I Thought I Recognised Her - Frankie Adams
Frankie Adams : On learning about her Aboriginal roots, landing a Samoan role on a Hollywood sci-fi show, and having the balls to leave Shortland Street.
*Originally published May 8, 2016.
I always say I'm from Samoa first, because my Mum brought me up very traditional Samoan. We went to church, she only spoke Samoan at home. But then I just say that I grew up in New Zealand, because that's where my Dad is from. I'm a bit of both but I really identify with that side because Mum made sure that it was a big part of our lives growing up, and I'm really proud to be from there, so I never shy away from it.
It was my choice to leave Shortland Street. That's a privilege, because a lot of people don't really get the choice. I was just about to turn 21 and I just felt like I was becoming less inspired in that work place. That's only because for me it became a job rather than an artistic outlet, and I was really gutted about that. It was time for me to leave, I felt like I'd learnt everything that I needed to learn, I had a great family behind me there, all the support that I needed but it was time for me to end that chapter. I'm really glad that I was able to make that decision myself because sometimes it can be really shit if they cut your contract without you realising. I finished in December 2014.
There's this weird thing that I didn't know even existed - that when you play a well known character from a show like Shortland Street or Home and Away, there can be a type of 'curse' I suppose they call it, where it becomes harder to find work because in the audiences mind, you're always going to be that character. But I was never afraid of that, because in my mind, I was like, "nah fuck that, I'm leaving so that I can do other work. Why would you say that sort of shit?" I feel like, if you think it, then it will become you. I never thought that I wouldn't get work afterwards. I have come to realise that the reason why I'm here on this earth is because of what I am doing, and there's got to be some positive thing to come out of it. This is totally what I want to do, I feel very at peace with it, I feel at home on set, so there was no fear of me ever not getting work. I guess some of it was a bit naive, but I just always had faith that it would work out.
I left and then I did soul searching, I suppose. I'd never been detached from a contract, I'd always been under a contract since I was in high school. So for me going to LA and getting an agent there, that was a part of me just lapping up freedom. Technically I was unemployed for months after that. I did some more travel and I was starting to panic, then I got Wentworth.
That was the first proper job I'd done after Shorty, which to me was insane because the show is so great. I was living a drama school kids dream being on this incredibly amazing show at such a young age. I got to work with such wonderful, smart, funny, talented women, I got to learn so much off them, and the director is a woman too. It was so dope.
The character I play on Wentworth was the most gritty content I've had to do, an 18 year old in the prison at the bottom of the food chain, which means all the bad shit that happens in a prison literally happens to this character I'm playing. I did a lot of research on certain things that the character has, she wasn't very mentally healthy so I did some research on depression. When I was on set, it was so much easier to do it when I was in the presence of everyone else there. Everyone was really supportive and once you start doing scenes like that, everyone is really focused and serious. There wasn't anything that made me feel really uncomfortable doing this content, because everyone was in it with me. Some of it was really stunt coordinated, so I just had to think about the choreography of the stunt rather than thinking, oh god, all this bad shit is happening to me right now. It wasn't easy, and I still think it's going to be really hard for my family and friends to watch it.
In Wentworth I play a young Aboriginal girl, I actually have Aboriginal in my line, in my Dads side. They later told me that was the cherry on top when they were casting the character, because they really liked me, but they were concerned that I wasn't Aboriginal. After I sent the tape, I told my agent to let them know that I'm aboriginal on my Dad's side, and that I can prove it if they want. The next day they called and said I got the role. I got in touch with one of my cousins that lives in Melbourne, and he drove me north of Victoria where our first Aboriginal family started, and taught me about the history. It was a lot to take in. I got to learn quite a bit about that side, which was really interesting. You know how they had the time of 'breeding out the colour'? My Aboriginal family now are all white. You wouldn't know, you have to go back years and years to see the culture in the line. Now all my family are white, my Dad, you would technically think he is a white man. It is very heavy, it's a lot to take in. My Dad is the most proud, white Aboriginal man you'd ever meet.
I did a film after Wentworth. I did '1000 ropes' in Wellington. I did motion capture for a Luc Besson film. Then I did this art festival feature film where I played an extremely beaten up pregnant teenager who'd just run away from her boyfriend. I did that in Wellington for six weeks. Then I did the theatre show, 'Puzzy'. It was great, it was my first theatre show and I was absolutely shitting myself, because I don't know anything about that world. I know I've been acting for awhile now, but I've never done it to this kind of audience, and the actual play itself had some really out there content. It was definitely R-18. It was the first time they'd done a play that was young Pacific Islanders playing lesbians. So it was already controversial, and then Victor Rodger's style of writing pushes the boundaries a lot. I'm so glad I did that because it taught me so much about being comfortable in your body, because you can't hide at all, just being confident in taking risks with choices, and how to react to an audience. It was so much fun, I want to do it again.
I'm currently in Canada filming for a show called The Expanse, a sci-fi show based 200 years in the future. My character, Bobbie Draper is from Mars, and Mars doesn't have an atmosphere around it. She dreams of beautiful oceans and green grass and forests and all that sort of stuff, but because Mars doesn't have an atmosphere around it, it's just a dust planet. Earth is just a really poverty stricken place, there's the rich, rich, rich and then there's the total poor. There's no in-between.
I started reading the second book and googling the name of the character and everyone is like, 'Oh my god, who are they going to cast for Bobbie Draper? I'm already in love with her.' It's really cool, I was really lucky to get this role because the brief was so specific. She had to be Polynesian. In the book she is actually from Samoa. I shit you not, they wrote her from Samoa. I was like, "OK, this is my role." In the book she is like 2 meters tall, but they knew they couldn't get an actress 2 meters tall, so she had to be around 6 foot, so she can look like the size of the character. Plus she had to have the emotional capacity to play the role. I got the brief and was like, "Where do I sign up? This is my biggest chance to get into Hollywood", and because it was so specific, I knew that I had a chance, I just had to nail the audition.
I was so stoked when they shortlisted me. But the first audition I nearly cried. I had this breakdown to my boyfriend before I went, because the third scene I couldn't get down. There were so many words, it was a really emotional scene. I was like, "This is my one chance and I'm going to fucking ruin it." Luckily the casting director had my back, and let me learn it for another 20 minutes. I ended up skyping the producers of the show and having a meeting with them, and found out I got the role a week later.
They're getting me to keep my kiwi accent because it's a really diverse show, they love all the different cultures, and because it's 200 years in the future and she's from Mars, the dialect on that planet is really strange, so me keeping my kiwi accent is kind of perfect for it. I'm fully representing everywhere that I'm from. Kudos to the writers and producers, because they were adamant, and really wanted it to be someone who was of Polynesian descent. All the characters on the show are the culture that the books have written them as, or close to.
I'm not a trained actor, I like to keep it as natural as possible. Personally, if I put too much research into it, then I start to overthink it which makes the performance less authentic. You can put in so much work, but you can never predict what happens on set, ever. It always surprises you, it always takes you by surprise. The best thing to do is to just be ready for whatever they're gonna throw at you, really.
You have to have the naiveté in order to learn things. I think the best way to learn is the hard way. A year ago, I would have totally shat myself if I got this job, but I actually don't think a year ago I would have been ready. I think that all the work that I did in the past year was essential for me to be ready to do a role like this.
When I first left Shorty, the only thing I wanted to do was get out of Auckland. I wanted to go see the world, like, get me the fuck out of this place. I did everything just so that my heart was content to the fact that I wasn't going to be here. Then, when I came back from America I couldn't get a visa quick enough. I had to be in Auckland, and I was not happy with that, at all. I did more travel, went to Bali, Australia, all that. The more I saw of the rest of the world, the more I realised how lucky I was to actually have Auckland as home. I just didn't realise how beautiful the country was. Now that I've traveled a little bit with work, I would happily base myself in Auckland and go whenever I need to do the work, which I've been really lucky to be able to do thus far. Auckland is totally my home, I want to buy a house as soon as possible, and just go away when I need to.
*All images by Damien Nikora