We chatted to actress Stef Dawson about what working in the film industry is really like. Graduating from Screenwise in 2005, Stef then shot off to LA where she landed a role in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (1 & 2) as Annie Cresta and starred alongside big names like Jennifer Lawrence and Sam Claflin. Born in Canberra, Stef knew the road wouldn’t be easy but now she’s walking red carpets and performing on film sets. Basically, Stef knows what it takes to make it in the film industry.
What does an average day for you look like?
Haha! ‘Average’ day! I really don’t think there is such a thing. That is part of the excitement and part of the battle. There is so much unknown and so little structure at times you need to make structure.
If it’s on the job, it’s usually a 4am pick up, in hair and make up for a few hours then a full day. Depending on the type of project- big budget or small, TV or film- the days can vary. There can be gaps in the day where you are waiting to be called at any second then there are other days when you are in every single scene and due to unknown things, you have to eat lunch in makeup with no real break.
In between being on set the work is getting a job, auditioning, working on your craft and then managing your career. When auditions come up it is all consuming.
What did you do to get to where you are?
There is no ‘right’ path- this is a crazy industry where there is no perfect way. I wanted to be an actress since I was a kid but really had no clue how to do it. I started doing short films and plays and then studied theatre but knew it was film I was really intrigued by. That was when I did Screenwise, which was a vital step in my training- a totally different medium is acting for the camera and they gave me so much more knowledge about the industry. After doing a bit on All Saints and a million short films, I took off to LA.
I booked Annie Cresta in The Hunger Games– such a dream role after falling in love with Suzanne’s books. I have then gone on to do other projects, films in the US and back home, including Cleverman with my friend Wayne Blair.
What do you love about your job?
I love playing characters that are meaningful, putting a message out there into the world that is important. You get to live a thousand lives as an actor, it helps to somehow make sense of this crazy world. I also love building a family on a job- some of my best friends in the world have been made on set, you really do bond in a way that is incredible. I’ve had the great blessing to work with actors at different points of in their careers, Oscar winners and those just starting, all incredibly talented and brilliant people.
What is the most challenging component of your job?
I think the hardest part is surviving your own mind. The battle is holding onto that voice inside you that says you were meant to do this.
I find the quieter times really tough, especially when I’m so far away from my family. It is important to learn to let go after disappointments and rejection- that part is hard. The uncertainty I find super hard too- holding fast to that faith that things can change overnight.
What are some of the common misconceptions about your job?
That it doesn’t matter. I have been guilty of thinking that it’s a selfish job but it’s vital in our society. As artists, we are more important than ever to be a voice for change; stories have a great effect on people. Another misconception is that it is glamorous haha. Red carpets give me anxiety. I’ve learnt to navigate them but I never aspired to doll up and walk them and smile to a bunch of strangers yelling at me to do what they want. There is a lot of stress involved in red carpets.
Is the acting industry competitive? If so how do you navigate that?
The truth is everyone is unique and we all bring our own essence to a part. I have amazing friends that have helped me on my journey and we really are in the trenches together in this industry. It’s hard enough as it is and you’ll only benefit from being supportive of each other and celebrating each other’s successes. There is so much that goes into whether you get a role or not that has nothing to do with how good you are- just enjoy being that character from that moment and let it be; if it’s meant to be it will be.
If you could give your 18-year-old self any advice what would it be?
I would tell my 18-year-old self-it’s okay, you’re on the right track. Even when people say it’s too hard you’re going to do it anyway. Enjoy life along the way too; have adventures, enjoy moments especially with your family.
If you’re keen to follow in the footsteps of talented Aussie actors like Stef, you need to check out Screenwise. Their Diploma of Screen Acting is the perfect place to start if you want to get into the industry and they’ll teach you everything you need to know about auditioning and casting so you can get your foot in the door.