Back in November last year, New Zealand based actor Ailise Beales was awarded (out of 1000’s of applicants) the sole Joan See Memorial Scholarship for 2021 at New York City’s Conservatory for Dramatic Arts – a scholarship that's worth more than $100,000.
We sat down with Ailise to chat all about her acting career and her exciting move to the Big Apple this September.
I joined StarNow around 2013 – I was still in high school. I had known I wanted to be an actor since I was really little. My Dad was an actor when he was in his early twenties, so I had always said ‘I’m going to be an actor’. So when I told my parents I wanted to get an agent, they wanted to make sure I found the perfect one – it was taking us ages to find one that ticked all the boxes. Then I found StarNow and signed up when I was in my last year of high school and I started getting my own jobs. It’s a great opportunity for people to build up their resume a little bit rather than putting loads of money down on an agency. I had only ever done theatre acting so when I signed up to StarNow I was able to test the waters a little bit with the kinds of acting I was interested in. I ended up being cast in lots of short films, student/university films and kickstarter ads.
It let me start to build up my resume before I could sign to a professional agency. When I first started I contacted a whole bunch of agencies and they seemed to be looking for talent with a bit more experience. I also got to meet lots of people. I had an audition for a feature film through StarNow at the end of 2019, and it ended up being the first feature film I ever shot. It’s called ‘Two Idiots and a Tin Whistle’. It was so much fun and it actually got picked up for a Fringe show to promote it, which is really cool. That all happened through StarNow - I got to meet a whole production company through the audition, so that was really great.
I was pretty well prepared because when I first told my Dad I wanted to be an actor he said ‘Well look, you’re going to need to build a thick skin.’ I used to be a bit of a sensitive soul, I took criticism really hard and just wanted to be good at everything I did. When I went for my first ever uni audition, I thought it went so well, but found out 30 minutes later that I didn’t get the role. I was in the car with my Dad and was so, so gutted. He said to me ‘This is going to happen, and you’re just going to have to build up a bit of resilience. It probably wasn’t anything to do with you. It could be down to ‘you were too short’, ‘you were too tall’, ‘you were too ginger’. This stuff is going to happen and it’s not a reflection of you. You’ve gotta deal with it and move on.’
After that audition I thought to myself ‘Okay. I can do it’, and I started building up a thicker skin, which I think is something all new actors should be warned about before getting into the industry. You’re going to get a million ‘no’s’ before you get a ‘yes’.
Do you have any advice for someone who is considering joining StarNow, and if they’re hesitant to apply for roles?
You have to remember that everyone’s been there. Everyone’s been clueless and the only reason they’re not clueless anymore is because they muddled through. I signed up to StarNow ages ago, and would apply to the odd thing here and there. With the scholarship I applied for, I clicked the ‘Apply Now’ button and was sent a list of tasks from the International Admissions Officer and thought to myself ‘hmm… that’s a lot of stuff to do, and the chances of winning are next to none - is there any point in applying?’. I did finish the application, and what do you know? Not to be cheesy, but you have to be in it to win it. It’s also important to remember that if you apply and start the audition process and something doesn’t feel right, you can always walk away.
When was your first paid acting job and what was it?
It would have been when I was an extra in a commercial. It was an ad for some kind of camping battery - a solar power battery that you carried around with you and could power your oven with. It was the most ridiculous ad - they wanted to have a brown bear mascot, but could only find a polar bear costume. So we shot this ad about camping, with a Polar Bear. The whole thing was a bit outrageous. When the ad eventually came out, my Dad declared me a professional actor.
In the feature film I shot in 2020, I played a character called ‘Belle’. You know when the character is fictional but you just love them? She was the kind of underdog of the story, she was really vulnerable and naive in the beginning and then her confidence grew and she ended up this awesome, successful great person. The entire cast and crew were so nice – it was actually the first feature film any of us had ever worked on. We spent a couple of weeks shooting all day every day and by the time it was over, we were so sad. It was really great.
That’s funny you ask – this question was actually the essay question for the scholarship application!
My essay was about the three things my Dad had taught me, actor to actor;
It’s really worth investing in some good headshots – it makes such a difference. I look at the headshots I had right in the beginning, and at the time I was so happy with them because they were the most professional looking headshots I’d ever had. Then you look back on them and think ‘Oh. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that.’
Keep your profile photos and headshots looking like you. I have a bunch of old headshots that I really love, but at the time I had a perm and I don’t look like that anymore.
I love having a plan – I know that I have this scholarship and know I’m moving to New York next September. In the third year of my scholarship, I can apply to extend my Visa so I can work full time in the States and hopefully I’ll have made some connections with people and will have some jobs to apply to, or even an agency to sign with. In the future, I’d love to do more screen work, and it would be a dream to work in musical theatre.
When I say I’ve always wanted to be an actor – that’s really true, I swear I came out of the womb wanting to act and perform. My Dad was a guitarist and he gave me my first guitar when I was two, and I used to stand on the dining room chairs, demanding that people listen to me playing and singing ‘Oh Danny Boy’. Until I was seven, I used to say ‘I’m going to be an actor, singer, author and teacher.’ I knew I wanted to be an actor, but I also loved singing as well. I also loved stories, so I thought I would love writing them. Over time I learned that writing the stories wasn’t what I wanted to do, I wanted to be in the stories.
If you could have dinner with any person, living or dead, who would it be and what would you order?
That’s a good question. I would have dinner with Taylor Swift and order whatever she wants to cook. We could make lasagne. Or, I would have dinner with my cousin Beth. We were best friends and she passed away a couple of years ago. We both studied the same thing, and the goal was that whoever ‘made it’ first, would bring the other as their date to the Tony’s. We’d order pizza and just catch up on everything.
New York. Hands down. I LOVE New York. When I finished studying, I wanted to visit as soon as I could. So as a graduation present to myself, I saved up and flew over by myself and it was like going home. I felt more myself than I had in a long time, and just felt so comfortable. I went back with my best friend the next year to show her around. I just love it. It’s the best place in the world.
I do a lot of singing,it’s just something I do as a hobby. Two of my best friends, my Boyfriend, my Dad and I sing on the open mic at a local bar. We’ve done it every week for the last five years.
There’s still lots of travelling that I want to do. I’ve been really lucky being able to travel, because my family’s all over the place. I haven’t seen a lot of the South Island of New Zealand so I definitely want to see more of that. I would also love to do some adventurous travel; go on a safari in South Africa, go to Peru and tick off the 7 Wonders of the World.
And meet Taylor Swift, obviously.
Feeling inspired? We’ve got opportunities on site for talent of all experience levels. Whether you’re just starting out, or looking for your next big step like Ailise – we’ve got something for you!