UAE-based Australian thesp Blake Stemm, 28, on juggling multiple jobs, developing a thick skin, and crying on demand
How did you get into acting?
I decided it was what I wanted to do as a kid; I remember telling my mum while we were driving to school. She pulled the car over and said, ‘That’s nice’, and that she fully supported me, but that I should get a degree first, just in case. I followed her advice, got a marketing and events degree and now I use that on the side when not acting.
Where will we have seen you?
In Neighbours, Packed to the Rafters and Winners & Losers – all TV shows in Australia.
Do most actors juggle several jobs?
Yes, and the obvious answer as to why that’s so is you have bills to pay. Studies have shown it’s the most competitive industry to work in. In most industries, maybe 85 per cent of people will be successful. In acting you’re looking at about 1.5 per cent.
What brought you to the UAE?
I moved here from Melbourne four years ago because I needed a change of scenery. Also, seeing the developing potential for acting work in the country made me want to come over and explore that.
Is the UAE movie business heating up?
It’s starting to show more opportunities. Previously it used to be mainly Arabic films, but we’re now seeing Western productions such as Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Furious 7 and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and the upcoming Brad Pitt movie War Machine coming here.
If a Hollywood A-lister earns $15 million (Dh55 million) per movie, what might a UAE equivalent get on a big-budget film here?
You wouldn’t earn that much, but maybe a couple of million dollars.
So it’s fair to say there’s just not enough work to go around?
Yes. That’s why I do modelling, acting, TV and radio presenting, and emceeing at events. It’s all about using my skills as an actor, gaining more experience, and making money, enough to pay my bills.
If you had the chance to audition for a small part in a Hollywood movie, what would the process be?
There are two types of auditions: the open casting call, which means the casting director has no idea what type of person they want, and the characteristic-specific casting, where they will send a brief out to agents. If you fit, you turn up for the audition.
What happens then?
You might have been given a script to learn from, or you may be given it in the room and do a cold read. You typically do it one or two times, they say thanks very much and you generally don’t get feedback. The next step is a phone call if you get the role, and no call if you don’t.
So you have to develop a tough skin?
Yes. You have to be able to go in, do the job, know you’ve given your best and then walk away and forget all about it. If something comes of it, that’s when you step back, focus and go again.
What separates a good actor from a bad one?
Probably three things. First, their ability to work with fellow actors; second, the passion to work, because acting is a very difficult career, and you have to want it every single waking minute. The third would be to be business-savvy. Hugh Jackman told me that acting is a business and you have to treat it that way, with a business plan, and goals.
Can most decent actors cry on demand?
I’d say about 65 per cent can. Each has a different way of getting into being able to do that; part of the acting course that I teach in the UAE explores the emotion of sadness and how your body reacts to help you to be able to do that. Most of my students can cry on demand. Actors do practise it because it’s a skill, and casting directors do sometimes want to know you can do it.
What was your scariest day as an actor?
One time, on a production of Rent in Melbourne, the lead actor was in a car accident. As I was his understudy, I had to go on for him. It was only the second night, and I was told about it a minute before the show. I just had to go out and make it happen.
And what was the best day?
Probably working on Star Trek Beyond here in the Middle East and being able to work closely with Chris Pine and some of the other lead cast. I can’t say much more about it!