What’s your connection to Townsville?
I was born In Townsville, my sister was born in Cairns, and our Grandmother lived in Charters Towers all her life. We spent some formative years on Thursday Island, Torres Strait, so I feel a kinship with North Queensland because of how much we roamed around before settling in Central Queensland. I have some great friends in Townsville so I enjoy coming for a visit as often as I can.
How did you first get involved in acting?
I’d always wanted to do it as a young kid. I got a genuine taste for the fundamentals through a great program that Queensland Theatre offered, aside from high school musicals, speech and drama lessons or NIDA workshops that passed through town. It was the Theatre Residency week, which was essentially a drama camp for high school students, held every year. They still do it! Professionally; I went along to a national open casting call for a Foxtel Series called SLiDE. After losing out on the lead, I was offered another role which gave me my first real on-set experience.
In 2012 you landed a role on landmark series for ABC; Redfern Now, tell us how that came about?
Man, I was so young and green! I had just moved to Sydney, living in Woolloomooloo, which is such an interesting spot still to this day. It was actually one of the first auditions I had, so I felt very fortunate to be considered. It introduced me to the Sydney scene, and I met some lovely humans like Miranda Tapsell and director Catriona McKenzie. It was the first time I remember using a role to meet real people. Hanging out in Redfern, I got to know fellas and would follow folks around. Being from Queensland, I’d only heard of the area and its rich, somewhat provocative history.
You kicked the year off with Death Of A Salesman for Queensland Theatre. What was that experience like?
Such a rewarding experience to come back to Queensland and join our State theatre company in a really important play. Plus to have that be my QT debut was something special. Arthur Miller premiered the play in 1949 yet It couldn’t be more relevant than now. I know people always say that about great plays but that one really echoes deep in your mind and soul during and after you’ve seen it.
You’re currently voicing one of the lead voices on Spongo, Fuzz And Jalapeña which is airing now on ABC ME. The series is absolutely adorable. How did you find yourself in the animation world?
I love doing voices. I’ve always loved imitating people and I feel I got a knack for that from an early age thanks to legends like Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy, Whoopi Goldberg even Fresh Prince back in the day! So, when my agent asked if I’d like to put something down for it, I spent a good chunk of my time that day really perfecting my interpretation of what my character ‘Fuzz’ might sound like. They gave us a brief, and we sort of made it up from there and created what we thought would suit the character. It’s honestly been one of my favourite gigs ever, and I’ve heard it’s been well received already, so we hope you’ll see the gang together again soon!
You’re joining the cast of Channel 10’s much-loved drama; Playing For Keeps as it returns for Season Two. Can you tell us about it?
That’s true. It couldn’t be more true, ha!
I didn’t expect to get that one but I guess you never really know sometimes. I can tell you I had food poisoning the weekend before the audition which was on a Monday morning, ha, so needless to say I was on another planet when I walked in. Maybe that’s why it was a surprise… that cast is great, and they have a lot of fun on set. Guess you’ll have to watch to see what goes down.
Any advice for budding young actors?
Yeah, don’t listen to people who tell you you’re not right for something even when that ugly voice is yourself. Embrace your weirdness and imperfections because although the scene may look beige and unchanged, don’t let it discourage you. Make your freak flag fly. You are a much more interesting person than you are an actor or performer, so fill yourself up with life. Oh yeah and READ! I don’t do nearly enough and also rarely practise what I preach, ha, but I stand by what I say!
Follow Ilai @ilaiswindells
Playing for Keeps, Season Two can now be watched anytime on the 10Play app.