Donning an American accent in her feature film debut only added to an already great experience for Australian actress Ella Proberts.
“I was so excited because when I was little, I had an obsession with accents,” Ella says with a grin. She recalls pulling out her books and reading them in any different accent she could. A laugh escapes her as she adds, “I wanted to be a speech pathologist for a bit because I just wanted to work with accents. I don’t even know if speech pathologists actually do that, but I had that in my head.”
Hailing from Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, the rising star takes time from her busy schedule to organize an interview over Zoom. It’s morning as she speaks with TEENPLICITY, her day only starting as those in the United States are beginning to wind down. She studies at a local university. Not speech pathology like her childhood aspirations had her convinced of, but journalism and arts.
That’s not to say that she didn’t get to live out some of her childhood fantasies while shooting the family film The Curious Case of Dolphin Bay, currently streaming on Disney+ in the United States.
“It kind of brought that childhood dream of actually speaking another accent back,” she says before continuing. “But it also was a bit daunting because I didn’t want to sound like a fraud. Christine [Luby] is American, Izabela [Rose] is American, and I was obviously in a room with them most of the time. So I was just copying them.” Laughter echoes in her words as she says, “I was probably a bit annoying. I was like, ‘Oh, how’s this word? How’s this word?’ It was just a bit of fun for me.”
It’s one of those environments that just push you to do what you need to do.
The grin on Ella’s face is hard to miss. Her joy is immeasurable as she talks of every aspect of her passions, both the small and large pieces that go into them. It emerges again and again while speaking with TEENPLICITY that one can’t help but be embraced by her enthusiasm.
Prompted, she shares more of the tools in her accent-speaking belt.
She starts the list. “British, just as standard to be able to do. For a while I tried to learn how to do a South African accent for a role, and I really loved that, but it’s something I fall out of and then I have to get back into it. I really want to be able to do a good Irish accent. That’s a hard one, I reckon.”
For now, audiences can enjoy Ella’s turn with an American accent in The Curious Case of Dolphin Bay.
The film follows 15-year-old Quinn [Rose] as she travels to Australia to work as an intern with her best friend Daniella [Proberts]. Amid friendship woes, mysterious occurrences happen at the house they are staying at which leads Quinn on a quest to find treasure and put the mystery of a local ghost legend to rest.
Shooting for the film was only a hop, skip, and a jump away for Ella. Just over an hour from her hometown of Brisbane, The Curious Case of Dolphin Bay was filmed on the Gold Coast.
“It was amazing,” she says of getting to film in her home country of Australia. “I’m from Brisbane which is more of a city area, so we were filming it on the beach which was just so gorgeous. For the most part, the weather was amazing.”
Aside from location, her great filming experience is also due to the people around her during the process. “The cast was just so fun. Izabella, Jayden [McGinlay], Allegra [Teo] – we all had a great time. We got along really well. It was a quick shoot, so kind of hectic and fast-paced, but the cast just made it so fun, and the crew was amazing. I think we all gelled really well, which was quite unique, so that was fun.”
For Ella especially, the film also served as a learning experience behind the scenes as much as it did in front of the camera.
The grin she bears as she speaks is both sheepish and full of humor, saying, “It was my first film shoot so I went into it quite nervous. I didn’t really know exactly what to do, exactly how to behave, but something I learned is that in these sort of big, high-pressure environments, you’re supposed to learn along the way. You don’t have to know everything and you’re not supposed to know everything; it’s okay to ask for help.”
The film’s director Christine Luby helped Ella with that realization. “She was amazing,” the actress says. “She fostered that environment of ‘We’re learning; we’re just having fun.’ She liked to call set like ‘a playpen’. Even though we didn’t have much time, she wanted us to feel like we could play around and try different and weird things. If it didn’t go well, that’s fine, we just won’t use that in the final cut.”
She gushes, “That was pretty lucky to have such an amazing director.”
When discussing what drew her to the film initially, she points to the environmentalism that’s sprinkled throughout the script. “There was such a heavy role of the environment in the film. When I was watching Disney a lot when I was younger, I don’t think I ever encountered those sorts of themes of environmentalism. I guess it just wasn’t talked about as much. It wasn’t as present in the media, and even in politics, but now I’m so happy to see that trickle down into what kids are consuming.”
Ella continues, adding, “It is a kids’ film but I think it’s for everyone, you know? It’s a family film.” She grins, a slight laugh coming from her as she says, “That’s what I like to say. My friends came and watched it and they were all like, ‘I actually really enjoyed that!’ It’s great that those themes are there for everyone to enjoy, and they’re easily digestible and it’s not trying to overwhelm you with this information.”
The information is shared through the scenes highlighting the work of the internship as well as through the hunt for the missing treasure. Both threads intertwine in an exciting climax, all of this to say that the film doesn’t make it feel like learning at all.
Despite the struggle to navigate her friendship with Quinn, Ella’s Daniella is juggling a number of things on her plate. Between the internship, her involvement with the student body at her new school, and adjusting to moving to a new country, it’s no wonder that the difficulties and distance in their friendship slip under her radar.
It’s shown me what other girls are capable of doing, especially young girls.
“She’s a little bit of an interesting one,” Ella says with a quirk of her lip about her character. “I think she comes off quite abrasive, which was a bit of a challenge for me because I wasn’t really used to dealing with that kind of character. As I got to know her a bit more, I realized a lot more similarities between me and her.” She explains, “I think what is really going on with Daniella is she’s just torn in a lot of different directions and she’s not really sure where she wants to go or who she wants to be. She’s got this pressure from her best friend from America and then her new friend from Australia who she’s trying to impress. Then her dad, who she’s doing an internship with, and just all these external things that come with being 16.
“I think she just doesn’t know how to deal with that. I think I kind of relate to that because going into uni, which is where I was at this point when we were filming, I was not really sure – like I knew I wanted to act, but I had the pressure of people at uni not really understanding what it was like to be an actor, and then the pressure from the acting industry itself and getting a role, and how to get a role and whether you should go for it. I wasn’t really sure which route to take and that made me very confused, so I could see how that would play out with Daniella.”
With the many different directions Daniella is being pulled, she finds herself trying to mix her old friendship with her new one with little success. Asked what advice she might have for someone in a situation like her character, Ella admits, “It’s a hard thing. It’s something everyone goes through.”
She continues. “Something I’ve been thinking about lately is really taking into account after you are with someone, how you feel. Like do you feel excited after hanging out with someone or are you a bit like, ‘Oh, I need to go and learn about this pop star or something.’ Or you just feel really gross about yourself. I think that’s the main thing: how do they actually make you feel, and then prioritize who makes you feel the best.” She acknowledges that practicing this discipline is not easy.
“Sometimes that can be difficult because if someone’s exciting then maybe you think that they make you feel great when they actually don’t. So it can take a while to understand yourself, but I think once you know yourself, then you can direct your friendships. It’s a long process but as you get older, it gets easier, I think.”
It is a journey that audiences see Daniella and Quinn go on separately throughout the movie as they explore ideas and interests outside of the ones they’ve always shared.
“They had so much history and I’m glad that [Daniella] did invest in that friendship because I think there’s that gut feeling. It’s like, I know that I’m supposed to be friends with that person. We always got along! She has such a good heart, it’s just that period of confusion,” she says, referring to how Daniella struggles to mix together both parts of her life. “I think in that time, it’s not worth cutting anyone off because you don’t really know what you want yourself. But I think Daniella allowed herself that time of confusion and just reflection to figure out that it was worth investing into.”
Audiences in Australia where The Curious Case of Dolphin Bay was filmed will be able to see the growth of Daniella and Quinn’s friendship and their trials when the film premieres tomorrow. However, Ella has been able to enjoy a little of what audiences in the United States have been saying about the film since it started streaming on Disney+ over the summer.
“I’m obviously pretty isolated from how it’s going over there, but I see little snippets of people watching it who posted on Instagram and I think everyone just seems to come away with that feel-good feeling,” she says. “A lot of people have mentioned how they’ve learned a bit about the environment from it without really being forced to learn about it, which has been really, really cool.”
The rising actress laughs when she thinks about hearing more about what people think of it once the film opens in Australia. “That’s going to be really weird. I haven’t ever experienced that before, so I’m a little bit nervous about it, but I’m excited at the same time.”
She’ll be experiencing it on a grander scale than the small premiere that took place on the Gold Coast a while back with just one cinema screening the film. “I don’t even know what was going through my head because it was just… it’s not like a human thing to see yourself on a movie screen,” she recalls, huffing out a laugh of disbelief as she brings up the memory. “I was just like, ‘Oh my god’ and some of my friends were there, so I was just trying to stay calm. I think it’ll be a bit more of that.” Another laugh escapes her as she continues. “I think it’ll just be trying to understand what’s going on and hope that people enjoy it, which I think they will.”
There was just something missing and it took me a while to realize I think I need that bit of creativity. I need that aspect of storytelling that I missed from acting.
Following The Curious Case of Dolphin Bay, Ella has plenty in the works.
Firstly is her small role in the film The Edge, created by her friend Jane Larkin, which is currently in post-production. “She is amazing. She’s such an inspiration for me,” she gushes of the film’s writer, director, and star. “She’s an Australian track athlete, she’s a PhD candidate and an actor, and writing this film about women in sports.” It’s a film that Ella can relate to most of all. “I grew up as quite a competitive gymnast, so I can definitely relate to a lot of what she’s talking about, on the flip side as a grown adult competing in sports. That was a cool thing to be a part of because it was like a projection of what my life could have been like without actually having to go through it,” she says with a grin.
Another project under her belt is the short film titled, The Bathroom in Apartment 22. Directed by Shivani Sharma, the film follows six different stories that take place and are reflected in the bathroom mirror over time. “That was part of a Screen Queensland project,” she says, referring to the Queensland Government-owned screen agency that supports locally-produced media and makes efforts to bring international and interstate productions to Queensland. “That’s in post-production as well. That was a cool thing to be a part of, a bit more mature. It was a cool project.”
Ella’s passionate nature doesn’t stop with acting. She’s also involved with the United Nations Foundation initiative Girl Up, an organization focused on supporting adolescent girls’ health, safety, and education. Founded in 2010, it has since grown to promote and encourage leadership as well.
“Its main goal is to promote advocacy for young women,” Ella begins to explain. “There are currently clubs in 130 countries right now and the number of clubs has exceeded the thousands.” There’s a mix of awe and disbelief when she lets out a soft laugh, saying, “That’s pretty amazing.”
There’s a comfort that comes from hearing Ella talk about Girl Up, her experience and knowledge of the organization are well on display as she explains what they do in her own words.
“Those clubs basically teach leadership skills and how to advocate for female rights and raise money for funding female initiatives. They mainly go back through the UN and support UN women and things like that, which I think is an amazing cause.” Her involvement, according to Ella, started years ago. “I was at a leadership camp as part of school and they came and spoke to us. I asked the girl a question at the end of speaking – Ashley – and we stayed in contact. Now we are working together as the Australian regional team leaders.”
“It is crazy to reflect back on how it all started,” she says before adding with a laugh, “Just shoot your shot and you never know.”
Her work with Girl Up has impacted her in a variety of ways but most notably, she shares, is a reminder of what can be done, no matter one’s age.
“It’s shown me what other girls are capable of doing, especially young girls. A lot of the people involved are still in school and they’re fundraising, starting charities, running these crazy initiatives. Without sounding cliche, it has been one of the most empowering experiences ever. I think it’s one of the things that led me on to acting, because I’ve thought, ‘You know what, maybe I can do it. These people would back me. Whatever happens, I’ll learn something from it.’ It’s one of those environments that just push you to do what you need to do.”
That drive and empowerment undoubtedly help this rising actress as she pursues her studies in journalism and arts. Although, her pathway there took a turn or two first.
Ella explains that when she was in year 12, or senior year for those in the United States, she had to choose what she wanted to do after school. “You know,” she says, “you decide your life trajectory.” It isn’t until she begins to detail her decision-making process that she realizes how it could parallel her character’s journey in The Curious Case of Dolphin Bay.
“I was in that phase – maybe this relates to Daniella of being a bit confused – [when] you have to put that form in saying this is what I want to be.” She says with a laugh that she thought she wanted to be a lawyer. “‘It’s safe, I know people respect that,’” she recalls thinking at the time. “‘There’s not that risk involved with being an actor.’ I did it and I went into law and it was going well. There was just something missing and it took me a while to realize I think I need that bit of creativity. I need that aspect of storytelling that I missed from acting.”
That realization led Ella to what she calls a “full 180”.
“I was like, ‘I’m gonna finish my degree and try and do acting at the same time.’ So I changed into journalism and started acting and it’s all evolved from there.” That doesn’t mean that the decision came without concern. “I was worried for a bit like, ‘Is journalism too different from acting?’ but I think it keeps those two sides of things that I’m interested in.”
As an example, she points to the academic research done for journalism. “[That research] sort of helps with understanding characters, understanding people, and the way the world works – how the media works – to keep me going and acting.”
Studying journalism has even impacted her approach to acting. She starts by noting the investigations on people and how they behave as something that interested her but that there’s more to it as well.
“In my degree, we learn a lot about just the media in general and how it controls the stories we receive and the types of people we are allowed to learn about. So I think in knowing that what I would traditionally consume is a restricted view on certain types of people allows me to be like, how can I actually get more of a story and what is actually a real person rather than what we’re conditioned to see? I think with acting, it’s broadened my view on what a person could be, how people can behave, and allowed me to interrogate a bit more.”
Journalism is a bit more analytical. I still find it fun, and it’s still a way of telling stories and learning about the world, but it allows me to remove myself from all of that pressure in acting.
Taking the question a step further, TEENPLICITY then asks Ella how studying journalism is impacting the way she views the world. It earns a soft laugh of amazement as she says, “It’s shaping it as we speak.”
She continues. “I’m in second year so I’ve still got a couple more years to go but [it] definitely comes back to just the power of the media in general and what we are allowed to know.” Case in point is the class she had just the day before the interview. “We learnt yesterday there’s the tiers of countries and stories and the value that certain media places on them. So we really only hear like Western stories a lot of the time and less so what else is going on in the world. I’m definitely interested in trying to break past that and get a better understanding of what’s really happening.”
This, in part, helped inspire a project of Ella’s. Partnered with a law student, Imogen, and a computer science student, Claudia, the three of them are working on Press Magazine, an online magazine in development that looks to present all sides of the story.
“We were talking about the issue we were just discussing and we all felt very affected by it, to the point that we just got very overwhelmed by even consuming the news.” She laughs as she acknowledges, “Which is a problem for me doing journalism because I need to know what’s going on.”
She shares how they asked themselves, What is something we could do?
“We were thinking about curating an online newspaper that could give you the most important stories, but also can tell you how transparent it is and give you a central viewpoint from one news site and then links to a more left-leaning or right-leaning version of the story.”
She is quick to clarify, “Not putting any value on political sides, but just giving evidence that news differs across different political views.” That’s where computer science comes in with an AI involved, according to Ella before she briefly brings up also the legality of using other news sources. “It’s definitely gonna be a long process, but the girls that I’m working with are pretty amazing and there’s been some bit of interest along the way.”
For Ella, journalism offers an escape from the pressures and expectations of acting. “It allows me to take a step back and just enjoy acting for the fun that it is and the power that it has without putting all of my self-worth into it,” she says. “Journalism is a bit more analytical. I still find it fun, and it’s still a way of telling stories and learning about the world, but it allows me to remove myself from all of that pressure in acting.
“That’s not to say you need to be doing something else. I think a lot of actors get quite good at just working hard, going with the flow, and accepting any sort of pushback, but journalism has really helped me do that.”
Between her acting and her studies, Ella has also found time to participate in a running challenge with her university to help the UNHCR – United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a UN agency that aids and protects refugees amongst other crucial help – to raise money for Ukraine. The challenge itself is to run every day for 30 days, starting at 1 kilometer (about 0.62 miles) and adding 300 meters every day until reaching 10 kilometers (about 6.2 miles).
“Oh yeah, it’s been… it’s been a challenge, that’s for sure,” she says with a laugh. “I hurt my knees and got sick,” she goes on to explain. “I think that’s the point of the challenge, is to emulate that you just have to keep going and it’s not gonna be that fun because the people in Ukraine don’t really have a choice. You can say that but you can never really emulate what the people in Ukraine are going [through].”
She says that part of the challenge is to use a platform and let everyone know what is still happening. “[It’s] great to get a bit of a word out there, because I haven’t seen it overwhelmingly present in the media at the moment.”
The Curious Case of Dolphin Bay is now streaming on Disney+ and comes to theaters on the 22nd of September in Australia!
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.