by Matthew Hogan
The star of the film Tomorrow When The War Began and the television series, The Jesters, the 25-year-old actor has just wrapped his latest acting gig on the premiere season of Network Ten’s Reef Doctors shot in Queensland, and has had to move back to Sydney to be available for auditions.
Although it may seem he has a burgeoning acting career and the world at his feet, he says the financial strains of surviving in Sydney, together with the sluggish arts industry has seen him hit some depressing times.
“Sydney can really grind you down. It’s a pressure-cooker,” he says.
Andy says that unless you are in the very top echelon of Australian actors, it can be hard to stay physically and mentally fit to keep competing for roles.
“I get really down when I’m not working and it’s so expensive here,” he says, adding that he finds it stressful not knowing where his job is coming from.
The global cost of living survey by American human resource consultants Mercer puts Sydney as the fourteenth most expensive city in the world, ahead of London, Paris and New York City.
Andy Ryan points to a number of factors that he believes make it hard to survive in Sydney.
“Accommodation is one. It’s bloody expensive, real estate agents don’t like actors because they don’t have guaranteed income and most places listed on share-housing sites advertise for professionals to move in.”
He says that despite his success, he’s been sleeping on a friend’s couch in Bronte for the past four weeks and has applied for around 20 homes during the five years he has been living in Sydney and has only been successful once, when he lied about his occupation.
Acting is a very social profession and Andy says actors need to be networking and going to parties and meetings all the time.
He says that not only is this expensive but he sees friends and colleagues developing drinking or drug dependencies. It’s a cut-throat industry, he says, where actors have to be at their best all the time and so there is a constant temptation to drink and take drugs to maintain high spirits.
Another stress factor is the need to keep working at the craft yet knowing there is a lack of work.
“To be a great actor, you need to be doing it all the time, like anything,” he says.
Much of Andy Ryan’s time and finances goes into funding his own projects such as his short film, Bird Therapy, a finalist in Australia’s premiere short film competition, Tropfest and his web-series, Future Machine.
Former Neighbours star, Ben Guerrins, 33, fresh from shooting the new series of Network Nine’s Underbelly, finds himself in a similar situation to Andy.
Ben stays busy producing his own theatre shows and short films in between paid acting gigs and has had to use his own money to fund most of his endeavours including his most recent short film (NAME), also a Tropfest finalist.
“I put everything into that film. My time and money, heart and soul and now I’m selling wine full time trying to keep up with repayments credit card,” he says.
Ben Guerrins has been a professional actor since he was 10 and now he’s selling wine through a call centre to keep afloat financially. He says these are the hardest times he has experienced as an actor.
“For sure, things are always getting more expensive here. Since the GFC, there’s been less funding for the arts, less private funding and it’s harder to get stuff done.”
The Australian Government introduced the Australian Screen Production Incentive, a package of tax incentives designed to encourage private investment in Australian-produced films, television shows and documentaries in 2007. However, investors are still wary of the film industry because its record of returns is very poor.
Kathryn Beck, 25, who has just wrapped Baby Teeth at Belvoir Street Theatre, says it’s all part of the business of being an actor.
“You get into it knowing it can be a struggle, so there’s no point whinging about it. I’m just really careful,” she says.
Despite being named a star of the future in Inside Film magazine and being nominated for an AFI in 2011, Kathryn says living in Sydney is tough but not impossible.
“I never eat out and I just walk everywhere.”
Adrian Nelson, of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, says there is an Actors Benevolent Fund to help actors who are in dire circumstances and fall on hard times, including accident or injury.
“It’s there for extreme cases, unforeseen hardships but it wouldn’t be available for rental or daily strains,” he says.