Well known for an impressive body of work across theatre and television, Jamaican-born Australian actor Zahra Newman will be making her big-screen debut in upcoming Australian romantic comedy, Long Story Short, directed by Josh Lawson. CW spoke with the first-time leading lady ahead of the film’s release on 11 February. For more and to buy tickets click here.
What was it that attracted you to Long Story Short?
Zahra Newman: “Initially I was like ‘I’ll never get cast in that’; it’s a romantic comedy and that’s not necessarily in my wheelhouse. Being able to be challenged by something like that and step into new territory was definitely attractive.
“In reading the screenplay, what stood out to me is that a lot of the scenes are quite long for a film script. Generally, in a film script the scenes are maybe like a page, half a page, two pages, and these scenes were going like six pages.
“Coming from a theatre background that felt much more in my wheelhouse in terms of my experience; I was used to doing longer scenes and getting a chance to stick your teeth into something.”
What did you like about your character, Leanne?
ZN: “Playing a really quick-witted, bantery kind of girl, she’s not terribly phased by a lot and she’ll match Teddy. I really enjoyed being able to do that.
“Doing something that’s not necessarily how I would see myself as a romantic lead, or the wife in a romantic comedy is not really what I’ve done before, so being able to do something like that and go ‘oh, I’m able to do that’ … that was really fun to be able to explore those sides of myself.”
How did you find working with your co-lead, Rafe Spall?
ZN: “He has so much experience, much more than I do. I was intimidated and petrified of course, I’ve never made a massive feature film, it was uncharted territory for me and Rafe was so great.
“He was so great by allaying so many of those fears and being really available and accessible to work through stuff and change and play. Rafe loves to play and wants to see what we can milk out of a scene, and that allowed me to relax because we were trying things and taking risks.”
What did you learn from the experience of working on your feature film debut?
ZN: “We were making a feature film in Australia so it was still quite tight. With the filming schedule we had to work quite fast, but I guess I didn’t have anything to compare that to.
“I would say a lot of what I learnt was through watching people like Rafe (Spall), watching people like Ronny (Chieng) and Noni Hazlehurst; people who have a lot more experience in front of the camera than I do.
“It was finding ways of being comfortable in front of the camera and not being afraid to take risks in front of the camera. There’s a misconception about needing to be quite technically the same in front of the camera, you can’t do it different to how you did it before. That’s completely different to a rehearsal room in theatre where you’re just doing weird stuff and feeling your way into what you think it might be.”
How do you think Long Story Short’s universal themes of seizing the moment will resonate with audiences?
ZN: “We shot the film in 2019, we were so blissfully ignorant of what was to come in 2020. Given the year that we’ve just had where a lot of people across the world and in different levels of intensity have had to stop and take stock of things or had to go ‘oh, things are a bit fickle around me and could change at any moment’.
“I actually think the messages inside of this film about stopping and smelling the flowers and honouring the moment that you’re having now, that message is actually resonating a little bit stronger than we may have initially thought when we first made the movie.”
Newman’s responses have been condensed for publication.