Sapphire shining brightly

The Sapphires was one of the stand-out movies of 2012. The journey of four young Aboriginal women had all Australians enthralled. ConnectPink’s Donna Kelly caught up with Miranda Tapsell, who played wise-cracking Cynthia, for a chat.

When she was just 13 and living in the remote Northern Territory town of Jabiru, Miranda Tapsell met actor Aaron Pedersen. It was a watershed moment.

The actor, known for Water Rats and The Secret Life of Us, was at her school leading some drama workshops – and Miranda was a keen student. “I loved every minute of it,” she said. “I realised that all those creative stories I had been making up in my bedroom were basically just the things that actors did. I was the first to get up and do all the exercises and everyone was asking why I was acting so crazy.”

Miranda, who then moved to Darwin and became heavily involved in drama classes in and out of school, said meeting Aaron was “one of many affirmations” which encouraged her to an acting career. After finishing high school she headed to the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney. “NIDA is a very exclusive school and you did have to bring your game on a bit for rehearsals but to get in was such a big moment for me. It was a three-year course and I think that without the skills behind me, that I learned there, I would not be able to do what I am doing now. I really admire actors who have not had professional training. I couldn’t do it.”

And Miranda is also one of only a handful of actors who have been able to make the “crossover” from theatre to television and film. She has been in numerous plays, the most recent seeing her rehearsing with The Sydney Theatre Company for an adaption of the novel, The Secret River, starting in January. And the 25-year-old is well known for her parts in the television seriesRedfern Now and as Dave’s wife in the telemovie Mabo. But most Australians know Miranda now for her tough, wise-cracking role as Cynthia in The Sapphires.

The box office hit has propelled her to new heights and left her wondering sometimes, when she wakes up, if it was all a dream. 

“It has gone beyond what I ever imagined,” she said. 

“I knew it was very special but I had no idea the note it would strike with non-indigenous people. So many people were touched and affected by the story … it just took their breath away. And it’s just been such a journey for me. I have so many women in their 60s and 70s coming up and saying ‘I was a young girl at that time’ and so many young teenagers saying it has inspired them to live their dreams.”

Miranda said she did a lot of drama coaching with young people but realised now that film was “such an effective medium” in spreading positive messages. “When I sit down and speak to them it’s just not as effective, they like me, but with film it gets into the hearts and minds of kids.”

Miranda said the endless trips down the red carpet for the film were something she would never forget. “There were so many mixed emotions – daunted, excited, overwhelmed, proud. It’s been such an amazing journey. I still wake up and think ‘did I dream that?’. And it was just so surreal when it was happening. In that moment, all those cameras flashing, it’s something not many people get to experience. When I am an older woman I will remember that.”

Read more inspiring stories at Connect Pink, a regional network for women.

But despite all the press clippings Miranda says she still leads a relatively normal lifestyle with few people recognising her on the street. “I get more looks than people stopping me. I think that’s because I dress differently, just in jeans and sneakers, and people don’t realise how short I actually am. But I think that means I can maintain a healthy lifestyle, a normalcy.”

Miranda said it was important to her that her work, The Sapphires, Mabo and Redfern Now, helped people see the indigenous population was “part of mainstream society”. “We’ve had the (sorry) speeches but they haven’t been very effective in changing how people think. But indigenous people are talking like any other family, drinking tea…and they are not all living in the bush or living a traditional life.

“I think Australia is ready now for a series with indigenous people who are doctors, lawyers, teachers, the romantic lead – and they just happen to be Aboriginal. I am really optimistic that more work will come along.”

The Secret River, an adaption of the novel by Kate Grenville, will start its season in Sydney on January 12.

 The Sapphires DVD is also now on sale.

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