Shari’s star is rising…fast. With The Sapphires, Redfern Now and the Graham Kennedy Logie Award for Most Outstanding New Talent under her belt, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Shari Sebbens’ star is rising fast. But talk to the girl who’s heart is still at home in the NT, and you’ll find a humble actor who’s grateful and surprised by all the fuss.
The Logie win was definitely unexpected for Sebbens, though Redfern Now picked up the Logie for Most Outstanding Drama on the night and Deborah Mailman who also stars in Redfern Now, won the Logie for Best Actress for her portrayal of Benita Mabo in the made-for-TV movie, Mabo. All in all, it was a night when the mob stormed the stage of Australia’s national television awards. “It was an exciting night and unexpected too. I spent a lot of time distancing myself from winning any award, and it was so nice to receive it – really cool. And given the Graham Kennedy Logie is peer judged, it’s good to think that other people feel I’m on track as an actor,” Shari says. “But I’ve been lucky enough to be given some great parts with great writers, directors and actors.”
And it’s not just at the Logies that Shari tasted success. She was also awarded Best Newcomer in the 2012 Sydney Theatre Awards for her role in A Hoax. But despite the success, Shari who still works part time at JB Hi Fi, says the industry’s acknowledgement has not come overnight. “For me it feels that there has been nothing overnight about success. I studied for four years, one at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts and three at NIDA in Sydney, and I’ve wanted to be an actor since I was 13 years old,” she says.
While theatre is a passion, television is also equally a place where Shari feels at home. In Season One of the hit television drama Redfern Now, Shari played the character of ‘Julie’ a young pretty, intelligent, yet quite fragile, teenager who is in her first year of University. Coming from a working class, Aboriginal background, she wants to make a better life for herself by getting a good education, and is focused on this goal. There were definite similarities between Shari and the character in that Julie was family oriented and also the fairest in her family. “There is a scene where a cab driver questions her Aboriginality, and people question how she looks – I was always the fairest one in my family and there are always expectations on how you should look as an Aboriginal,” she says. Although, unfortunately, her character ‘Julie’ doesn’t make a comeback in Season Two of Redfern Now – which began filming on 1 May – Shari is proud of its success amongst her mob and the wider Australian television viewing audience. “It comes back to the fact that for so long Indigenous stories were told by non-Indigenous people. Now we have a big pool of professionals in television production, directing and writing. Once we took full control, they stopped being ‘Indigenous’ stories and became stories,” she says. “Another big breakthrough has been NITV – that it’s now free-to-air and a default channel in people’s homes that our mob and non-Indigenous people can watch.”
While Sydney’s home because of her acting, Shari’s heart is still firmly in Darwin, NT with her family. And also WA with her mob, the Bardi and the JabirrJabirr people. “The biggest thing in my life has been leaving my family, and family for me is where it starts and ends for me. Leaving Darwin, I don’t get to make it home for weddings and funerals – the things you take for granted. But I try and get home once a year, and that’s at a minimum,” she says. “And I keep my feet on the ground by still working part-time at JB Hi Fi. I’ve been doing that for one and a half years and I remember when the Sapphires’ was released, people were coming in and saying ‘…but weren’t you in the Sapphires?’,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to work at JB Hi Fi and I love it. It’s good for my research.” She describes herself as a ‘curious’ and ‘generous’ actor and makes it her business to form strong relationships with her co-actors. “And having fun and playing with my characters. I suppose I should add in there that I’m very hardworking too,” she says, with a smile of course. With every role she undertakes, research or ‘social context’ is a focus. “I get hold of as many books as I can and read about the social context of the times.”
With a background in theatre and, as a NIDA graduate, Shari is comfortable on stage and feels she’s “yet to earn her stripes on a film set”. “The difference between stage and a film set is the immediacy. On stage you’ve got to get it right in that exact moment, but on film you get a few takes to do that. But in theatre you get more rehearsal time as well,” she says. “But doing theatre is a real discipline and I think it’s important for actors to be onstage at least a couple of times each year. I aim to do that because it’s my way of keeping my craft energized and sharp.” The Sapphires was by far the role Shari considers most ‘fun’, and for all her co-actors who still remain firm friends today. “Three out of the four of us grew up in Darwin and Miranda (Tapsell) and I knew each other there. The four of us genuinely had the best time together – just a bunch of mad gins having a good time,” she says. “The Sapphires was the first major [film] I’d done and it set me up for the next couple of projects.”
Shari’s most recent project has been for the ABC, a drama/comedy titled The Gods of Wheat Street. She describes it as a bit like a ‘Black to the Rafters’ and says it’s got ‘big heart’. It’s due on our TV screens later this year. At the moment, Shari’s just returned from her annual trip home to see family and spend time with her greatest ‘role models’ on her first break from the film set or the stage in 14 months. “My mum and everyone in my family are my role models – all these amazing women in my family who have overcome the odds to survive and dream.”