Suzanne Dervish-Ali starred in Teal Soldiers (2017), a 28 minute, Australian short film drama made 13 October 2017. Where Tiana (Suzanne Dervish-Ali) is just like any other 30-year-old woman until she goes to the doctor and those three dreaded words turn her life around forever. You have cancer. Suzanne relates her experience to us working on this film.
indieactivity: How did you get connected to the project?
Suzanne Dervish-Ali (SD): I found the casting notice for ‘Teal Soldiers’ and was instantly intrigued and applied to audition immediately. At my call back, I auditioned with actors who were auditioning for other roles in the film. When filming started and the cast list went out, all the other actors in my audition secured their roles as well, so it was pretty exciting! I knew we all had good chemistry and the shoot was going to be great.
As main cast on the project, how did this ‘choice’ work for you?
SD: ‘Teal Soldiers’ was one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever had the pleasure of working on and the choice to apply for the role was one of the best choices I’ve ever made in my acting career! I was at a crossroads in my life of wondering if I wanted to continue acting or take another job in a different industry. I thought to myself, if I get this role, it’s a sign that I’m meant to pursue this career! I haven’t looked back since… well sometimes I wonder if I should keep going, but I think that’s normal. Am I right, fellow actors?!? With this industry comes rejection, and you have to learn to not let it get to you, otherwise it can get you down . You just need to stay focused so when you get rewarded, you can enjoy the moment!
What part of the story challenged you when you read it? What drove you to get on the project?
SD: So many people have been affected by cancer in their lives, whether it was themselves, or someone around them. This subject matter was personal to me and I wanted to take the role and honour the bravery of all those victims and survivors of cancer out there
You’re not new to indie films. What do you enjoy about the work that keeps you working?
SD: I love working with the people – the cast & crew. When you are on an indie set, there usually isn’t a lot of money involved, so everyone is there because they WANT to be there. These are the most connected and amazing sets because everyone knows they are involved in making something greater than themselves. It’s an addictive feeling to want to be involved in great art and to help tell a story. I’ll continue to go wherever the stories take me!
Give an example of a direction you received from the director during the production?
SD: There was a moment in a scene where I had to slam a door and turn back to the camera. The director, Jonathan Creed, wanted a certain determined look from me as I turned back around. I was having so much trouble with conveying this ‘look’ as it wasn’t where my emotional journey had taken me in the scene. Jonathan was patient with me as we did several takes, finally, we had to come up with a reason for me to get to that point, which we did. Sometimes when a piece of direction doesn’t come organically to you as an actor, the most understanding directors will discuss it with you & help find a way to make it natural for you, and this is exactly what Jonathan did.
How did you create your character from the ground up?
SD: I took the things that worked from the audition and built my character upon that. I had a journal for my character that I created, something I could draw upon during the shoot as most of my scenes required high emotional intensity, and I’m not the best at ‘crying on cue’. It was definitely a big process as there was so much emotional depth needed and I wanted to give myself the best chance possible to give a truthful representation of the character.
As the main cast of the film, describe the feeling of responsibility that you shouldered. Were you scared? Or did it fire you up? What scenes were difficult to shoot?
SD: I feel that as an actor, you have a responsibility to every character you play, especially a character suffering from cancer. This is a true story, so I had to respect not only the person ‘Teal Soldiers’ was about, but also every person out there who had ever been diagnosed with cancer. I wasn’t scared, but I definitely was aware that as the lead, a lot was resting on my shoulders to hit those emotions when I needed to so I didn’t hold up any production time. One of the most difficult scenes for me to shoot was our first day of shooting actually – it’s at the end of the film and (without spoiling anything), my character has to go from one extreme emotion to another in a matter of seconds… and I felt the pressure as there were a lot of people in the scene! I was glad to get that one done on day one!
Explain one creative choice you made on set during production?
SD: Everything you do is a creative choice, from prepping for your role to being on set and living the life of your character! I don’t think I can pinpoint one… ok maybe I can. I definitely got a subtle gist from the script itself that my character had a good sense of humour. Although it was never spoken about with me, or heavily suggested in the script, I chose to approach some of my scenes with that light humour. A lot of the content was heavy and I wanted a contrast in my character at times, so that’s what I did!
What did you take away from the film production?
SD: Definitely that when someone has a story so powerful to tell, so many wonderful people will come together and give up their time, their days, and their weekends to help create it! The cast and crew were amazingly supportive, everyone was there because we knew that this was a film that needed to be made, and the message of this film needed to be out there for young women to see. I have so much gratitude for everything I learned on this set and for everyone I met!
What do you like most about the director and his/her collaboration with his/her team?
SD: The great thing about Jonathan is he really is an actor’s director. Before filming had even begun, he arranged to meet with me to discuss the script and start with the development of my character. I found this so helpful as you knew straight away that his heart was in this film as much as anyone else’s and it was equally as important for him that these characters were portrayed as honestly as possible. It was a solid foundation to build upon and really built that trust between us before shooting began.
What is next for you?
SD: I honestly don’t know! I wish I had more of an idea where this career is taking me, but I guess that’s part of the journey! I have gotten more involved with writing my own films lately as well as developing a TV series. There is something so powerful about being on the other side of the process and being able to write the stories you want to tell and the roles you’d love to play. You finally get to make the decisions that you have no control over as an actor… and you also don’t have to audition! Which is a nice change!
What advice do you give actors regarding what you learned on the project?
SD: If you see a character breakdown and you know it’s someone you were born to play… put yourself out there and audition!! You never know where the road may take you! Even if you don’t get the role, you get to live the life of the character for the audition, and that is something no one can take away from you! Also, choose projects you are passionate about, it makes the journey and the final product so much more rewarding!
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