Jill Nguyen: What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind as an artist, actor, writer? How do you want to be remembered?
Phoebe Grainer: I don’t care for words like legacy or how I want to be remembered. I want to live my life creating work and doing things that are meaningful, that I am empowering and uplifting my mob, the Kuku Djungan people and other Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.
What was the first play that captivated you and in some way defined you?
When I was in high school up in Broome, I went and seen a rehearsal of a play called Jandamarra. I’m not sure how I found out about it or even if I was allowed to go watch but I was there. Jandamarra is a legend of the the Bunuba people up that way, he is a warrior and a leader who defends his country, his mob. When I saw this rehearsal, all Aboriginal cast, talking language. It was beautiful. I had never seen anything like it. I just remember thinking wow, I want to do that.
What’s been the biggest learning lesson so far in your journey with The Serpent’s Teeth?
I think it’s been a reminder of how hard you need to work for things you want to do.
Favourite pre, during and post rehearsal snacks?
I have been eating so much Thai fried rice and chicken nuggets!
As an Indigenous Australian artist, what advice can you give for the next generation of young Indigenous people who want to pursue creative dreams?
Speak to the old people, Elders, your grandparents and parents. Culture is important and we need to keep it strong. Always know why you do the things you do, creatively, professionally and in everyday life, give back to your community. Critically think about the world. Know that you can do the things that you want to do.
Phoebe Grainer: What was your experience like growing up as a Vietnamese-Australian woman in Melbourne?
Jill Nguyen: As a kid, I never felt that different to anyone else. The inner west of Melbourne where I grew up was super diverse, which was wonderful. Asian, black, white, everyone. It wasn’t until I went to university at 18, that I was quite shocked by how little some people knew about Asians in general. I did do Arts at Melbourne Uni, which was pretty white. I’ve experienced racism of all kinds, ranging from subtle to downright overt, and it’s only made me more resilient. In saying that, I am so lucky to have grown up in Melbourne. It’s my home.
How did you get into acting?
After 3 years of higher education, working full time at the bank and travelling overseas for a year and having my soul crushed in between, I came to my senses and decided to follow my dream. I started taking acting classes 2 years ago and I haven’t looked back since! I just jumped into the deep end and worked really, really, really hard to get myself out there. It doesn’t happen overnight.
Who did you look up to on your journey to becoming an actor?
Honestly, I didn’t have too many Asian females to look up to, but I always loved Marilyn Monroe a lot. In recent years, I have felt really empowered by Gong Li, Michelle Yeoh and Gemma Chan, all power houses in their own right. They light my fire.
Has the Vietnamese-Australian community reacted to your work, if so how? And how has the wider Australian community reacted to your work?
I guess my journey has just begun in some ways and I’m really excited for Viets all over the world to see my work. I was recently cast in Justin Kurzel’s True History Of The Kelly Gang, as Molly Kane. I act alongside Nicholas Hoult, George McKay and Thomasin McKenzie. I’m hoping a young and impressionable Vietnamese girl sees me in this feature and somehow has the confidence to follow her dreams too.
What does it mean for you to be a woman of colour in the arts?
It means everything to me. When people say things like “oh race doesn’t matter”, I feel an invisible slap in the face. Well, of course it matters. My heritage is Vietnamese, Chinese. I’m not going to run away from that. People of colour have been historically marginalised, purely based on the colour of their skin. I think my presence and contribution to the arts in film or theatre is political in its’ own right. I won’t stop creating, fighting and hustling. For so long, the realm of the art world and film, in the western world has been exclusively white, male dominated and right now, is the best time to change it up, completely. I feel a sense of solidarity with other women of colour artists too.
Phoebe Grainer and Jill Nguyen can be seen in The Serpent’s Teeth by Daniel Keene.
Dates: 9 – 24 Nov, 2018
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre