2017 Heath Ledger Scholarship Finalist Dakota Shapiro
An expat life spent living in numerous countries around the world has exposed Dakota Shapiro to a wealth of different cultures, insights into the human condition and wisdom beyond his young years. His father was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, while his mother hails from New Mexico in the United States, but the family settled in northern NSW for most of Dakota’s childhood. At the age of fourteen, Dakota moved to the U.S. to attend performing arts boarding school for four years and then after graduating, he moved to the United Kingdom to study acting at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, the National Conservatoire of Wales. After twelve months, he relocated to New Mexico to work and save enough money to pursue the ultimate acting dream – moving to Los Angeles where he now happily resides.
AiF: Where do you call home right now?
DS: I moved to Los Angeles a little over a year ago but Australia will always be home for me! I was born and raised in Mullumbimby which is a little coastal town near Byron Bay in Northern NSW.
AiF: When did the acting bug first bite you and you knew it was your calling?
DS: It happened pretty young for me – I just adored my older brother when I was little and remember him saying he wanted to be an actor so I said to my Mum that I wanted to be one too! I quickly discovered it’s such a genuine and beautiful way to express who you are, and it’s also really helped me to understand the world around me. When I was fourteen I was lucky enough to move to the U.S. to attend performing arts boarding school at Idyllwild Arts Academy in California for four years and that was an amazing experience.
AiF: What inspires you in life?
DS: Relating to and connecting with other people really inspires me, regardless of who they are or where they come from. It’s when I feel the most alive and it’s what makes me feel the most at any one time – it’s the reason why I’m here I think, and why I act. I love getting to know people and being reminded that none of us are here alone.
AiF: Who are your favorite actors and/or filmmakers and why do they resonate with you?
DS: A filmmaker I really relate to is Richard Linklater – I loved Before Sunrise (1995) and I’m always so touched by how deeply philosophical but uniquely human his storytelling is. Tom Hardy is such an exceptional actor and his portrayal in the film Bronson (2008) was extremely formative experience for me. And then there’s Gary Oldman – and it’s such an awesome coincidence about the scholarship this year – but I’ll never forget the first time I saw Léon: The Professional (1994), it’s one of the films that made me want to be an actor.
AiF: What work are you most proud of creating so far in your career?
DS: In high school a really good friend of mine wrote and directed a play that I starred in and the response was so incredible. We were floored by the positive reception and it was one of those seminal moments in life where I knew this was the right path for me.
AiF: How are you hoping your career will unfold in the years to come?
DS: I really hope I have the opportunity to just do what I love! I want to play complex characters with depth and bring integrity to my performances whereby I truly relating to people and hopefully touching someone’s life. Much in the way I was so touched by the actors and filmmakers who made such a significant impact on me when I was growing up.
AiF: When did you first hear about the Heath Ledger Scholarship and make the decision to enter?
DS: I remember first hearing about the Scholarship when I was in high school and my teachers were talking about how well regarded it is. And then my acting teacher Lisa Robertson mentioned it most recently and I guess that reignited my interest in it so 2017 is the first year I’ve actually applied.
AiF: What does California represent for you in terms of your dreams, aspirations and goals in life?
DS: California represents the possibility of everything I want coming to fruition for me – it’s the hub of the movie industry, it’s where I’m meeting and making great business contacts and it’s where all the people I adore and want to work with are. I really feel like I’m in the throng of it here!
AiF: What are your favorite parts of California and what makes them so appealing?
DS: Definitely Los Angeles! I love this city – no matter what you’re seeking out it’s available to you here, from a multitude of metro areas to small towns and the beaches and desert and mountains. California is such a cool place.
AiF: What would it mean to you if you won the Heath Ledger Scholarship for 2017?
DS: In all honestly, becoming a finalist has affirmed so much for me already and really validated my decision to be here and follow my dreams. Moving to a new city when you’re just twenty-one can be really hard at times though and winning the Scholarship would make such a huge and positive difference. [Laughs} I guess in a way I’m the ideal candidate for it! And truly there just aren’t words to describe how appreciative I would be to do so.
Heath Ledger Scholarship 2017 presenting partners are Qantas, Visit California, Screenwise and Ausfilm.
AiF would also like to thank Penfolds and Kate Raynor & Associates, official Immigration law partner.