14 Jul 2018 | BY Shelley Lee - @ShelleyLee_
27-year-old Canadian-born Australian Rhiannon Fish became a household name playing April Scott in more than 300 episodes of Home and Away.
The Logie-nominated beauty’s local celebrity status was cemented when she waltzed and cha-cha-cha’d her way into the finals of the thirteenth season of Dancing with the Stars.
In 2013, after three years on the Summer Bay set, Fish followed in the footsteps of actors like Margot Robbie and Chris Hemsworth, taking the skills and work ethic our local soaps nurture in young talent and jumping on a jet to the United States.
“It’s very exciting to be a small fish in that massive pond again and really have to fight for your status or for any kind of recognition all over again.” she says.
Six months after relocating to the States she snared the role of murderous Grounder warrior Ontari in The 100 (airing on Foxtel and streaming on Netflix in Australia). The series has a long history of showcasing Australian talent, with its leads Eliza Taylor and Bob Morely both Neighbours alumni.
Fish says she’s loving life in her new home, as she treads the familiar Hollywood path of waiting tables between acting gigs.
“I’ve never really spoken about this in an interview before. There’s a part of it that maybe feels like a bit of a failure saying, “Yeah, I’ve had to go back to waitressing or working at a restaurant.” But it’s really not.” acknowledging, ” You do whatever you can to make it over there and if it means that you’ve got to do jobs like that to pay your bills, then that’s what you’re going to do”.
Being LA, she’s served her fair share of A-list clientele , and is caught off-guard when we ask if she can ‘out’ any bad tippers.
“We have Esther Anderson come in all the time. Can you imagine if I would say, “She’s a terrible tipper!?” she giggles, shaking her head at the idea the fellow-Aussie and former Home and Away actress would be stingy on gratuities. “Tyra Banks was ‘interesting’ to meet. I’m a huge Breaking Bad fan and I had to serve Aaron Paul. My face was bright red and I was shaking as I was reading the menu options. But I buy into that, I buy into the celebrity.”
Fish’s own fan base extends beyond Australia and into the global sci-fi sphere thanks for the popularity of The 100. A regular at pop culture/sci-fi conventions, she describes social media as a positive and powerful tool that’s helped her build a friendship-like relationship with fans.
The flip-side of them feeling like they know her personally, is the when they weigh in personal things, like her love life.
“I have had some public relationships and some public breakups within Australia (with singer Reece Mastin and fellow actor Lincoln Lewis). I think that it as lead me to be more guarded” she deliberately keeps most information about her current relationship off social media.
On tour with Mastin, Fish had a chance to see rural and regional Australia, but it was returning Down Under to film new movie Occupation the actress experienced her first extended stay in a small town. The alien invasion flick shot, in part, in Bonogin in the Gold Coast Hinterland.
“I really loved it. There’s something about that laid back Australian small town attitude. They posted on Facebook that we were making a film and the whole town showed up to be a part of it. They have been so supportive. I think we’re going to get them all back for the sequel” she says of the many locals who became extras in the movie.
The remote location also helped the cast forge a strong bond “I met my best friend on that film, her name’s Izzy Stevens and she plays Bella. She’s just moved in right around the corner from me in L.A. Then of course there’s Dan Ewing who’ve I’ve known since we were kids on Home and Away”.
Occupation also boasts performances by Temuera Morrison (Once Were Warriors, Star Wars) Stephany Jacobsen (NCIS, Battlestar Galactica,), Jacqueline McKenzie (The 4400, Romper Stomper), and Felix Williamson (The Great Gatsby, Underbelly).
Written and directed by Luke Sparke ( Red Billabong) the film borrows from other space invasion offerings like Red Dawn, Independence Day and Cloverfield. A team of small-town Australians launch a guerrilla resistance to the invasion in a similar vein to Tomorrow When the War Began , but with spaceships, laser guns and plenty of AFL references.
“What makes this different to the other sci-fis that I’ve seen or worked on is that you know these characters. It’s your local nurse, the homeless person, the local football star” Fish explains.
She plays Vanessa, a pregnant young nurse who after escaping the initial carnage of the first alien contact, medically treats and trains other survivors.
Fish quickly learned that the abundance of free, unprompted advice offered to mothers and mothers-to-be about birth and parenting also flows when you play a pregnant woman. “It’s exactly the same!” she exclaims “I had, bless him, I love him, a male actor that gave me a very detailed description of how I should give birth. I’ve never had a child, I understand that, but neither has he!”.
She spent a lot of time listening to women on the crew who had several children and “deep dove” into some “confronting” YouTube videos as part of her research.
Being pregnant on screen has its perks. While the belly-suit wasn’t comfortable, the scrubs and smock she sports for most scenes were, especially compared to the leather and Lycra of previous roles on Home and Away and The 100.
“That’s the thing with Home And Away, you’d rock up to work and they’d be like, “Here’s your tiny little costume for the day.” It was nice to get to work and to be able to put on a pregnancy suit” she pauses, thinking more about Occupation, “That’s another thing that I do like about this film is that there is no exploitation of female sexuality.
“I understand that sex sells, whether it’s male or female people buy into sex. Luke, our creator, really steers away from that. Spoiler alert: you’re not going to see them in any skimpy outfits… he didn’t need to resort to exploiting women or sexuality in order to get viewers”. Or investors, with Occupation already sold worldwide and green-lit for a sequel.
As an actress still making her mark on Hollywood in the age of #MeToo Fish says the revelations of the last year haven’t prompted her to take extra precautions as unfortunately, even beyond the entertainment industry, women have always been forced to be hyper-vigilant about their safety because “bad guys” are out there.
“I do believe that we are a part of a movement where everyone is becoming sensitive to it. And not just the females but the men as well…If a man is going to put a woman in a situation like that, she’s going to speak up. It’s not a time to be silent anymore. Men are not going to get away with that.”
Fish herself is unwilling to ignore harassment when it’s directed at her. Along with the warm and positive interactions on her social media feeds, there are also cringe-worthy, explicitly sexual comments about her body.
“You’re often confronted by a bunch of things that you did not ask for at all. I think that sometimes by sharing a photo in your bikini or a video on YouTube in a bathing suit, people think that it’s then okay to talk to you in a sexual way and it’s not. “ she says.
The problem, she stresses, isn’t with the photo of a confident woman, but with the person writing inappropriate things about it “Women should also not feel like they have to cover up just so we don’t make men feel uncomfortable. Just because we are comfortable in our own bodies and potentially exposing them in a bikini it’s not an invitation for men to over sexualise us.” she says, adding, “ I think that is something that young men need to be raised being aware of.”
If someone sends her lewd messages she doesn’t just ignore them, “They’re going to get blocked and they’re going to get reported” she says.
Like with cyber-bullying and trolling, sexualising women and girls, and sexual harassment in the digital realm is typically a coward’s game, engaged in by faceless keyboard warriors.
“Whether they’re fighting with someone or making sexual comments, they feel that they are safe and they can say whatever they want. Whether any of these men would actually say stuff like that to me in person is a completely different story.” she says.
Which is why this star, with more than 230 thousand Instagram and 135 thousand Twitter followers wants to see things change “We need to be respectful of women, not only in the real world but also on social media as well.”
Occupation is now out in cinemas.