We've certainly been enjoying getting to know the members of our Board of Trustees a little more through our 'Meet the Trust' series, and we hope you have too! This week, we had a chat with Melbourne actor and creator extraordinaire, Sally McLean.  

Actor Sally McLean

Sally is an award-winning actor, director, writer and producer whose screen projects have been officially selected for over 50 film festivals internationally. A graduate of The Actors Institute, London, she has appeared in numerous lead and guest roles in mainstream film and television, both in Australia and the UK, and over 30 theatrical productions. Her work behind the camera began with the BBC in London before forming her production business Incognita Enterprises under the Honorary Patronage of Oscar® nominated actor, Sir Nigel Hawthorne . Sally has worked in production for Channel Nine, Endemol Southern Star and others on programs including Comedy Inc., Big Brother, Australian Idol, and the The X-Factor, and is currently the General Manager for Melbourne WebFest as well as the creator, director, producer and ensemble member of the internationally multi award-winning web series, Shakespeare Republic.

1. Tell us three things about yourself (that we can't learn from your bio!)

Oh! Fun facts time! Ok, so …

  • I made my television debut as a singer/dancer on Channel 7’s Good Friday Appeal, aged 12, where I promptly knocked over the music stand of the accompanying live musicians standing nearby during an over-enthusiastic, slightly-out-of-control side step move – on live TV. I’ve been told that you actually heard the Floor Manager swear, as sheet music fluttered around me for the next few seconds and the camera swung wildly away from me to try to avoid broadcasting the ensuing chaos. If the late, great Shirley Strachan hadn’t made the effort to come up to me afterwards and tell me “Don’t worry about it – you kept going, just like a pro.”, I may never have got back in front of a camera again, I was so mortified. Will always be grateful to him for taking pity on a shaken and highly embarrassed pre-teen that day.
  • Aged 13, I led the Moomba Parade as my alter-ego “Bubbles The Clown” (a character I played as a storytelling stand up for most of my teenage years at various large-scale concerts and events at venues such as the Melbourne Arts Centre and Adelaide Fringe). This persona may or may not have been influenced by the Good Friday Appeal incident (if they’re going to laugh at you, you may as well be aiming for that outcome).
  • Finally, I started my theatre career in musicals (so clearly I didn’t give up on the singing/dancing thing either).

2. Why are you excited to be part of the HFAS Board of Trustees?

I am a firm believer in actors training for their whole careers, as hopefully we’re all in this to keep growing and improving and that’s a process that should never stop. I have been involved with HFAS Australia since taking Scene Study with Howard in 2012 and I honestly believe it’s the best training around for actors in this country. Having worked as an unofficial PA for Howard and some of the LA Faculty during their visits here over the years, I know how much effort goes on behind the scenes to make this work possible and I am thrilled to be part of such a fantastic team of actors and creators that will continue to enable this excellent training and these truly wonderful, brilliant teachers to be brought to Australian shores. Plus, I have a lot of friends involved, so it’s a great way to catch up with them all on a regular basis under the guise of work ;)

3. How has training at HFAS helped you in your work in the industry?

I came to audit my first Master Class at a time when I was thinking of walking away from the biz. It had been a difficult few years and I’d started to lose my spark and passion for it. The lovely Rachael Blackwood invited me along, as she was participating, and so I went to support her, really. However, five minutes in Howard’s presence, watching him work, listening to his philosophy on acting and being a creative in general and experiencing his passion and love for the work -  everything changed for me. Over that weekend, Howard reminded me why I do this work. Why I chose to be part of this crazy business and reignited that joy in the work that I’d been missing. I came home inspired and full of new ideas and energy. I then began working with Howard and the team every opportunity I could get and the work started coming in again, ideas for my own projects began stacking up and I came out the other side. I credit Howard, David, Laura, Karen, Marilyn and all the other amazing teachers at the Studio for seeing me through that period and for making me not only a better actor, but a better writer and director. And I will be forever grateful to all of them and Phil and Pat for making it all possible in the first place.

4. What do you love about being an actor?

Sally working with Howard Fine and actor Mike Smith at the 2013 Melbourne Master Class.

Sally working with Howard Fine and actor Mike Smith at the 2013 Melbourne Master Class.

The people I get to work with. Those amazing, creative, inspirational human beings I get to spend time with on a regular basis. The acting fraternity is made up of so many interesting, fascinating people and I feel privileged to know and work with so many who are also generous, compassionate and so, so very talented. That also extends to directors, writers, producers, casting directors, teachers – you name it. Ours is a vibrant and exciting industry and it’s because of the people and all that amazing creativity they generate and build. The chance to continually grow, continually learn, continually improve – not just as an actor, but also as a member of the human race. The chance to take risks. To step out on the ledge and take that leap into the unknown. And the responsibility of giving voice to those people, issues, ideas that may not have a platform – to hold that famous “mirror up to nature” - so we can all take a look at where we have been, where we are currently at and where we could possibly be going. It is an honour and a privilege to do this job and, I believe, our responsibility to do it as well as we can.

5. What do you not so much love about being an actor?

I chose this, so I take the good with the bad with as much good grace as I can, as I realise I’m in a very privileged position to be able to do what I love. So, sure, there are downtimes, such as not knowing where the next gig is going to come from and the like, but that’s why I also write, direct and produce. I’m a big believer in continually challenging yourself and if you don’t know something, then finding someone who does and learning from them. Also, having a strong, supportive community around you and a stable home environment, which I’m lucky enough to also have, makes the world of difference. And if all else fails, going for a walk in nature to remember that we are but one small part of the larger universe really helps me get through any feelings of inadequacy or inertia that can crop up all too regularly.

6. What's your dream project or a role you'd love to play

Too many to list here! Anything that challenges me, stretches me and helps leave the world a better place :) My dream project is actually already on the agenda for production, which I’m currently adapting into a TV series from a feature film script I wrote a while ago, set in Scotland, so fingers crossed.  (Although, I’d love to play Claire de Loone from “On The Town” again, now that I’m older and understand her better, just throwing that out there).

7. What's a piece of advice you have for your fellow actors

Create your own work. The phone doesn’t regularly ring off the hook with work for any of us – no matter where we are at in our careers. Creating your own work gives you the chance to take some control back over your career. Do Shakespeare. Take a commedia dell’arte class. If you don’t sing, take a singing. Learn a circus skill. Never stop challenging yourself creatively and never stop learning about this amazing industry we are a part of. Know the history of what we do. It is rich, varied and fascinating and gives us a sense of place in the grand scheme of things, as well as the realisation that we are simply the next links in the chain of the long-standing tradition of storytelling. Lastly, be interested and curious. Never stop learning. And read, read, read!!! If you do all that, not only will you be able to contribute to this biz in a deeper and more impactful way, you’ll also hopefully have a truly fulfilling life – which will only inform your acting work, because it’s irrevocably connected. And have fun!