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Australians in Hollywood: Oral Histories

Australians in Hollywood: From the NFSA Oral History Collection

From the NFSA Oral History Collection
 Sean O'Brien

We dive deep into the NFSA Oral History collection to present stories about leading Australian stars and filmmakers who have found success in Hollywood.

The stories behind the stories

Since its inception the NFSA has been dedicated to collecting the stories of our creatives, in their own words, from their own mouths.

Stretching back nearly 50 years now, and numbering more than 5,000 to date, the NFSA's oral history interviews have been recorded on the technology of the day – from reel-to-reel, to cassettes, to DAT tape, and in recent years direct to hard drive.

All are held safely in the NFSA and the collection continues to grow.

Our exhibition Australians & Hollywood – which was on display at the NFSA from January 2022 to January 2024 – featured content drawn largely from the extensive NFSA collection. It was an immersive celebration of our homegrown film talent, their links to Hollywood, and the mark they’ve made around the world.

As the NFSA curator of oral history, the exhibition has given me the opportunity to deep dive into the oral history collection to present more than 20 excerpts from interviewees relevant to Australians & Hollywood.

These include stories about working with key figures in the exhibition – Baz Luhrmann, George Miller, Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman and more – from the perspective of their contemporaries and colleagues.

The stories behind the stories, so to speak.

In this clip, Gillian Armstrong talks about her persistence and vindication in casting a young unkown actor, Cate Blanchett, as the co-star alongside Ralph Fiennes in Oscar and Lucinda (1997):

Director Gillian Armstrong interviewed by Graham Shirley (2011). NFSA title: 1050278


Gillian Armstrong is one of Australia’s leading directors, with her films in Australia and the US including My Brilliant Career (1979), Starstruck (1982), The Last Days of Chez Nous (1992) and Little Women (1994).

Behind-the-scenes talent

Some of the featured interviewees are instantly recognisable such as actors Mark Lee, who played the young soldier Archy Hamilton in Peter Weir’s Gallipoli (1981), and Tara Morice who unforgettably co-starred alongside Paul Mercurio in Baz Luhrmann’s debut feature Strictly Ballroom (1992).

Others are behind-the-scenes powerhouses such as award-winning art director Ian Gracie, Oscar and BAFTA-winning make-up designer Lesley Vanderwalt, and John Seale, one of Australia’s most celebrated cinematographers.

In this clip, John talks about his long association with director George Miller, being brought in to shoot Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), and talking George into utilising an innovative multi-camera set-up to capture the action:

Cinematographer John Seale interviewed by Andrew Urban, (2018). NFSA title: 1524863


Watch and listen to more excerpts in our Australians & Hollywood oral history curated collection.

Main image: Cate Blanchett photographed by Mark Rogers.