Steve Curry: Equity fight is complicated issue

Actors Equity’s fight to prevent more work opportunities for foreign actors in Australian film and television is a complicated one, according to actor Steve Curry (Cloudstreet, The King).

“It’s a tricky argument. I agree we need to see more Australian faces on Australian television but it’s also hard from the other side of the coin, with all these Australians who are succeeding so well overseas.

“Without other countries allowing them to ply their wares over there they wouldn’t be allowed to do so.”

“But it’s a tricky argument. I don’t know if there are any easy answers to it.”

Equity rules already allow for international actors to play roles in Australian productions, with limitations. But The Office of the Arts has drafted the proposal to lift the ceiling, without industry consultation.

After recent protest meetings in Sydney and Melbourne, the union has not ruled out industrial action if an acceptable outcome is not resolved.

“I think if there’s a role that’s specifically designed for an American or an English person and they’re the right person for the job then great,” says Curry.

“But the last thing we want to see is Poms or Yanks over here trying to pretend to be Australians, because as we know they do shithouse accents.”


  1. If only there was some sort of mechanism that allows for the wishes of the viewing public for Australian versus international actors to be made known to producers and then they would use international actors when this was what the punters wanted and Australian when this was what they wanted. We could call it a ‘market’. I But as there is no such thing we need to regulate to keep out foreign competition as we do with books, cars, food, oh wait a minute … Here’s a radical proposal – let’s leave it up to consumers to vote with their wallets. If they want Australian actors then well and good. But if they are indifferent well acting jobs are no more or less valuable than Australian jobs in making shoes and textiles. I suspect in some cases there would be more international faces but in others the punters would demand Australian content.

  2. Not to be overly technical but what will they define as ‘international’ actors? Because many of our actors and hosts currently appearing in major roles aren’t technically Australian (and by technical Australian I define born in this country – not meant to single out any ethnic background).

    Rebecca Gibney, Erik Thomson, Grant Bowler, Mel Gibson, Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts, Jay Ryan and more all hold birth certificates for other countries. Sure Kidman, Gibson and Watts aren’t appearing on Australian screens but it’s a tricky point – how Australian is Australian.

    Also, would/could this action draw attention from SAG? Crazy worse case scenario Matt Passmore, Rachael Taylor, Ryan Kwanten, Jesse Spencer might find themselves asked to switch nationalities to retain a job?

  3. In a way Julie Rafter did marry a Brit.

    Erik Thomson aka Dave was born in Scotland before his family moved to NZ yet he manages to produce a believable aussie accent.

    I think the nervousness comes from the idea of an already small pool of opportunity here becoming even smaller.

  4. Yeah, but it’s not realistic to think that, just because those levels are lifted, Australian television producers and writers are going to go “Oh great, now we can do what we like, let’s make all out television programmes about foreigners!!” Programmes like Offspring would never see Asher Keddie’s character as anything other than Australian, regardless of limitations. Neighbours won’t be flooded by hordes of English families moving into Ramsey St. The character of House didn’t become British because Hugh Laurie was cast, and the character of Jason Stackhouse isn’t Australian regardless of Ryan Kwanten’s nationality. (And broadly speaking non-Australian actors can’t do an Australian accent? I assume you believe that non-American actors – broadly speaking – can’t do an American accent…)

    Raising the levels doesn’t automatically mean that Australian dramas will drop Australian characters, and the simple truth is, I can’t see any Australian producer or executive allowing that to happen anyway.

    • Aussies like Rachel Griffiths etc. certainly pull off a great US accent, but I have seen some Brits playing bad Americans in British dramas. Meryl had a pretty good go at Lindy Chamberlain but remember she was playing NZ-born Lindy who was living in Australia, so it was a trans-Tasman accent she was affecting. The import fight is certainly a bigger threat to films than television with producers who would be keen to have names that can sell overseas, including for DVDs. But it seems clear, as the headline states, it’s a complicated issue.

  5. @ David, I strongly disagree the comments and the approach that is being taken here is deeply racist and very prejudiced. It should be about the ability to deliver what is required regardless of background.

    Cate Blanchett plays a 16th Century English queen and we applaud her.

    Renee Zellweger plays an iconic British character and we love it.

    Christian Bale plays Batman & Heath Ledger the Joker ( an American institution) and are widely acclaimed.

    Yet GB or US actors can’t master an aussie accent…gimmee a break…its clear cut prejudice and raises a lot of questions about wider issues.

    • If it’s a racism fear it would need to be directed towards a particular race. But it’s about job protection and therefore about all non-Aussie actors, not one particular race. It also doesn’t fit with the point that non-Aussie actors are already able to work here (so again no racism). The argument is about not wanting those current levels to be lifted. It seems there is a lot of misconceptions here that Equity needs to communicate better.

  6. I’ve done some pro acting, and I have to say that Aussie actors can’t entirely have it both ways – America is very open armed for foreign actors to take leading roles in their television series (Spartacus, House, True Blood…) and it seems a but churlish to say “You can’t have leading roles in our television series, but don’t stop us doing it over there!” Curry’s argument is bollocks (what Aussie actors can do great American accents but the reverse isn’t true? Whatever…), but he is right – it’s tricky and it would be unfortunate to ruin the chances for Aussie actors to achieve justifiable success just because we don’t to cast foreigners here.

    • Broadly speaking, Steve is right about their ability to do our accents. For me the issue isn’t about them coming here to play Aussies but producers creating characters that are international. What if Asher Keddie’s character had been created as an American in Offspring? If Julie Rafter had married a Brit?

  7. “Do we really want to see overseas actors playing Aussies?”. I suspect not. But if it is fair enough for so many of our actors to go to America and play American and to go to England and play English, why shouldn’t the same be allowed in reverse? It is the dog in the manger contradiction inherent in this stance by our local actors that galls me.

  8. I can’t see too many US or UK actors wanting to part of many of our D grade productions. As long as we no longer have to hear Aussies with their fake US or UK accents, then they can keep the internationals away all they want.

    As for striking, well I don’t think we’d really miss much if they do. Most of the networks seem to be cancelling a lot of Aussie dramas due to bad ratings, so it would provide the networks the opportunity to put some better international shows on in prime time.

    The Australian actors seem a bit full of themselves I think.

  9. Moanique in Brisbane

    I would have thought our Aussie actors would be more concerned with the amount of Reality contestants trying their hand at acting, without having gone through the hard yards at NIDA or other drama colleges.

  10. The issue is particularly about Australian taxpayer-funded projects. In privately funded projects the producers can use who they like, but there does need to be a restriction on the govt.-funded projects. Otherwise Aussie actors are likely to lose opportunities for work here, which is what gives them a chance of work overseas. Besides, do we really want to see overseas actors playing Aussies? If it becomes open slather, there is a risk that work opportunities for Aussie actors will dry up. And viewers will be left with little variety in our TV shows, and in a worst case scenario, very little true Australian stories.

  11. I honestly don’t think the actors have a leg to stand on in this one. How can they be dog in the manger about opportunities here for overseas performers when they are mostly all so eager for their big break OS? I can imagine the same ones being loud about this being very vocal in their howls of protest if the US closed all opportunities to Aussie actors.

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