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Part 1: Dichen Lachman on accents, visas and being proactive

The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Altered Carbon actress delivers her tips for Aussies trying to build a career at home and abroad.

Credits: Aquamarine, Dollhouse, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Altered Carbon

Originally from Nepal, the 36-year-old actress moved to Adelaide with her parents as a child and played Katya on Neighbours from 2005–2007

Dichen LachmanDichen Lachman in Altered Carbon

“It was a practical thing, wanting to go to America,” recalls LA-based Dichen Lachman. “I’d been on Neighbours and back then in 2007, it was a different time and Netflix and the big movies weren’t shooting in Australia so I knew my choices were limited and that move just felt like the thing that made the most sense.”

Not everyone agreed with Lachman, she now confesses. “My agents at the time were like, ‘why do you want to go to America?’ and they didn’t want to help me at all. Luckily my friend who was also on Neighbours, Damien Brodie, had a meeting with a manager in the US and I asked him if I could contact him also. So, I built myself a website and edited all my Neighbours footage together and sent the email off and got a meeting with him that led to a bunch of other meetings and just opened the door a little bit.”

Lachman advises if you want to kick open the door once it’s ajar, you have to be proactive. “I was cold calling people saying, ‘I am an Australian actress and I am on a Neighbours TV show and I have a meeting here and would really love to meet with you, and here is my website, would you like to look at it?’  Some people would hang up and other people would be like, ‘OK, let me take your name and number’, and then they would call me back and invariably it would be no, but some pretty remarkable people said yes,” she recalls. “And I got to meet them and that was the process of getting to know some agents and managers in town. But I think it’s so much easier now than it was back then because most of the agents and managers in Australia work directly with the agents in America. There is much more awareness about the talent coming out of Australia and they all want to meet us now.”

“I was cold calling people."

The down-to-earth actress, who recently co-starred with Joel (‘Robocop’) Kinnaman in the Netflix sci-fi drama Altered Carbon, credits her time on Neighbours with preparing her for work in the US. “I honestly don’t think I would have been able to do any of this now without that training, just having the confidence to go into an audition and believe that I could follow through with the job if I got it and in terms of understanding the mechanics on set,” she says. “There were so many actors on that show who had been doing it for a long time – Alan Fletcher, Stefan Dennis and Ian Smith – and they really nurtured the younger talent in a grounded way that was so important for us. And when you have almost 100 hours of television that’s aired not just in Australia but globally,” she adds, “how can that not help you when people are looking at your resume?”

Lachman recalls some advice she got from an unlikely source before her first trip to the US “I called (Shine director) Scott Hicks’ office in Adelaide, because I’d heard there might be something, and he was kind enough to actually pick up the phone and we talked for a while and he said, ‘I can’t help you with what you’re asking but I will tell you a valuable resource is IMDB Pro because it’s a tool to help you find representation, emails, phone numbers and addresses,’” she says. Lachman got a subscription the next day. “If you don’t know anyone in the business and you want to work, it’s important to know who all these people are when you are going into the rooms to meet them and also knowing who represents the people you admire so you can really focus on getting those meetings.”

Other advice Lachman offered:

Immigration

“There are multiple ways to get a visa but most of the time, you have to stay long enough to get a job so big that the studio will take care of the visa for you. That’s a challenging barrier of entry for people who don’t have a resume or major credits,” she says. Lachman worked with veteran immigration lawyer Kate Raynor, an Australians in Film sponsor who also helped Mindhunter actress, Anna Torv. “She got my visa in a month and I couldn’t believe it,” she marvels. “But it’s crazy how much you have to think ahead because I was supposed to submit all my press clippings to support the visa and I’d kept nothing. But luckily Damien Brodie’s mother had been saving all the TV Week’s from when he was on the show with me, so I could use them too.”

To Move or Not to Move

“If I was on Neighbours now and they didn’t pick up my option, I’d be more inclined to go to LA and get representation but then go home and try my career at home while auditioning on tape for my American agent,” Lachman confesses. “Now we are in a time where it doesn’t matter where you live and I’ve even heard from a few actors that live in LA that they actually go home to Australia for pilot season, because it’s easier to get a casting director to look at your tape more than meet with you in person.”

Being Bi-Pacific

“I’d love to work in Australia and do an Australian movie. I’ve got a three-year-old daughter and I’m proud she’s half Australian, and Australia is the most beautiful country I’ve ever been to, so it’s still my home and how I identify who I am,” she adds. “But I married an American (actor Maximilian Osinski) and fortunately there are a lot of Australians here in LA now too. So you never feel like you’re away from home with this little annex of Sydney or Melbourne, and it’s just a skip and a jump over the pond!”

Accents in auditions

“I generally go in with my natural accent. But it’s a personal preference. I think if you don’t have a lot of material with US accent it can be a good idea, or if you have trouble transitioning. Sometimes they like the surprise of finding out you’re Australian at the end.

I always advise people to do what feels authentic or what they need to do the best audition.

Having said that, if your accent is flawless for the scene, why not stand out. People find Australian’s charming, so just being yourself is a great icebreaker and could lead to a conversation that you otherwise might not have had. Then they can see the real you. Especially for television.”