“I like to joke about Liam’s wardrobe or lack thereof,” laughs Daniel Needs when we ask whether he felt uncomfortable performing in much of Swimming for Gold in only his swimmers. “Over the years, I’ve learnt self-acceptance and embracing my own insecurities and being confident with that. It’s definitely been a journey to get to that point in my life where I can feel comfortable in my own skin.
“I feel that Liam’s really embracing leadership, but he is also confident and comfortable enough to allow himself to be vulnerable around people that he cares for. I know the film is aimed at a younger demographic, but I think that it’s a really good opportunity to bring these ideas of a young man and his willingness to learn and develop; that it’s okay for people to support you and allow yourself to be vulnerable.”
Needs’ maturity belies his years, certainly a testament to his upbringing. Growing up in South West Rocks, on the mid North Coast of NSW, one of six kids, he was bitten by the acting bug during his years at an all boys’ boarding school in Sydney. “I was an athlete; sport was my thing. There is definitely toxic masculinity. When I was first taking drama, it was heavily stigmatised. But in the last few years of school, a lot of the sporty guys were doing drama as well. It made it okay for guys to want to try it. I think the teaching environment really supported that.”
And it’s this sportiness, combined with his acting chops, which helped Needs kickstart his career, including small roles in overseas shows such as iZombie and Charmed. “I’ve always auditioned for the sporty athlete type characters or the jocks,” he tells us. “It’s naturally what I like to do anyway. Swimming was just one of those things, it was fun to prepare for, just brushing up on my technique. I really welcomed embracing the physicality to the character as well.”
In Swimming for Gold, his first lead role in a major project, Needs plays the captain of an Australian swim team that imports US champion swimmer Claire Carpenter (Peyton List) to coach them into champions.
“There is a physical element to the character and the story that really just came from me realising that Olympic hopeful swimmers look a certain way. I was already coming from a developed place of health and fitness, because I just like to live that sort of lifestyle. Tweaking the training became a bit more specific and gave me a bit more focus on the detail of the shape and maybe dropping size as opposed to building up more muscle. Once I landed the role, I started swimming a lot more. I then trained with a really great swim club. They all welcomed me into their sessions and I got to train with them and they would guide me on techniques and let me understand their world so I could really try to bring as much authenticity to it.”
Needs was also inspired by his co-star Peyton List and the rest of the Swimming for Gold cast. “She’s a very funny and intelligent young woman,” he says of the imported Cobra Kai and Jessie actress. “It really made working together fun and positive, and she’s obviously built such a wonderful career for herself and I think that experience really helped elevate the energy on set and our performances. We all bonded so closely and became a really close group of friends.”
Shot in Brisbane, Needs was actually imported to Australia himself after relocating to Vancouver before landing the part.
“I had the opportunity to go over there after an agency said that’s where shows like Riverdale, Sabrina and DC shoot. It was a really cool pathway to transition to the international stage and build up some credits, where I could also work on a flexible visa because Canada is a Commonwealth country so it’s very supportive of that actor lifestyle. That’s probably where I did some of my growing up and maturing because I went over there by myself, not knowing anyone and just had to adapt to being out of my comfort zone and really get clear on what it is I’m doing.”
And is he thinking of going back once the world opens up again? “I’d love to be able to go back there for sure. I had such a fun time, even away from acting to be honest. I’m a very adventurous person, so I’d be hiking, or doing mountain biking, or snowboarding, or ziplining, anything that makes my parents scared about my health insurance. But for the moment, I’m loving being in acting class, always just staying on top of it, exploring new scenes and just being prepared for when the next opportunity comes.”
Swimming for Gold is in cinemas September 17, 2020