CHUM EHELEPOLA has appeared in shows such as Bones, Rake, Moody Christmas and is about to appear on No Activity and Dr Dr. Chum has a career both in the US and in Australia. Chum is co-founder of The Sydney Actors Collective and takes this time to speak about his journey.
I remember my first job in the acting industry. It was an extra on the Matrix. I was dressed as some bum from the future (or past) I wasn’t sure. I was sitting with about another 100 extras as we waited to go on set when one of the extras says to me “what are you doing here?” I said confidently, “I’m going to be an actor”. The extra smiled then laughed at me. “So you want to be rich and famous. All actors want to be rich and famous”. I thought to myself “buddy if I wanted to be rich I would become an Engineer (I was a trained Engineer who quit to follow my craft) and if I wanted to be famous I’d do a sex tape!! (not really, I’m not Kym Kardashian, but you get my point)”
He got me thinking about why I wanted to be an actor. Yes, this guy was right, there are many actors who just want wealth and fame, and good luck to them. But that was not me. Why did I want to become an actor? I then remembered my first high school play. I was 15 and when I walked on stage something changed in me forever. I got the BUZZ!! I was 15 and I felt alive. I loved telling a story to an audience that wanted to listen. I was confused though. A 15 year old in the burbs of Perth during the 90’s was NEVER thinking of being an actor. But I couldn’t deny that feeling, no matter how many names I got called and how much bullying I encountered, I felt something electric. I had to follow it.
After high school I got an invitation by WAAPA to audition as they had seen many of my plays but I chose the “safer” option and went to uni to study Engineering. I spent 5 years studying something I didn’t give a shit about BUT that buzz never left my body. While going to school 9-5, 5 days a week, every night for nearly 5 years I would be doing something artistic, always looking to learn more about my craft. Needless to say I was very busy during my early 20’s.
I tried many safe options, working in the corporate field trying to be a responsible normal adult but I could NEVER replicate the buzz that was probed in my body by the acting aliens when I was 15. Eventually I walked away from my high paying corporate jobs and ended up serving tables and washing dishes. Yes I became the cliché’…but loved who I was!
Every cent I earned I spent on my career, Classes, saving to shoot short films (all which were very terrible!), headshots, watching shows etc. I think to myself “why did I do all that?” and the answer is clear…It was part of my plan. My journey.
A Buddhist monk once said a wonderful story to me. The monks used to get driven to their monastery and it was a long uphill drive. Most of the monks would use this time to rest. One day the van broke and they all had to walk. Most of the younger monks were complaining about the long journey but the elder Monk got to the top in what felt like 5 minutes. He said for the first time he saw the journey. He experienced the view! A view that was offered to him every day as he drove but one he never saw. He was amazed at the vista and soon the multiple hour journey felt like minutes. He wasn’t focused on the end result, he was just enjoying the journey.
I am very lucky to be where I am. I have a career that I am proud of but most of all have so much more to grow and am so excited about the journey ahead. I see so many actors who feel “stuck” or “disillusioned” at the journey and especially the end goal. No one will ever know if anyone will make it. My Manager in LA gave me some great advice “everyone in Hollywood knows, and everyone in Hollywood doesn’t know”. The end goal doesn’t matter as much as the journey. In fact the odds are, if you enjoy the journey, the ups and the downs, you will probably end up at the goal you always desired.
I wanted to become an actor because I love telling stories to audiences that care. I love getting in the skin and head of a character. I want to experience as many people as I can before I die. What and honour us actors have, to be able to live in so many skins during our lifetime.
If fame and money is your thing then again, good luck to you but I know there is more. A wonderful acting teacher of mine once said to me “Actors are some of the most important people in the world. When people need to experience, feel, get a reprieve, feel comfort, need inspiration, need education and everything else…they turn on the TV, go to the movies or the theatre. We become their gateway into a parallel universe that has no boundaries…
It is an honour to be called an actor. It is an honour to perform for people and hopefully move them. It is an honour to grow as a human through my profession as I meet characters that scare me, challenge me, confront me and inspire me.
I am not sure where you are in your career. You may feel you’re at the top of your game, planting your flag at the top of the summit or you may feel that you’re burdened with unaccomplishment or tired at the journey you have taken or are about to embark upon. No matter where you are I hope you know that if you do choose to become an actor, you have a power to change lives. When I realized this I did everything I could, and still am, to become the finest actor I can be (not the best or most perfect as perfection has no soul). I want to have integrity in my work and always be striving to conquer my obstacles because at 15 I was BUZZED and when I have lived a full life, following my hearts desire and I eventually fade away and die, I want my family’s love and that “buzz” to be the last thing I feel!