an artist, they haven’t thought of the possible failures and repercussions if they haven’t already experienced them.
For me it just comes from a negative place no matter how good intentioned it is said with and my response is usually to politely explain how it is negative to say and if I have the time or patience to explain why but honestly, now when people ask me what I do, I just keep it vague; I either say I’m in the arts or I’m self-employed and immediately throw them a question that requires a lengthy answer so that we move on.
2. Did you ever consider staying in Australia and pursuing local tv and film work? If not, why?
That is a great question, the short answer is that patience has never been a remotely strong suit for me, I’m a jump-in-the-deep-end and assess later type of personality. The Australian FTV industry is incredible BUT because it’s much smaller than Hollywood or Hollywood North, the opportunities are staggeringly fewer and you’re up against a fierce competition.
Yes, Australia produces some exceptional films and TV but if those are USA financed they’re almost always cast in LA and actors are flown to Australia to work on the film. I’m also very pale for a Greek Australian, I’m very dark haired, tall and athletic for a woman so my niche ends up being in Science Fiction which has a large base in Vancouver, Canada, plus I’m not exactly a fan of Australian heat so Canada was a no brainer.
3. Can you tell us a little about an upcoming role, recent role, or favourite role? (any role you want to talk about really!)
Oh absolutely, I’ll take any chance to plug a project! Well I’ve somehow ended up relatively successful in the Voice Over industry here in Vancouver and subsequently now teach VO classes at a local film school on the side, I’m pretty pumped to hopefully see my character return on the next season of Netflix’s The Dragon Prince where I voice a badass elven warrior named Tiandrin who’s the mother of the lead character, Rayla.
They’re a Scottish family so that’s been one of the coolest experiences so far to work with some of the best VO artists in Vancouver like Jason Simpson and Jesse Inocalla and Giancarlo Volpe and Villads Spangsberg who are the wizards behind the animated series Avatar The Last Airbender. I also got to play Wonder Woman’s daughter in a series trailer a few years ago that won’t be going to camera but was an epic experience.
4. Have you noticed any differences between Perth and Vancouver in the way women act, and the way men act toward women?
That’s an extremely interesting question and I’m always paying attention to comparisons. Yes, a ton of differences. Here the dating scene specifically has its similarities to Perth in terms of ghosting and hook-up culture but in Vancouver there seems to be more courting involved and a lot of actual going on dates, I notice that most Canadian boys are very polite, classy and attempt to make more of a connection than experiences with Perth men.
I’ve noticed that in Vancouver there’s a lot more ambition and focus on outdoor activities, goal setting, a work mentality as well as a more expansive sense of culture. Men and women in Van seem to have more unique personal styles and for whatever reason have been more comfortable really inward for their own uniqueness, whereas I find that Australia has a lot of the same fashions, pass-times and personalities. There are always exceptions and I’ve met a few, who are unpleasant but on the whole in Van, men treat women with a higher regard, at least in public; men open doors for women of all ages and races, men will walk on the side of the pathways closest to the traffic etc. There’s just a more general sense of romance and possibility in Vancouver seeing as it’s an international hub that attracts all walks of life.
5. Are you aware of any challenges or opportunities female actresses have starting out in their careers that male actors don’t?
This has been covered/uncovered a lot in recent years in the film industry which was a boot to the face of sexism that was much needed but sadly there is still much to be done in terms of fighting for equal pay and better roles for women.
It’s well known that the world is run by men and was designed by men, that they hold power where it matters and that power is often exploited when it comes to women, the FTV industry being notorious for it especially. The challenges for female actors that male actors don’t typically have are straight forward; there are less female leads in shows and films, the female artists typically get paid much less than their male counter-parts, they’re more likely to be sexualized, be the victims in crime shows and for their characters to end up in a relationship or a baseless end-goal that was written by a man.
Women (in every field really) are under immense pressure to look, move, speak and behave a certain way in order to book roles and that insane ideology of beauty is so warped and backwards that the statistics of depression, anxiety, insomnia, eating disorders, body dysmorphia and entering abusive relationships is extremely high.
I’m not saying that male actors don’t experience similar struggles but let me share something with you that might put some things in perspective in this regard; “The camera adds ten pounds.” It’s not just a saying. Film camera lenses are designed to make the subject (ie. men, back when movies were being born) larger on screen, so if you’re playing Superman, you’ll work hard on your physique but the camera will certainly help you achieve that “large, hunky man” result. And so when we point the camera at women, they also look bigger, which apparently isn’t desirable? This leads to women having to diet, exercise and shrink their physique in order to appear smaller next to men on film, promoting most alarmingly, an unhealthy and unnatural message to male and female audiences everywhere.
6. Is it a good idea to date another actor?
Oh my. It’s been years of dating actors to finally understand that there are many types of actors and 90% of those matches are explosive, unhealthy and short-lived but I don’t know if I’m qualified to give that advice seeing as I’m dating an exceptional man who I met before I knew he was an actor and he’s proved to be sane, emotionally stable, calm, supportive and genuine and believe me, I waited a LONG time for him to prove to me that he’s a loose canon and that actors dating is a terrible idea, but alas, here I am, very happy.
Actors are always going to date actors, artists in general will always date artists, the intoxicating sense of creativity, uniqueness and feeling alive is often tough to ignore when you’re meeting goodlookin’ folks everyday, going to acting classes full of them and working closely on set with attractive, charismatic, interesting individuals but I honestly believe that if you want a healthy relationship with an actor, do your self-work.
Know yourself, ask the tough questions, make mistakes, have breakdowns, push through all of it and it becomes easier to see that self awareness in potential artistic partners, that’s where the trust and peace is founded because the acting industry is just a soup of artists who are in this for their own reasons and it’s easy to get sucked up into the romance of it all and the excitement and intense feelings.
The industry attracts narcissists, sociopaths, immaturity, damaged souls, destructive souls, those looking for acceptance, belonging, love, praise, value or purpose and often times romances can get caught up in what is just an individual on their journey to figuring themselves out. The only way to learn is to experience so proceed with caution but I can say that none of my other artist friends are dating actors and they’re extremely happy in their relationships…
7. What do you think is the idealised beauty standard in your industry, if one exists? Is there a certain look that attracts more roles?
Yes sure, the slim build tends to be the go-to, in fact the skinnier the better and very feminine, though the “fit” female has gained more popularity over the years with Michelle Rodriguez and Alicia Vikander kicking butt loudly which bodes well for me as I’m built more like two women than one.
Slowly the standard is changing and I believe that has a lot to do with brave and loud women with public platforms to do so, speaking up for this ridiculous standard of the “perfect” body being shoved down our throats in advertising all over the globe and with more women directing, producing and casting roles for film and tv, diversity, normalization of realistic beauty ideals and healthy body image are being represented on screen which thankfully is leaning more and more toward natural beauty.
8. Acting always involves some experiences of rejection. Do you think this has ever impacted your mental health or wellbeing?
Yes definitely and absolutely yes. Rejection is never fun and to say one gets used to it is unfair, one doesn’t get used to it so much as one finds other avenues of life to experience happiness. I began to understand more and more due to ageing and life experiences that have shaped me, that none of this really matters when you boil it all down, we’re here for a blink of an eye in the expanse of history and whether we’re “immortalized” or not on film, fifty years from now, no one is going to know our names or really anything about us personally and it became so clear to me that truly living was the most precious thing to me.
I struggled greatly with severe depression and anxiety and what changed everything for me was when my perspective changed. I have an incredible support system in my family, friends and colleagues and I tell my students, GO TO THERAPY. As soon as you start to look inward and face what you know is beneath the surface of the deep-dark inside yourself then things so urgent and important to you become so obsolete; you have to be ready to be broken in order to face all the terrors of the human condition and see with new eyes that are free from societal conditioning. I took a break from acting, about a year and now have returned to it. It was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself and my mental and physical health and now approach my work differently in a way that is more fulfilling but not all-encompassing.
9. What are your thoughts on sex in tv and film? Is female nudity and graphic sex on screen empowering or exploitative? Or can it be both?
I’m a huge advocate for nudity and body pride but there is a certain hesitation when it comes to sex and nudity on screen. Personally I think there should be more sex on screen, it’s natural, it’s how babies are made, it’s a primal instinct for every species on the planet and hiding it or pretending it’s dirty or unbecoming is a notion that I just don’t entertain but it ties in with desirable ideology and what is and isn’t “sexy”, I’d like to see more sex between “normal” sexual partners rather than two really “attractive”, zero body fat people that’s just going to trigger unhealthy thought patterns and make me want to cover up and never get nakey again.
Graphic sex scenes as well as female and male and gender fluid nudity can of course be both empowering or exploitative, it just comes down to the actors and their representation making the decision that they’re comfortable with the content outlined and proposed in their contracts when signing on to a project and it’s just as much the responsibility of the artistic director to orchestrate an empowering sex scene or nudity scene that serves the story and the characters and invokes the desired audience reaction, while filming it in a safe and assuring, respectful set environment.
10. Either firsthand or amongst your colleagues, have you noticed a gender pay gap? Is this something that’s openly spoken about?
You know, it’s something that I try to pay attention to but it happens that the roles in my career so far haven’t been pitted against the pay of a male actor, whether it be out of chance or that my roles so far are smaller or serve a niche part of the storyline.
That being said, my agent is Wonder Woman herself, she’s both wildly and fiercely loving and prolifically terrifying and I learned the latter when I walked into her office and she was destroying whoever was on the other end of the phone over the pay between a show’s male lead and her female client who was his equal and from that day onward I know I never need to worry about that because my lady-boss knows what’s up.
11. Canada has been your home for years now. What are your hopes and concerns for the future of the country?
Oof. Well until I can actually vote here I’ll hold off on political opinions but I truly hope that bringing down the cost of living becomes a focus for the government here, I see too many people struggle with finances and with the weather dark for most of the year, finances can weigh heavy on the soul, it’s almost impossible for young couples to buy a home here in Vancouver and living costs are high.
I also really hope to see the new found community and human compassion as a result of the Covid19 pandemic, continue and grow further as well as selfishly I simply can’t wait to see what the opening of Amazon Prime and Netflix studios in Vancouver does for the industry here and subsequently for the local artists.
12. What’s the best piece of advice your mother gave you?
Well, my mother is Greek so the memorable advice from her includes “you’ll never find a husband if you can’t cook” and “always bleach your moustache” so if I’m going for good advice… My dad has always said “never give up” but it’s value has become clearer in my adult life and I’ve come to understand that what he means by it is to keep searching, that life is for the living, that all this will end and everything is made more beautiful because it’s doomed.
13. What makes you happy?
Hearing laughter, seeing kindness, watching elderly couples hold hands on their walks, going to work, hearing my partner laugh and seeing him achieve hard-earned goals, my dad’s random questions about Instagram filters and his very active discovery and use of GIFs, videos of my nieces, the success of my friends, the smell of fresh bread, nailing an audition, the snow falling, Dermot Kennedy songs, food, my plants, tranquillity, watching my kittens learn, baking and writing my novels.
Catch Ely on Instagram at @elyshaj
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