FOLLOWING the success of Netflix series Pieces Of Her, which also starred fellow Australian actress Toni Collette, many would have expected Bella Heathcote to double down her focus on US-based roles.
While the spy-thriller was filmed in Sydney, due to the pandemic, it was a US production and a highly successful one.
Pieces Of You spent five weeks in the Netflix's global top-10 and Heathcote, in particular, was hailed for her performance as Andy Oliver, a young woman who slowly uncovers her mother's dark past.
The Melbourne-raised Heathcote, 36, has spent more than a decade living in Los Angeles, building a varied acting career, despite joking her "bread-and-butter characters are typically grief, trauma, abandonment."
She's starred alongside Hollywood heavyweights Johnny Deep and Michelle Pfeiffer in Tim Burton's Dark Shadows (2012), opposite Hugh Grant in The Rewrite (2014), and appeared in Fifty Shades Darker (2017).
Despite building a strong US resume, the former Neighbours star has always been attracted to Australian stories.
She had a leading role in Australian horror film The Relic (2020) and appeared amid a star-studded cast on this year's madcap comedy C*A*U*G*H*T. Both were released on Stan.
"As a young person I left Australia and it's after leaving and moving to LA that I've learnt to appreciate it more and more and really wanted to tell more Australian stories and invest more," Heathcote says over Zoom from Los Angeles.
"I love what Stan are doing and that we have that platform to make these stories. I wanna see them and I wanna be in them."
As an Australian, I wanna see Australian stories reflected and things, not just characters, that I recognise.- Bella Heathcote
Heathcote's latest Australian role is undoubtedly her strongest.
Scrublands is a four-part series based on Chris Hammer's 2018 crime novel.
Investigative journalist Martin Scarsden (Luke Arnold) is sent to the fictional small town of Riversend to write a "puff piece" about how the community is recovering 12 months after charismatic Catholic priest Byron Swift (Jay Ryan) shot five parishioners, before dying himself, a day after being accused of being a paedophile.
The harsh drought-affected landscape and the eerie small-town atmosphere draws obvious comparisons to hit Australian "rural-noir" film, The Dry.
The series also explores the role of religion in small communities, the impact of trauma and the media's role in reporting tragic events.
"What I found fascinating about the script is each character's arcs and their journeys," Heathcote says.
"I do think it's incredible that the landscape is almost another character in the show. As an Australian, I wanna see Australian stories reflected and things, not just characters, that I recognise.
"There's the trauma of what's happened, but also the trauma of drought and the economic hardships this town has suffered."
Heathcote plays Mandy, a cafe-owner and single mum, who urges Scarsden to further investigate the story behind Ryan's massacre and the dark secrets he took to his grave.
It wasn't until after filming wrapped up in the Castlemaine, in Victoria, that Heathcote read Hammer's Scrublands novel and its sequel Silver.
There's been several changes made in the screenplay to Mandy's character, which Heathcote says, has made her a stronger part of the narrative.
"I thought it was interesting that the whole premise of the show is you see this crime happen and it's not a 'who done it' because you see," she says.
"Throughout the series you figure out why and you see why Mandy so desperately wants to know and all the townspeople.
"They want some peace a year after this horrific act. I really appreciate the path Mandy takes to learn that information and also her relationship with the two male leads and the arc she has as well.
"The Mandy before this event and the Mandy after are not surprisingly two very different people."
While Heathcote might be devoting more time and her talents to Australian productions, she's hardly given up on her American ambitions.
Last week she finished her debut theatrical performance in Samuel Baum's comedy The Engagement Party at LA's Geffen Playhouse.
Heathcote played bride-to-be Katherine who hosts an engagement party with her fiance Josh for their family and friends. But when a glass of wine is split the party quickly unravels.
Heathcote describes theatre performance as "boot camp" or "push-ups for acting."
"It's completely different," she says. "I get why people do it. All my actor friends for so long were like, 'dude you need to do a play, it's incredible.'
"It's so scary and so exhilarating and it is a different style of acting.
"On-camera acting feels so much more intimate and you get to really block out the audience.
"Whereas this you're inviting them in and dealing with their responses in real time.
"There's a projection out, not just of your voice, but the performance. It's a completely different skills set."
Scrublands is streaming on Stan.
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