Keiynan Lonsdale on the ‘Dance Academy’ movie and diversity in Aussie TV
Keiynan Lonsdale in WB's The Flash.
Young Australian actor Keiynan Lonsdale started dancing when he was four years old.
After an episode of All Saints as a teenager and a stint performing in Fame the musical after high school, he landed an audition for the gig that was to be his big break: the second season of the ABC's unlikely international hit, Dance Academy.
"It was a good transition for me to go from dancing to acting, because I knew from Fame that I didn't want to be a dancer anymore. I wanted to focus on acting and music."
The series provided his first real screen role ("I'd had one-liners before, [and] I was an extra a lot") then wrapped up for good after three seasons when Lonsdale was just 20.
As is now the norm, many of the young cast hotfooted it straight to LA.
"When we were finishing season three, I heard everyone talking about this thing called pilot season, and I didn't know what it was. Everybody said they were going, and I thought it sounded amazing. The chance to audition multiple times in one week? That's unheard of."
Lonsdale found a place in LA with five other Dance Academy alums, and even now says he meets "more Australians in LA than I meet Americans."
After landing a role in Insurgent, the sequel to YA blockbuster Divergent, Lonsdale was able to pick the brains of fellow Australians Jai Courtney and Naomi Watts.
"Jai just said [to] stick with your people, with the people you feel comfortable around."
"Los Angeles is about the friends that you have, because you can get so caught up in the world and the pressure of trying to book something that you forget you actually have to live your life. If you have some decent friends around you, you can actually have a good time (laughs)."
Lonsdale wrapped Insurgent on a Saturday and flew to Boston on the Sunday.
The next day he started filming The Finest Hours, a rescue drama directed by Australian director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) and starring Chris Pine (Star Trek), Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone), Ben Foster (Lone Survivor) and our own Eric Bana.
"I was really quiet in the beginning of shooting, very nervous to be around everyone. I was also about 10-15 years younger than everyone. But then I realised it was an amazing opportunity to sit back and watch everyone."
That shoot might have been him rubbing shoulders with some heavyweights, but it's still Dance Academy that people approach him to talk about, wherever he is in the world.
"I don't think anybody expected that. I think Netflix helped that a lot in America, because everybody says they just came across it on Netflix and then told their friends."
Now, Lonsdale and the gang have returned to tread the boards one last time (or not) in Dance Academy: The Movie, directed by Jeffrey Walker, who helmed some of the show's first season and whom Lonsdale calls a "fun, nice, humble guy."
"He knows how to sneak things out of you without you even realising (laughs). Which is cool, if a director can convince you a choice is right without forcing you to do something you're uncomfortable with. And he really trusts us with the dance element of things."
Being back with the same cast and crew is a blast from the past, Lonsdale says.
"Sometimes the crew will say, 'okay, let's get the kids over here', and we're like: '[whispers] we're not kids anymore'."
"It's been four years since we wrapped on season three. It's really strange, because we've all hung out over the course of a few years."
The pace of shooting a feature as opposed to a series was another adjustment.
"There was more time taken to shoot the dance sequences, whereas in the show we kind of went – bang, bang, bang. This time it was really about making the shoot look visually stunning. We had a lot of rehearsal time for core pieces, whereas on the show we had so much to learn all the time you kind of bounced around everywhere."
Lonsdale is now back in Vancouver, where he spends ten months of every year shooting WB's The Flash.
There are more opportunities overseas, he says, as well as more competition.
"There's less auditions [in Oz] in general, no matter who you are. I felt like there would be more auditions for me over there, and more competition from people who were similar to me, so I would know that if I got a role it wasn't just because they needed a black guy. It was because I earnt that role, and hopefully my skin colour didn't factor into it."
Lonsdale agrees that Aussie TV isn't great in the diversity stakes.
"Sometimes I feel this strange pressure. I get awkward or frightened to say anything, but at the end of the day it is the truth, and I do feel strongly that it's important that kids can look at Aussie TV and not feel like they have to run away to another country to get cast in a job."
Dance Academy: The Movie is being produced by Werner Film Productions with investment from Screen Australia, Screen NSW, Film Victoria, The Australian Children’s Television Foundation and Soundfirm. StudioCanal is distributing in AU/NZ (release is slated for early next year) with international sales by ZDF Enterprises Germany.