Time Out Melbourne

We asked Alison Bell, the brightest star in the constellation, about the different lives she might be living in parallel universes far, far away

Alison, was there any specific event which threw you into acting? Or was there a moment where you almost gave it away as a career? What might you be doing now?
When I was 14 years old, my Mum took me to see Bell Shakespeare's, Romeo and Juliet. I was utterly transported. I remember thinking then that I wanted to be an actor, and that if I could give just one audience member an experience like the one I'd just had, my life would be worthwhile.

Still, I did an Arts/Law degree before going to the VCA, so there have been quite a few times, (usually coinciding with unemployment) when I've thought, "I wonder what kind of lawyer I might have been." Not brilliant, I'm guessing.

There's a scene in the first episode of Laid where Roo says of one recently deceased ex, half joking, that "maybe if I'd given him more of a chance we could have fallen madly in love". Is there a parallel universe where perhaps you did give one of your exes more of a chance?
Sure, but what about the other way around! I wonder what might have happened if that person had known about and, indeed, requited my unrequited love? Hopeless ...

In truth, I'm happy my love life played out as it did, otherwise I might never have ended up where I very happily am now.

Do you recall any formative childhood moments that made you the Alison Bell we know today? Might that moment have played out differently? Who might you be now if it had?
I was a shy kid, but good at public speaking, so, naturally, I represented my school in the inter -schools debating comp. We were in the final. Impressive. I had always been first speaker, good at kicking things off with a well prepared speech, but for some reason we had to mix up the order for this final debate, and I was moved to third speaker. At last, I was called upon to deliver our final assault. Adrenaline was pumping. I was frantically writing rebuttals, scrambling to assemble my palm cards as I stood. Everything was a blur.

And as I began to speak my cards somehow slipped from my grasp. I froze. My cheeks began to burn. After what seemed like an eternity I knelt and started picking them up. I could hear Sally Burndred, my team mate, sighing with disapproval. I collected myself.

I started again and a few cards in realised I'd put them in the wrong order ... and had failed to number them. I desperately tried to rectify things, ad libbing poorly as I shuffled the cards in vain. I made no sense. It was a debacle. I remember seeing my poor Dad's face in the audience, a mixture of anguish and encouragement. We lost. I never debated again. I learned then that SOLID PREPARATION is key to my success. I'm no off-the-cuff third speaker in life.

Had this not happened, hmmm, I might have gone on to be a champion first speaker debater; an Australian politician; a great orator, our answer to Barack Obama, or maybe a female Tony Robins type. Maybe a toastmasters champion or just a high school debating nerd. Instead I turned to drama, became an actor; one that cherishes her script and her rehearsal time and doesn't play theatre sports.

As a postscript, for anyone who saw the very improvised Conversation Piece, at Belvoir last year, yes, I was well and truly outside my comfort zone!

What about little things – tiny moments that, à la the movie Sliding Doors, might have led on to dramatically different encounters? Do you ever speculate about these possibilities, or think, "If I had just remembered my 'x' when I left the house that day, then I wouldn't have been late to the 'y', and maybe I wouldn't have had to 'z', and then who knows where I might be ..."
Unfortunately, in my profession it's very easy to get caught up in, "if only I'd auditioned BETTER, not been as NERVOUS, managed to score THAT ROLE, chosen THAT SHOW over the other one." It's something I don't really like to dwell on. But here's a positive take on it:

My first TV gig out of drama school was Last Man Standing. I was cast in a very small role as a prostitute. At the 11th hour I was told I'd have to strip on camera. The scene amounted to about one minute of TV exposure and all of a sudden it looked like it would entail a lot more exposure then I was happy with for my first gig ever. I turned it down (I'm a better actor than I am a stripper), and fretted, thinking I'd damaged my career before it had even begun.

A few weeks later I was offered a two-episode guest role on the same show, a quick-witted, beautifully drawn character who had lots of funny lines. She was great to play. That show was written by Marieke Hardy and Kirsty Fisher. And, as the ladies tell me, seeing me in that role encouraged them to put me on the list of potential Roo McVies several years down the track. Had I played the prostitute, well...

What about others -- parents, partners, ancestors? If your great, great, great, great grandfather hadn't stolen that loaf of maggot-bread, maybe he wouldn't have been deported to Australia. Maybe then you'd own an airline company, or, maybe, be exactly the same as you are now, only with more East Midlands slang and a London bedsit?

My Dad is currently writing a very detailed, exhaustive family history so there are too many possibilities to consider! But here's one:

My Great Grandfather, ("Ding" as he was fondly known,) was an opera singer. He moved from New Zealand to Australia. Had he not, the various men and women of our clan might never have met and I probably wouldn't be alive.

If however I was born to the New Zealand Bell's, I would now have a New Zealand accent and be mocked mercilessly by Australians. And like thousands of New Zealanders, I'd probably live here. Or, if still in NZ, I might have been in The Hobbit.

Constellations, Melbourne Theatre Company, Fairfax Studio. 8 Feb-23 Mar.

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Updated on 15 Feb 2013.

By Andrew Fuhrmann   |  

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