She has been living in Los Angeles for seven years, but Bella Heathcote hasn’t lost her Australian accent.
The Melbourne-born actor, who starred on Neighbours before her big move, scoffs at the notion that it’s as glamorous as aspiring actors imagine: “Oh mate, not at all.”
Despite receiving a Heath Ledger Scholarship, which helps Aussies trying to break into Hollywood, Heathcote says the reality of making it in Tinseltown involves a lot of hard work.
“When I’m in LA, most of the time I’m hustling to get a job or running around going to auditions and meetings,” she explains.
“It’s a lot of rejection. I’ve gone a year or so without working before — and then you get a good run. You’ve just got to ignore the rejection and keep going at it.”
This year will be a “good run” for Heathcote, 29, who starred as Christian Grey’s former submissive, Leila, in the recently released blockbuster Fifty Shades Darker, and will appear in the upcoming biographical picture Professor Marston & The Wonder Women, as well as filming the third season of TV drama The Man In The High Castle.
Heathcote insists that the roles haven’t flooded in since Fifty Shades Darker, although the director of the last film she shot did tell her that being in the erotic drama helped her get the part in that film.
After cracking the mainstream, she isn’t about to rest on her laurels. Dressed in Aussie labels, Heathcote epitomises understated style at the Stellar shoot in LA.
“I always feel like every job is going to be my last,” she says. “That’s the prerogative of an actor; to think you’re going to be unemployed for the rest of your life.”
Despite roles alongside Johnny Depp in Dark Shadows in 2012 and in the cult hit Pride And Prejudice And Zombies last year, Heathcote doesn’t consider herself the Next Big Thing. “I feel like I was called a ‘breakout star’ five years ago. That gets said — and it’s a lovely sentiment — but I don’t put too much stock in it,” she admits. “I feel like I ‘break out’ and then I crawl back into the box. And then five years later, I break out again.”
If her career to date has been anything, it’s been diverse. Heathcote has ticked off horror (The Neon Demon), sci-fi thriller (In Time) and history-drama (Beneath Hill 60) from her genre list. She insists the variety of roles has not been a deliberate decision on her part. She simply isn’t gunning to be the next Nicole Kidman.
“I don’t think about following in anyone’s footsteps. It almost feels like a jinx or not the right way to look at it [to do that],” she tells Stellar. “I just want to be a working actor. Seriously, I just hope I get to keep working and do different roles that excite me. I don’t have to be a leading lady.”
Just as she doesn’t want to follow in anyone’s footsteps, Heathcote also doesn’t compare herself to other actors. When she did her obligatory Melbourne-actor stint on Neighbours in 2009, Heathcote starred alongside Ashleigh Brewer (who has gone on to find fame on The Bold And The Beautiful) and Margot Robbie (who has become a megastar since starring in The Wolf Of Wall Street, The Legend Of Tarzan and Suicide Squad).
And yet, Heathcote doesn’t feel pressure to become the next Aussie A-lister: “They’ve got Margot for that. I’m just going to cruise along.”
With the number of Aussies in LA, you’d think there would be some healthy competition between them. Not so, says Heathcote.
“I don’t think there’s rivalry. These chicks are all my friends and everyone’s pretty supportive. I think we’re each other’s allies, more than competition. We all understand each other and stick together,” she insists.
“I think 99.9 per cent of the time when someone gets a role, I’m genuinely happy for them. There’s just that 0.1 per cent that I have to manage. [That feeling] is natural, and it’s pretty fleeting.”
What helps her get through that 0.1 per cent of the time? “The thing that makes me feel better [when I don’t get a role] is that we’re all so different; we all get cast for different reasons,” Heathcote says.
“My fiance [Andrew Dominik, 49] is a director and I see him go through the casting process and people are either right for the part or not. There’s nothing you can do about that. It’s a relief having that knowledge.”
While Heathcote and her New Zealand-born, Australian fiancé are firmly planted in the LA acting scene, Melbourne will always be her home. She’s heading back Down Under next month for the first time in three years to launch and attend the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival (VAMFF), a public event celebrating fashion, art and ideas across three weekends.
“I love great Australian fashion. Every time I come home I make a mental shopping list, so I’m excited to see what’s on offer,” she says, listing Camilla and Marc, Dion Lee and Macgraw as some of her favourite brands.
Of the 30 runway shows in the program, Heathcote says she is most looking forward to the National Designer Award featuring Australia’s up-and-coming talent.
The actor herself is no stranger to the world of fashion, having starred in a Miu Miu campaign in 2014 and walked for Balenciaga in 2015. But that’s not to say she’s comfortable being a clotheshorse.
“Before the Balenciaga show, I remember thinking, ‘I am not a model. I don’t know how to do this.’ I was absolutely terrified,” she admits. “But once you’re on the catwalk it’s an adrenaline rush.”
How will she calm her nerves when she launches VAMFF in front of her home crowd? “ I find two tequila shots help. One is not enough and three is too many,” she quips.
While she’s ruled out becoming an actor-slash-model, Heathcote is already a secret food blogger and shares photos and recipes on Instagram.
Although the dishes vary from nutritious choc-chip cookies to zucchini noodles with lentil ragu, Heathcote says her dream isn’t to be the next Nigella Lawson — what she really wants is to mix business with pleasure.
“I would love to do a film with my man,” she says, adding that one of the benefits of being engaged to a director is that Dominik understands and supports her as an actor.
“It’s great to be with someone in the [film] industry; but not two actors … because then it gets crazy.”