“I came to Brisbane and fell in love,” says British actress Lisa Kay, who stars in new Australian film Sweet River, now streaming on Netflix. “My partner and I met when I was over here filming two episodes of a UK TV show called Heartbeat. He was the second AD and the guy who opened the door to me at Warner Brothers Studios. It was instant love for me.”
How’s that for a tourism and film industry commercial?
Like the best love stories, there was an initial hiccup – he had a girlfriend. “He apologised for flirting outrageously and then proceeded to run away from me. And then five years later, he contacted me out of the blue to ask if I was single. And I was like, ‘Aren’t you married?’ He’d been separated for six months, and he took me out for dinner, and we’ve been together ever since. I call him my boomerang, he came round eventually.”
Lisa Kay’s life hasn’t followed the classic 3 act structure.
“I graduated in 1999, so I’d be acting in England till I moved here in 2016. I’d built a career, people knew who I was, and I was working constantly, and then I came here, and no one knew who the fuck I was. I couldn’t work for my first year here because of my visa, so I just sat twiddling my thumbs, getting fat. And then weirdly, voiceover work took off for me. I’d voice a lot of documentaries, which were sold to Channel 4 in the UK.”
Some of Lisa’s first on-camera acting in Australia was on mainstays Home & Away and Neighbours. “We were obsessed with those when we were kids; I mean that’s the most impressed all of my friends in the UK have ever been with any job I’ve ever done. I had to actually get some of the characters to do a video for my best friend back in the UK, she was beside herself, the fact that they just said her name. I was on Neighbours briefly with Toadfish, I can’t quite get my head around it.
“The Australian market is a hard market to break into,” she continues. “With my age group, most of the jobs go straight to offer to Australian actresses, who are already established here, so it’s really hard to try and crack that door open and go, ‘No, look at me’.”
She has certainly cracked that door open with the lead role in Justin McMillan’s psychological horror feature, Sweet River, which has landed in Australia and New Zealand as a Netflix Original, guaranteeing more eyeballs and pop cultural impact than a traditional theatrical release for an Australian film.
In Sweet River, Lisa plays a grieving mother, returning to a rural town to get to the bottom of what happened to her missing young son, whose body has never been found. The film is an affecting mood piece with ghosts, shot gloriously in the Tweed shire of NSW, surrounded by neverending sugar cane fields.
Lisa spends most of Sweet River in a funk, but when we speak today, she’s so cheery… “It’s probably my happy pills,” she says with sarcasm, before explaining how she tapped into the character’s melancholy. “I had half of my family die practically within 13 months. You couldn’t ever deal with the first one because then the next thing happened, and then you couldn’t deal with that because the next thing happened. It threw my world upside down and I went to some very dark places, did some things that weren’t particularly healthy.
“I think when you come out of that it makes you understand, you get to know yourself very well for starters and it makes you a stronger person, because if you can survive that you can survive anything.”
Lisa Kay is a major discovery in Sweet River, a new leading lady based in Australia, who is able to carry a film.
“If I hadn’t taken this leap and moved here to be with the love of my life, I would not have made this film with these amazing people and it truly is – and I’m not just saying this – the most wonderful experience I’ve ever had in my career,” she says.
“We were up against it with time, we shot it in five weeks, we were under the gun, we had no money at all. I mean, I wear most of my own clothes in the film. Adversity creates ingenuity and brings out the creativity in people. We were bouncing off each other on set, in the moment, it felt really organic, everybody in the room was involved rather than being told what to do, so it was a really magical, wonderful experience. It really was that blitz mentality of everyone just mucking in, which I think brought out the best in people.”
We cannot wait for Lisa Kay’s next chapter, which may even involve her having a crack at an Australian accent. “I’d love to do that. I think the Australian accent is way harder than us Brits thought it was, and definitely than I thought it was. Now that I’ve lived here, I kind of go, ‘oh no, the Australian accent my friends will do is not an Australian accent’. It’s too easy for us to go Cockney when we do an Australian accent.”
Sweet River is streaming on Netflix now.