Emm Wiseman has the kind of luminous screen presence that can’t be taught. It’s a combination of natural acting ability, an ice-blue gaze that portrays both strength and vulnerability and that magical quality every actor wishes they had: charisma.
The former Sunshine Coast local took a giant leap in February this year, moving to Los Angeles, and in a short time has established herself as a new Australian talent to watch.
In her first feature film, the 2018 gothic thriller Winchester, she starred opposite Dame Helen Mirren. At 28, she’s starting later than most actors, but is quickly making an impact.
“To be able to work with Helen Mirren was surreal,” she says. “For someone of her status and celebrity, she was so gracious and patient.
“I remember her saying to one of the directors after the first table reading, ‘you don’t have to worry about me. I will never be late. You can always rely on me’. I think that set a real precedent for how I go about work. It’s about respect and professionalism and I think that’s what a lot of the Aussies in LA tend to have a lot of.
“I heard about Aussies doing well in LA when I was growing up but I thought it was a myth,” she adds. “I think there’s something about us, we’re a bit exotic even though we don’t see ourselves as exotic. Aussies come here to work and they work really hard.
“They’re really lovely about it most of the time, they’re welcoming and they enjoy doing the work, which I think is really well-received.”
Also in 2018, Ms Wiseman appeared in an award-winning Australian feature film called Celeste, gaining the attention of key industry insiders. “The producer Lizzette Atkins said in the audition room, ‘she’s like a young Nicole Kidman’,” she says.
“Any little glimpse that you are going in the right direction is always validating. There are so many rejections that sometimes you can drive yourself a little crazy, thinking, what am I doing, what is this freaky thing I’ve decided to embark on? For someone to say something like that is so encouraging.”
Ms Wiseman was born in the US, spent her early years in South Africa and moved to Australia with her parents at the age of five. The family moved to the Sunshine Coast when she was a teenager and she attended Sunshine Coast Grammar School. Her parents still live in Buderim and she considers it home.
“I am a Sunny Coast kid through and through,” she says. “It is one of the most beautiful places in the world. I just remember finishing school and we’d hop on the bus and go down to Mooloolaba Spit and get fish and chips. Those memories are the best.
“I was always a creative kid, but I never thought acting was a viable career choice until later on. My drama teacher Katie Livock took me under her wing and made the drama room a safe place for me to try and understand what was going on in my world at the time.
“It was kind of a tumultuous time and I really think it was from her seeing me and the struggles I was going through, and encouraging me to explore that in the drama room, that started my journey to where I am today.”
After school, Ms Wiseman moved to New South Wales to study, before landing a job in TV production. “One day I was sitting in the office looking out the window and I thought, this is not where I’m supposed to be.
“I’ve tried this, I’ve done the nine to five, but I’m not going to do it anymore. In 2016 I got an agent and it kind of went from there. I think the naivete of not knowing how the industry worked helped, because there was no fear. I just put down a bunch of scenes of myself on camera with my friends and sent it to the top 10 agents in Australia.”
As fate would have it, she stood out from the crowd and won the role in Winchester. After realising she had a real shot at an acting career, she sold her car and bought a one-way ticket to LA in February, only to immediately win two TV roles in Australia and be flown back. She’s currently appearing as Jules Jelly in the Channel 9 remake of Seachange and will appear in a new series called The Gloaming, due to air on Stan later this year.
Chatting to My Weekly Preview from her home in LA, sirens are blaring in the background and she’s up late preparing for auditions. Life in LA is faster than what she’s used to, but she’s settling in well. “I really love it here,” she says. “There’s something special that happens when different people from all walks of life come to the one place to create something. You find yourself meeting really interesting, passionate people who you would otherwise not get the chance to work with.
“Moving to LA was very impulsive. It happened very quickly but I’d been thinking about it for a long time. I was terrified. You have no idea what’s going to be on the other side of that flight.
“I did go completely out on a limb and against everybody’s advice. People were like, ‘what are you doing, this has come out of nowhere?’ They knew I was creative but it took me a really long time to admit to myself that if I didn’t try, I’d regret it. If for some reason another door opens, that’s great, but at least I was following a path that was my own.”
Watch Seachange on Channel 9 on Tuesday nights at 8.40pm or stream it from the Channel 9 website. The Gloaming will air on Stan in summer 2019.