David Black chats to Ana Della Rocca, an actress with amazing insights into human nature
I must admit that Ana Della Rocca is one of the most interesting actors that I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing. She’s well studied and had numerous appearances on high visibility shows, such as Murder calls, Neighbours, Dr Blake and Offspring. But this isn’t what got me hooked. It was that she’s studied psychology and then moved from being a model to portraying some very emotionally scarred characters. Anyone can simply pretend when doing the darker roles, but there is something bone chillingly scary when you find yourself identifying with damaged people because the actress knows what she is doing with clinical accuracy.
DB- Hi Ana. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today. I understand that your time is precious because you have to share it between teenage kids, your work as a school psychologist, your hubby and your acting. So let’s get straight to business. Your resume` is quite extensive with quite a bit of study in acting, as well as numerous acting roles, so let’s start with your training. Can you give us an overview of that?
ADR-I was born in Portugal and came to Australia at the age of 5 where I moved around Melbourne a lot and went to various schools. I was always the ‘new girl’ and remember spending a lot of my childhood in my own little ‘imagination’ world, reading and ‘role playing’. By the time I was in year 12, I really enjoyed learning and was interested in psychology. I was approached by a ‘modelling’ scout and ended up doing some modelling work, and becoming a finalist in Miss World and winning Miss Portuguese Community around 1992. Throughout my studies at Melbourne University and Monash University, I dabbled in theatre as well and my modelling agent also put me up for featured extra roles in shows like “Mission Impossible”, “half a World Away” and “Errol Flynn” and vast many others. This work was fun and handy whilst at university, but I found the modelling world, bitchy, competitive and rife with eating disorders as well as ‘sleazy’ at the time and moved away from the industry as a result.
I got married, worked as a psychology and legal studies teacher, brought up my beautiful two children and eventually studied further and became a psychologist. In my mid 30’s I started thinking about ‘acting’ a lot and the unfulfilled need in me to pursue a more creative life. Around this time my marriage starting to break down and I ended up divorcing.
My first actor training was at TAFTA and I found John Orcsik highly supportive and generous with his time and advise. He helped me get an agent and I started doing some TVC’s and met some amazing actors and industry people. My journey continued in actor training at Brave Studios, 16th Street, Penny McDonald (Alexander Technique) where I met my current husband and fellow actor “Gary Wall”, I continued on to Q44, The Rehearsal Room, The Film Space and last couple of years, Howard Fine (Marilyn McIntyre), Kim Farrant and more recently Greg Apps online Self Taping School. I can’t express enough the gratitude I feel towards inspiring acting coaches, who are so talented and wise and especially the ones who have been kind and generous but have pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I have taken and learned so much from various techniques.
I feel so fortunate to feel I am surrounded by a wonderful ‘tribe’ who support each other and enjoy each others ‘wins’. I believe we never stop learning and currently when I have some down time ‘acting work’ wise, I always do ‘top up’ classes that keep me practicing my craft, in the ‘energy’, or ‘zone’, motivated and inspired and connected to wonderfully talented creative people. How lucky are we in Melbourne? I am always gobsmacked at so many young up and coming directors, writers, crew and fellow actors that I get to work with, both in Film and Theatre. I mostly go back from time to time to most of the acting schools I have mentioned above and intend to keep doing so.
DB- Ana, I was quite impressed with all the high profile TV appearances that you’ve had. Can you tell us a bit about what TV and movie roles you’ve done to date?
ADA- One of my first short films I appeared in with a great ‘slap scene’ was called “Of Land and Bounty” (set in late 1800’s) where I starred with Robert Grubb and Brendan McCallum. Dark Heart Productions do some amazing work and Lucas Crandles is a talented director that I was fortunate to work with on this film with I learned so much with fellow experienced actors and my kids got to be extras in it playing my kids.
After that I played many ‘mummy’ roles in various student films, and TVC’s. My interest in acting also took me towards theatre, where I have been fortunate again to work with some amazing actors and perform at places like “The Malthouse” and “Theatre Works”. My biggest theatre role to date was playing “Margo” in “The Wisdom of Eve” by GLAMM Productions, directed by Meredith Fuller. Set in 1940’s, it was an awesome role to play and I also got to work with Gary Wall who played my husband “Clement Howell” and who a year later, I married in real life. Penny McDonald was such an amazing support with her Alexander Technique. This role also involved doing a lot of voice work getting the accent right and I thank Zac Anthony Curran for his awesome training and advise, along with Suzanne Heyward for inspiring me through Gabrielle Rose- Carter Q44’s workshop retreat Camps and coaching, and all the inspirational actors I met there, and in in more recent times, Anna McCrossin-Owen for a variety of accents that I have had to learn in last couple years and that I love doing.
In the past couple years, I have been fortunate to play bit parts on TV shows like ‘Neighbours”, “Dr Blake” and “Offspring” and my first main role playing a much darker, dysfunctional character on Chanel 9’s “Murder Calls”. At first the prospect of such a character was very confronting but once I let go of my ‘ego’ and was grateful that my agent believed in my ability, I got stuck in preparing for the audition. In some very emotional scenes, I even had snot coming out of my nose in my audition and during the week of preparing and researching my role, I woke up having a nightmare that I was actually the character!
Gary, was worried about me and asked if I was sure I wanted to play this character, to which I immediately responded ‘of course’! I just needed to make sure I put all the ‘self care’ practises that Kim Farrant teaches in place!! And for me that means, walking my dogs in parklands, or on the beach, having a bubble bath, massage and doing yoga. Vitally important for ‘of service’ professions like Psychology and Acting, but really valuable for anyone in general! These heavy roles have been most challenging but also most fun and exciting. Stepping into ‘dark’ places, not judging and knowing we all have dark parts and given the same or similar circumstances, we could all behave in ‘bad’ ways or make poor choices. To be able to tap into the dark, angry and dysfunctional side of me (we all have it!!) and let all the ugliness hang out…..it’s been confronting but also very liberating.
It’s the sad characters that are SO very real and relatable and human. Everyone deserves their story to be told. It’s the human experience. It’s such a noble and honourable profession to be able to move people and express stories. If I have other women that can relate to my character, are moved by my character, learn something, are enriched or simply entertained and can escape their own world for a few hours, how honoured am I?? If I can inspire other women to have a go and live a life that makes their heart sing, then I am very honoured to be a potential position to be able to do that.
I recently played a mum with bipolar in a short film called “Drastic Measure’ directed by Jessica Turner. Jessica is inspired to bring about awareness to the general public about mental illness and the film is currently in post production and I am looking forward to see it unfold.
I also recently starred in a kooky black comedy called “The Body Corporate” directed by Stepanka Cervinkova. Also starring John Brumpton and Kiloran Olivia. It was such a wonderful experience working with professional, talented, and down to earth cast and crew. The special effects/make up artistry by Camilla Camelot Bassi were out of this world. It’s currently in post production and you can follow the film’s progress on the following link: http://www.facebook.com/thebodycorporatefilm/
I just found out that I was successful in landing the role of “Ma” in independent theatre production “Outside In” directed by Farran Martin (Howard Fine and North of Eight) with production Company Witinc. It’s set in a women’s prison and is another ‘heavy’ and ‘challenging’ role for me and I am SO excited to be involved with this professional company and it’s involvement with Alexander Technique (Penny McDonald and Jean Luis Rodrigue). It’s a dream come true. The season runs through late October and early November, so the next few months are going to be very busy for me! You can follow the company through Facebook Wit incorporated @wearewit
DB- You’ve also studied psychology and work as a school psychologist. Ana, you told me earlier that “In the last year, I got my teeth into some ‘unglamorous’ and tough roles which have been the most challenging and interesting. They were heavy and emotionally challenging but exciting at the same time.” Ana, has your study in psychology helped you get deeper into these “unglamorous” roles?
ADA- I feel Psychology certainly has helped. Mainly in two ways. Firstly, the experience of working and helping people presenting with an array of issues and learning about different mental illness’ and the way the symptoms present and manifest gives me much insight but also into the intellectual preparation that takes in analysing a script and the character/story. Secondly, I have been fortunate in using all my different schools and moves in my life to see it as a gift, in learning and interacting with a variety of characters/cultures in my life as well as difficult issues that have arisen in my own life, to tap into those times and use ‘personalisation’ in a deep way to connect with a character and find that character in me. Tapping into therapy myself has also been life changing. I highly recommend all actors and Psychologists for that matter receive therapy inn some sort of form. Self Development is important for everyone, but in particular in these professions. I copped a double wammy
Mostly though, once you are filming or on stage, you leave all that behind you (having done the work) and you use imagination and being ‘in the moment’, in the current present moment, experiencing everything for the first time and living it truthfully and honestly. There’s no ‘one formula fits all’. I can certainly say, that I am grateful for all my ongoing training and ongoing experience practising the craft. In particular experiencing acting coaches that have pushed me beyond my comfort zone, but have not used ‘humiliation’ to do so. SO grateful for the acting coaches that been generous, kind and inspirational. I don’t feel you need to have a cruel, humiliating acting coach and I sometimes worry when I see young actors who are so vunerable being coached by a coach who feels that humiliation and cruelty is a good tool.
I don’t believe it is. I have developed so much more when I have coaches who are SO passionate about the craft and push me in a kind supportive way. The profession is hard enough and life is hard enough with it’s constant knocks and you don’t need to add to that. YES, you do have to learn not to take rejection personally but you don’t have to put up with abuse and cruelty. I guess that’s been part of my journey to learn to set good boundaries, work hard and believe in myself and my self- worth and know what environment works best for me. With many challenging roles, an actor has to be able to open their heart and in doing so, you become even more vunerable, so, its vitally important to have a supportive environment and practise ‘self care’ tools.
DB- Most actors have a role model or two and I find that by asking about these, that it helps shed a bit more light on the actor that I am chatting with. Can I ask you who your role model, or models are, and why you chose them?
ADA- I admire SO many actors but firstly, Natalie Portman. I have followed her career from a young age. Interestingly enough, she also studied psychology. I particularly loved her performance in “Black Swan”. Of course I can’t go past Meryl Streep. What a talented, intelligent, inspirational, and classy lady. Pushing the boundaries all the time and challenging society to go past ‘youth and a certain look’ for Hollywood and bring about variety and good work for older actress’. Her career has been inspirational.
DB- You’ve certainly done quite a lot in the industry Ana. I’m guessing that you know what you want and where you are heading?
ADA- I hope to continue getting more juicy film and TV roles I can get stuck into as well as good theatre roles. I hope to also put on a play next year where my husband will be directing. I will see whether that is a good idea or not having a husband direct me! But I have so much respect for Gary’s intelligence. I feel directing requires a different kind of intelligence, which I feel Gary has. For now, I am not interested in directing but I can see myself getting into ‘casting directing’ possibly in the future. I feel my psychology and acting experience will add to my insight and I was involved in casting for The Wisdom of Eve and felt I had good intuition. I love letting actors know they got a role!! I don’t enjoy telling them they didn’t because I know how devastating it can feel, but I am getting so much better at that too. I see auditions now as opportunities to practice my craft and have fun and meet amazing creative people who may remember you for next time when a more suitable role may come up. There are a million and one reasons why someone may not get a role and none may be about their talent or performance!! I need to remind myself of that from time to time.
DB – Thanks for taking the time to chat to me today Ana. Your career is certainly one of the more interesting ones, and I am sure that the readers are going to want to keep up with what you are doing. Do you have any links so that they can follow your career?
Thank you David for your time and support of actors.
I can be followed on:
David Black regularly writes for Oz Indie Cinema – https://ozindiecinema.wordpress.com/
And is the lead singer/ bass player for Darkness Visible - https://www.facebook.com/DarknessVisible/