ALEXANDRA PARK: SKIN OF STEEL

FOR IMAGISTA

Alexandra Park has the role of a lifetime. After a decade of hard work and small roles in Australia, she landed her breakout role playing Princess Eleanor on E!’s first ever scripted series, The Royals. For a network known for its reality TV indulgences, it is quite unexpected that you would find characters as wonderfully flawed and nuanced as Alex’s Princess Eleanor and the rest of the ensemble of The Royals.

Alex has known that acting is her destiny for much of her life. Performing was her first and only love. Here she tells Imagista how–through the long road of her career–she has managed to grow skin of steel while still being able to create such a beautifully broken and raw character as Princess Eleanor.

How did you first get into acting? What sort of drew you to it in the first place?

As far back as I can remember back to being a small child I always wanted to be a performer of some kind. It started off with singing; I wanted to be a singer you know–Tina Arena, Mariah Carey–that was my thing. My mum would find me lying on the floor of the living room just blaring their music and pretending that I was them. That was kind of my dream.

Then I started wanting to do musical theater, which I did in school, but I was always sort of in the background in the chorus. I don’t really think my dancing and coordination was really up to scratch (laughs) so that didn’t quite work out. I was about 14 at that point which was when I got my first agent in Sydney and I sort of fell in love with film and television and the idea of playing different characters and actually acting as opposed to singing and doing musicals.

Since then it was about ten years before I landed this job on The Royals playing Eleanor. It’s hard obviously deciding that you want to be an actor, it’s a very cutthroat, particularly in Australia, it is much smaller and there aren’t as many opportunities or as many projects being made. So, it was hard and it was slow–I did a bunch of guest roles on certain Australian shows, but never really landed something that gave me my shot. I think I grew a thick skin; every rejection I got was a fuel to my fire. It made me want it even more, and made me want to prove what I can do. If you have that, then you will be able to make it in this industry, and if you don’t, then you wont. Its incredibly hard and heartbreaking being told “no” time and time again.

I think I was born with that thick skin that acting requires. It is now steel. My skin is made of steel, so it’s all good.

What do you think is your favorite thing about acting that keeps you going through all the times you have been discouraged?

There is nothing else; there is no other option for me. This is the only thing that I have ever wanted to do. I think that’s a huge part of what kept me going, I didn’t want to try anything else. The idea of completely immersing yourself in a character whether they are fictional or nonfiction, I think it is in your blood, which is something that I think many actors will be able to relate to. You crave it, it is just this thing that you just need to do. I love being able to just sort of transform into someone else and understand them and add bits of yourself into them and create this character. You get to explore the mysteries of somebody else.

I think I am sort of fascinated by life in general. I often say I am going through a quarter-life crisis because everything just fascinates me and I am so intrigued by people and the way things work. I think that comes from my desire to be an actor and to tell people stories and take a break from Alex for a minute. I think that is my favorite thing about acting, being able to do all those things.

Your major breakout role has been Princess Eleanor on The Royals, what is your favorite part of working on the show?

It’s her. It’s Eleanor. I am incredibly protective of her and I adore her, she is in my mind like a dream role for a female to play. I don’t think there are many strong female characters out there, particularly on television. Eleanor is so multi-layered and so deeply flawed and vulnerable and incredibly relatable. That’s the main thing I love about The Royals is I get to play this young woman who is flawed and is going through stuff that young women across the world can relate to, that I can relate to. In terms of just trying to figure out who we are and making mistakes and growing up and trial and error and exploring who you can trust. I think there is so much goodness in Eleanor, so much vulnerability and pain and desire to do good. But she is real, she screws up, she makes a mess, she can be a nightmare at times. She is a trainwreck with a heart of gold. She is an incredibly interesting character to play.

For me she is the best thing about working on this show. Getting to play her.

I completely agree. I was so excited about the show when it was first announced and I immediately was hooked because of your character. She is so interesting.

She is, she’s just interesting. There is nothing that is hidden with her. It is all just there in front of you. That’s why I am so protective of her. Young women around the world are watching and they get it, I get it. She’s made some mistakes, but she means well and is very honest. What you see is so real.

Tell me about what the audition process was like and how you got this role, because clearly you really love it…

I was at home in Sydney and I put down a self-tape for Eleanor about a month or two before I moved to LA. Actors do a lot of self-tapes and 99% of the time you put a lot of work into it and completely fall in love with the role and nothing comes of it. Why do we do this t ourselves? I don’t know!

Then I actually moved to LA shortly after that and went in to see Barbara Fiorentino, who is an incredibly giving casting director, who I had the privilege of meeting previously. I went in for a completely different pilot that wasn’t quite right for me physically but was a really great character and I was really excited because it was one of my first auditions since I had been there. I got a call the next day from my manager and he was like (in an American accent) “Well you know the bad new is you were so wrong for that pilot in every way, but the good news is that Barbara has been looking for the Princess in Mark Schwann’s new show The Royals and she thinks it might be you” I was like “Fantastic, where do I sign?”

It wasn’t that easy, obviously, but it was funny that it wasn’t like the normal way that you audition. But Barbara and my manager, Jeff, were on my side and sort of hassling Mark Schwann to sit down on Skype with me. I was incredibly nervous when I finally spoke with him and he sort of asked me why I thought that I might be their princess. I worked on the scenes with Barbara and sent out the tapes and waited for a few days twiddling my thumbs and tearing my nails apart until I got the call. And went to London to film a couple days later the happiest I have ever been.

Is there anything you did after you got the part to prepare? Did you have to learn etiquette or research the monarchy? Did you base you character after anyone in particular?

Not really, obviously or royal family is completely made up and is not an imitation of the British Royal Family or any royal family for that matter. There was no sort of research in that sense, which was quite deliberate for me and some of the other cast as well. We wanted to develop these characters that Mark had written in a very real and raw way so that they were completely unique from any other characters out there, royal or not. So for me it was just about thinking about the back-stories and coming up with stuff myself. We started with Mark telling us how he wanted our family to be and then we were sort of on our own, Mark gives us a lot of freedom to create these characters and bringing bits of ourselves into them that will grow with us throughout the process. I think that is why he is so successful in writing characters that people fall in love with. I think any sort of inspiration for Eleanor was just sort of a combination of beautifully complicated women that I have met in my life. I took lots of bits and pieces and molded them together to create her.

Who in your life do you think has been most influential in your career path?

The most influential person in my life is my mum. I get so emotional when talk about this. She is literally my biggest supporter, my mentor, and my encouragement. Ever since I was a little girl she would always tell me to do what I want to do and don’t give up and you are not going to be happy if you force yourself to do something that is not in your heart. She has always been there to support and believe in me and has been with me every step of the way.

Is there anyone that you don’t necessarily know that you look up to a lot and whose work you really admire?

There are so many people that I look up to and admire. Tons of actors and my acting teacher back home in Australia, Sandra; she has kind of stuck by me for so long and has always picked me back up when I was down. I am also really inspired by Australian actors. I always wanted to work at home, but it is a lot harder, it’s a much smaller pond. There is such great Aussie talent, which is what I grew up watching. There’s just not enough of it, so it is hard for people to work there. Asher Keddie, Claudia Karvan, Cate Blanchett, the list goes on and on…

Acting was obviously your first love; do you have any idea what you would want to be doing if you weren’t an actor? It seems like this is the dream for you. 

I really don’t. As I mentioned before when we were talking about what made me keep going through all the discouragement, I’ve never really had an interest in anything else. When times got really tough and I was working in a clothes shop just making rent, you know borrowing money from my mum to put my self-tapes down, I would get pretty emotional, but again it just put fuel into my fire and feed it even more. All I ever wanted to do is to perform. I wanted to sing and do musicals, but there was nothing much further out than that. I don’t think I ever would have stopped trying.

Do you still sing? Is that something that still interests you?

I mean, sure. Around my house I like to sing and annoy my friends. I’d like to but I think acting is where my heart is at now. Maybe one day, but right now I am just completely in love with telling stories through acting. And I don’t think I’ve quite got the ability anymore, it takes a lot of training to sing properly, I think I’d need a few years to dust off the old vocal chords.

Is there anything coming up that you are really excited about in general? Obviously there is the next season of The Royals

Yeah, I’m just excited about life at the moment I think. I really am just really happy. I am going home in December for a few weeks and I will get to see my family and friends there. I am excited to audition for other projects that I can do in between seasons of The Royals. I’m excited to be living in LA. I am living with my best friend Tom Austen who plays Jasper on the show with me and we are just having a ball.