When you're young, TV means everything. It's where you find your favourite songs, how you spend bored afternoons, and it's where you get your ideas about complicated adult stuff like love and death. When I was a kid, TV was the anchor point of life, and the people on TV were my heroes.
But I realised that so many of the Australian actors I idolised when I was a kid seem to have vanished. Maybe a two-episode arc on Offspring if I was lucky. For many though, the 90s and early 2000s were the pinnacle of their acting careers. So lately, I've been wondering what my former heroes are doing these days. What do they remember from their time on Australian kids' TV all those years ago?
JAMES SHERRY, HOST of 'A*MAZING'
VICE: James, you hosted A*mazing for four years between 1994 and 1998. Do you ever think about the show these days?
James Sherry: I get reminded nearly everyday of A*mazing. People come up to me and say, "Ahhh-mazing" or "James, I love that show" or "you were my childhood." It's those different comments that I get nearly every day of the week that makes me feel honoured that people spent so much time watching it and loved it so much. It's weird to think people are still talking about it—it's been over 20 years and I miss it. I feel old.
What are you doing now?
My time on Australian television lasted about 10 years, across shows. These days I'm producing the big screens for the MCG and Etihad stadium for the AFL, while also working as a content producer for Cricket Australia through the summer.
How do you think back on the show?
I think A*mazing was as close as it gets to a dream job. What I miss most is working with young people, I just always felt inspired by their energy and enthusiasm. Young people will just always just go for it and have a crack. I started the "Bring Back A*mazing" Facebook page back in 2013, just because everyone around kept saying "bring it back, bring it back!" A mate of mine who runs a production company said, "Dude, we should set up a Facebook page and get some momentum behind this." We threw the line and there was a little nibble from Nintendo, but that was about it. You know, sometimes all you can do is try. As an actor, you audition for different things all the time and the auditions don't necessarily get you a job—but you know, maybe you meet someone? Maybe it's the next step to somewhere else? I think that's what this was.
Did you learn anything hosting a kids' TV show?
[Laughing] I learned to spell balloon. These kids once went through the maze and collected the letters, but when they came out I didn't allow them to have two Ls. We had to get the kids back in to reshoot, but it turned out they were right and I was wrong. I've never forgotten how to spell "balloon" since.
MARNY KENNEDY, TAYLOR FRY IN 'MORTIFIED'
Marny, do you still think about Mortified these days?
You know, I visited the old primary school where we shot Mortified, about two years ago. I just bust into tears, remembering where it all started. I could suddenly see my little 11-year-old self running around. I could see the Grip department setting up the next shot. I could hear our director Pino laughing. It all hit me out of nowhere.
I can definitely understand why many actors who broke into the industry at a young age would be reluctant to acknowledge their beginnings, when trying to establish themselves as adults within the industry. It's a notoriously difficult transition to make. I've experienced it myself, firsthand.
You were working in LA for a while. What brought you back to Australia?
I had convinced myself for so many years that my fate and happiness, really, was in the hands of casting directors, producers, and even my own agent. I'd spent two-and-a-half years living between Melbourne and Los Angeles, before finally realising all I wanted was to be back in Australia. It was in that moment that I realised I have full control over my own trajectory. It was in that moment that I finally accepted I was responsible for my own life.
So you're still acting. What do you find tough about the career?
Coming back into acting, social media is a strange place to navigate. Mortified was written right in the midst of that up-and-coming social media generation—so we did address the social pressures that came with that technology. As an actor, social media is incredibly powerful, but it's not always altruistic.
It's all about balance and being mindful. Look, sometimes there's going to be days when you feel like shit and need a cheap endorphin kick by putting a photo of yourself up on Instagram and getting likes for it. We're all fucking human. My advice is to just be self aware enough to acknowledge it to yourself. Just keep it real, and remember to find gratification in the things that really matter—your mind, your passions, your achievements, your soul.
Beyond social media, I am proud of myself for enduring those hard years of self-doubt and obstacles. I am proud of myself for not walking away, despite every logical cell in my body telling me to. I know now that I could never have given up on something so inherently a part of me, but I'm proud of the journey I had to go on to figure that out. When you fall in love with something as a child, it's truly confronting to reach adulthood and have to honestly ask yourself, "is this what I want to do?" I know a new chapter is about to begin.
ANNA CHOY, KUMIKO IN 'ESCAPE FROM JUPITER' AND 'RETURN FROM JUPITER'
VICE: Anna, I was totally obsessed with your shows when I was a kid. How did you land the role?
Anna Choy: It's very odd to think I could be a part of someone's childhood that I've never met. I didn't set out to be on TV. My dad just happened to teach tai chi to this guy who was an agent. My brother and I were cute kids and we ended up being sent off to auditions. We didn't take it seriously. I just remember the agent pointing out that in Australia there weren't many roles for non-whites, especially if the character's non-whiteness wasn't part of the storyline. "The Asian Girl" was never just another kid at Summer Bay High. She had to be the local Chinese restaurant owner's daughter who was trying desperately to fit in.
I was about eight or nine years old and I think that was the first time I realised media had a bias, but I remember my mum saying I was lucky "to have two cultures." I realised our culture shapes us as neither monoliths nor static things. As for school, my mum, dad and my Chinese grandparents were always very clear that it came first. I didn't disagree with them. My TV job was exciting but I didn't think of it as something that I'd be paid to do when I grew up.
How did you move from acting to journalism?
Of course, things don't go as planned. I moved up to Brisbane to co-present a kids' show The Big Breakfast in 1999. It was a time of many firsts for me. It was intense because we were live and constantly invited to try new things—but I loved it. That's how I got into news journalism.
I think there are two things that shaped the stories I now want to tell. One is the beta camcorder my dad brought home when I was eight-years-old, and the other is my mother's love of family history. Escape from Jupiter and Return to Jupiter were important, but not as much. When I look back I do feel proud to be able to say I worked with accomplished Australian actors and directors, but I'm prouder that I was always true to me.
ADAM SAUNDERS, HEATH IN 'BLUE WATER HIGH'
VICE: Hey Adam, how do you look back on Blue Water High these days?
Adam Saunders: Every now and then there will be an article on Facebook about shows from the early 2000s, which always feels strange because it's not like it affects me day-to-day. I started with Blue Water High when I'd just turned 18. I'd finished school and that was my first big acting role. I was still getting to know myself. At that time I sort of thought music was going to be my career.
What did you do after the show?
I was in a band with a good friend of mine. We had no money for video clips so we did them ourselves and put a lot of energy in. But the band never came easy. When I stop and reflect on all my time spent on the band, I feel a bit bummed. I remember saving up money from doing Blue Water High and buying a home recording studio. The other band member is still one of my best mates, but he was more focused on being a rockstar and it sort of wasn't going anywhere. When I stopped the band I wasn't sure of what to do next, so I started painting houses with my dad.
You run an agency now. How did you get into that?
My creative agency, Killa Kreative, began when I was painting houses. One day I saw this kid running around with a bow and arrow, and the neighbours were back-burning so there was all this smoke and flames behind him. So I went and grabbed the camera. A friend of mine had just signed a record deal and one of the songs resonated with the footage, so I put together 30 seconds of it and he showed his record label. They sent out a cheque to finish the music video. From there I thought, Maybe hey, I can use a camera.
The band didn't work, but if it wasn't for all that time in the band, I wouldn't have learned what I'm actually good at. Like everyone, I have ups and downs. It's not to say that the grass is always greener, but for me, I'm always looking forward and wanting to progress. But I guess you can only move as fast as the universe allows.
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