Tuesday June 27, 2017
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Jo Christiaans Jo Christiaans

Jo Christiaans Of Terra Nova And Iron Sky Talks About Acting, Teaching And Being A Proud Queenslander.


Jo has appeared most recently in the science fiction TV series, Terra Nova and the movie Iron Sky. I'm a big SF fan so it was a great pleasure to touch bases with her. I started out by asking Jo if the actor/actress terminology thing had been resolved.

"Honestly, I don’t mind. It’s really just semantics to me. We are all actors, playing a role and telling a story regardless of gender. When casting though, I am mainly referred to as a female actor."

Jo grew up a proud Queenslander.

"I was born and bred in the Sunshine State and had a wonderful childhood full of fun in the sun, mischief and the odd trip to the hospital. My non-school days consisted of playing outside until the street lights came on – which was my cue for dinner. Being a Queenslander, I spent a lot of time outdoors, either at the beach, park or local pool. I was an avid Broncos fan but have since changed allegiance to the Gold Coast Titans. Of course, I will always be a Maroons supporter! Queenslander!"

Thinking back, Jo reflected on one of her earliest memories.

"Growing up we had a family next door who used to grow their own fruit and vegetables. One day when I was in my backyard looking for snails, I stumbled upon a plant that had grown through the fence and had sprouted colourful fruits that looked like strawberries. As I loved strawberries, I thought it would be a great idea to try one. Turns out, it was a chilly plant. I had bitten into, chewed and swallowed a whole chilly. The only way I can describe the next twenty minutes or so would be to reference it to The Simpson episode where Homer eats super-spicy chilly and wanders off from reality. I quickly learnt not to eat things that were growing in the neighbour’s yard."

Jo began her acting career early on with roles in Medivac.  However, it was all part of a much greater scheme.

"I was obsessed with the X-Files while I was growing up and I thought the only way I would ever meet Mulder and Scully A.K.A David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson was to become an actor. I begged my mum to take me to acting classes and register me with an agency."

"Of course, being the great mum she is, she did exactly this and I began acting classes once a week. My first taste of showbiz was on the set of Medivac when I was about 13 years old. The set was in an old building in the city. They had turned one of the levels into a ‘hospital ward’.

Jo Christiaans In A Scene From Heart Shaped Reflections

Jo Christiaans In A Scene From Heart Shaped Reflections

"The strongest memory I have of Medivac was when we shared an elevator with one of the main actors. Not only  was he scrambling to learn his lines, but shaving his head at the same time with a portable razor.  That was an interesting lift ride! The rest of the day turned out to be pretty boring actually and not at all like I had imagined. I played a girl whose mum had just died and I loved every minute being on set. I remember going home and writing in my diary ‘First day on set. I love it. X-Files watch out!!!"

"After this I narrowly missed out on a small role on Roar a local television series starring the late Heath Ledger and continued acting at my acting school and drama club throughout high school."

"I continued acting throughout my time at university where I studied my Bachelor of Education and worked on a few independent projects in between 'tuts and lectures. Once I graduated with my degree, I focussed on my ‘sensible’ career and put acting on the backburner for a few years. After a five year hiatus, I started acting again in short films and independent feature films. I gained on-set experience doing featured extra work on commercials and shows such Sea Patrol and H20."

So, is Jo a big SF fan?

"I have been a fan of Sci-Fi since the good ol’ X-Files days.  After X-files I graduated to Stargate, Buffy and Angel.  I would love to do more sci-fi roles in the future as they are normally more interesting than your average soapie role."

Jo also performs another very important role in Queensland state schools.

"When I’m not wearing my acting hat, I’m wearing my teaching hat. I have officially been a primary school teacher for ten years now and have seen so many changes. Whether it be a new curriculum every three years or new visions with every change of State or Federal government. The biggest change however, has come this year with the introduction of the national curriculum for all state school students in Australia."

Jo Christiaans In A Scene From Terra Nova

Jo Christiaans In A Scene From Terra Nova. That
Baby Bump Is Real.

"It is a very rewarding job, especially when teaching young children. They have such a thirst for knowledge. The most rewarding part of being a teacher is seeing the improvements and discoveries that my students make daily."

Jo appeared in the 2012 version of Iron Sky, a SF film set in the future of 2018 in which Nazis return to Earth from a secret moon base.  The production team was of Finnish/German origin. It was filmed on location on the Gold Coast, Queensland Australia.  Given the slight cultural divide, how did the Aussie's interact with our friends from the Northern Hemisphere?  Were there any dramas, inside information or amusing stories you can let us in on?

"This was a very interesting movie indeed! It was filmed in Germany and here on the Gold Coast. I had a small featured role as a Nazi mother escaping the moon as it was attacked (Something I thought I would never say). The Germans definitely have their own way of doing things, but having a German mum prepared me well for this. I was only on set for one day, but it was a very long day finishing at 2am. As I was 10 weeks pregnant, this was not as easy as it once was! It was the first time I had done any green screen work and I tried to listen, watch and learn as much as I could from the production staff.  And yes, there was one small drama on set. And yes, I could tell you, but then I would have to kill you (insert evil laugh)."

Terra Nova
fans will recognise Jo from season 1, ep5 The Runaway in which she played Selena McMillen.

"I was extremely fortunate to have been involved with this production. It was the first time I had worked on a big-budget.....scratch that...HUGE-budget American TV show.  My role was as Selena McMillen who was a villager living in Terra Nova. Although at the time I wished for a larger part, it probably was a blessing in disguise as it was quite challenging being 35 weeks pregnant. It was a great experience and I lapped up the luxury of working on such a huge production."

"The cast members that I met were all very friendly and welcoming. Jason O’Mara (Jim Shannon) is extremely down-to-earth and a really nice guy. I remember when I first met Naomi Scott (Maddy Shannon)  she didn’t believe me that my baby bump was real and insisted it was a prop from wardrobe. Rodd Harlett’s (Dr Malcolm Wallace) wife had given birth the week before so everyone was talking about babies and swapping war stories.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet Stephen Lang which would have been the icing on the cake."

Terra Nova was filmed locally in Queensland.

Jo says, "The fantastic thing about Terra Nova was that the village you saw in the episodes was actually real. It was built on a huge property in the Gold Coast Hinterlands. So, most of the exterior scenes were filmed there. The interior scenes and a few close-up exterior shots were filmed at Village Roadshow studios next to Movie World."

Most of us are never lucky enough to visit a live production set. To put it into perspective, I asked Jo to liken it to something familiar like a cooking show. Is it more of a Gordon Ramsey affair with lots of panic and swearing or more controlled and ordered like Masterchef?

"Working on a small, independent production is very different to a big-budget network production. On an independent shoot, you tend to help out a little bit more. From casting, to filming to promoting the production through social media. On a big production, you simply are the actor. You turn up, work with the director on your scene, eat a lot of food and leave. You have a clear role."

"I would estimate that there were close to thirty people behind the cameras on Terra Nova. However, everyone knew their job, they were professionals and it ran smoothly. I would say some student films I have worked on would be similar to an episode of Gordon Ramsay as they are still learning how to deal with a variety of personalities/egos while trying to get a production filmed and edited in a short amount of time."

Jo has also appeared in three short films, Noir's Mistress, Mondays Experts and Heart Shaped Reflection. What are the main differences between working on shorts compared to a big production movies/TV series?

"Besides the fact that you have a shorter time to establish your character, short films are a great ‘filler’ between projects. Most of the short films I have worked on have been with friends through Bris Vegas Productions so they have been a lot of fun."

Recently, newly elected Queensland Premier Campbell Newman cancelled the Premier's Literary Awards to save the state $244,475.00.  Traditionally, the finalists of these awards are put in front of students to help encourage reading. Recent Miles Franklin award winner Anna Funder condemned the move. While Jo did not want to be drawn to closely into the debate, she did have this to say.

"I have very strong political views, especially on the decisions that this new state government have made over the past three months. However, I would be jeopardising my job by publicly commenting on this issue. Besides, my mother always told me, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it. "

Getting back to the film industry in Australia, I asked Jo if she thought it was still viable going into the future?

"Yes, especially in Queensland. Filmakers choose Queensland because of its diverse locations and talented cast and crew. We have the studios on the Gold Coast that could rival that of Hollywood and beautiful weather that minimises rain delays. I live half-way between Brisbane and the Gold Coast now, which is ideal for my acting work. A lot of feature films are cast and filmed at the Village Roadshow Studios on the Gold Coast while a lot of commercials are cast and filmed in Brisbane."

 Here's Jo's hot tips and advice to youngsters interested in a career in acting.

"My advice for any youngsters who would like to pursue a career in acting is to really think long and hard about why you want to do it. If you are after fame and fortune, then go on a reality TV show. If you are passionate about the craft i.e, storytelling and character development then that’s one step in the right direction. But, it will take a lot of persistence. You need to be a strong person because rejection is a regular occurrence."

"Considering that at any given time, the majority of actors are out-of-work, you definitely need a trade/profession. Professional acting work is very sporadic and you could go months without even an audition and then have two or three productions all filming at the same time. So if you like to eat and have a roof over your head, you will need another job. I would recommend the following to young actors starting out:

  • Start acting classes at school and/or a private acting school.
  • Be in as many school plays and musicals as you can.
  • Make your own movies and put them on Youtube.
  • Make contact with your local theatre.
  • Get to know the local casting directors because generally, they are the ones who organise the auditions.
  • Get in contact with your local University and put your name down for student films. Remember today’s film students are tomorrow’s directors.
  • Search Facebook for pages dedicated to local independent productions. A good one is Brisbane Actors Community Group.
  • Research your local acting agencies. But, check to see what others are saying about them before you join.
  • Network, network, network. Sometimes, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
  • Practice, practice, practice!

Thanks Jo for being such an inspirational Australian and Queenslander. I'm sure the Mum's & Dad's of youngsters out there will benefit from your advice.

If you'd like to get in touch with Jo, best way to do it is to do what I did and follow her on Twitter: @jo_christiaans. You can also view her profile at the international movie database website where you will find more information about her films: www.imdb.com/name/nm3916488

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