Bitten by the acting bug

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With a stint in Japan and roles on a much-loved Australian soap opera, along with a role in a new film and a successful Djing career, Sarah Roberts is no ordinary Australian actress

Sarah Roberts is making her mark on the Australian acting scene. Currently the Melbourne beauty is starring in the Australian film Felony as Ankhila, the mother of a young boy killed in a hit and run accident.

Initially, Sarah didn’t think she had received the part. “I had three auditions, two in Melbourne and then a final call-back in Sydney,” she recalls. “It was terrible! I walked out of the Sydney audition and called my mum and told her, ‘I think I stuffed it up, I won’t get it’. Then I had to wait two weeks to hear back and I was thinking, ‘I definitely won’t get it, they’ve picked someone else’. I was walking home from Chapel Street (in Melbourne) and crying thinking about how bad everything was, when my agent called to tell me I got the role. That certainly turned my day around!”

Preparation for the role involved using the ‘Chubbuck’ technique, an acting method involving emotional substitution. Sarah worked closely with the child actor playing her son as much as possible prior to filming in order to create the sense of emotional loss. “I also sat in hospital a lot,” she says. “It was really sad, and I had to draw on and channel that on set.”

“It has got to be my favourite role up to now,” Sarah continues. “The cast and crew were all awesome, and it’s a great film. We had a great atmosphere on set, and it was the most challenging role for me.”

Along with the film’s writer Joel Edgerton and director Matthew Saville, Sarah and the Felony team are getting ready to take the film to LA this month.

“It’s amazing because it was a year ago that we were taking the film to Toronto (film festival),” Sarah says. “It’s awesome to see the response. You don’t get sick of it. Each time you’re in a different part of the world it’s a different feeling. In Toronto it was fun because I had never been there before or to the Festival, and in Melbourne (for MIFF) it was exciting to show everyone at home what I’ve been doing.”

Sarah began dance classes around age three and enjoyed the performance aspect. “I love the feeling of freedom when I’m dancing,” she says.

After leaving school, aged 18, Sarah moved to Tokyo, Japan and scored a role working in Disney’s production of Aladdin. “I was Princess Jasmine,” Sarah recalls, “And it was great playing a princess every day. The way you’re treated in that environment, you really get to feel like a princess!”

After three years, and after getting the taste for acting, Sarah moved back to Australia where she scored roles in television series including Jack Irish, the INXS telemovie and Neighbours, where she played the much-despised Sienna.

“It’s cool to be recognised,” Sarah says, “But people didn’t like my character on Neighbours so I did receive hate mail, mainly mean stuff on the internet. When I first saw it I got upset, but after speaking with other actors, I’ve learned, in this industry, you can’t let that get to you.”

Growing up in Melbourne with exotic looks, thanks to her diverse Australian and Sri Lankan heritage, Sarah faced prejudice. “My sister and I went to school on the peninsula and the other kids weren’t used to seeing people like us, it was all very Anglo-Saxon. They called us names, but because of that experience I’m a stronger person now,” she says.

That strength helped Sarah when she was on the televisions series Bollywood Star where ordinary Australians were given the chance to score a role in a film by legendary Bollywood director Mahesh Bhatt. As part of the final six, Sarah went to Mumbai and stayed with a family in the slums of the city.

“It seems like a lifetime ago,” Sarah says. “I made some really good friends and I got to go to India and experience Indian culture and see how the film industry works over there, but Bollywood is very hard. Ultimately, I had to decide if I wanted to do Bollywood or Hollywood, and I chose to tackle Hollywood.”

“I had just finished Bollywood Star when I auditioned for Felony, and I actually based some of Ankhila on the mother from the family I met in India,” Sarah reveals. “This mother – all she cared about was her children. She was married at 14 and her children were everything. She was just all about making sure they had the opportunities to work and be better.”

Sarah wants to continue juggling her successful acting career with her role as one half of the DJ duo Vamp, which plays at venues and festivals around Australia. The pair have worked with Hollywood singer Eve and will be supporting Aqua on their tour later this year. “It’s not too hard to balance DJing with acting, it’s half and half,” Sarah says.

For a long time Sarah shied away from her Sri Lankan heritage, but now she embraces her unusual looks. “I’m casting for so many different ethnicities – Iranian, Afghani, Iraqi, Australian. I like being about to learn all the different accents and embrace learning parts of these new languages for roles and auditions.”

“It doesn’t matter to me if it’s film or TV,” Sarah says, “I just like acting.”