Sydney-born Felicity Price and husband Kieran Darcy-Smith have recently celebrated more than New Year’s Eve in the star spangled, twinkly and cut-throat world of LA. Actor/screenwriter Felicity and Keiran, a former actor, now writer/film director are toasting their latest achievements as the movie The Duel starring Woody Harrelson and Liam Hemsworth hit the screens in America. Kieran (also part of the multi-talented Blue Tongue Films Company here in Australia) directs this raw and gutsy Texan action tale of a bitter tryst driven by deadly vengefulness. Felicity plays the part of a seriously sassy good time girl …until things go seriously wrong for her in this wild and gripping western set in 1887.
After a gigantic 2016, they both have big plans for 2017 but somehow squeezed in a lengthy interview with The National Treasures Series – very late at night, while juggling children and Christmas. Their stamina is astounding.
Beginnings and influencers
I grew up in Warrawee – a little suburb in Northern Sydney. My maternal grandmother was a dancer/actress and I was definitely inspired by her as a child but she grew up in a different time and had nowhere near the opportunities I have had to follow her dreams. I saw how her limited opportunities ate away at her and so I was influenced by that was well – in a cautionary way.
Was there a catalyst to your decision to move to LA in 2012?
We moved to LA shortly after our film, Wish You Were Here opened at the Sundance Film Festival. We were looking for adventure and for a long time, we’d wanted to live in Los Angeles. Both Kieran and I were born and bred in Sydney so we were keen for a bit of a change, plus our kids were very young at the time – 1 y/o and 3 y/o – so we knew if we wanted to spend time living OS the best time to do that would be while they were little. And of course, we wanted to throw our hats in the ring over here and take advantage of work opportunities.
We were lucky enough that our film made a small splash in the very big pond over here but it was enough that we felt that this was our moment to make the move. We left Australia on a wing and a prayer, packed up our whole house and arrived at LAX with 6 suitcases, two toddlers and a couple of credit cards that very quickly got maxed out. It probably wasn’t the smartest way to move but we wanted to take advantage of whatever ‘heat’ our film had garnered and knew that this was our moment. I’m not sure whether we were very brave or very naive, probably a bit of both.
What do you think are the key differences between Australia and America in this business, as a woman and in general?
The work is the work and once you’re on a job it’s pretty much the same as being on set in Australia. However, the whole industry is set up very differently here so the whole casting process and the process of setting up films and TV is very different. It’s really a business, and so many decisions are made for financial reasons rather than creative or cultural ones. Somehow things always seem to be happening at the last minute and in a manic rush here and yet, as my manager says, ‘“The pace of Hollywood is glacial”.
Casting choices are very different. You only have to look at the screen to see that American casting goes in a very different direction to Aussie casting. The American aesthetic is very polished. You just don’t see the same authentic, make-up free faces on American shows that you do in Australian or British film and TV. When I came out here my manager politely suggested maybe I should buy a hairdryer. I had to dollop on more makeup to go to auditions.
The harshest reality of going out for work as an actress in America is that if you are beautiful and thin you are going to get more attention and more work. Unless you are in comedy. There’s a lot of pressure on actresses to look a certain way, and not much respect for a woman ageing gracefully, thus a lot of women end up getting a whole lot of facial work done which often just ends up looking freakish. The bottom line is that it is a business and shows need to make money and pretty people are pleasant to watch.
In Australia most of the industry is at least partly government funded, so the industry has a different foundation. It’s not only about making money, work is also being created and stories told for cultural reasons. Of course, Aussie shows are going to strive to make money but because of government support, people don’t have to be as cut-throat and bloodthirsty to survive as over here.
LA is a dirty business town. People can behave pretty abominably and get away with it just because they’ve got money. After four and a half years of riding the crazy roller coaster of life over here, I would definitely say that Australian’s are much more ethical in business. That sense of ‘a fair go’ is part of how we operate, but in the US, money is God. It doesn’t seem to matter how you make your money over here, or who you’ve stepped on to get to the top, as long as you’ve got a flashy car to show for it, you’re the boss.
Ok, so now I’m sounding disillusioned… I’m not, I mean I do abhor that side of the business, but there are many incredible positives to the business over here. There are so many opportunities and while that California gold can at times seem elusive you know there is so much out there for the taking. LA is a melting pot for people at the top of their game. That is incredibly exciting. There is a lot of competition so you have to work very hard and working hard lifts your game. It also makes you dig deep to find the kind of self-belief and faith you need to survive the maelstrom. You have to be strong and calm to survive here and for me, that has taken – and still takes! – some soul searching. That can be deeply challenging but gives you the opportunity to develop as a person and I love it.
I’ve met wonderful people here from all over the world. People with incredible, passionate minds, wonderfully creative and deeply committed to storytelling. That’s probably my favourite part of living in LA, the opportunity to meet and work with people at the top of their game. LA is a movie town, so for me, it’s still like being a kid in a candy store.
Do you have any other creative feathers to your bow and what else would you like to try in the future?
The whole way through high-school visual art was my everything. Art and theatre. I kind of sidelined my artwork when I left school but I always knew I’d come back to it. And I can feel it coming back. I was recently asked to paint a mural at my kid’s school, so I know opportunities like that will arise that draw me back in. Also, a lifetime ago I was part of an a capella pop trio called the Aphrodisiacs. It was kind of a comedy act and I wouldn’t go calling myself a ‘singer’ but I do love it. I watch and listen to people singing and I think – that’s real self-expression, that’s real giving because it can go straight to the heart, raw and poetic. So I would like to sing but it’ll likely just be around the piano with my husband and kids at home.
Who would you love to work with?
I am really open to whoever comes into my life. I have met so many incredible people that I admire so much and that inspire me with their passion and generosity that my goal is just to collaborate with more people of that calibre. I thrive on collaboration.
I am a screenwriter, so I do sit alone at the computer and lose myself in the story and characters and I love getting lost in that world, but collaboration – working with people – is my more natural state. I’m zinging all over the place when I have great, creative people to collaborate with.
Your favourite acting role to date
It would have to be playing Alice in our film Wish You Were Here I spent four years writing that character, so but the time we were on set I just loved her so much.
The challenges and wins when collaborating with Kieran
Whether or not we are actually writing a project together Kieran and I always read each other’s work and give feedback and it is very valuable to have a sounding board for your work at home. Otherwise, you have to pay for that kind of thing or beg a friend.
Both of us are really good with script evaluation so it’s enormously helpful to have a first-port-of-call to show your work to before you deliver it to the world. When we wrote Wish You Were Here together we loved it and luckily it was a very proactive collaboration. It is very hard to find people you can collaborate with closely and all remain sane.
Many a fantastic project has come adrift because of creative differences but we thrived off being able to talk about the project at all times – making dinner, driving to family BBQs. We lived and breathed it. Also, we both brought unique perspectives to the project; male and female, and both knew when to defer to each other’s ideas.
Challenges? I don’t know that there were too many challenges except while we were writing and then shooting Wish You Were Here we were having and raising babies… so that was kind of challenging.
Your greatest professional achievement to date
Well, Wish You Were Here basically changed my life, so that would have to be my greatest achievement but right now I have a script that I’ve written – it’s taken me 6 years – but I’m incredibly proud of it and really it’s my greatest passion at the moment. It’s working title is Lovestruck. I am so lucky because I’m working with some amazing creative producers – Jean-Julien Baronnet (Assassin’s Creed) and Lara Voloshin – which is a very rare thing in Hollywood.
What you miss most about Australia
It’s Christmas time now and I’m feeling pretty homesick. I really miss that whole family craziness of this time of year. Kieran and I both have big families and Christmases were always absolute mayhem but lots of fun.
We’ve not had a Christmas back in Australia for four years now, hopefully, we’ll make it back next year. I also miss my close friends. We have lots of friends here and I love meeting new people but there is, of course, something so wonderful and comforting about old friends. And I miss the beach!! Sydney is such an incredibly beautiful town.
Do your children show any signs of following in your creative footsteps?
Yes!! They are so lucky to be living in LA – they are both very naturally talented little thespians and there are so many opportunities for them here. I am just about to go off and watch my 8 y/o son play Charlie Brown in his school Christmas play. And on the weekend we are going to watch my 6 y/o daughter play the Tin Man in Wizard of OZ at YADA (the Youth Academy of Dramatic Art).
My favourite way to nurture them creatively is to limit the amount of screen time they get! Screen time tends to make then grumpy and mind-numb but when they have to divert their attentions to something else you see their imaginations soar.
Lifestyle and family life
It is chaotic!! You should see my house at the moment… it’s utter mayhem! But full of love and life. My kids are wild and creative and never, ever stop. They bounce from one idea to the next with impressive speed. I find my life to be a monumental juggle, I’m constantly changing hats between actress, writer, and parent… time is always an issue, but of course, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The main focus in 2017
I am determined to get my film, Lovestruck made.
The early days
I grew up in Sydney’s Northen Beaches, essentially a surf rat/musician/pot-head; left school at 15 etc. It was a different world then. By 18 I was living in a long-term de-facto relationship; just the two of us, a quarter-acre-block home in North Avalon, a cat, a dog, 2 cars, a bank loan and a motorbike, both working full-time. I had a beard and looked about 30. We were like a married couple. Whereas these days, at 18, most kids are still…well, kids, at home, at Uni/college etc. Things have changed so much it seems. Growing up I certainly knew absolutely nothing about movies or the film industry; not until I was 25 and decided to try a part-time acting class.
Your children’s early days…by contrast
Gee. My kids have grown up in Hollywood. They’ve already been on several sets, they’ve both acted in one movie (look out for them in The Duel).
They go to an amazing public school in the Hollywood Hills where they are always encouraged to create and to express themselves. It’s very different to the early ‘70’s primary school I attended, where every single kid was Anglo/Catholic and the academic bedrock was the three R’s and the cane (I can still recall an absolute furor and subsequent referendum when calculators were suggested as a learning tool for fourth grade…) Whereas my own kids are quite worldly; they’ve even had the experience of 4 months spent living in a tiny, rural town in Mississippi, attending school there and getting to know an entirely different and unique culture. They’ve traveled and met people from all corners of the world – and now they’re both (continually) writing scripts and stories and making movies. They do it every day. It’s not something we ever push – but we do encourage the creativity and the self-expression, and they thrive on it. They’re really lucky kids – but, (already, thankfully) they appear to have the wherewithal to be grateful for it. They’re definitely the best two people I’ve ever met.
To be honest, the whole thing really was just happenstance. That part-time acting class led to me auditioning for Drama schools and ultimately spending 3 years studying. Prior to that, it was all just 200% music. But then I was 30 when I graduated and 31 when I made my first short film and began working regularly on film and TV sets as an actor. I’d also begun writing while at Drama School (and so all of my writing sprang from a character base first, which I’m eternally grateful for), and so I then spent many, many years writing scripts, acting, making occasional short films or music videos and essentially just learning.
I was 45 when I made my first movie. I guess my principal inspiration throughout though was reading. I was (and still am) an absolute bibliophile, right from around age 6, and it was my dad’s book collection that really opened me up to a love of stories and characters. My first full-time job, at 15, was in a book shop, what’s so great to experience now is my 8 y/o son is exactly the same as I was. You simply cannot get his head out of a book. And my daughter, at 6, is just now finding it for herself. I see it as a blessing for them, something they’ll be eternally grateful for. But I do still remember 3 movie experiences that were somewhat ground-shaking for me… Where Eagles Dare, when I was 11 years old, projected onto a projected onto a classroom wall, just blew my #@$%ing mind… Then Cabaret at around 15 – and ultimately, when I was 30, I saw State of Grace for the first time. These were seminal moments for me. Each of them incredibly inspiring and formative.
How Did You Meet Felicity?
A dumb, off-beat acting job. I fell in love at first sight and she utterly and entirely, flat-out rejected me. Just zero interest. I think, eventually, (like, 3 years later…) she must have felt sorry for me… Something changed her mind. Perhaps it was my vast wealth and obvious stability.
The Biggest Differences Between Working in Australia and LA.
As a filmmaker, it’s an entirely different business. It’d take an entire essay to break it down, but in short – Hollywood, and really filmmaking in American in general, revolves 100% around money. As does America in general (another essay). Hollywood today, is, sadly, corporate. There’s zero romance in it anymore. The days of huge personalities and mavericks and risk taking are long gone, and I find it little different to Wall Street.
The Australian industry, by comparison, still values, encourages and celebrates an expression of and/or on culture, identity and character. And the reason for that is very simple; Government involvement. Australian filmmakers are incredibly privileged to have the support and the financial backing of the government. It means we’re able to get that all-critical first run on the board. In America, you can only ever do that with the assistance of financial benefactors, which means that an enormous amount of artists without the right connections, the academic education and/or privileges, even the ‘right’ personality or (dare I say) identity, are simply never going to get their shot. America is Darwinian. It is, flat out, law of the jungle. Whereas in Australia, while it’s still very competitive and the ‘selection’ process is always going to be open to critique on account of the absolute subjectivity inherent in human beings and Art, there still is the always aspired to (I believe) notion of a ‘fair go’. So it’s ultimately your work and your character that does the talking – whereas in the US, money (and only money) talks. Cut and dried.
The biggest challenges you face in LA.
Probably, truthfully, not having any family around to help out with the kids when needed. There’s an awful lot of ‘meetings’ that go with the job – as well, obviously, as just time spent writing, researching, on the phone or what have you – and the kids need to be picked up from school at 2.30pm and subsequently managed until bed time. And my wife and I both need to work. So that can be hard to navigate.
What you miss most about Australia.
The surf breaks I grew up on… my family… several very special friends. But I have to admit, I really, really do love it here.
Who you admire professionally and why.
Anyone and everyone who’s ever been through the grind, survived it and ultimately succeeded in achieving that ‘aspired to’ position of integrity, credibility, validation, self-expression and freedom (define how you will). Because it takes all that you have, and then some… If you can pull that off – and you’ve not had to tread on anyone to get through it all and to ultimately reach that place, especially in the face of greed, misrepresentation, immorality, bigotry, bullying, criminality and other people’s lack of belief – then you deserve full credit and respect.
I’d love, love to spend a decent chunk of time living and working in Italy… France also, but there’s something about the idea of Italy….both the coast and the countryside. I kind of have this (barely thought through) dream of one day making an Italian/Australian, pre-teen type, family drama. A love story. First love, at 12; a summer holiday romance… Maybe even with one or both of my kids acting (though not as lovers!)
I have had the good fortune of being able to work in both Cambodia (Wish You Were Here) and The Philippines (Jack Irish). Traveling with/for work is always special. It is, hands down, one of the more special (and privileged) perks that come with the job.
Your greatest achievement professionally.
Meeting and (eventually) marrying my wife. I’m serious! Without Felicity, I’d never have had the opportunity of making Wish You Were Here (it was her idea, after all). And without that film?? Gosh… Who knows. It’s all just sliding doors really. I have no idea what I’d be doing right now. Sure, maybe I might have made something else? It’s certainly possible. God knows I was trying. But then perhaps I’d have chucked it all in eventually and gone back to music? Or driving trucks.
Has fatherhood changed the way you work?
Categorically. Although fatherhood, along with the corresponding entire experience of making Wish You Were Here and then seeing it released and succeed, were entirely interwoven. And I’ve always said (if asked) that ever since then, I’ve not felt the need, ever (nor do I suspect I ever will), to prove myself to anyone anymore. That movie checked every box for me, creatively, personally and professionally, and so if I won the lottery and had the opportunity of never needing to work again – then the only thing that would prevent that from actually happening is the fact that I love making movies… Whatever I do now is a bonus. And for the moment, making movies happens to be my vocation; it’s my life. For me, there is ‘no work/life balance’. And I love that. I’m also getting older and more…well, spiritual, I guess, and so I don’t have that rabid, indefatigable, young person’s drive anymore. (And God knows I did possess that as a younger man).
I want to work because I love doing it and I need to play my part in keeping food on the table – but the most pleasure I get in life is from jamming with my son, or watching my daughter on stage at her theatre group, or just being in the same room as them. So yes, your sense of ambition, I guess, becomes more localized and specific when you have kids. My ambitions are mostly for them.
I do aspire always to do great work (that’s an entirely different thing) – and I’m an utter perfectionist as an artist (I really, badly, terribly do care about the quality and integrity of any work that I do) but that’s only really for myself and/or for those who might have invested time or money in me at the time. I really do believe that. Although…professionally speaking, I guess, I’d hate to see myself lose the opportunities I have right at the moment – and so perhaps there’s some kind of an ‘ambition’ there (though the word feels wrong to me), to remain vital and credible (and subsequently validated) because otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to give to my kids – and to all of us in our little family – every opportunity we have at living a full and rich life together. But back to the original question: it’s been said time and again – and it’s just so incredibly true: kids change everything. Life before and life after… Man… That is two entirely different planets.
Your plans for 2017.
I have several projects in various stages of development here. Two particular movies both plan to go ASAP – Ie. we’re out to cast with both projects and so it’s kind of a race as to which goes first. And both are great scripts with stellar companies. So I don’t really know yet. That’s probably the one thing I both love and hate about this job: is that you never know what’s happening, from one day to the next. So you can’t make plans. It’s like when you ring to make some kind of a medical appointment and there’s a long wait – and so they say “We can fit you in on April 16th at 2 pm. Does that work for you?” ….And you’re like… Dude… I literally have no idea where on earth I’ll be on April 16th….?? That’s a bit frustrating. Small price, though. Ultimately I feel extraordinarily grateful. And surprised. I’m black and blue from pinching myself.
Photographer – Alina Gozin’a
Styling – Cherith Crozier
Makeup Designer – Debbie Muller
Hair Stylist – Liz Taglia
Nail Technician – Radia Frost
Grading – Penny Black NYC
Linda Airey – LA Publicist – The Duel
Film stills photography credits to follow
Special Thanks To
Pascale Roux de Bezieux
Kitty The Intern