When Suzanne Dervish-Ali was in sixth grade, she got cast in the school production of Peter Pan as Wendy. I was always known for my dancing, but this was my first big acting role on a stage! I was immediately hooked on performing and as I got older, I got completely intrigued by these characters in plays and movies that were the complete opposite of me. These characters could say what they want when they wanted and they weren’t afraid to speak their minds and they did things I’d never dare of doing. The craft of acting really intrigued me, but I wanted to know more and I wanted to be able to live all these different lives and experience all these different things.
indieactivity: Did you study acting?
Suzanne Dervish-Ali (SD): I studied acting immediately out of high school. I was very fresh, very young, and looking back now, completely didn’t know what I was in for! I studied at the Academy of Screen Performance, a small acting school on the Gold Coast for a year, then I dabbled in classes with different teachers for a few years, and then a few years later when I was more focused, I auditioned for a full time acting course at the Film & TV International. This course helped me focus primarily on my TV and film acting and I definitely loved acting all day, every day! I got a lot out of that course, but as we all know, good things come to an end! After graduating, I started attending Tom McSweeney’s weekly acting classes at the Actors Warehouse. Tom is by far my favourite acting teacher I’ve had, he teaches you to look at scripts with such depth and detail and always challenges you to be the best you can be! I truly recommend his classes if you are Queensland based!
Watch Suzanne Dervish-Ali Acting Reel
What acting technique do you use?
Suzanne Dervish-Ali (SD): I’m not an actor that follows one technique step by step, but I definitely take what works for me from different methods. I love using sense memory from Lee Strasberg, I use this in times when high emotional intensity is demanded from me. I also love using practical aesthetics to find a way for the scene to relate to me. I love script analysis and believe it brings out the most colourful performance for me. It truly connects you to the writer’s thoughts and I always have a lot of ‘aha!’ moments when I do it! So that is my go-to before getting a character off the page! However much work I put into a script, I always let that go when living the life of my character and let the work unfold organically.
Do you take courses to improve your craft?
Suzanne Dervish-Ali (SD): Sometimes there can be times where there is a bit of time in between jobs and it’s really important to always keep your craft alive. Not only for your own practice but to always keep you inspired and working towards that next audition or job. I like to do a short course for my audition technique, this always keeps me working on scripts, plus it keeps my confidence and practice up in front of the camera and performing in front of other people. I also love writing and creating short films or scenes. This keeps my mind working and allows me to look at acting from a different perspective.
WHat acting books do you read?
SD: I have a ton of books, but the ones I always seem to come back to and flick through for those small bouts of inspiration are, Margie Haber’s book, “How to get the part without falling apart”. I got the chance to study with Margie Haber in LA and she is an absolute gem! She is so inspirational and changes the way you look at acting altogether. If you can’t be in LA to study with Margie, then her book is the next best thing! I also love reading plays from different playwrights, some new, some old. Reading plays forces you to use your imagination and this is incredibly important for an actor. Most recently I’ve gotten hooked on reading actor’s autobiographies. It’s interesting to see how each actor started and the journey they traveled to get to where they are now. It can really inspire you with ideas about your own career and how to achieve the things you want.
How do you keep fit as an actor?
SD: A lot of reading. I read plays, autobiographies, anything that will inspire me to work on my craft. I love to write films and this gets me thinking about the other side of a script and what’s involved. I am a dancer, so I love to keep fit with dance and choreography. Anything to get those creative sparks flying really!
How do you prepare for a role?
SD: Firstly, I’d start to analyze the script. Scene by scene. I know that’s not what some people like to do, but I feel it helps me understand the role more and the peaks and valleys that are required. After analyzing my scenes and familiarizing myself with my character’s journey, I’ll forget the intellectual side of it and walk around the room, reading the script, and really putting myself in that situation. Instead of thinking through it, I’m actually up and my energy is flowing and I’m physicalizing my body to the script. It’s just as important for you to look at the other character’s parts as much as yours. You’re really only getting half the story if you only focus on your character.
How do you create a character from a script into a person?
SD: If I’ve auditioned for the role and gotten it, I definitely build on what I brought into the audition room. Depending on what type of character it is, I’d do different things to start piecing the puzzle together. For my role in ‘Teal Soldiers,’ I chose to write a character journal that had entries leading up to the beginning of the script and throughout the script. It was a great tool to have because I could draw from it when filming really intense scenes. If it was a character who had a lot of interests I didn’t have, I’d research them, maybe even take a few classes, I’d listen to music that represents my character. Actually ‘live the life’. Put yourself in their shoes and just… think. That’s one thing Margie Haber is amazing at, helping you create the life of your character.
How od stay fresh during a production?
SD: I try not to expend too much energy in between scenes because it can be quite draining being on set. There is a lot of waiting around and if you are ‘on’ 24/7, then you have nothing left to give when your scene comes along. I like to bring my earphones and listen to music, or find a quiet spot and go over my notes for the next scene I’m in. In between takes, I stay focused on my character and what I want. I have to stay invested in between takes because emotion can be lost so easily and you want to stay in it.
Explain a creative choice you took on set?
SD: I was in one scene in ‘Burns Point’ and although it was only one scene, my character was so well written, I got an immediate sense of whom she was. It really is one of my favourite characters I’ve played because I’m nothing like this girl! The director, Tim Blackburn – one of the amazing directors I’ve been so lucky to work with, gave me some simple direction about my blocking and the rest was up to me! Sometimes when you come in as a day player, you aren’t the focus, which is fine, but this means you have to come to set prepared and make choices on how you are going to bring that character to life. It also helps when the writing is great!
Describe a memorable character that you played?
SD: My most memorable character to date has been the role of Tiana in ‘Teal Soldiers’, a short film about a young woman that’s diagnosed with ovarian cancer. This was released in 2017 and was definitely the most challenging and intense role I’ve gotten to play. It was an amazing experience from the first audition all the way until the premiere!
What do you want most from a director?
SD: Communication. A director that knows how to communicate his vision to you really helps when you’re preparing for a scene. Also having a director who lets you know that there is no pressure (when there is!) about hitting emotional moments is amazing because it can stilt you as an actor to know that everyone could be waiting on you. I’ve been extremely lucky to work with some amazingly patient and understanding directors with great visions and communication!
Which actor do you long to work with?
SD: I love Sam Rockwell. He’s absolutely amazing in anything he does!
SD: Sam Rockwell always gives his character’s vulnerability. He is just so charismatic and likable on screen, even if his characters aren’t meant to be. He has the ability to turn your perspective around as you watch his characters evolve. That is the most powerful thing an actor can do – find all these layers that perhaps even the writers didn’t know existed and bring those nuances and mannerisms to light. His characters are three-dimensional and have real qualities that you can identify with and recognize in everyday people. He does this so gloriously. He would be amazing to work with just to watch his process.
What advice do you give actors?
SD: Never stop believing in your talents! This industry can really test you. One moment you think you are taking a giant leap forward and all of a sudden you can get shoved three steps back. Don’t give up on yourself and keep chasing that dream. Do as many classes, go to as many networking events, and meet as many like-minded people as you can! Keep creating your art, because eventually your time will roll around and you want to be as ready as you can be!
Briefly write about your career?
SD: I’ve always loved acting, dance, and choreography. I’ve been so lucky to study with some amazing teachers from casting director, Tom McSweeney, to acting guru, Margie Haber. I was lucky enough to also be offered a scholarship to NYFA in LA & I’ve most recently received a best actress nomination for my work as a cancer victim in Teal Soldiers, (2017). My feature film credits also include Burns Point, (2016), Open Water 3: Cage Dive (2017), Thor: Ragnarok (2017) & The Professional Idiot (2012). Every role that I’ve gotten has been a small win for me in some way and I have to celebrate that, even if I feel I’ve still got a long way to go before I achieve my goals. You have to recognize your accomplishments and sometimes as actors or performers in general, we are so hard on ourselves and we don’t give ourselves the pat on the back we deserve sometimes! I’ve also succeeded as an accomplished dancer and choreographer, creating & performing for Dreamworks, ABC KIDS, The Wiggles and shows on the stages of Dreamworld.
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