Mahalia had the misfortune of being my first interview which meant she had to patiently listen to me spout chat at her without drawing breath for 15 minutes. I’d been in New York for 3 days and had barely talked. Not something that works well for me.
I met her in a leafy and rather soggy Midtown street outside the The Neighbourhood Playhouse, the exclusive and famous acting school she attends (alumni include Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Chris Noth and Martin Henderson). On her suggestion we shot around the corner to a real American diner (like off the movies) and I shouted us a round of enormous cheesy omelettes and a ton of instant coffee. She drank lots of the stuff and despite her delicate elfin frame, totally slayed me in the omelette eating stakes!
Now in her second year in New York, she traded Wellywood for a shared apartment in Astoria, Queens making the subway trip into Manhatten daily to be put through her paces in all things acting. To be accepted into the first year of the course is pretty amazing but to make it through to the second as part of only 20 out of the original 60, suggests that you’ve got a bucket load of talent! While we were both keen for me to take an inconspicuous seat in the corner and take some shots of Mahalia in class, it was deemed out of the question, so we settled for the diner instead.
Following her return from a year’s student exchange in Portugal, she arrived home to NZ with the distinct feeling that acting was what she should be pursuing. She grimaced in embarrassment recounting the stream of auditions she went to, so green with little preparation. Despite her perseverance and youthful enthusiasm, her plans just weren’t falling into place so she admitted defeat and enrolled in a Communications Degree in Auckland. It was only the serendipitous spotting of a poster advertising acting classes with the Wellington Actors Studio that grabbed her interest once again and she began taking classes before her move north. It was her teacher there that saw her sparky talent and encouraged her to apply to attend The Neighbourhood Playhouse in New York. Obviously, you have to be in to win, and despite all the brick walls – Mahalia’s love of acting was refusing to go away. So she went ahead, applied and left to begin her degree in Auckland. Six months into it she received word that she had been accepted. A huge, exciting achievement for a 19 year old on the other side of the globe, but this was compounded by what many a conservative grown up would consider a silly decision. Pull out of your potential “money making, future proof” degree to pursue an expensive and unknown future in front of the camera?
Yeah. Why the hell not! That’s exactly what she did!
MAHALIA + NYC 101
Astoria, Queens sharing with a Canadian and native of Philidelphia
What she loves the most about NYC:
Freedom to move around and access the city easily
What she misses most about NZ:
Fresh air and nature
Favourite NYC haunts:
– Turquoise Star Diner around the corner from her apartment in Queens. $3 pancakes and omelettes!
– Central Park, an amazing fresh reprieve from the city
– Jamiesons a nearby pub where the barman pretends to be Irish to Americans and American to Kiwis
What I learnt from Mahalia:
Sometimes opportunities arrive at less than ideal times – they tend to be the best ones!