Zenia Starr in ‘The End’ (Photo credit: Foxtel).
Zenia Starr made her screen debut in Mark Grentell’s 2013 cricket comedy Backyard Ashes but this year has been the first when she has worked virtually non-stop.
The Indian-born, Australian-raised actor modestly credits that to a number of factors including audiences’ growing appetite to see diversity on screens and those producers and directors who were willing to take a risk in hiring her.
Equally graciously she also thanks her agent, Catherine Poulton Management, luck and “maybe some divine intervention.”
After a string of roles in the ABC’s The Unlisted, the second series of Seven Network’s Drop Dead Weird, Stan’s upcoming The Gloaming, Foxtel’s The End and Maziar Lahooti’s debut feature Below, she says: “It’s the most momentum I’ve ever had.”
Playing a Mumbai resident in Anthony Maras’ Hotel Mumbai alongside Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Jason Isaacs and Tilda Cobham-Hervey helped increase her profile, she thinks.
Zenia was born in Gwalior in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh and moved to Australia with her parents when she was one.
Her first profession was as a physiotherapist. After practicing for 10 months she quit to pursue her desire to act and her dad encouraged her to do a five-day course at NIDA.
She has treated a few actors on set, observing: “It’s a good bonding experience.” Her medical background helped her win the part of a doctor in Aquarius Films’ The Unlisted. Drawing on her training, one scene where her character Maya treats a boy who had a potentially life threatening leg infection was almost entirely improvised.
After Hotel Mumbai she teamed up again with Grentell in The Merger and appeared in Nazeem Hussain’s sketch comedy Orange Is the New Brown.
Zenia Starr (L) with Emma Booth and Ewen Leslie in ‘The Gloaming’ (Photo credit: Stan).
In See-Saw Films’ The End created and written by Samantha Strauss she plays Amira, an affluent Mumbai socialite. All her scenes were with Frances O’Connor as Dr Kate Brennan, a senior registrar specialising in palliative care who is strenuously opposed to euthanasia. Harriet Walter is Kate’s mother Edie Henley, who is just as passionate about her right to die.
“Frances is incredible to watch,” she says. “I learnt it’s OK to go big and commit fully and then pull back if necessary. She told me that often we desire to have a magical feeling when we perform. We forget that the magic is usually there the first or second time we do something and when we have to emulate it, it doesn’t feel the same way but you have to trust yourself.”
In The Gloaming, an eight-part drama created by Sweet Potato Films’ Vicki Madden, which premieres on Stan on New Year’s Day, Emma Booth and Ewen Leslie star as detectives and former lovers who investigate the brutal murder of an unidentified woman.
Zenia plays Freya, an ambitious, hard working but prickly detective. It was a thrill for her to appear on screen with Ratidzo Mambo and Nicole Chamoun, musing: “How often do three shades of brown from different countries get to hold a scene together, which is a huge plot point in the show?”
Zenia Starr in ‘Below’ (Photo credit: David Dare Parker).
For her one of attractions of Below was the chance to work with Ryan Corr as Dougie, a directionless dreamer who is recruited to work in a detention centre for asylum seekers, and with Anthony LaPaglia as Dougie’s stepfather Terry, the centre’s security manager.
Zenia plays Imogen, a government auditor whose reports on the centre are sent to the Attorney-General. She describes the character as someone who aspires to high morality theoretically but struggles to put that into practice.
She sparked to Ian Wilding’s script which often abruptly changes from dramatic scenes, such as people setting themselves on fire, to a belly-laughing line of dialogue from Dougie. Madman Entertainment will release the thriller next year.
Recently she turned down several roles, explaining: “I did not want to play those characters or stand for the message of the show, or I didn’t quite understand the arc of a play. I prefer to say no than be unsure and say yes.
“Some casting directors and directors respect that but it’s sort of expected that most actors will say yes to everything. It’s about time we start having discussions and asking more about what we’re signing up, for especially when you only get two episodes and six more are yet to be written.”