By REBECCA BARRY
It would be easy to think Michala Banas had been handed success on a plate. "I'm going to be honest about it," says the Always Greener star. "The reason I got this opportunity is because I'm on television."
Her first single Kissin' The Wind has just been released on the new Australian label Petrol Records, who approached her rather than the other way around. Her exotic looks have helped - Australian men's magazine FHM recently named the 24-year-old one of the 100 sexiest women in the world. And without even finishing the album she's writing with Aussie rocker Diesel, Banas is getting the kind of publicity most fresh-faced artists only fantasise about. This morning she was interviewed on television and radio.
"I can't make people like my music, for whatever reasons they have, whether it be that I'm on television. But I don't think that's a bad thing. I think people are intrigued to see if I can actually sing."
The proof is on the feelgood pop single co-written by American singer Meredith Brooks (who wrote the 1997 hit Bitch), a hint of the funk-rock album she hopes to record. She also gained experience playing in funk and acoustic bands over the years.
But she still wants to prove herself, considering help has been at hand from age one, when her actor/director father arranged her first "acting" job.
She spent much of her childhood appearing in television commercials and school musicals, and moved to Sydney when she was 10. As she started to focus on an acting career during her teens, she shifted to Melbourne - partly to lose the association with her father, John Banas. He had been the manager of Wellington's Downstage theatre before shifting across the Tasman and starting a successful career writing and directing Australian television drama.
"Dad was living in Sydney and I wanted to build a name for myself separate from him, because a lot of people know him. There are pros and cons having someone related to you in the industry. I wanted to do it for myself and build a name on my own."
It paid off. Just 12 weeks after Always Greener went to air, she was nominated for the Most Popular New Talent at the 2002 Logie Awards - the Aussie equivalent of the Emmys - for her role playing Marissa Taylor, a headstrong city girl whose parents think she would benefit from a year in the country.
She also won Best Young Actress Award in the 1996 New Zealand Television Awards for her performance in the Australia/New Zealand/Canada co-production, Mirror Mirror.
She followed that with a string of television roles, including Murder Call, Blue Heelers, Flipper and the feature film Scooby Doo.
It was at a television function that she met the head of Petrol Records and Aussie music veteran Chris Murphy - they exchanged what she remembers as not much more than small talk.
"Next thing he calls me up and says, 'Do you want to come in and have a meeting?' I wasn't sure why! It took me a bit by surprise. But the opportunity came up, I bit the bullet and here we are. It's all a bit strange."
Not surprisingly, Australia has claimed her as their own, but Banas says she still considers New Zealand home and is looking forward to spending the rest of the week with her family in rural South Auckland.
Things will get more hectic in October when she starts work on the next series of Always Greener and is forced to juggle her two careers. And if it came down to choosing between the two?
"Honestly I couldn't. I've thought about it and thought about it, but I love them both for different reasons. I love acting because I get to pretend to be someone else - and I love music because I get to be me."
* Kissin' the Wind is out now; Always Greener screens Wednesdays, TV One, 8.30pm