Chatting with hottie actor Jonathan LaPaglia, an Australian who has also lived in America a few decades, got us talking about the difference in cultures. Australian’s are famous for the line “no worries” but there really only not worried unless they are asked to stand up and do something publically… then the culture turns into more of a “don’t be a bloody idiot.” We can’t stand up and freely be complete dorks like Americans happily do. Have you any idea how freeing for your soul that can be! This is a generalization of course, compare two people from the same family... I am really reserved in contrast to Clive Palmer who famously emulated Miley's twirk. Or how about the prolific “who the hell do they think they are?” Yes, many Australians don’t like it when you’re successful where as Americans encourage it, they celebrate it. So in the spirit of liberating ourselves from those cultural chains and letting our spirits soar, let’s explore the cultural differences with Jonathan LaPaglia.
Gabrielle Reilly: You were originally a doctor before you became an actor right?
Jonathan LaPaglia: Yes, I was a doctor. I studied medicine in Adelaide and did my internship there. After that I traveled around. I moved to Sydney and was working as a doctor in Sydney for a couple years. During that time I started taking acting classes at night and then got the crazy idea of pursuing it full-time. Then I moved to America and have lived here since 1991.
Gabrielle Reilly: Many people don’t have enough courage to change careers like that.
Jonathan LaPaglia: You know what’s interesting… at the time when I was toying with the idea, I would run it by some of my medical colleagues and they were kind of “you can’t!” One group had that very Aussie attitude of, “Who do you think you are, mate?” You know, trying to do something like that. Then there was the other group who would take a big look at me like, “You know, I wish I had done that.”
So there was that group that wished that they had pursued something else but I think they felt so entrenched in what they were doing that they couldn’t do it anymore. I mean obviously I think that was all in their own heads anyway, they just felt so entrenched. You can go off and try whatever you want whenever you want but it gets harder as you get older because I guess your life changes in terms of having a wife and children or a partner and children and a house and a mortgage and what not.
It’s definitely easier when you don’t have any ties. But I think people do impose those limits on themselves, they’re self-imposed limits. They really want to try something else but they feel too entrenched in their situation.
So, it was interesting, there were definitely two camps of people. There were those camps that would say, “Who do you think you are trying something else?” and there were those that wished that they had done it.
Gabrielle Reilly: After living in both America and Australia there are some very distinct cultural differences surrounding excelling or doing something different. I would like to hear your experience about this after also living in both countries. You talk about the group that enforces the “Who do you think you are?” sort of classic tall-poppy syndrome in Australia which I experienced quite a bit of when I lived there.
However, if you did exactly the same thing here in America they’d applaud you for it. There is so much more freedom of expression here than what I’ve found in Australia. They can get up and sing, dance, speak or whatever in America and that is encouraged. In Australia they would say “don’t be a bloody idiot” unless you were a professional or really good at whatever you’re doing. There is no room to be a dork. It has shut down many Aussie’s abilities to let loose UNLESS they are drunk and then all is forgiven. Perhaps that is part of the attraction of getting so drunk in Australia??? The freedom to let your hair down??? This not being meant as a judgment, just a little soul searching about the culture….
Jonathan LaPaglia: You are preaching to the choir. That was one of the things that I really found difficult to live under in Australia. That attitude is very oppressive and it was a breath of fresh air when I came here to experience people who were very encouraging and just wanted you to succeed. I don’t think I’ve ever really experienced that tall-poppy syndrome here but it really does exist in Australia. It really is part of the fabric. I feel like it’s still there when I go back. I have my theories about why it exists but I think maybe it’s part of the commonwealth social class that Australia is derived from. I think it’s part of that same English thing of keeping people in their class. I don’t know what you think but I think that’s where it comes from.
Gabrielle Reilly: I’d been so oppressed in Australia, not by anything I could put my finger on though just the culture, I could never find my voice to stand up and say something musically or with dance or anything. So I go to Zumba class here in America and all these men and women in the Zumba class are just going crazy thrusting their pelvises and you know some of them are 68 years old. They are gorgeous, having fun and truly living. I sooo love that freedom to not care what anyone thinks. I’m in the class still embarrassed today although I am making progress slowly. It’s so ingrained in me to not do anything out of place. Now that I am aware of it, this year is going to be my year of liberating myself and I encourage my Aussie readers to do the same.
Jonathan LaPaglia: It’s funny isn’t it…
Gabrielle Reilly: It is! As an example, I went out to a bar in Kansas City with some Australian friends who were visiting and the singer of the band (who was a great showman) called my girlfriend up on stage. She just stood on stage and rolled her eyes refusing to do anything he asked after he wouldn’t let her off the hook about going up on stage. Meanwhile I was hiding so I wouldn’t be called up. Then he called Americans up and they were all just free spirits up there dancing and not caring. That is freedom!
Jonathan LaPaglia: I know! It’s really weird; I mean I have found America to be really liberating. It’s part of the culture in Australia that people are not encouraged to step out and take a risk.
Gabrielle Reilly: Well talking of risks, that’s quite a risk to jump from being a doctor to an actor. How did you go through that process of risk assessment and enjoyment of life?
Jonathan LaPaglia: I was kind of young and stupid I guess which is kind of a blessing and a curse in a way. It’s a blessing because I was of the age where I just pursued what I wanted to do and didn’t really think about the consequences that much. As you get older you start assessing the risks associated with choices, especially the major life choices. But I was young enough that I didn’t really consider that and I really didn’t have a game plan. I just knew in my heart that I wanted to pursue acting further and I really just wanted to study in New York. So within a couple of weeks, I quit my job in Australia, sold everything, and then moved to New York.
I went to an acting school there called HD studios. I guess I had a loose plan just to study for another six months and then see how I felt about it. After a couple of months of that, I decided that I wanted to enroll in a full-time program which was Circle and a Square Theatre School and then that’s what I did.
I graduated from there and got my first professional acting job in New York in a show called New York Undercover and I was a series regular on that show. I started from there and kept rolling. I was incredibly lucky. So the original question was how did I make that decision? I guess I was just answering the call within me to pursue this artistic itch that I had, to scratch this artistic itch, and that’s really what it came down to. I guess I felt a little depressed from a creative point of view as a doctor and the acting was really fulfilling that creative need.
Gabrielle Reilly: You followed your heart and threw reason out the window?
Jonathan LaPaglia: Yeah, pretty much …
Gabrielle Reilly: So the lesson learned here is, be a dork, celebrate people’s success and step out of your comfort zone to take a risk! If you feel yourself envious of someone else’s success, think of it differently. They have just shown you a path for what you might like to do with your life, or use it to inspire you to take a risk and listen to what’s in your own heart. I hope you will join me in my quest to be personally liberated.