For the love of acting

By Melissa Walsh  Photos Yanni

When you are born into a traditional Italian family where generations have been growing fruit and vegetables since the 1950’s, it would be understandable to follow in the family footsteps. For Lucia Brancatisano that was never the case as the Mornington Peninsula mum of two followed her passion for the theatre and continues to work as a paid actor to this day.

Peninsula Essence talks to Lucia about life, her career on stage, commercials, and a role on the TV series Wentworth that is going into its seventh year. 

When did you discover a love of acting?

It began when I was at school and lucky enough to have a drama teacher who brought me out of my shell. I was a very shy kid but, as soon as I started acting, I felt like this was a place I was really myself.

Did you start acting straight out of school?

No I didn’t. I actually started a teaching course at university but couldn’t get the acting out of my head. It was always the place where I found my voice and was the only thing I felt really comfortable doing. It was all about telling stories and giving people the truth and I was hooked. I started out on stage which is where I loved the most. It was a great adrenalin rush, and then I moved into short films, commercials and some television work.

Where have you worked as an actor and is it hard to get work these days?

I did theatre around Melbourne and lived in UK, working in theatre where I did Shakespeare plays. When I returned back to Australia, I stopped for a while as I felt like I was the typical actress who works as a waitress. I loved travelling so got myself a job with British Airways which I did for ten years. It was a great job and taught me so much but I still longed to work on the stage.

Did the British Airways role help towards your acting when you returned?

It really did help me become a better actress, working nine to five for a big organisation, and gave me formal training and experience with different people in a different role all together. I think that is important for actors. We need to step outside our normal comfort zone and have different experiences to bring that knowledge to the stage.

When did you return to acting and how many roles have you done over the past 10 years?

Once I had children I thought I would go back behind the scenes and as a stay at home mum. My children are 12 and nine now and back then I decided to enrol as an extra for film or TV. I found an agent who was brilliant and put me on City Homicide straight away. I was four months pregnant and my first scene was to get blown up. From then on I got work on different TV shows as an extra. I went back to acting school as I realised I loved being in front of the camera and started getting involved in theatre again where I got to work at places like The Malthouse where I had always dreamed of performing.

How did the Wentworth role come about?

My agent had me doing more TV and then, out of the blue called me one day and said they are doing a remake of Prisoner and this could be four months’ work for me as an extra. That was great as usually extras only get a day here and there. All I had to do was send her a photo of me with no makeup and looking really mean which I did and I am still there seven years later.

What was the first day on set at Wentworth like?

When I first walked on set it was the second day of season one and they said we have made a mistake we don’t have a costume for you so they said just go on set as a visitor. I was devastated and then someone walked in and said “Quick put a prison guard costume on her and walk in there”. 

They threw me in and the cameras were rolling. The main actor who plays Bee Smith was walking towards me so I just kept giving her really dirty looks like she was a piece of filth and it worked. The assistant director came up to me and said “You will be coming back” and the rest is history.

What is it like being a long term extra on a show like Wentworth?

Well for a start I found out I do angry really well. The first season was chaotic because they didn’t expect it to be so big. From then on it has been smoother and smoother. They don’t give you a script as an extra. You get on set and they tell you what the scene is about and you just work out what you need to do in the background. As an extra it is a bit of a dance to work around the main action of what is going on.

How did the speaking part come about on Wentworth?

Slowly I have built up to a speaking part in season seven which airs this year. I think the main director saw how committed I was as an extra. I take my role very seriously and think it is important to be flexible, reliable and positive on set no matter what part you are playing.

What are the hours like working on a show like Wentworth as an extra?

You never know what the hours are but it is usually either a four hour, eight or twelve hour day. It is Monday to Friday however and they even used to break for school holidays. You do have to be flexible in terms of availability though. You know the dates but often find out what time you are needed the day before. Luckily I have my parents who help with the kids.

What is a favourite role?

I have done a few commercials which I enjoy like the Coles commercials three times with Curtis Stone, and I just did superannuation commercial that’s coming out. Commercials are good as they pay well and they are just a day shoot.

But I would say my favourite role was in the Vagina Monologues where I played a seventy year old woman. It was four years ago and I had auditioned for a younger role but this was the one I was cast in. I remember the first night standing back stage and I was shaking. I had to do a ten minute monologue and I was terrified. I remember seeing the exit door and then thinking this was a theatre I wanted to perform in since I was 20 and now I was here. I went on the stage and it just flowed. I thought to myself “you know the story, just tell it”. Afterwards people came up to me saying I made them cry. It was a sad story called The Flood about a woman who was reflecting on her life. 

What is acting about and what makes a good actor?

I think it is about being a heightened version of yourself, and you have to be vulnerable. You need to be open to what directors are saying to you and listen to their advice. When you turn up to an audition, you know they can throw anything at you, so you have to be relaxed and fully yourself to avoid coming across as wooden.

What advice would you give to other actors about being successful in the industry?

It is being vulnerable and working every day at it, I tell my children you can’t just say “I want to be good”. You have to get up every day and do something towards it. 

First published in Peninsula Essence – March 2019