Zealous 18-year-old actor Luca Sardelis stars as Zoe, a teenager caught up in a nude photo scandal, in the recently aired SBS miniseries The Hunting.
A self-proclaimed “anti-social socialite”, Luca – from Somerton Park – exudes all the bright energy and creativity you’d expect from a teenage actor.
Her bubbly personality shines most when she talks to D*scribe about social justice issues and “people caring for people”, something she feels very passionately about.
The family-orientated Capricorn has remained in Adelaide post-school, studying at university and travelling interstate for her acting commitments when they pop up.
Acting in the beginning
“I had always been one of those kids who wanted to do a thousand different things when I grew up,” Luca said.
The former Westminster student thought she had grown out of her dramatic stage just as Heesom Casting – a leading casting agency in South Australia – came to her school.
“They were just holding interviews, to see kids, see their energy, see if they wanted them,” Luca said.
She got through the interview stage, onto the audition and from there booked her first role: April Fox in Sam Fox: Extreme Adventures.
That’s where it all began, at age 12.
“I thought ‘this is fun, I’d like to keep doing this’!” Luca said of her first experience in the SLR Productions show.
Storytelling is what she enjoys the most about acting.
“It’s the fundamental way we all learn and communicate with each other,” Luca said.
“I like roles and stories that have important political messages, or social messages for people so that they feel like they are represented, or can relate to someone.
“Or just to escape! Sometimes you’re just tired and fed up, and you need something to get away from this world.”
Luca’s roles have been diverse so far, from Nicco in ABC’s Nowhere Boys to Regan Kelly in Barracuda. Her latest though, fits that social message storytelling perfectly.
Zoe in The Hunting
Luca’s latest role went to air in August on SBS.
A four-part local drama, The Hunting follows the lives of four teenagers, their teachers and their families in the lead up, revelation and aftermath of a nude photo scandal.
Luca plays the role of Zoe; a headstrong private school girl, who is a bit of an outsider, a feminist and one of the victims in the story.
“We’re both quite stubborn,” Luca said when asked how she relates to her character.
“I think neither of us are afraid to stand up for ourselves and we both believe in social justice.
“She (Zoe) fights for things that a lot of people don’t understand why she needs to fight for them. She’s a very headstrong person, which clashes with a lot of people at the school.”
The explosive miniseries tackles issues of online exploitation, sexuality and sexualisation, and was filmed in Luca’s hometown of Adelaide – where the original story surfaced.
“I wanted to do it justice; this is a real story, this happened to real people and I wanted to tell it respectfully, in a way that Zoe doesn’t come across as this feminazi, who is relentless and annoying,” she said.
Zoe engages in cybersex with Andy (Alex Cusack), a boy she likes from school. Without her permission, Andy screenshots a picture of her and puts it on a website called ‘Our Local Sluts’.
At the same time in a public school, Andy’s friend Nassim obtains an image sent to him by a girl he likes, Dip. Nassim shares this photo with Andy, who puts it to the site and all hell breaks loose.
“It was challenging because of the intense themes that are portrayed, we wanted to portray the whole story with intimacy and truth,” Luca said.
Across the four 50-minute long episodes the various reactions from and implications for the schools, students and their families are explored. From how the teacher reacts to the photo Nassim has in his possession, to the blasé “boys will be boys” approach to the website from Andy’s parents, all sides to the story are well-documented and will have you asking plenty of questions.
The series was directed by Hyde and Ana Kokkinos, who worked with the actors to ensure the complex characters were portrayed with that intimacy and truthfulness.
“One of them (the directors) focussed a lot on script analysis and breaking down what is being said in the scenes, how we can say it and why it’s being said,” Luca said.
“The other focussed a lot on the physical side of the character and on breaking down the overarching story lines and who our character is personally.”
The miniseries comes with warnings of adult themes, coarse language, nudity and sexual references and is recommended for mature audiences.
Before the program aired, Luca reposted a ‘guide for parents’ on her personal Facebook profile and added a warning that she is involved in some of the mentioned “uncomfortable content” at the very start.
The provocative opening scene is one that sets up the intense and infuriating drama, and the young actress wanted her close friends and family to be prepared.
Starring alongside Australian stars Asher Keddie, Richard Roxburgh, Sam Reid and Jessica De Gouw were four South Australian teens, Luca, Alex Cusack, Kavitha Anandasivam and Yazeed Daher.
“It was great (working with them all), there were so many teenagers and they were all from Adelaide. So, I made a whole new group of friends,” Luca said.
Looking at the future
Luca is now auditioning for a variety of opportunities in Australian film and television and recently signed with a management company in America, which opens her up to more ‘gigs’ internationally.
As for her Flinders University double-degree in Criminology and Psychological Science goes, “I’ll get there,” she said. “I can always put it on hold, defer a year, go part-time if something in acting comes up.”
The Hunting is available to stream for free via SBS On Demand.