‘Value your work!’ – A conversation with Charlotte Nicdao

Charlotte Nicdao is a Melbourne-based actress, as well as a singer/songwriter. Jessica Bellamy got in touch with her for a chat about art, industry, intersectionality and feminism.   

Tell us about you as an artist and a person.

I’m a Filipina-Australian actress. I love acting, and I love story-telling, and I love being a part of my community. I try really hard to be good at what I do. I studied music for a long time and a huge part of that life meant practicing hard and for long hours, so that sort of work ethic around my art is important to me. I also want to be a strong representative for the Asian-Australian community on screen, I get excited about playing complex characters that prove Asian-Australians’ presence on screen can move beyond tired stereotypes.

Was there a point where you realised you wanted to be a performer?

I studied music from about four years old, and was always so certain that I would be a musician. I attended VCA Secondary School as a musician, and was so set on that path that even after I was cast in, and spent nearly a year filming my first TV project “A Gurls Wurld”, I still went back to music and started studying Jazz at VCA Uni. I still auditioned casually here and there, and it wasn’t until I was nearly cast in, but ultimately missed out on, a show that I had gotten super invested in over the audition process that I discovered how I really felt about acting. I was devastated after that project fell through, I’d never been that upset before about anything – and that was when I realised that acting was what I was most passionate about.

Is there a moment in your career to this date that stands out as particularly satisfying?

Funnily enough, it isn’t even a project I got cast in! I got down to the shortlist to be cast in one of the roles in the recent Mad Max movie. They had me flown up to Sydney to meet George Miller (who was awesome) and do a really unconventional day long audition with a couple of other girls. The script was super-dooper under wraps, so we did a bunch of improvisational exercises so they could who would fit the character. It was probably some of the best work I’ve ever done, and I still remember how proud I was at the end of the day. It didn’t end up working out – but even when I found out it didn’t diminish how I’d felt about my work, which was such an important lesson to learn. It’s a little odd, actually, how a lot of the most important moments in my career have been “failures”.

What’s one thing you would change about this industry?

I wish we could just skip straight to a future in which the industry didn’t feel the only stories that are interesting to an audience are stories about straight, white, cis men. I’ve gotten to a point as a viewer where a film or a show about a white man has to have had outstanding reviews for me to want to see it, I just feel like I’ve seen all those stories before – it’s boring. How much more exciting would it be to see more people of colour and women and queer people on screen?

What’s the dream for the future?

I would love to get to a point where I have the means to create or produce the content I want to see. I’m no writer or director, and that’s not something I’m particularly interested in pursuing at this stage (I just love acting so much, and I feel like there’s so much more to learn there!) – but I do know the stories that excite me, and I’m hoping to very much be a part of them as my career progresses.

What do you think other young female artists should know? How can women help each other more in the arts industry?

I’m still learning how to be more vocal about my thoughts on characters and scripts. I’ve had opportunities in the past to speak up about the direction my story is going, or something my character is saying, and I’ve stayed quiet for fear of rocking the boat. I think there has to be a way to rock the boat without being “high maintenance” as actresses, and women in the arts industry generally, are often perceived. I think if women can trust each other to elevate our voices together we will be a very powerful voice in changing the landscape.

Do you identify as a feminist, and if so, what does this identity mean to you, and how does it manifest?

I am a feminist! I strongly believe women should have a right to safety and to being valued equally. I’m an intersectional feminist (I think it’s hard not to be as a woman of colour), and I try to check my own privilege as a light skinned, English speaking, straight, cis woman in everything I say and do. I approach all my work from a critical, feminist perspective, and I try to bring feminist conversations into communities in my industry that wouldn’t usually be discussing these issues. I’m always trying to be better, I think there are a lot of ways in which I still probably contribute to the underlying sexism of our world, but I do believe that women – generally – are just incredible. And I want all of our voices to be heard equally.

A tip for our readers (can be career-based or life-based!)

Value your work! Believe that you wouldn’t achieve all that you’ve achieved unless you were deserving of it, and then make your decisions about moving forward from that place. This is a tip that I’m still working on following.

Charlotte Nicdao is a Melbourne-based actress and singer/songwriter. In 2013 Charlotte made her American debut in NBC’s Camp alongside Rachel Griffiths. Since then, she has played Jenny in the Emmy nominated Please Like Me (Pivot/ABC, named as one of Entertainment Weekly’s top ten shows of 2014), and worked on Childhood’s End (SyFy/NBC Universal). She is currently playing Baby on the first and second seasons of animated series KuKu Harajuku which is inspired and co-created by Gwen Stefani. Other credits include A Gurls Wurld, The Slap and Time of Our Lives. Charlotte is an accomplished singer-songwriter and pianist, whose debut glitter-pop EP is titled “Charlotte Nicdao and the Sloth Orchestra”.

Image: supplied by artist

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DSC_6033Jessica Bellamy is a playwright and theatremaker based in Melbourne. She has written plays for Australian Theatre for Young People, Sydney Living Museums and Tamarama Rock Surfers, and is an Artistic Director for Outback Theatre for Young People. Jessica likes to write about pop culture, intersectional feminism and clever ways of flavouring tofu. You can read more of her writing at www.wouldjesslikeit.com

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