He was just 14 when he landed his first role in Ocean Star.
“I had been growing up on a cattle station about 3 hours from Broome. My education was done on School of the Air via CB radio. I got back into Broome and landed one of 5 leading roles after going to some auditions,” he says.
Now 27, he has since appeared in two seasons of The Circuit and Dirt Game, both shot in his hometown.
“Most of my career has been executed from Broome which was really bizarre because it’s such a remote place. But the beauty was that a lot of other people realised what a unique location it was, the stories that were there and the palette and the aesthetic of what it looked like on camera.”
With 13 years experience behind him, he has also appeared in Blue Heelers, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and Beneath Hill 60. His latest work to air is ABC1’s The Gods of Wheat Street.
Filmed in late 2012 around Lismore, Casino, and Coraki in northern NSW, the series centres around the Freeburn family, described as ‘a modern Aboriginal family of local legends’ who ‘rise above obstacles that would bring mere mortals to their knees .’ Coles Smith plays Tristan Freeburn, the young brother of the central character.
“One of the interesting things with Tristan is his relationship with the lead, Odin, played by Kelton Pell. It’s a mix of being the little brother but also Odin takes up the role of being father figure, it’s one of the things that’s placed upon him when mum passes away,” he explains.
“Tristan’s journey is really one of going from a boy to a young man, I think. He’s very naïve and it’s only through growing up that he realises there are still things about his family he doesn’t know yet.
“His love starts with footy but diverts to a beautiful young blonde played by Millie Samuels as Anastasia who comes from the other side of town and a family who is feuding with the Freeburns. She’s the worst choice he could make in first love and it’s not something her father (David Field) supports.
“But sometimes when you set your sights on someone you have to deal with everybody else.”
The series juggles everything from romance, family and football to more ominous social themes.
“It’s an interesting mix of different themes at play and a beautiful mix of characters too. But it does manage to just graze along some pretty heavy stuff,” he explains.
“There’s a bit of violence but it’s not gratuitous and it has a place in the story.”
Magic realism also intertwines with naturalistic scenes as Odin’s deceased mother (Ursula Yovich) appears. Coles Smith says sometimes it can be hard to let go.
“The realism comes from the relationship that Odin has with his mother,” he observes.
“You don’t ever really stop talking to them .There are moments where you start to vision a conversation with a person even though they’re not physically in the room with you. I think that’s a really beautiful thing. The show places that interaction into the series without any self-conscious concerns. It’s just a beautiful way to keep that relationship between Odin and his mother intact.”
Whether the ‘Gods’ of the title differs markedly from Aboriginal Dreamtime is open to interpretation.
“Whether you use the word God or Dreamtime you’re talking about Spirit. You’re talking about the interior experience that humans have, of having a sense of the world with thoughts and feelings, and an interior relationship that’s integral with the external world,” he insists.
“When people talk about Dreamtime I’m always sceptical of what they mean.
“There are so many definitions.
“But it’s heavily immersed in symbolism, culture and interpretation.”
At his still-youthful age, Coles Smith chalking up the international credits. In addition to a role in the upcoming Australian episode of Modern Family, he has appeared in Hard Rock Medical, filmed in Sudbury, Ontario. It screened in Canada on TVO and APTN and in Australia on NITV.
“I played an Australia guy pursuing his medical degree. The show is based on the real-life Ontario School of Medicine in Sudbury. It was started by an Australian, I was told. So it didn’t feel too ridiculous,” he says.
“It did really well in Canada because it has an amiable quirkiness.”
Next he will also appear in another film directed by Jeremy Sims, The Last Cab to Darwin with Michael Caton and Jacki Weaver but first he is hoping his new ABC series is warmly received.
“The Gods of Wheat Street is an invitation to watch something a little different.”
The Gods of Wheat Street premieres 8:30pm Saturday on ABC1.