My first job was a lead role, along with four others, in a children’s series called Ocean Star. It was shot on location in and around my hometown of Broome.
I was playing on the front yard of my mate’s place when my Aunty Ness pulled up and demanded I get in the car, where she escorted me to the local auditions for the series. She had seen flyers up around town and was intent that I test for it. I arrived to find a small group of other nervous kids sitting outside and someone handed me my first page of dialogue to learn, explaining that I would soon be asked to come inside and put something down to tape. I read it and my excitement overcame any anxiety I may have felt. I walked into the audition with a flamboyant conviction.
When I landed the role I had to get up early, know my lines and keep my mischievous ways to a minimum. My parents were very supportive, but I think they were just glad I suddenly had a constructive outlet to facilitate my relentless need for attention at the time.
I was 14 years old, so being included in a professional production with so many older and talented cast and crew was a real learning experience. Being involved in something like that gives you a lot of self-esteem and a positive attitude towards the things that are possible.
One day when we were late into a shoot, we had a scene that takes place in a gorge in my mother’s country, a place called Jarlmadangah, three hours inland from Broome. I was given this camel to lead up the creek on my own. The director called, ‘Action!’ and I started leading the camel up the ridge when all of a sudden I lost control of him and the animal panicked and stamped over the top of my back, winding me and leaving an impression of my face on the earth.
As the dust cleared to reveal cast and crew rushing towards me, I ignored the pain by asking whether they’d got it on camera. Much to my immediate delight, they had!
But there were lots of things that made it memorable. It was a children’s series so the episodes had a sort of absurdity and fantastical quality that made it hard to forget. Shooting mud fights and scenes out on the open water – it all quickly blurs into one big adventure.
I can’t remember how much I was paid. Much more than my blossoming talent deserved I suspect. My parents ensured that it dissipated gradually, but seeing as I did live in a pristine coastal town of Australia, I do recall purchasing an 18ft boat to shoot rap videos on.
But it all ended almost as soon as it began. Three months sounds like a long time when you’re 14 and when it finished I got the sense that it was a one-off kind of experience that wouldn’t happen again. Of course the gig eventually led to getting an agent and further work, but maintaining that kind of ‘last job’ mentality is a good thing. It causes you to appreciate your opportunities when you have them.
I made some very good friends, many who are still working in various areas of the industry. The series was shot in my hometown so I’m still amongst many people who were involved in it one way or another. And that makes for easily accessible nostalgia.
As I got older, I started to develop a complex about acting, about whether or not anything I did deserved the attention I seemed to be getting. But when you are that age you couldn’t care less. You’re not thinking about how others might receive you, you’re just taken up in the moment and there’s a quality about that that’s worth remembering.
My first job taught me to the importance of respecting my colleagues. It’s very easy to become convinced you’re one of the most important people on set because you’re the subject of the camera’s attention, but there are so many talented crew and technical artists that facilitate the process. The whole thing is a technical collaboration that relies on people filling a lot of different roles. My first experience on set certainly helped prepare me for what to expect on any future roles to follow.
Acting has forced me to become more self-conscious. It has led me to reflect more on the human condition and question the motivations and impulses that drive us. Through the exploration of narratives I have been able to observe and participate in the directions that many choices can lead us. I get to constantly assess what’s important for people as a whole and am challenged to trust my intuition and spontaneity.
Mark Coles Smith stars in medical drama series Hard Rock Medical, now showing on SBS.