Interviews by Michele Williams
ACTRESS STEPHANY JACOBSEN
Born in Hong Kong and raised in Australia, Stephany Jacobsen made her debut on American Television as the lead role of Kendra Shaw in “Razor,” the highly successful feature-length installment of the critically acclaimed Universal/Sci-Fi Channel series “Battlestar Galactica.” She’s amassed a fan base in the U.S. , drawing critical praise as Doctor Lauren Yung on the return of the series drama “Melrose Place.” She also starred in the Syfy Network movie “Three Inches.” Most recently Stephany had guest-starring roles on “Hawaii 5-0,” “Two and a Half Men,” “NCIS,” and had a recurring role on ABC’s “Revenge.” She plays Amelia in OCCUPATION, which is in theaters and on VOD and Digital HD now.
AMFM: You guys just had your Australian premier. How did that go?
Stephany Jacobsen: Fantastic. It turned out to be a bigger event than I thought it would bre. Australian premieres are not as grandiose as L.A. premieres, but this was pretty close the turnout was great and the response we got from the audience was great. Everyone’s in great spirits following.
AMFM: Tell me a little bit about your character.
Stephany: I play Amelia, and at the start of the movie she is a waitress helping her mother run a local cafe, and she’s a law student engaged to be married. Over the course of the movie she transforms into a warrior and one of the leaders of the human resistance.
AMFM: It seems that you have a lot of experience with characters that become warriors, you were also in “Battlestar Galactica”, so that’s good for women these days. In a lot of film and television women are getting to be the center of stories more and more. I was surprised you had strong leading males around you but your character became central and kept everyone around you together. Do you have any experience from your life that helps you be able to carry this transformation off?
Stephany: Well, Amelia and I, we’re kind of the same in that regard. We’re both very protective. But I think what made it easy for me in that the way that she cares for the characters in the movie. The fact that the way she came to perceive the characters in the movie was the same way I came to feel about my castmates. You spend six weeks working alongside people, and you’re doing long shoots and night shoots with practical effects. You’re fighting wars together. You do bond, you become a tribe. I feel like we became a tribe on set like the way they became a tribe in the movie and I felt the same protectiveness to my tribe like Amelia felt towards her tribe in the movie.
AMFM: You’ve done film and television here as well as Australia.
Stephany: I’m an Australian citizen, but I moved here in 2007 after Battlestar Galactica. ‘
AMFM: How did that come about?
Stephanie: Very organically. It was one of those things that happened very very fast and serendipitously. What happened was I had tested for The Bionic Woman in 2007 but didn’t get that, but this role came up a little bit later. They sent me the audition and they booked me for that off the tape. So I went to Vancouver I shot “Razor,” I went to LA for what was just supposed to be a week, and take a few meetings. Then a week became a month, then two weeks after I came back to Sydney I booked another pilot, and went back. I ended up on a holding deal with the ABC Network, and then I got Terminator. It was like one thing just rolled into the next.
AMFM: Are there any similarities or differences that you felt as an actress between the American market and the Australian Market, in the way that film and television is shot?
Stephany: Yeah, there’s a prodigious difference. There’s almost no similarities. It’s almost like everything the American market responds to the Australian market doesn’t, and vice versa.
AMFM: Can you give me an example of that?
Stephany: I can still use OCCUPATION as an example in that it is something very very rare to come out of Australia. There’s been one, maybe two that you can arguable draw similarities to, but strictly speaking, you’ve never had an alien invasion sci-fi movie come out of Australia before. In a lot of ways, even though we all speak in our Australian accents, this movie has a very American feel to it. I actually think that Luke has very American sensitibilities as a director.
It’s one of those things that you can exemplify it based on personal experiences as well, for me I really only did two jobs in Australia. I did a soap opera when I was very young, and then I did another series for the same network, which was very short lived. A few years later, I feel that America is much more ready to embrace ethnicity, and do away with gender restrictions.
AMFM: There’s still a lot of gender restriction in Australia for strong female roles?
Stephany: Ok, this is the only thing that I’ve done here since 2005.
AMFM: This is kind of a different time in film and television from 2007.
Stephany: What I really meant by that is that there are certainly productions that are female led here, and there are certainly strong female characters here, but they’re not doing Wonder Woman, and Captain Marvel, and Jessica Jones yet.
AMFM: So the roles are home-grown vs. universal, world-wide characters?
Stephany: A hundred home-grown stories to one universal, world-wide themes. Having said that, I’m not putting down the Australian industry in any way, because beautiful, beautiful film and television comes out of here, it’s just that the diversity of content isn’t the same.
AMFM: What are you looking at for the future? I know that OCCUPATION has already been greenlit for a sequel, which is amazing. Is that your next project or something in-between.
Stephany: We start that in a few weeks, so I literally don’t have time. there is nothing in-between. That’s going to take me well into the fall, after that I’m going to be really tired and I’m just going to call it a year.
AMFM: Tell me about working with Luke, he’s fairly new on the scene as a director.
Stephany: I love working with Luke, I think his newness, in the best way possible…fiorst of all I think that he was always going to be a director. Whatever he did prior I think he always would have ended up a director, it’s who he is as a being. He’s a very even-tempered…he does not seem…If someone walked onto his set, and you said this is a new director, it’s his second movie, it would have been disconcerting. He’s very very even-keeled. He’s very clear about what he wants and is very firm in his vision. But one of the things I liked most about him is he is truly and authentically open to collaboration. He doesn’t have any ego.
DIRECTOR LUKE SPARKE
Luke Sparke may be a new name in the United States but is quickly catching the attention of American Audiences and the film industry alike. Very quickly after his feature film directorial debut RED BILLABONG in 2016, he’s back and we’re here to talk to him about his new film OCCUPATION.
SYNOPSIS: A town is suddenly plunged into darkness. In the sky, a fleet of spaceships appears. The aliens have been watching Earth for centuries; now they have arrived to seize control of our planet. As alien storm troopers cut a deadly swath through the countryside, a ragtag group of townspeople realize they must band together for a chance to strike back at the invaders in this explosive sci-fi film that grips from start to thrilling finish.
AMFM: Not many Americans have heard of you yet, so can you tell us a little about your film career?
Luke Sparke: I’m lucky enough to have been working in the film industry my whole life over here in Australia. My family business is supplying costumes and props to films and tv. I’m lucky enough to have grown up with that, and moved into it myself. When I was old enough, I started working on film sets like “The Great Raid,” I’ve worked with James Franco on Benjamin Bratt, and went from there to work on the Pacific series with Steven Spielberg and Hugh Jackman, so I’ve had a very interesting career behind the camera, but I’ve always wanted to be a filmmaker myself, so I’ve used my unique apprenticeship to start making films myself.
AMFM: Some of your credits include military costuming…do you have a particular affinity towards that, or have you been in the military?
Luke: I haven’t as I’ve been making films, but my family has a long history of being in the military so the core of our business is military costumes. So that’s why I’ve a long history of military action type films, I know who the go-to guys are for that sort of stuff. While I haven’t been in the military, I’ve spent a long time being a scholar of history…The Civil War, WWI, WWII, Vietnam…yeah obviously it’s in my DNA.
AMFM: So what inspired the story of OCCUPATION?
Luke: Well, apart from my love of history, my other love is, I grew up in the 1980’s, and I was the right age to really be affected by all those fantastic films, which I think are the best ever made…Star Wars, Aliens, Predators, Back To The Future, Red Dawn, Jurassic Park. I’m a massive genre fan of those movies. Grwing up in Australia, in the 1980’s ad the 1990’s, apart from Mad Max, there really wasn’t any Australian pop culture films I could emulate by getting into costume and going to Comic-Con. I love Australian movies, but there really wasn’t anything out here for us. So when the time came up for a new idea, this was always in the back of my mind…making Australia’s very first Alien Invasion Movie.
AMFM: So you were actually looking to make a uniquely Australian story when you started this, and not a global one, more rooted in Australian history and roots?
Luke: No, I definitely set out to make it international, I got an international sales agent very early. I worked with them on the script, I wanted to make sure it was global enough but still uniquely Australian. I think there’s a fine line between the two. Just like James Bond is still uniquely English, but very international. I think Australia could make more movies like that.
I was actually in LA in 2016 with other scripts, and I didn’t have this one as a script, just an idea…when they said “what else do you have?” I just pulled this genesis idea out of the back of my head and I just said “Australian Alien Invasion Independence Day Red Dawn, Outback town.” They liked it, and I started writing the script. Eight months later and we’re filming. It was very quick turnaround.
AMFM: Speaking of international, you have a very international cast as well. Was it intentional to have a broad casting?
Luke: Totally. I find Australian films reuse the same people over and over again, they keep it very local based. I liked Tanuwar Morrison from Star Wars, hertz desperate housewives, Jaclyn McKenzie 4400. All of those people were first on my list because I knew not only were they fantastic Australian actors, but they have an international fan base, and they’re some of the people we gathered together before this movie went any further.
AMFM: You’re greenlit for a sequel, how did that happen so quickly?
Luke: Well, luckily because it’s relatively low-budget,..well we’ve managed to make it look quite big,, but we’ve probably spent less than what they spent for catering for “Independence Day II ” for example. Luckily for us last year at the AFM we sold this film around the world, Scandinavia, Germany, the UK and Italy – which is amazing for Australian filmmakers. Between sales and the tax rebates over here in Australia, the film has basically made it’s money back already. So everyone shook hands last November and said “Should we make a sequel? Could this be a franchise?”
So since November of last year I’ve been happy to do the screenplay and we start pre-production next week.
AMFM: That is a really quick turnaround. Is there anything about this story that is really personal to you? Something you wanted to impart to the world with your big stamp on it?
Luke: I love directing films, I’ve managed to get representation in L.A. and I want to keep making films that have heart, and films for a modern Australia. What I like about this concept, and this was written as a stand-alone movie, is that in the sequel, the aliens are here, they’ve occupied earth, and what does that look like. It will delve into relationships and the genesis of how to combat an alien occupation in a very interesting way. I’m very excited about the sequel, it’s probably the most exciting project I’ve worked on.
AMFM: Well, congratulations, it’s a great sci-fi movie, I really enjoyed it and I hope it finds a very wide audience out here on your release.
Luke: Appreciate it, hope Americans recommend it.