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ANSARA, ALICE; LA SPAGNOLA

AN ACTRESS LIKE ALICE
One day in a pizza shop, the young star of La Spagnola, Alice Ansara had a private moment that gave her the motivation to be an actress, she tells Andrew L. Urban.

It’s 8 am in Perth, and Alice Ansara is about to go to school. But first, Ansara has to do some publicity work to promote her first feature film, La Spagnola, in which she plays La Spagnola’s long suffering, tormented but stoic teenage daughter, Lucia. Our telephone interview begins with matters of school: it’s WAPA, the Western Australian Performing Arts Academy, Perth’s equivalent of NIDA.

I realised I wanted some formal training

"After working on La Spagnola," Ansara explains, "which was great, I realised I wanted some formal training. I couldn’t possibly do this again without some grounding in craft and technique. You can’t survive in Australia on film parts, acting is more theatre based. As for WAPA, I didn’t even apply anywhere else. I had heard a lot of good things about it and it is very supportive, which I appreciate. And the other thing is, I have four siblings here from my father’s side, plus nieces and nephews…but it’s also away from the big smoke, and I think it’s good for my three year training to be away from the rat race."

As I said in my review of La Spagnola, Ansara’s is "a riveting and powerful performance that would make a seasoned actor proud. Her stillness is her biggest weapon – her ability to engage and communicate with a simple look that hides a seething inner turmoil. Ansara single-handedly anchors the film…"

Shot on location at Sydney’s Kurnell Oil refinery in Botany Bay, "against the amazing industrial backdrop," in early 2000, La Spagnola stars Lola Marceli, Alice Ansara, Lourdes Bartolome, Simon Palomare and Alex Dimitriades in a striking cameo. The interiors were shot at Fox Studios, "next to Moulin Rouge…" adds Ansara.

She grew up in a house with two editing suites and a filmmaking mother, Martha, who was "outraged" when six year old Alice advised her of that week’s career choice: acting. "She said they’re all alcoholics and out of work." But neither Alice nor fate were listening. Dick Mason was producing Breaking Through, directed by "the gorgeous Jackie McKimmie," recalls Ansara, in which the central character is sexually abused as a child, who is seen in flashback. Ansara’s role was that child. "I loved it – I loved being on set and being part of the community."

But even now, she’s not 100% certain that acting is what she wants to do. After La Spagnola was seen at early screenings, Ansara was offered a role in a 30 minute drama shot in Queensland, but her WAPA commitments made that impossible – much to her regret. "It’s not often you get offered roles without having to audition," she points out.

Ansara, who turned 19 in June this year, is having to confront those basic questions about her chosen career which crop up not only at WAPA, but in interviews like this one.

I wanted to act so everyone can see the beauty that I can see in her

What is acting all about for her? Ansara has just had that question put to her in a class by the highly respected director and actress, Gillian Jones. "I thought about it all night beforehand," she says, "and then I just started writing it down. I remembered the first time I felt really passionately about acting. I was sitting in a pizza shop and there was this young woman from a housing commission place being very animated and talking about something – I was watching her intently, fascinated. And I thought then that I wanted to act so everyone can see the beauty that I can see in her. That sounds really wanky I suppose…but it was just about telling stories to a larger group of people so they can share in them."

As for her mum, "to this day I don’t know what she thinks about it all. She’s been very supportive of me though, and we’d have huge fights about how I should do my hair when going for auditions, ending up in screaming fits. So we gave that away…"

And when Martha Ansara went to the Sydney Film Festival this year to see La Spagnola – with a crowd of friends for support ("she was more nervous than me") she was disappointed – not in her daughter, but merely in the fact that she "couldn’t see the film. All she saw was me. After being with me for 18 years or more and knowing each other so well, so closely, she found it impossible to see past me. She didn’t see the film. But she’s proud of me for going through it."

Published September 27, 2001

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