This is a piece by Laura McIntosh about working on a popular Australian soap opera.

So I’m an actor who writes. Or a writer who acts. I like to do both.

Chiefly though, I’m an actor. A professional one. Which means I spend a lot of time at family gatherings justifying my career choice to relatives who work in finance. It also means that I can claim a tonne of organic make-up as “deductions” in the tools, equipment, and assets section of my tax return. I think. I should check that.

But I have always also kind of felt like a writer, in some vague sense.

In year 5, I penned a moving little poem concerning the sinking of the Titanic (it was ’97, Leo and Kate fever was off the chain). I’d seen the flick several times in the cinema and had a fairly vivid rendering of how shit went down, coupled with a spritely kiddy imagination, before the adolescent binge-drinking ironed me out by ’02. But in year 5 my metaphors were tight. My similes were next- level. I was the shit, the poem was a gem. I rhymed starboard side with slowly died, and it warped the teacher’s mind. So much so, she demanded the piece be read aloud over the PA, so the other kids could reflect on its power, its simplicity. Titanic-inspired poetry of this calibre was too good to keep in the binder. Unfortunately I was too shy to do it, so a boisterous friend with a hearty voice stepped in. Ironic, considering I was the dolt who pursued a career in acting. Should be in finance like her. Then I’d have all the stuff.

At 21, I wrote a charming short story about a babysitter who smokes too many jazz cigarettes, and has a very strange night in the house of the couple she’s minding for. It married the pared-back naturalism of Raymond Carver with the fruitiness of Miranda July, and was accepted into a modest Melbourne periodical. Published! In print! The parents were delighted, mostly.

“But how did you know what it might feel like to use the Marijuana, darling...?” “I Googled it, parents...swear to God...”.

More recently, there was a long, lonely winter, when I thought it a good exercise in creativity to lock myself in the house for a month with my laptop and a half-baked script idea, zero central heating, some inadequate cotton jumpers, not enough food for the temperature to metabolism ratio, and attempt to write a screenplay. A whole bloody screenplay. A friend knocked on the door one bleak afternoon, weeks into the siege, checking that I was still alive, and promptly told me I looked like total shit. And the screenplay is really and truly awful. Just woeful.

But there’s lot of bad writing out there. A lot that makes it to the shooting script that probably shouldn’t have. There’s that great anecdote from the Star Wars set, where Harry Ford pulls George Lucas aside and says, "George, you can type this shit, but you can't say it!”.

It’s so true. A few years back I was cast in a recurring guest role on a long-running Australian cul- de-sac soap opera that will remain unnamed. On said soap opera, I got the catering, renumeration, and glamorous call times enjoyed by regular cast members, without the added stress of being constantly hammered by British tourists in K-mart. But the lines were often hard to say. Like really, really hard. Humans in real life don’t talk quite like they do on soap operas. Real humans have nuances and subtext, subtleties and quirks. But not in soap world. An average session with the drama coach would look like this:

“Sue, I would never say this like this”.

“You’re right, no one would. Ever. Say it in a way that doesn’t sound like you’ve completely rewritten it. But do. Rewrite it. And I mean completely”.

“But Sue, I’ve played this scene before, like three times. You know, when I was illegally sleeping in the garage, remember? Only last time there was no crow-bar. It was the sniper story-arch.”

I’m not even joking.

“Well, find a way to make it sound new, it’s just there for the twelve year-olds in Leeds who need daily plot-refreshers”.
And round and round we’d go, until I would find a way to say the words like a real human might, because that’s what being an actor is, I suppose. Making the words work. Even when they make little to no sense. And I did learn a lot from that cul-de-sac soap opera. Sometimes you have to swallow your pride, remove the critical writer’s hat, toss the ego aside, and get on with the job, service the bigger picture. Even if it means yelling things like, “you’re using me as bait, Mike! Bait! I knew I should never have left Adelaide!” in a freezing studio at seven in the morning, jacked-up on greenroom Nespressos.

And then there are the American auditions, entirely different beasts. Sprawling supernatural sagas where every second character is a two hundred year-old werewolf from Omsk, and the scripts simmer with violence, which must somehow be played-out in an audition scenario.

“Could I just maybe, like, skim over the part where like, I use my...vampire like, fracture the demon’s vertebrae?”

“No, we will need to see that on tape”

“...oh, ok...sure...yep...”.

Or the verbose medical dramas and weighty legal procedurals, chock-full of dense technical jargon, another language to the average layperson, and doubly as hard to deliver when you throw in that rhotic r sound. There was this one particular script, a strident young doctor, helming a huge operation, lots of medi-talk, and important-sounding exposition. And I just couldn’t get it out. My mouth literally couldn’t form the words quick enough to service the pithy dialogue. Every line was pain. Paragraphs and paragraphs concerning hearts, arteries, chambers, and ventricles. So many Rs.

“But can’t I just say, the veiny thingy in the thing next to the heart bit thingy? Or something?”

“No. That makes no medical sense”

“Yeah, but it’s easier to say. I can do it confidently, like I’m an actual doctor. Who even talks like this?”

“Doctors do. Doctors talk like that because they’re doctors, Laura”

“But it’s so hard to say-”

“Maybe you're just a bad actor...”

Maybe. In the end, we chopped up the entire scene and taped it to the tripod, the bookshelf, pot plan, my own arm, probably the cat, and various other focal points around the room. So I could see the big, hard words. Everywhere. All around. Basically so I could cheat. Because sometimes acting has to be cheating, when there is didactic medical information involved. It was a shambles. Needless to say I didn’t get the role.

So now I’m at the point where I’m starting to write my own stuff. Little web-based things that probably only my mother will like on youtube. But even that has it’s own dangers. The ever-critical brain kicks into over-drive, constantly editing and rewriting the words, mulling over adjective choices, character nuances, etc, because I suppose one has the luxury to do so. But I’ll keep going, with the acting and the writing, because I guess for now, I like to do both. 

Laura is co-writer and actor in web series Pint Dreams, due for release in 2017. Check out their page here:

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Laura McIntosh's picture

Laura McIntosh

Laura McIntosh is a Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) acting graduate. TV work includes Neighbours, Winners & Losers, It’s a Date, and Jack Irish. Short film credits include Peachy Keen, Antwood, Odd Circumstances and Falling, which was nominated for an AFI/ AACTA award in the Social Shorts category for best short drama. Theatre credits include Piranha Heights (The New Theatre), Charcoal Creek (Wollongong Theatre Co), and Dial M for Murder (The Actors’ Forum). Laura is co-writer and actor in web series Pint Dreams, due for release in 2017. Check out their page here: