SAC founder Chum Ehelepola was in East Timor shooting an episode of Cate Blanchett’s new series STATELESS for ABC. The experience had a profound impact on him and below is his story of how actors can try and make a difference.
So I am in LA and I get a call from my agent in Australia, “there is a project I think you’d be interested in”. I get sent the material for a project called Stateless for ABC, starring and EP’d by Cate Blanchett. I think, “this sounds interesting”. It’s about refugees and an Australian detention centre. Next thing you know, I am on a flight from LA to East Timor to shoot my episode. I leave the luxury bubble of LA and arrive in a small country that is, to put it bluntly, just hanging in there.
The people are gorgeous, wonderful and AMAZING. But as for economy and wealth, just hanging in there. I know the production company and producers well as I have worked with them before. I’ve started getting used to big-budget US productions. It was refreshing to work on a small scale production with ridiculously talented artists all wanting to tell an important story.
My role is to play a people smuggler and when I got on set I was confronted. I had to deliver dialogue and look at extras who were holding their children and looked exhausted. I saw their faces and thought to myself, “I’ll do my scene fast so you’ll be able to take your crying baby to the green room and feed her”, but then, something dawned on me. The people they are pretending to be don’t have the option of a green room. There are presently in some dingy hotel room in a war-torn country, actually about to give over their life savings to get their children and family out of near-certain death. And while there is a chorus of Australians yelling out, “come through the front door”, for some, waiting for the interview to get to the front door means death.
I thought of my children and what I would do to get them out of death and persecution. Yes, I would be sitting in this room handing over my life savings to get on a boat. And then I begin crying on set, it was full-on.
I began to run around the room like a Runner putting fans on mothers with children and handing out water to extras who were too polite to ask. I realized how powerful my job as an actor is. While most actors, including myself, will do “fluff” shows, once in a while we get a show like Stateless. A chance to inspire, challenge and make a difference. I choose to be an actor because it is fun, I get to play cool characters but I’m also able to get into the skin of people who I loath, who scare me or people who are going through something horrific. When I play these characters I do not want to pretend. I want to be as real as possible. Because if I fake it, then I dishonour the reality they are going through. If they have the guts and bravery to face horror, so should I, even if mine is make-believe.