Rubi Balasingam is an Australian-Tamil actress and writer. She chats with TC about her journey to date and where she’s headed next!
Tell us about your upbringing and how that sparked your love of film.
Honestly, I thank my parents for my love for film. They introduced me to Tamil language films and music at an early age and encouraged my love for Tamil films as a connection to the language and the culture. It’s why I can speak the language fluently! My parents also unknowingly enrolled me at a primary school known for emphasizing the arts and that meant they had to come and see my school musicals each year, even though they had no idea what was going on.
What was the process like finding an agent to signal that leap from acting as a passion to more of a viable career opportunity?
It was such a long process! I started off knowing agents existed when I was doing study abroad in London and my drama teacher let me know that I should find an agent. A lot of research later, I went back home to Australia, got some head shots done, did a terrible short film, and used these materials to email just about every agent I could google in Australia.
After many rejections and many would-be scammers trying to make e pay for their services (never pay for your agent!), I ended up at a low-end modelling agency that had an acting division. With this agent, I got like an audition every three months, which was okay for me as I was still in uni. After six months, I sent out some more emails and worked my way up to another agent, a little bit higher up. Then, after another six months I got an even better agent, it was with these agents I managed to book my first paid short film, and got auditions for my first guest roles in TV. After a year with these agents, and with new head shots, a better demo-reel and more credits to my name, I got my current agent, who is at the level of getting me even higher-level productions, and we work great as a team. The difference from the first agency to the current agency? The first agents knew this was a side hustle for me, my current agent is trying to make it a career. This means establishing relationships with casting directors, keeping up best practice and turning down roles that don’t pay well or are done by questionable people.
Acting is a tough business where everyone is a 10-year “overnight success” because you have to typically really spend time in it to give yourself a chance to get opportunities. Are you able to focus on acting full-time? If so, how do you fill in the “income” gaps to make it work?
I wish more big name actors would speak openly about their journeys and why they were easy. When you discover how many Hollywood and Bollywood actors are where they are because of nepotism or economic status, it’s no wonder they got big in two years! This is not how it goes for the daughter of immigrants, you either need a role that just so happens to fit you perfectly, or you have to work hard!
In my case, pre-COVID I was heading to a place where acting and screenwriting were almost able to be my full-time job. But now, with COVID kicking the industry’s butt, there’s no way that is viable. Nowadays I lean on my degree (thanks mum and dad for making me go to uni!) and work part time from home as a content writer. It sucks to not be able to do what you love full-time, but I acknowledge I’m in a pretty good place, all things considered!
Living in Australia, do you find it tougher to pursue your acting/writing dreams? Any consideration to potentially move to a city that is considered a major hub for film/acting (ie. New York, LA, London, etc.)?
Many people have said this before me, but the Australian industry is very limiting. We’re about a decade behind Hollywood and so, there are not many roles for South Asians going around. However, the financial leap (during the COVID pandemic no less) to move overseas can be crippling to actors. You only hear the success stories out there. Thankfully, my agent let me know before I hopped that plane to LA, that I was likely to fail due to simply not knowing anyone.
In the meantime, despite COVID, there are heaps of opportunities right here in Australia, with international projects coming to film locally. We’ve seen Thor 4 and La Brea to name a few. Meanwhile, there’s always the hope of getting a US based manager and other ways to break into the international market such as Australians in Film’s Heath Ledger Scholarship and other similar competitions out there. Although it’ll definitely take more time to cross over, I don’t think it’s worth the risk for me personally. I haven’t really explored the UK market, but that’s a lot less risky for Aussie actors and so much easier to get a visa for!