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When Callan McAuliffe first walked into a rehearsal room at the Fox Studios for a script read-through of The Great Gatsby, he describes the moment as “very surreal.” That’s not surprising as the actor, who turned 17 in January, met his co-stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan.
 
As a boy McAuliffe never envisioned becoming an actor: he joined a talent agency that specialised in providing children for commercials and modelling assignments purely to earn enough money to buy a dog. Only when he landed the lead role in Rob Reiner’s US family film Flipped in 2009 did he get serious about acting, and he moved to Los Angeles with his mother in 2010.
 
Callan, who plays the young, impoverished Jay Gatsby in Baz Luhrmann’s film, is prominent among a fast-growing band of Aussie actors that are consistently working in US and other international film and TV projects. Since we reported on the latest talent wave in the May newsletter, the “invasion” has accelerated.
 
“There have never been so many Aussies in Los Angeles,” says actor Ben Lawson, who’s been based in the US since 2008. “It is fashionable to be Australian. There are so many of us doing well that has built on itself. We put in the work and we have a grounded quality that’s more prevalent in Australians than in Americans.”
 
Phoebe Tonkin is part of the new wave, now starring as Hayley the werewolf in TV’s The Vampire Diaries. “Almost every week I hear from a friend who’s got a job or a call-back audition,” says the 23-year-old who shifted to the US in 2010. The actress, who started out playing a mermaid in the children’s TV series H2O: Just Add Water and was a regular in Home and Away, believes the lack of hierarchy among Australian casts and crews is an advantage. “Everyone is there to tell a story and make a good film or good TV show,” she says.
 
Phoebe had fun shooting the Australian movie Bait 3D, despite spending six weeks immersed in water being menaced by a mechanical shark, and hopes there will be a sequel to Tomorrow, When the War Began, in which she played one of the teenagers who battle foreign invaders.
 
“It’s easier now for Australian actors to get more exposure because you can make an audition tape and send it to the US (digitally) within an hour,” says Sarah Snook, 24, who starred in the Australian rom-com Not Suitable for Children and in the upcoming US horror movie Jessabelle, directed by Kevin Greutert (who did Saw 3D and Saw VI). “American filmmakers seem to like Australians: we’re fairly easy going and have a good work ethic and we’re all very excited to be given a chance,” says the 2008 NIDA graduate whose career took off after she appeared in the ABC telemovie Sisters of War and later starred in TV’s Spirited and Blood Brothers.  
 
In Jessabelle, which was shot in North Carolina, she plays a young woman who’s forced to return to her father's home, confined to a wheelchair after a car accident, where she encounters an angry ghost. “Until I got this role I was too scared to watch horror films but I now understand why they have a cult following, that thrill you get when you get a really good scare. The director equated this film to the pensive, creepy tone of The Others, the Nicole Kidman film,” she says. 
 
Like Callan, Sophie Lowe was overawed when she first met Naomi Watts and Robin Wright when she worked this year in Two Mothers, a drama adapted by Christopher Hampton from Doris Lessing’s novel The Grandmothers, directed by Anne Fontaine (Coco Before Chanel). “It was surreal. I was really shy around them I couldn’t speak [initially], I had a meltdown,” she says.
 
Wright and Watts play close friends and neighbours who each fall in love with the other’s teenage son, played by James Frecheville and Xavier Samuel. Sophie plays the girlfriend of Xavier’s character. Lowe, who’s 22, dropped out of Sydney’s McDonald College in 2008 when she won the lead role in Beautiful Kate. She goes to California this month for Australian writer-director Rupert Glasson’s road movie What Lola Wants. She’s Lola, who runs away from home, fakes her disappearance as a kidnapping, hooks up with a guy played by Beau Knapp (Super 8) and they head for Mobile, Alabama.
 
McAuliffe won the role in The Great Gatsby after sending an audition tape to Luhrmann. He describes the director as “eccentric and imaginative,” who works fast and if he doesn’t get the shots he wants clearly explains what he needs.  The actor donned blue contact lenses and had his hair dyed darker to more closely resemble DiCaprio, who plays the adult Gatsby. He says that shooting the film in 3D didn’t require any changes in technique for the cast. He’s seen some footage and marvels at the bright, vibrant colours.
 
Last year he completed his education via a long-distance learning course in Canberra. He played the young Quick Lamb in Cloudstreet and a computer hacker named Prime Suspect in Ten’s telemovie Underground. This month he’s in rural Maine shooting Blue Potato, a coming-of-age drama which also features Emory Cohen and Sarah Sutherland, Kiefer Sutherland’s daughter.
 
Ewen Leslie looks set to break into US movies after signing with major talent agency CAA and meeting with casting directors in LA last month. Leslie plays a gay Greek-Australian photographer who makes an ill-fated return to his ancestral homeland in Tony Krawitz’ Dead Europe, which opens on November 1. He went to Thailand to play an Army Captain in Jonathan Teplitzky’s The Railway Man, the true saga of a former Scottish POW who returns to Asia to confront his Japanese torturer, which stars Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. Leslie made his debut aged 12 in the TV series Ship to Shore, fell in love with acting and graduated from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts.
 
Ben Lawson is playing the love interest of Krysten Ritter's Chloe in the second season of TV comedy  Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23. Last year he played another romantic character, a doctor in the spy drama series Covert Affairs. The 2004 NIDA graduate, the brother of actor Josh Lawson, joined the cast of Neighbours in 2006 primarily to save enough money to move to the US. “I had a bit of drama school arrogance about me,” he says. “That was foolish because I learned a lot on that show about camera technique, being on a set and what everyone does on a set and being able to learn lines quickly."
 
Despite his Hollywood experience, the actor who’d wanted to be on TV ever since he was a kid and made his debut on Skippy when he was 12,  got a kick out of rubbing shoulders with Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher and Kevin Kline in the movie No Strings Attached. He moved to the US in the middle of a writers’ strike, observing there was more work during the strike than on a good day in Australia: a joke, but a telling point about the wealth of opportunities for actors in the US.
 
Still, he has some cautionary advice for any Aussie who wants to make a name in Hollywood: "It’s not the easiest place to live; it’s not for the faint of heart. My first year here was pretty bleak. The psychology is really tough. For every victory there are 100 rejections.”

© The Premium Movie Partnership and Donald Groves 2017