Sophia Katos : Botanical Gardens, South Yarra : Melbourne, Australia
“There are roles that you are born to play, because actors have energy about them; when you walk into a room you get something from someone. And when that role has the same energy, it’s like a marriage made in heaven; you don’t have to push anything. It’s just little changes and then you start to delve into that character. It’s heaven when you’re given a meaty, juicy role with great writing. It’s a totally different experience and I think it can make you a better actor; finding a role that you can rise to.”
Sophia Katos is in a great place; personally, professionally and geographically. She’s found herself back in Melbourne on the next stop of what has been close to a two year journey working on the stage with Baz Luhrmann’s production of Strictly Ballroom. Her daily shift into her role as the angry and frighteningly ambitious Liz Holt (originally played by Gia Carides in the 1992 film) is far removed from the giving and gentle personality that Sophia is; she lavishes the shift the character provides her creatively and has embraced the intensely physical show as an enormous and delightful challenge. It’s been a well rehearsed canon shot into the frontline of big-budget music theatre in Australia and it has provided her the opportunity to work alongside some of Australia’s best talent, be dressed by four time Academy Award winning costume designer (Catherine Martin) and even be guided by Baz Luhrmann himself.
“It has been such a long, challenging and fabulously rewarding process. We held a 3-week workshop in Sydney in October, 2013. In the lead up to rehearsals, we commenced ballroom and flamenco dance training. We officially opened in April 12 and ran until October 5 (in Sydney). We (then) opened in Melbourne in January and will play here till August, before moving to Brisbane! It has been my whole world for over 400 shows now. I am constantly covered in glitter and sequins and Swarovski crystals…it’s a dream”
After completing the musical theatre course at the acclaimed National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA) in 2007, she has enjoyed some amazing experiences across various performance mediums; from touring the country with ‘Wild World – The Cat Stevens Story’ and ‘Cafe Rebetika’, to independently releasing her own EP and featuring in hit TV show, ‘Packed To The Rafters’. However Strictly Ballroom is the first big-budget, commercial touring stage-musical production she’s been cast in and has dedicated the better part of the last two years of her life working hard to deliver every single time and ultimately ensure it provides a solid step for the next stage of her career.
“I’ve been fortunate to land some wonderful jobs – little bits here and there in the industry – and I feel like finally, with Strictly Ballroom, I’ve just creaked open the door to the industry and I’m getting a glimpse and I’m like, “ooh, there’s the career here”. I feel like it’s just sort of starting and I just want to wrench open that door and run in; and it’s a little scary because you want it to continue and you want it to grow. And you’re just hoping to god that the door doesn’t just slam shut”
Being back in Melbourne is a bitter-sweet experience for Sophia. Growing up in Geelong (a regional hub located 40 minutes west of the state capital) there are the obvious benefits of long time friends and family being close by, and given the length away from her home it’s a realistic temptation to set up roots in anticipation of the final stage of the musical. But Sophia is looking further ahead and realistic to the demands of her industry; particularly to her focus as a performer and determination to build a successful career.
“Ideally I’d love to be based here, but if it’s outside of Melbourne, it’s outside of Melbourne. I’m not one to say “I just want to live here and I’m happy with that”. I want to go where that role is; it could be in Melbourne, it could be in Scandinavia. If it’s a great role, it’s a great role. That’s the exciting part of it, you just have to be open and I find that because I do a bit of everything, if I try and pigeon hole myself into one stream I close off all these other opportunities. I never thought I’d be a ballroom dancer; I never ever thought that. But it was that role that I connected with and that’s how it sort of happened”
Despite her wealth of experience, Sophia’s still only relatively young at 27, and the biggest struggle has been to filter the external voices; the consistent advice from others as to what they think is best for her. It’s not an unusual difficulty given she’s dedicated time to training across a variety of styles and pursued a large variety of work to date. However, the reality is that when people find value in every area you’re exploring to develop as an artist, the voices around you can actually create unnecessary distractions from your passion and dilute your true course.
“It’s always been a challenge for me, because I love musical theatre, I love writing songs, I love blues, I love straight acting…and that can be confusing sometimes. But I think the really successful artists in this business don’t waver from that authentic voice in them. And people can try to mould you into how they see you or how they think you’ll make money; or how they think you’ll be successful. But if you’re going to be happy at the end of the day, you have to go with what your voice tells you. I’d rather fail being who I actually am than be successful in something that doesn’t fulfil me”
Her career to date hasn’t been void of polite frustration. With her Greek heritage, combined with the seemingly endless need for questionable-stereotypical European characters in Australian mainstream works, it was inevitable that she would face the option of taking these roles. Forever the professional, she’s focussed on the positive elements of these roles to generate her momentum and capitalise on the opportunities provided by embodying these characters. From the outside, it seems an intelligent and cleverly calculated response to an industry with comparatively limited opportunity, and an all important understanding of what she needs to make happen in order to move forward.
“I’ve been really lucky with the opportunities I’ve had, though many of them were specifically ethnic roles or a stereotypical type of Greek character, and I’m not that person at all; I’m proud of my heritage but I’m a third generation Australian! I can do it, and I love it, and it’s really fun but there’s so much more to me and to what I want to achieve out of my career. Luckily they’ve been different in their approaches; I think it’s part of the journey and that if you do a good job in those roles you’re opened up to new opportunities. And you do have to trust in your type-casting, because at least it gets you work and gets you in the door and then you have to transcend any stereotype that may otherwise hold you back. A lot of actors I admire got their break that way”
And the craft is where it’s at for her; in an insta-world of the fame-hungry, Sophia’s passionate about working under and alongside amazing people and finding projects that challenge and develop her as an actor; a dedicated performer committed to exploring new characters and pushing her boundaries. Citing role models like Edie Falco, she has a clear understanding who she’s becoming; recognising and embracing the limits and opportunities she has while making intelligent career choices and keeping her eye on the ultimate goal.
“I just want to do really good roles. I would take a good role any day over the money. That sounds idealistic, but it’s true. You want to look back and go, “Look at all those incredible parts I played”. I just want to keep improving and moving forward, which is sometimes hard in this industry because it’s not linear trajectory. You can be living the dream one day…and back to dreaming the next. But again, it’s all part of the game and the important thing is to enjoy it while you have it”
You can buy tickets and read more about the Australian stage version of Strictly Ballroom here.