Photography, hair, makeup and interview by David K. Shields
Shot on location at Maori Bay, Muriwai, Auckland
Erana James has lately burst onto screens globally, playing Laura Chant in The Changeover, considered by many a perfect genre film. In part a supernatural thriller - creepy yet moving and inspirational, while still an authentic teenage story, it was adapted from author Margaret Mahy’s YA novel of 35 years ago set in Christchurch, Aotearoa.
With her bold interpretation of the role, highlighted by an otherworldly theatricality yet somehow still simplistic and understated, she has garnered great reviews and the ensuing notice has embedded herself on this nation and the world’s radar as the next shining light in an ever-evolving progression of young Kiwi actors to watch.
She excels in the vehicle beyond her young years and limited experience, immediately creating an interest around herself and drawing notice to her abilities from behemoths such as Netflix and Amazon. In this, Miranda Harcourt and Stuart McKenzie’s first directorial foray into full length movie making, she has set herself steadfastly on the path to a surely outstanding career.
Now picked up to feature as the lone lead Kiwi actor in The Wilds, an Amazon Prime and ABC Signature TV joint production being shot in NZ for their huge global audience base, the field has been set for her to enter the immense streaming landscape that modern day television viewing has become. With the medium now allowing this new protagonist the chance to display her talents to the greater world in one widely distributed, extended project, she can look forward to immersing herself in the next challenge and show the greater population what those in the know have seen so far – that following her instincts as she has done so well thus far, we are witnessing the beginning of a journey which will ultimately lead to, as we all suspect, a body of work to be very proud of.
Erana exudes a confidence and sense of self belief in this, the infancy of her career, that many will never manage to achieve and showing herself already as a fully-fledged exponent of her chosen craft of acting. Imbued with a wealth of personality and what seems like boundless amounts of energy, you’re left in no way wondering what it is that has drawn all to her – she’s that comet on a trajectory that pulls itself to the front of the mind’s eye, and with no doubt, far, far further into the stratosphere.
How do you feel the role relates to you and your life so far?
The film is a coming of age story, where a young girl is transforming herself into a young woman. I was going through a very similar transition in my own life. During filming, I was in my last year of high school so was trying to figure myself out and who I wanted to be, while Laura was doing the same. The supernatural/sensitive elements of the film I relate directly to my Māori spirituality and how my strength as a person comes from within – the same is true of Laura. I think this made my job so much easier, by being able to empathise so strongly with her.
How did you prepare yourself for the role?
I found that the preparation required for the role was more around opening myself up to experience all that was necessary to tell Laura’s story. Connecting with the other actors and building a sense of trust with the people I was working with, in order to feel comfortable enough to allow myself to do this. I wouldn’t say I have really submerged myself entirely into a role yet. So far I have been trying to work to understand the characters experience, and ways in which mine and their life coincide. Being able to have empathy for the character I’ve found to be really beneficial, also working with what feels organic in the relationships that surround the character and going on instincts when working with other actors and directors. I started acting classes with Miranda Harcourt in 2014 at Rata Studios, and we worked closely together for about a year and a half before I got the opportunity to audition for The Changeover. Before filming the feature we made a 10 minute tone reel in 2015. It was sort of like an extended audition to see if Miranda and Stuart wanted to cast me in the feature, and luckily they did!
Did this make it easier and allow the acting process to work more organically for you?
I think it definitely aided in creating a more organic approach to the acting. From having worked with Miranda for so long prior to the filming, it meant that the trust had already been established between us and we could work much more freely together. There were no barriers in communication..
How was the relationship with other cast members impactful?
I formed extremely strong relationships with all of the cast members. Miranda and Stuart organised a series of bonding experiences that I got to do with each actor in order to have a really solid foundation before we began working with each other. There was a 2 week rehearsal period before we started filming which I spent doing all sorts of exercises - this meant that we went into the filming experience with open trust and communication lines. Nicholas Galitzine (who plays Sorenson Carlisle) and I did a tandem bungy jump in Queenstown on one of the first days that we met, so we could go on this crazy emotional journey of adrenaline together. After that exercise we were so close and in sync, which was magic for being able to open up to one another on set.
What were the best parts of the experience for you?
The process of making The Changeover exceeded my expectations by far. Going into the experience I didn’t know what to expect, and I didn’t fully understand what would be required of me. It was truly an experience like no other, that no one can really prepare you for. The best part of it all was that I was experiencing everything for the first time - everything took me by surprise. Being thrown into such an environment at 17 was especially unique, and has truly been the best thing I have done so far in my life.
How has as growing up in NZ impacted your career thus far?
Growing up in New Zealand has been both beneficial and difficult I think. Being further away from a large chunk of the industry has meant that it has been harder to be seen in an international light. I feel so lucky to be working on this next project as it will be the first time I will be working on an international (American) project. In saying this, I have loved working in New Zealand because it feels just like I am doing any other job - which is still how I feel. It is normalised and is devoid of the hype that can maybe be found in some other parts of the world as I see it from here.
I will be playing one of the lead roles in a new Amazon Prime and ABC Signature TV series called The Wilds. The story follows a group of diverse young women who find themselves deserted on an island after a plane crash. I can’t disclose too much about the project but I will begin filming in September this year.
Do you feel the expectation is manageable, and how do you put that aside so you can still live your own life, at your own speed?
I do have very high expectations of myself, and of course would never want to let myself or anybody else down. I know that there is only so much of my future and what happens that is within my control and I have had to learn to be ok with whatever happens on the other side of things. Being realistic in what I want from myself, whilst also pushing myself to do things out of my comfort zone and really put myself out there has been an interesting balance to find - I am definitely still figuring it all out, but I think my biggest lesson has been to take things one step at a time.
What else do you believe makes you who you are? –so fresh to this all, but in person seemingly so confident and capable of making your own decisions already.
Definitely my family and my upbringing have given me this. I grew up on a farm for my first 9 years before moving to Wellington and I couldn’t imagine being raised a different way. I have a really close family unit and we share a lot with each other, so I entirely owe the way that I am and my approach to this industry to this. I have an amazing support system - both in the industry and in my personal life. Taking advice from those who I trust has been my best form of guidance. My family have reminded me continuously to go with my gut and my heart, which has been the best piece of advice I have had, going into an unknown field that no one can really prepare you for. The most important advice I have received has been to stay true to myself and who I am, and to remember to keep myself mentally safe.
Were you prepared for the success?
I think having perspective on my own success is a hard thing to grasp. I feel so grateful for every experience and opportunity that I get, so each time there are new opportunities in my life I feel so lucky. If my career were to end now I would still feel so proud of myself.
How have your friends and contemporaries reacted to your success?
Everybody is so excited for me and what I am doing in life - and vice versa! I feel as though my achievements in this industry are just as exciting and important as those in other fields of work, and my friends and I aim to lift one another u, and support each other equally, no matter how their jobs may be perceived in the public eye. I think coming from a smaller country and feeling closer to people has meant that I haven’t experienced any jealousy. There is no pedestal that anyone is lifting anyone else up onto, or pushing anyone else down, so it feels easy for everyone to be as excited about everyone else’s success.
What are you aiming for, and how will you push yourself to get there?
I wouldn’t say I have an end goal which I am learning to be ok with. I’m taking each job as it comes, and putting my all into it is all I expect of myself at this point. I am not putting too much pressure on myself at the same time, but also going hard for the things that I want - I have a lot of passions and a lot of things I want to achieve in my life, and if this pathway doesn’t happen to work out then I can learn to be ok with that. The most important thing to me is my family and friends, and from being at home less over the past year that has become very much more prominent for me. I’m just enjoying every moment as it comes at this point -you never know which job will be your last, so I am just riding on the excitement of what I am able to achieve so far!