Interview of Hannah Galbraith by Amanda Attanayake
Hey Hannah, how are you?
I am super chilly but have a hot chocolate in hand to keep me company as I walk through the snowflakes. The streets of the East Village are endlessly inspiring so I am fantastic! I’m on my way to see a good Strasberg mate of mine, we are meeting under the big, beautiful, blazing neon sign of our favorite diner. Catching up about our upcoming projects and to swoon over our guilty pleasures, like how cute Zac Efron looks in his new movie. He’s more than just a pretty face and cheesegrater abs.
What are you up to these days?
Every morning I wake up prepared for anything the city has to throw at me. I may set out into my day with a plan but NYC has a mind of her own and I end up having an adventure every time I leave my apartment. I wear Docs every day, they are the perfect protection from the snow and Lower East side cat-sized rats and they keep me rough and ready for the inevitable impromptu dance party in the Union Square Subway.
I’m wrapping up my studies at The Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute to continue pursuing my career in North America. I am creating a new web series, again something autobiographical and totally wild; I don’t think there’s anything quite like it out there. I am also writing a stage show about the late and great, one and only, Amy Winehouse. I want to honor her. On top of that I’m prepping to audition for The Actors Studio and possibly a performance at The Manhattan Repertory Theatre.
I also nanny for very glamorous Upper East Side families. This all may seem very ‘Devil Wears Prada’, and it is, just without the Prada!
How does living in New York differ from Australia? What are the challenges?
Living in New York is quite different to Australia. I grew up on the Sunshine Coast and finished high school there. It was a tropical paradise, you could easily connect to nature and peacefulness and it was such a treasure to swim in the ocean any moment you wished (it’s harder to do that here) but it was so small and small-minded and there was a lot of trouble to get into – which I did. But I’m thankful for those experiences; they informed Runaway Moon!
I studied acting for the very first time in Brisbane (Southbank Institute of Technology); it was a big city but nothing like this. Right before moving back to New York, I lived in Adelaide, working in the independent film industry which is such a tight-knit community. There are definitely many more people over here trying to make it. With more talent and more competition, it takes longer to find your tribe. You can’t be shy here, there’s no time for that. If you have something, you step up and you better have it. But I don’t really think I’m happy or feeling alive or proud of myself unless I’m challenged.
What is your dream occupation for when you finish studying?
I think I’ll always be studying, learning. I’ve always dreamed of living in New York and becoming an actress so I feel like I’m living that. When I was 13 living in a little beach community in Australia, I would make collages and vision boards filled with images of NYC and the greats who studied at Strasberg.
Eventually I would love to direct a film and work with people I am inspired by and who I can learn more from. I also love showing people parts of themselves they didn’t know existed. I love collaborating. I’m definitely a team player. My background in theatre makes me a firm believer in the strength through the ensemble. I think it should be about giving to your fellow actor.
But right now my dream is to pay the bills with my acting and creating chops! Work with Lars, Fincher ya know, I just want to live and breathe it.
You recently published a web series called Runaway Moon. Tell us a little bit about it.
Runaway Moon was an idea I had when I finished my first stint at Strasberg and I had to return to Australia for a bit. I didn’t fit anywhere and it was really birthed from the chaos you feel as an actor. You are kind of at the mercy of other people who don’t know you or your truth or your beauty or what you have to offer besides first impressions – at least that’s the story we tell ourselves. I decided to change the story for myself.
I was watching a lot of Xavier Dolan films at the time, he is really incredible. I watched his film Mommy and I was completely changed. I knew what I had to do. So I wrote the first episode in a frenzy and it all rolled from there. I knew I wanted it to be autobiographical. I wanted to tell a story that was for outsiders, wild ones who don’t know where they belong, and tell them that that’s okay. Band together and don’t run away from what makes you, you.
In co-writing the series, you had great power over the story. What was necessary for you to include in or omit from the story, and why?
The truth! Really honouring the core truth of these characters, because pretty much every character was inspired by someone in real life. So it was extremely important and it had to be brave and brash and vulnerable and the cast really had to go there. No pretty boys. I mean, there are a lot of cute boys in Runaway Moon but not one of them were afraid to get their hands dirty, and that’s what I love working with.
The goal was always to have the adventure be front and centre. Our characters never have time to stop and deliver monologues or feel bad for themselves. They move forward, they act and are decisive, and that makes them heroic.
In terms of diversity, we just cast the best people for the roles. But we purposefully took a colorblind approach – in itself a political decision. Australia is a very diverse nation and by simply casting the right people we become an accurate reflection of that.
In too much cinema, a character who is not Anglo has to have their ethnicity become a specific part of their character. It always has to be explained for some reason! Aaron Schuppan, our director, was very purposeful in never once having characters speak about their ethnicity. We never address Travis’s Congolese accent. We never explain why Moonie & Lupita are Latina. It just is. Because that is the world.
You’ve mentioned that the soundtrack for the series was incredibly important. What sense did you want to create with the music?
Every single piece of music was a little symphony of magic. Our Director, Screenwriter and hunky co-star Aaron Schuppan works closely with musicians and has such a passion and understanding. He really orchestrated brilliance alongside our amazing sound designer, Leigh Kenyon.
Having every piece of music from the city the show is set in was really important. Adelaide is a very raw, one-of-a-kind place that breeds a special kind of music scene. We wanted the kind of soundtrack that you would buy on CD back in the day. It’s like a real stamp in time representing Adelaide to the world.
Runaway Moon is the music. It has heart and guts but the heartbeat follows a rhythm, guided by the soundtrack. There was a particular sense of exhilaration I wanted. I absolutely live for those moments when I’m watching something. The music takes you by the hand and whispers “Come away with me” or it can grab you by the shirt and say “Come on! We gotta get outta here!” I love, love, love the way the film HANNA with Saoirse Ronan and Cate Blanchett does that, (purely coincidence that it shares my name, but super cool nonetheless). The Chemical Brothers are on the next level.
What advice would you have for people who have a dream to create their own cinema/series?
I’m still such a foetus when it comes to creating my own work, but the first thing I’d probably say is that stay brave, stay vulnerable, stay inspired. Every big idea you have is so important and needs to be discovered. There’s a lot that goes into it: it’s a lot of time. Get ready to give up about two years of your life, especially if you want it edited properly with good sound design. You have to really love it. Another thing I would say is just start. If you have an idea that’s been floating around in your head for forever, it’s there for a reason. So, set the deadline, even just a small one. That’s when things start rolling. The last thing I want to add is passion, passion, passion. I’m not an expert in any field, but I’m passionate about this, and that’s why I can gather a crew. I find people’s work that I’m really inspired by. I approach them and genuinely say ‘your work is incredible, I’d love to collaborate with you’. Passion is what gets people hooked. Knowing your ‘why’ and sharing it with people is really important. Young women, young men, whoever is reading this: you are amazing and your story is worthy of being shared. That’s why I made Runaway Moon, not only to put myself out there as an actor, but also to share a universal story with people. If you feel lost, or like an outsider, it’s very important that you share your story, because there are a lot of conversations happening right now, and you should really join the dialogue.
Who is your heroine?
I look up to anyone female, male, gay, bi, or trans who is brave enough to be themselves and put it all out there. I’m constantly finding heroines through Instagram, I love @red_shiraz and @mewsha; I drool over them. They both come from families who immigrated to Australia and I identify with them and what it’s like growing up with hair in the ‘wrong’ places, and dealing with racism and bullying at school.
I’m a huge fan of women who challenge beauty ideals and embrace their flaws as their best assets; Frida Kahlo, Pina Bausch, FKA Twigs, Charlotte Gainsbourg.
My mother is definitely a woman I admire for her strength, balls and persistence. she’s raised me to be the gypsy I am and supports all my crazy ideas. Whenever I feel like I’m slipping I remember how she smuggled me out of Mexico to start a new life and she was just a couple years younger than me now! I love her brutal honesty; she’s a tough broad and she’s got this gorgeous lion mane of tumbling golden locks. She loves the ocean, she’s full of mystery. I think she was meant to be a mermaid.
Oh and Angelina Jolie. Yesterday, today and tomorrow.