Article from the The Age (2002)

Actor's star rises with (a little) help from dad
By Elisabeth Tarica
October 31 2002

The acting bug bit Michala Banas early. As a kid, she would throw tantrums at kindergarten so her director dad would take her to theatre rehearsals with him.

"She'd scream a lot to get out of kindy so she'd come to the theatre instead," says her father, John Banas, who has moved into scriptwriting after years of acting and directing.

"I did a lot of musicals and she was quite musical. In South Pacific there was a very difficult melodic line that the lady couldn't sing and Michala sang it in the car on the way home."

But Michala's talent was evident way before then. At just 18 months, she graced New Zealand television screens as a pudgy Kiwi for a Labour Party election campaign ad. It was fun, so the youngster kept acting, and winning parts in commercials, movies and musicals, as she and brothers Leon and Alexis followed dad around the country looking for work.

It wasn't until she landed a plum role in the children's television series Mirror Mirror, directed by her father, that she was noticed.

"People thought dad got her the job but that wasn't true," John says. "It was an Australian, New Zealand and Canadian coproduction and it went to Canada for the producers to decide and they chose her."

Michala's performance earned her a nomination for New Zealand's Best Young Actress Award at 15.

"Mirror Mirror was really full-on but it taught me so much," she says. "I think that's what made me think, 'Yep, this is the road I want to go now.'

"I did my last two years of high school at a private girls' school in Queensland. I was one of four out of 120 girls who didn't go to uni. I said, 'I'm moving to Melbourne and I'm going to be an actor,' and they were like, 'Good one, yeah.' "

Michala moved from guest role to guest role until she landed the part of tart-tongued Marissa Taylor - the rebellious teenager daughter of a couple who swap their innercity existence for life on the farm - in the quirky Channel Seven drama Always Greener.

"When I was cast for Always Greener I didn't know anything about it, I was just happy to get a job," she says. "When I read the script it was really good and that was just a big bonus."

Michala's character, the sourpuss Marissa, has a life she identifies with. As a youngster, Michala was always on the move. After five years in Melbourne she moved to Sydney for the Seven series.

"It's the nature of the business," she says. "I had 11 days to move to Sydney for Always Greener but this type of career is transportable. You know it can take you all kinds of places and if you like that spontaneity in your life it's great."

Although she grew up around the stage, Michala says her father never urged her to act.

"Like most parents in the industry I actually tried to talk her out of it because I knew it wouldn't be an easy road to take," John says. "But Michala was very persistent ... I think one of the most useful things I've said to Michala is that there is no such thing as luck. You work for your luck."

But Michala says having a realistic view of showbiz life has helped her to accept the highs and lows.

"Dad taught me to be persistent, that it takes a lot of work and that it's not going to come to me easily," she says. "I haven't been let down yet because I haven't had false expectations.

"I wouldn't say it has been easy because I have gone through hard times. For five years I was a struggling actor going from guest role to guest role."

John, whose scripts for Blue Heelers and Water Rats have won Australian Writers Guild Awards, hasn't worked with his daughter since Mirror Mirror.

"I'd love to direct Always Greener but in a way it's harder for me to get in there because she's there," he says.

Always Greener screens on Channel Seven at 7.30pm on Sunday.