Inside the bubble of soap
How do young actors adjust from an ordinary life to becoming a soap celebrity? TV Tonight talks to Neighbours' Jordan Smith about the temptations of fame.
Reality TV and Soaps just about have the monopoly on turning a seemingly ordinary life into instant celebrity.
Soaps such as Neighbours and Home and Away are famous for turning many first-time actors into magazine covers.
Scottish-born Jordan Smith was 13 when his family moved to Brisbane. After an interest in drama, he won fleeting roles on Home and Away and H20: Just Add Water. But he very nearly missed the call that changed his life: a Neighbours audition.
“I’d always wanted to be an actor. I’d done little roles but never taken them seriously so I went and did labouring for a shop-fitting team so I could pay for acting lessons. I could pretty much work whenever I wanted and then they would give me time off for auditions. I used to work Friday nights, Saturday nights, Sunday nights to pay for everything and keep going with the acting,” he says.
“Then I went to a (Gold Coast) music festival for three days and came home, not in the best way after I’d been sleeping in a tent and I had turned my phone off. I had 17 missed calls from my agent saying ‘You’ve got a Neighbours audition today back down on the Gold Coast.’
“So I drove all the way back down and it was the only audition I’ve ever had where I really didn’t care too much about it. I wasn’t very prepared so I just went in, to see what happened.
“Two weeks later I had a phone call saying I had the job. Crazy.”
The initial role of Andrew Robinson, son of Paul Robinson (Stefan Dennis) was for six weeks. That was two years ago. Since then he has enjoyed on-going success as part of the Neighbours family and all the trappings.
But television loves you when you are young and good-looking. I ask whether it’s possible to have any perspective on his pre-celebrity life to that of his current lifestyle?
“People always say fame will get to your head. It’s not that it gets to your head but that you do change as a person. There are a lot more people who you may have said hello to, but now you get full-on phone calls and everyone is so much nicer to you. It sounds like it’s a good thing, but you realise people are just being nice to you,” he explains.
“I love it when my mates tell me to piss off or shutup but when I first started everyone just wants to talk about Neighbours. It’s a weird concept to take on. People in the street are trying to talk to you and be nice to you so when you’ve got your mates doing it as well there’s all this ‘niceness’ happening to you at once.
“Everyone is being genuine and nice, but genuine and nice all the time is boring.”
While the parties and red carpet invites are still there, Smith largely prefers company that keeps him on the ground.
“The mates I’ve got now are brutally honest. If I’m getting big-headed they take the mickey out of me, or call me ‘Hollywood’ and stuff,” he says.
“When I started going to all these parties I thought it was the be-all and end-all. But then when you go to them you realise it’s just a hundred other people who have been invited and don’t know everybody and have their own insecurities.
“So I prefer house parties and BBQs with my mates. Everything I thought I wanted out of life you realise when you get it you actually don’t want that. You prefer what you had in the first place.
“They’re all trivial conversations (at celebrity functions). Everyone is pleasant and nice, but there’s nothing in it. You may as well be talking to a brick wall.”
Playing school student Andrew Robinson, Smith must nearly qualify as television’s oldest teenager.
“I think I am,” he laughs. “‘Ryan (Atwood’) on The OC was a 17 year old played by a 24 year old, so I’m 22 playing 18 and I think with the blonde hair and light frame I’m getting by.”
But he’s relieved his character is graduating from high school.
“Andrew is pretty ambitious so whatever he does he will always be making money. Even though he wants to be Paul (Robinson) I think he wants to be equal with Paul,” he says.
“Eventually they will have to clash or start taking from each other. Whatever he does he’ll go hard at it.”
With his first major role in Neighbours, Smith is soaking up the skills opportunity. He’s recently signed another two year contract.
“There’s so much to learn. I learned more in my first week here than I did in any acting course,” he insists.
“If I can keep learning and not slack off and just keep getting into it, then when I leave be financially stable and know that I’ve tried things with acting and know what works and what doesn’t -and getting paid to do it- then it’s not bad.”
But while some former Erinsborough graduates have gone on to international success, there are others who resist the urge to exit a stable, well-paying job, and others still who have seemingly slipped away from the spotlight.
“If you’re just riding off Neighbours you’re never going to get anywhere but if you’ve got the mentality that this is your first job and you have to keep working, concentrate more on the acting than the lifestyle, then you should be alright.
“I don’t have any choice any more. I love doing it. I couldn’t go back to labouring.”